It’s 11am and the gentle summer sun begins to warm my skin – like kisses from the divine. The late August air shimmers on the horizon and the occasional cool breeze wafts through the moorlands. Blooming fields of flowers have come and gone, and all that remains are a couple of loose clusters scattered across the park. The skies are a vibrant azure – a fine canvas for the almighty Alps that stood beneath it. And even though in late summer the Alps are just mostly bare, jagged rocks with the exception of its highest peaks, it is still breathtaking to be in such close proximity to the mountains.
Discover the Treasures Of Biodiversity
Known as Alp Flix, this high plateau moorland is located within regional national park (RNP) Parc Ela, the largest nature park in Switzerland. Fertilised and dry grass meadows are intermingled with mountain forest, high and flat moorland and mountain lakes to form a multifarious mosaic. In Alp Flix alone, 2,092 species of flora and fauna were discovered within a span of 24 hours back in 2000. “I have discovered about 500 species of flowers myself earlier this season,” says our local guide Victoria, an affable middle-aged lady of Romansh heritage. “Now that summer is ending soon, we are using the fields to gather hay and make farming tools. In the next two months, autumn magic happens and the leaves turn to a gold, red and rust colour. The view is simply beautiful, especially from high up the mountains.”
Unsurprisingly, Alp Flix is a tranquil country place, but it wasn’t always so. Until the 17th century, the Walser people had populated the area until they permanently abandoned the settlement to live in Sur. Now, all you can hear is the ringing of cowbells, the relaxing sound of gentle streams flowing down the Alps and the occasional shuffling of hiking boots against gravelled paths. With a relatively flat terrace set 2,000m above sea level, it is an appropriate area for hiking beginners, families or group of friends for a great alpine summer adventure. The circular hike is an ideal route for those pressed for time. It starts at the new parking area in Alp Flix and leads into the moorland plain, Alpine hamlets of Tgalucas and Cuorts, and eventually Flix lakes and Lai Neir before looping back.
The treasure trove of plant species to be discovered is varied and includes plants native to high altitudes, alpine flowers, berries and even mushrooms! “A lot of our visitors from Europe often come to pick large Porcini mushrooms during the summer,” Victoria shared with us. At the Savognin Visitor Center, visitors can even get locals to check if the mushrooms are safe for eating. Lake Blue (Lej Blue in Romanash) is a work of art in itself. As if the finest of mirrors, the expansive blue sky and neat rows of pine trees reflect a flawless image in the water. For 36 Francs, parents may purchase a discovery kit for their kids to explore the park like a researcher. The questionnaires allow kids to identify the flora and fauna in the park, test the pH of the lake or simply learn about the ecology of the park.
Piz Calderas and Piz D’err fringe the portrait and all that was missing from this unrivalled image are canapés and champagne for a relaxing picnic. If picnicking can’t be arranged, try Berghaus Piz Platta, a mountain house Unrated away from Lake Blue. It is as an Alp hut in summer seasons, offering an overnight roof for hikers and a place to rest and refuel for daytime visitors. Here, you can get an authentic Swiss meal starling with a refreshing cup of Apple Shorley, fresh apple juice mixed with carbonated water.
Large it up in Austria (sort of)
If you’re all about going big or going home, then Austria’s Arlberg region might just be for you. We’re not talking boozy sessions – although there’s probably plenty of that too – but about big investment, namely the £35m that’s been spent on the area. And what do you get for your 35m big ones? The largest interconnected ski area in Austria, and what will be one of the largest ski areas in the whole world, that’s what. At the heart of it all are big infrastructure improvements – forget bumping along in a bus, instead there are four new lifts helping to link the resorts of St Anton and Lech, opening up 306km of downhill runs accessed with 87 lifts (all covered by a single pass). That’s one way to live it large.
