By Sara Darling
Switzerland might be known for it’s amazing ski slopes, chocolate, watches and raclette; But did you know if also has amazing lake swimming, city surfing, stand up paddle boarding and a hearty selection of saunas?
Trekking up mountains, and biking or triking down them is a normal weekend activity, so if you are looking for an active break, where you can spoil yourself with delicious food, and local wine and burn off all the calories by hiking up a mountain or throwing yourself off the side of a cliff (paragliding is gaining momentum with adventure seekers). Or simply enjoy the view from the peak, have a Heidi moment, and descend in a far less energetic manner, in a cable car.
Naturally, the Swiss love to sunbathe too, so there are plentiful sun decks in the larger hotels, with many having a pool, or access to a riverside ‘beach’; And after all that sun, don’t forget to sample the local alcohol. I highly recommend the absinthe at The Green Fairy bar in Solothurn, I can’t tell you too much more, but after two glasses you forget what time it is!
But it is the fresh air and nature which is the most appealing. Even though Switzerland is well and truly landlocked, the air couldn’t be cleaner. Combined with clean-living, and low level industries, even the bigger cities are pretty smog free, with the well-maintained old towns rubbing shoulders with modern developments, and it is still pretty safe.
Perhaps it is the tranquility of the scenery which keeps the residents calm? Within every urban landscape nestle lakes, mountains, gorges, goats, waterfalls and glaciers, which are all enthusiastically looked after and preserved. With trails and routes mapped out for all levels- should you want to explore; It is no wonder the Swiss have excellent sense of direction, as hiking in the summer is their number one pastime!
Flying to Zurich is the ideal place to start on an autumnal adventure. The weather is still warm, and the kids have gone back to school. The airport is attached to the main train station, so you can jump on one of the super reliable (natch) trains, and head west. Getting spoilt with the punctual trains and clean buses is part of the Swiss culture which might take a day or two to get used to, but it is worth erring on the prompt side! But buying the right ticket for your trip might be a tad bewildering. With half a dozen type of ticket options, getting around could be baffling. It’s easier to ask about options when you arrive, and if in doubt, pay a little extra for the one ticket fits all ‘Swiss Pass’, which you can use on buses, trains, boats and even bike rental!
The ideal scenario is a multi-stop trip, as the country is big and beautiful and each region has its own special features. Soak up the history of Solothurn, and visit the numerous churches dotted about the city; If you’ve never seen a real life religious recluse, you should make a detour through the magical woodland to the resident hermit’s home in Verena Gorge. This mythical place is hidden deep in the forest which is reached at the end of a peaceful walk, with religious art commissioned en route. If you have worked up an appetite, the traditional Swiss restaurant is the only place to get sustenance in the area, and is a popular stop off point for drinks, the loos or lunch!
Another unmissable experience is a short train and boat ride away to l’île Saint-Pierre (St Peter’s Island) which is a charming island in the Jura region of Switzerland on Lake Biel-Bienne. Take a seat on the top deck of a romantic sailboat and set off from the buzzing harbour in Biel for a slow meandering trip to the ancient island where philosopher, composer and botanist John Jacques Rousseau fled to rest, relax and recuperate during the 18th century. The island has retained it’s allure of tranquility, and is a haven for nature lovers, thinkers, and lovers.
The island is traffic free, so it is also ideal for bikers and hikers, with an unspoiled peninsula it offers kilometers of dirt paths which are perfect for exploring; The leafy trees on the river banks are a popular spot for picnic-ing, and swimming in the clear waters is a major recreation during the summer. Delicious locally sourced food and drinks are available in the only hotel on the island, Hotel Cloître, which is an authentically restored monastery. The restaurant is open to non residents, and I highly recommend the freshly caught fish from the lake, which is made even more delicious, whilst enjoying it with a chilled glass of wine from the island’s vineyard.
However this region of Biern is the place to sample the delights of numerous small vineyards. Having spent a very lazy afternoon visiting the pretty vineyard of Keller Am See, I can see why. With super hot summers, the grapes flourish, and owner Christian certainly knows how to capture a super crisp Sauvignon Blanc and deep bodied Pinot noir, using biodynamic principles (which presumably helped with my lack of hangover!) Book in for a tasting sesh, and enjoy some tapas with the owners.
No trip to Switzerland would be complete without first rate food, but there is ample opportunity to work off any excess calories without even realising.
Walks in nature are pretty compulsory, so it is wise to take some walking boots on your vacation. You don’t have to be a pro with a compass, rucksack and waterproofs – I am quite the contrary, and still managed to enjoy the leisurely afternoon descent down the mountains of the Lauterbrunnen Valley to witness for myself the incredible Trümmelbach Falls. This is a spectacular sight with the water gushing from the rock face, several hundred metres above you- and with that comes a jaw dropping noise like thunder, which is just as impressive as the views. Admittedly, I caught the convenient funicular to the summit and start of the trek, but the whole experience back to ground level, was an interesting and well sign posted two hour stroll.
Wherever you go, adventurous activities are everywhere to be found in Switzerland; Especially in Thun, where you can enjoy dinner and drinks on the banks of the river, and settle back to watch grown men larking about with surfboards. Yup, you did hear that correctly! Even though this is the landlocked heart of Europe, with no beach or natural waves- where there is water, some clever bod (legend says a snowboarder), will invent a way to surf it!
Although it’s not surfing as you might know it- much more difficult apparently! The difference is that the waves are man made, and build from pressure and force of the river. So when they start breaking, the challenge is for the surfer to mount that wave, and duel with the current whilst zig-zagging to stand upright in the same spot. Truly mesmerising.
So if walking up mountains, getting sozzled on absinthe, eating your body weight in cheese and launching yourself into the fresh water of one of the many lakes, experiencing Switzerland’s urban nature should definitely be on your radar.
SWISS AIR operates up to 180 weekly flights to Switzerland from London Heathrow, London City, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh (during summer) and Dublin, from £55 one-way* (Economy Light fare only includes hand luggage). All inclusive fares start from £71 one-way* including all airport taxes, one piece hold luggage, meals and drinks. Extras such as sports equipment and bikes can travel with a supplement.
(*Please note this is a leading fare and is subject to change, availability and might not be available on all flights. Terms and conditions apply. For reservations call 0845 6010956 or visit swiss.com)
The Swiss Transfer Ticket covers a round-trip between the airport/Swiss border and destination. Price is £112 second class/£184 first class.
The Swiss Travel Pass is the all-in-one ticket to travel by train, bus and boat on an all inclusive basis from 3-15days. Prices from £170 second class.
PLUS each ticket offers free admission to more than 500 museums nationwide, and half-price on the most scenic Swiss mountain railways.
For information from the experts, call Switzerland Travel Centre on 00800 100 200 30 or visit swisstravelsystem.co.uk