7,000 lakes, 300 ski resorts, a clutch of the highest peaks in Europe and more than 450 types of cheese – Switzerland is a dream destination for hikers, adventurers and gourmands alike. One of the world’s smallest countries, Switzerland still manages to rank as one of the highest for quality of life – perhaps it’s the incredible natural scenery that makes the locals so chuffed with life, as hiking trails, off-piste skiing, foodie treats and panoramic train journeys are all within easy reach. These bucket list trip ideas are ideal for active types keen to sample Switzerland, but if you’ve got a little adventurer in tow, Camp Suisse offer summer camps in the mountains for children aged 7-17 that make the perfect introduction to this corner of the Alps.
Five amazing adventures in Switzerland
1, HIKE THE LAUTERBRUNNEN VALLEY
Welcome to the Lauterbrunnen valley, widely lauded as the most beautiful in Europe by alpinists. Here, impossibly pretty Swiss chalets resembling outsized gingerbread houses sit comfortably in lush green fields, all towered over by the Alps. Up in the mountains, falls which drain from 24 square kilometres of glaciers and snow deposits cascade through ravines and potholes shaped by the swirling waters, coating everything in range with a fine mist. Goethe and Lord Byron were both moved to pen poems upon seeing Lauterbrunnen’s wispy, cascading Staubbach waterfall, whilst the attractively-named Trummelbachfalle is a corkscrewing mass of over 20,000l of water that rushes through the inside of the mountain, occasionally pelting onlookers with stones. The laid-back park is a haven of little lodges catering for hikers, climbers and the occasional thrill-seeking base jumper.
2, LIVE THE GOOD LIFE IN ZERMATT
Want to live it up Swiss-style for a long weekend? Head to Zermatt, one of Switzerland’s fanciest – and loveliest – mountain towns. This car-free ski hub is straight out of an Alpine postcard, complete with horse-drawn carriages, traditional restaurants, gorgeous old wooden chalets and a very fancy McDonalds. Zermatt is perfect for sampling the best of hearty Swiss mountain fare (fondue with a view, anyone?) or indulging with a stay in a slap-up cabin, but there’s plenty of adventure in town too – hike in the shadow of the Matterhorn in summer (try the Matterhorn circuit walk if you fancy a challenge) or ski here in winter to hop across the border into Italy for lunch. Here’s some great ideas for where to stay in Zermatt.
3, HOP ABOARD A GRAND TRAIN TOUR
Switzerland is home to an incredible network of mountain railways and pastel-hued trains that look like they’re straight out of a Wes Anderson movie. Even better, it’s easy to design your own hop-on, hop-off train tour of the country using the Swiss Travel Pass. In just five days I explored the Swiss National Museum in Zurich, wandered in Montreux’s Christmas Market, watched frozen lakes glide by on the wonderful GoldenPass train journey from Luzerne to Interlaken, peeped at the magnificent Grand hotel Suisse Majestic by the lake at Montreux and did a spot of glacial skiing at Les Diablerets. You can even add on some very tempting gourmet journeys on the cheese and chocolate trains. Read my full diary of my Swiss train adventure.
4, GO SKI TOURING IN CRANS MONTANA
I’ve always been drawn by ski touring – skiing far from crowds and pistes and hiking up snow-clad mountains as well as ski down them. If anything has held me back, it’s been not knowing quite how to begin. The resorts of Crans and Montana in Switzerland have the answer for keen beginners like me. The ski area’s new ski touring routes may be wild and remote, but they are signposted and mapped, so that even if you don’t know the hill well or don’t have much experience with skins on, you’ll be able to navigate them and explore far from the confines of the pistes. The new Rando Park (from ski randonee, the French for ski touring) is made up of 15 trails that range from short and simple beginner routes to the very tough 35km L’Extreme route, suitable for the fittest tourers. There’s also a touring-specific Rando shop that can kit you out ready for the mountain.
5, TRY SNOWBOARDING IN LAAX
Party animals, unite. A mecca for snowboarders, a playground for skiers and home to a weird and wonderful apres scene – Laax should be your next winter destination. Laax is the kind of place where you might bump into a pro snowboarder just chilling at apres – the sprawling ski area of Laax-Flims-Falera has become the place to hit the snow for freestyle skiers and boarders headed for the Alps. The enormous snowpark at Crap Sogn Gion boasts the world’s biggest half pipe. You can’t spend five minutes here without seeing one of the local park rats performing insane tricks, perhaps in preparation for the Burton European Open or The Brits, both held here. The ski terrain is lovely, crowned with a glittering glacier which gives way to gorgeous tree-lined runs.