Ski and sail in Norway
Can’t decide whether to splash your cash on a skiing adventure or a sailing adventure? It’s a tough life. Or is it? With Another World Adventures you can combine both on one epic, seven-night jaunt through the Lyngen Alps, northern Norway’s top ski destination. During the day you’ll be taking on the region’s natural surroundings, while evenings will be spent recuperating on deck, tucking into Norwegian cuisine and getting your nude on in the hot tub. Maybe. When you’re not soaking in hot water you’ll be exploring the harbour towns of Koppangen, Norlenangen, and Lyngseidet before a night in Tromsö, aka the ‘Paris of the north’. Head back to the boat and you’ll be rocked to sleep by the waves, ready to climb to the summits and ski down to the snow-covered beaches the next day. Nice.
What happens when Europe’s biggest ski festival and Coors Light get together and up sticks to Canada? A massive music fest on the slopes of Sun Peaks Resort, British Columbia, silly. Taking place from 6-10 April, the full-on event is sure to feature the same key elements that Snowbombing Europe has become famous for – slope-side pool parties, elaborately designed stages, debauchery. The usual.
The party bus of big acts is yet to be announced, but last year’s festival (featuring the likes of the Prodigy and Andy C) has set our hopes high – 2,152m high to be exact. Expect gladed areas, bumps, steeps, long cruisers and alpine bowls – perfect for post-fest recovery.
Foreign visitors per year: 1.08 million
Language: German (the Swiss version that no one actually writes)
Unit of currency: Swiss franc (Sfr)
Cost index: cup of coffee/Walliser beer Sfr4/5 (US$4.51/5.65), hotel double/ dorm room Sfr130-800/40 (US$145- 900/$45), one-day ski pass Sfr75 (US$84.74), a glass of champagneat 3883m Sfrl5 (US$16.95)
When it comes to hardcore attitude at altitude, Zermatt takes no prisoners. Since the end of the 19th century intrepid hikers, mountaineers and ski fiends have drooled like soppy, love-struck kittens over the god-of-a-mountain Matterhorn that rises above the town in spellbinding pyramidal perfection.
But never more so than in 2015, when this swish Swiss diva of mountain resorts revved up its legendary party spirit to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first ascent of its magic mountain. English mountaineer Edward Whymper triumphantly led his party of seven to the summit of the 4478m-high Matterhorn on 14 July 1865 – only for him and three others to crash 1200m to their deaths down the North Wall after their rope broke on the descent. The bittersweet tragedy ushered in the meteoric rise of Zermatt as one of the hottest high-altitude spots on earth.
Anniversary action included the July opening of Hornli Hut, a mountain hut perched with one finger to the gods at 3260m, at the base of the Matterhorn. Inside this brand-new building – architectural homage to the sun with all the sustainable-energy whistles and knobs on – world-class alpinists take refuge before dicing with death on the final iconic ascent up sheer rock and ice.
No sweat if you’re not superhuman or even a climber: nail-biting theatre recreating Whymper’s historic ascent (and disastrous descent) will take to the open-air stage in Zermatt town. The backdrop? Au naturel of course darling – and as effortlessly sensational as you would expect from this seductive natural beauty of a town: the mountain itself!
Alpine hipsters, this is your chance to see how the big boys do it. Ski touring has never been so hot and even the world’s ski touring elite will break out in a sweat during Matterhorn Ultraks Skialp on 11 April. The summertime trail run of the two-part alpine race follows on 22 August.
Zermatt Unplugged from 14 to 18 April brings five days of unadulterated acoustic music into town.
A party like no other took over on 14 July 2015, the official day of celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the first ascent of the Matterhorn.
Tickets for summer theatre performances of the first Matterhorn ascent.
Cars with combustion engines, last season’s skiwear (ie, any ski garment not sufficiently hip to double as streetwear).
Alpine action defines Zermatt. Give your ski legs a run for their money down the highest slopes in the Alps. Melt over Matterhorn views along ski-virgin blues, marvel at the mountain’s unfathomable trigonometry from long, scenic reds and scare yourself to death on knuckle-whitening blacks. Die-hards only please on Zermatt’s serial killer Triftji, one of the toughest mogul runs known to man.
Ride the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, Europe’s highest cable car, up to 3883m and gawp at a top-of-the-beanstalk panorama of 14 glaciers and 38 mountain peaks over 4000m. Not bad, Zermatt, not bad at all.
Chase the sunrise or moonlight with old-fashioned finesse aboard Zermatt’s romantic, 19th-century cogwheel railway (another ‘Europe’s highest’ tick on the scoreboard) to Gornergrat. Try not to be struck dumb by the mind-blowing view when you alight at 3089m.
Even world darling Zermatt is not immune to glacial melt. If global warming continues apace, glaciers in Zermatt and the surrounding Valais region could shrink by up to 90% by 2100.
Classic restaurant experience:
It has been on the celebrity hobnobbing circuit for decades but remains as black-book chic as the day it debuted. But there again, what is there not to like about dining al fresco on organic air-dried meats at a century-old farmhouse, snug in a soft fleecy blanket amid full Dolby surround of soaring mountain peaks and the Matterhorn. Chez Vrony is the name.
Few museums in the world boast a tatty, broken old rope as their star attraction: Zermatt’s Matterhorn Museum does.
A refining rail experience that provides travellers the best way to uncover the beauty of the small Alpine nation. The panoramic rail routes never fail to fascinate vacation visitors and you’ll find yourself breezing through your travels with an all-inclusive travel pass
Train travels have evolved over the years into dream destinations in its own right rather than just a form of transportation. In the past, travelling was all about speed – getting to the destination in the shortest amount of time. Now, discerning travellers are seeking relaxed and sustainable journeys. At the forefront of the world’s top train journeys, is Switzerland with its numerous rails passing through remarkable UNESCO World Heritage sites. With so much to see, the brilliant minds behind Switzerland Tourism and The Swiss Travel System Limited came up with the “Grand Train Tour of Switzerland” – one that provides the most exquisite landscapes combined in a unique travel experience.
The Grand Train Tour of Switzerland covers eight different routes throughout the country, extending over 1,280 captivating kilometers, highlighting the most beautiful scenic routes across the country. The tour takes you through all of Switzerland’s four language regions – through attractive towns and villages, past glistening glaciers, lakes and rivers and over mountains. There are no particular start or end points, but Zurich – Switzerland’s largest and most metropolitan city, is often the chosen departure and destination point.
Stage 1: Zurich to St. Gallen: The route through Eastern Switzerland passes the renowned Rhine Falls and the city of Schaffhausen, with its landmark Munot fortress. Definitely find time to stop by the roaring Rhine Waterfalls and experience the impressive close-up of the natural spectacle from the Central Rock. Then comes Lake Constance, which also shares its shoreline with Germany and Austria and is the third largest lake in Central Europe. The first stage of the tour ends in St. Gallen, a 7th century old city famous for its Abbey precinct (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and collection of 170,000 historic books and hand-written manuscripts housed in an ancient Baroque-styled library.
Stage 2: St. Gallen to Lucerne: Discover Appenzell, a town steeped in centuries of traditions and culture of Switzerland. Here, you will be able to see and purchase many handcrafted items such as cowbells, traditional costumes and smoking pipes. The Pre-Alpine Express also offers fine views of the impressive Alpstein massif with the Santis summit and Churfirsten mountain range. Stop by Lucerne’s Glacier Garden, opened nearly 150 years ago, to view exhibits dating back to the Ice Age.
Stage 3: Lucerne to Montreux: The GoldenPass Line links eight lakes, three regions and two languages – all within one delightful day of exploration. The Luzern-Interlaken Express of the Zentralbahn first takes passengers over the Brunig Pass (1,008m) before descending via Meiringen to Brienz and Interlaken.
The Ballenberg Open-Air Museum is distinct to Switzerland, with its old farm creating a vivid impression of ancient rural life. Other attractions include some 250 farm animals in natural settings and displays of traditional arts and crafts.
Stage 4: Montreux to Zermatt: From Montreux it is only a short trip to Martigny – gateway to the Great St. Bernard and Forclaz Passes. From the shores of Lake Geneva, you will be whisked through Rhone Valley to Brig with its historic Stockalper Palace. Brig is located at the foot of the Simplon Pass and is an ideal point of departure for many attractive excursions. The train then continues through the Matter Valley before travellers catch sight of the world’s most photographed mountain – the mighty Matterhorn.
Pitted against some tough local competitors, including Zurich’s prestigious lakeside Hotel Baur au Lac and the neoclassical Eden au Lac, the Dolder Grand Hotel manages to outshine them all – and in fact, for many five-star-hotel connoisseurs, is among the handful of Europe’s finest. With spires and turrets in the style of the German Art Nouveau called Jugendstil, the extraordinary building sits in an equally extravagant 125-acre park high above Zurich, reached by funicular.
Its acclaimed restaurant, La Rotonde, faultlessly serves an excellent traditional Mediterranean menu; Sunday lunch buffet is also justifiably renowned.
From the hotel’s understatedly elegant guest rooms (many with balconies) to the gorgeous 9-hole golf course, pool (with a wave-making machine), and skating rink, everything at the Dolder shares the same remarkable views of Switzerland’s most commercially and financially powerful city. The century-old main wing is the favorite of return guests; don’t miss the Gobelin Room, which houses an enormous 18th-century tapestry.
Down below, in town, everyone who is anyone turns up at Kronenhalle at one time or another. Tradition is everything in Zurich, and it reigns supreme at this well-loved classic. Kronenhalle’s animated scene is something to behold, and its traditional Swiss and French cooking is very good. But the decor is the highlight.
Every inch of burnished wood paneling is covered by 20th-century paintings and drawings, including originals by Klee, Chagall, Braque, Picasso, Matisse, and Kandinsky. They were collected by longtime owner Hulda Zumsteg, whose portrait still hangs here as well. Since her passing in 1985, her son carries on in the tradition that drew regulars like James Joyce, Richard Strauss, and Thomas Mann. In the likely event that there’s no available table when you arrive without reservations, head to the genial adjoining bar, ask for the signature Ladykiller, and take in the scene.
Perhaps a cancellation will provide a table. Even if you order nothing more than the standard sausage and favorite rösti potatoes, it will be delicious, you’ll be full (for the next couple of days), and the evening will be consummately Swiss.
What’s good enough for the Swiss president, a regular patron, is good enough for most. And now that two thirds of the Swiss triumvirate of master chefs is gone (Frédy Girardet is retired and Hans Stucki has passed on),
Horst Petermann reigns in a league of his own, continuing to inspire chefs who are making a significant place for Swiss cuisine on the gastronomic map. In a relentlessly elegant, flower-filled dining room in a 19th-century lakeside house on the outskirts of Zurich, Petermann wows his international clientele with a menu that is almost compulsively inventive, every mouthful a revelation. In warm weather a small but delightful outdoor garden is the place to be.
The ever-evolving and market-based offerings include fish dishes he keeps as fresh and natural as possible and various preparations of filet mignon and foie gras that underline his brilliance. Those with a sweet tooth will never forget Petermann’s signature hot mint soufflé on a “carpaccio” of thinly sliced peaches.
The wine cellar lives up to expectations, including a small but particularly good selection of labels from Ticino, the Italian-speaking canton of southern Switzerland.
Since 1967, the Montreux Jazz Festival has been Europe’s leading jazz event, but it has never locked itself into just one format, presenting blues, reggae, funk, soul, rap, rock, and pop as well as its namesake style.
Always ahead of the curve, the festival features both new and known talent, exclusive jams, and the finest sound system and halls, with the big-time acts performing in the principal venues and the lesser-knowns toughing it out on the streets – no surprise that the latter can be just as enjoyable. Beginning as a three-day event, the fest has grown to sixteen days, adding much to the strong musical tradition of this ever-popular town that sits on the banks of the lovely Lake Geneva.
Since the 19th century, artists, writers, and musicians have been attracted to this resort city with its distinct French accent and worldly atmosphere, ambitiously compared to that of Cannes.
You’ll understand why Lake Geneva is called the Swiss Riviera when you see the palms, cypresses, and magnolias that flourish here (thanks to the mountains that protect the city from the harsh winter winds) and the cafés that line the marvelous lakeside walks.
Cannes can only covet the Château de Chillon, just down the coast and within sight of Montreux. Switzerland’s most important and most photographed castle, parts of it date back 1,000 years. It moved Lord Byron to write his famous poem The Prisoner of Chillon, and has undoubtedly lent inspiration to the music making that brings Montreux alive each July.
There was a time when Frédy Girardet was regarded not only as Switzerland’s chef par excellence, but one of the world’s best – even his Parisian peers reluctantly named him Chef of the Century in 1989. After years of threatening to retire to pursue other interests, the legendary “Pope of Swiss Cuisine” finally shocked the gastronomic world by doing just that in 1996.
The world did not collapse nor stop. In fact, his associate chef and star protégé of seventeen years, Philippe Rochat, orchestrated a seamless transition and continues to serve a full house of Chez Girardet’s loyal patrons, who book two months in advance and drive the 38 miles from Geneva for a weekend table. Rochat eventually changed the name of the gourmet shrine and brought the formality – but not quality – of the service down half a notch.
However, he has kept a number of his mentor’s all-time-favorite signature dishes alive and as exquisitely executed as in the past. Here in the canton of Vaud, Switzerland’s Francophone heart, Rochat, like Girardet before him, comfortably balances the French and the German, the high and the low, the folksy and the sublime.
This canton is home to the outstanding white wines of the surrounding Lavaux area and the excellent cellar features both these and French wines.
Hot-air balloon festivals are no longer a conversation-stopping novelty, but ballooning through the Alps in the middle of winter? At the annual Winter Alpine Balloon Festival, as many as sixty-five balloons from more than fifteen countries ascend gracefully as a carnival ambience takes over the popular resort town below, with organized dinners held each evening. If you miss the festival, alternative weeks offer wintertime flying that is no less awesome, among majestic peaks and through snow-covered alpine valleys.
Elegant in-flight luncheons are served while passengers drift serenely over Christmas-card settings.
Summertime ballooning in Switzerland takes place in the softer rolling hills of the Emmental valley, in the otherwise dramatic Bernese Oberland.
The precise geometric patterns of Swiss farmland and picture-perfect, flower-decked rural wooden chalets create the perfect “aerial nature walk,” according to Buddy Bombard, who leads one of the world’s most reliable ballooning outfitters.
The granite profile that launched a million postcards, the distinctive snaggletooth form of the awe-inspiring Matterhorn rears above the bustle of the popular resort town of Zermatt.
Despite its contained size, traffic-free quaintness, and music-box chalets, Zermatt is all business: An international mix of intermediate and advanced skiers flock here for the wonderful ski runs.
Its three ski areas go up to well over 9,600 feet, and the famous Kleine Matterhorn cable car offers the highest piste skiing in Europe: count on good snow and good skiing into spring and early summer. Zermatt is also the Alps’ biggest heli-skiing center: the most epic run is from Monte Rosa, at almost 15,000 feet, through remarkable glacier scenery. Zermatt is known as well for its large and varied array of restaurants in uniquely beautiful locations, and a very healthy après-ski nightlife.
English explorer and mountaineer Edward Whymper was the first to scale the 14,685-foot Matterhorn (Mont Cervin to the French-speaking Swiss) in 1865, departing from Zermatt. You may not be following in his footsteps, but you can lodge in the same hotel he did: the Hotel Monte Rosa, considerably more luxurious today than when it opened in 1839.
Then the town’s only inn, it accommodated the few British who were the first to “discover” Zermatt and the beauty of its environs. You’ll want a room with a view.