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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in the Switzerland.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in the Switzerland.
On the northern shore of Lage Maggiore is the lowest lying town in Switzerland. Ascona, in Ticino, feels like an Italian village with Vespa-driving, Italian-speaking Swiss. With its balmy weather, fashion boutiques and art galleries, and fine foods and wines, the lakefront town is a perfect summer getaway.
Lounge by the lake or stop by a cafe on the lake promenade; visit the old town of Borgo and the beautiful church of San Pietro e Paolo; take a boat ride to Brissago Islands on the lake that have 1,700 plant species. There are numerous hiking and biking trails all around—in Switzerland, the Alps are never too far. If you’re visiting in September, attend the classical music festival, Settimane Musicali di Ascona and listen to symphony orchestras, ensembles, and other recitals.
I’m standing in my hotel balcony wearing the entire contents of my suitcase. I can’t feel my face, but I’m certain there’s a stupid grin buying real estate on it. In the two weeks before my departure, I called everybody I know begging for extra woollens. I’m now in Engelberg, a quaint town in central Switzerland surrounded by the Alps and, from here, it’s only going to get chillier.
Here’s a fun fact: I’ve never even seen the snow up-close before. I’ve been thrown in the deep end, and the lake is literally frozen. This is Winter in Switzerland 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Powder.
I’m doing my best to ease into the programme, which means a spot of sledding, an activity that needs no skill at all. My sled looks like an upside-down laundry basket, and I’m supposed to just get in and hurtle myself down a hillock that’s more slippery than usual as there hasn’t been much snowfall lately. I’m breaking into a cold sweat, but, when it’s over, one Swiss minute later, I’m exhilarated. It’s the best thing I’ve done with six layers on.
I’m on the bunny slopes at Klostermatte, great for families and tailored to suit beginners. The best part about it is the ‘magic carpets’ – conveyor belts that take your uphill whether you’re sledding or skiing. When there’s enough snow, this is a good place to get ski lessons, as it will save you the cost of the cable pass, which you can then use to go to the sunny side of the mountain.
I’m famished, and skip today’s ski lessons for a meal at Bergrestaurant Ristis, a mountain bistro accessible from Talstation Brunni, but I learn something anyway: on aerial cableways, always keep your camera handy. The bird’s-eye view of the valley is staggering. At Ristis, I get my first taste of two typically Swiss dishes— rosti, crispy potatoes, and spaetzle, tiny dough dumplings sprinkled with cheese. The setting is sublime — I’m surrounded by fir trees and snow-covered crests with the sun on my face and the occasional paraglider soaring past, throwing shadows on me.
The rest of the day is spent in Engelberg, strolling the streets of the town and hopping into a horse-drawn carriage. I snuggle up under a warm fur blanket as we canter past fields blanketed in snow, stacks of firewood, and a moon that makes an appearance while sunlight still sparkles off the peaks.
That night at the Alpen Club, I realise that I could make a meal of the raclette alone. It’s a simple dish, hot cheese scraped off the wheel onto a plate and served with pickled silver onions, sliced gherkins and baby potatoes. I try to assuage my guilt the next morning with a few rounds of ice-skating. The Sporting Park has a natural, outdoor rink and I’m flailing at first, but, inspired by the fresh air and breath-taking scenery, and fuelled by envy of the five-year-old zooming past me, I soon master the art of gliding on ice.
If you’re still thinking about cheese, there’s only one spot to go in town — the Schaukaserie Kloster Engelberg, the cheese factory on the premises of the 900-year-old Benedictine monastery that gave the town its name. From the very beginning, the monks in the abbey travelled with and traded the soft cheese they crafted for leather and other necessities.
At the cheese factory, you can observe a cheesemaker at work inside a modern glass-enclosed unit, but you can also sign up for a more in-depth demonstration. Luana Cuadalupi runs the tours, and will be teaching me about the cheese-making process. Together, we make cheese curds, adding cultures, calcium and (vegetarian) rennet to pasteurised milk. It coagulates quickly and we strain it into bell-shaped moulds to separate solids from whey. In the next eight days, it will grow white mould and be ripened in the monastery cellars to finally become brie. Harder cheeses can take years.
The shop sells every variety of cheese imaginable, so I pick a couple to go. My most important takeaway, though, is this nifty tip courtesy Luana: “Packing soft cheeses in your luggage is a big no-no. Only take cheese home that’s waxed or vacuum-sealed.”
The rest of the day will be spent at FIS Ski Jumping World Cup. In the backyard of the Sporting Park is the world’s longest natural ski jump at Gross-Titlis-Schanze. Each December, Engelberg plays host to a round of this winter sporting event that draws crowds from all over Europe. There are 65 competitors representing 18 winter nations, and only 30 will qualify to the final round.
When the gong sounds, the athletes ski down a ramp and launch themselves off the end, getting as much air and length as possible. I can’t help but think of Superman as they whiz past at alarming speeds, seemingly parallel to their skis. I’ve given up blinking entirely because, when I accidentally did, I missed it. Many of them cross lengths of over 100 metres, often landing swiftly and with a flourish because they’re judged on both distance and style.
The atmosphere is feverish and festive, and it’s impossible to not get into the spirit (and the schnapps). As I climb the steep bank alongside the incline, I whoop like a local and wave my flag — Swiss, of course, because that’s the freebie I’ve been handed.
There is something special about train rides in Europe, and my journey on the Lucerne-Engelberg Express is no exception. I gape at panoramic vistas of the countryside as it progresses from cool and white to lush green pastures dotted with cute wooden cottages. It will be a day of gorgeous views. On my agenda is lunch, or, more specifically, Mittagsschiff, a lunchtime cruise on Lake Lucerne. To use a cliché, it’s a must-do, largely because it’s a terrific deal. Boat travel is included with the Swiss travel pass so you pay only for what you’d like to eat, whether that’s a decadent three-course meal in the upstairs fine dining hall or, simply, a bowl of hot soup. There are few less splendid ways to while away an afternoon than sailing on a stunning Alp-fringed lake. My fish is perfectly cooked and beautifully presented, and the sights on offer span the gamut from traditional architecture to dramatic, misty landscapes.
After you disembark at Pier 1, burn off the calories by wandering the cobblestoned streets of Lucerne’s Old Town, full of buildings covered in pretty murals and plenty of shopping, both local and brand name.
I’ve never been to Europe in winter and I’ve only heard about the Christmas markets, so I’m excited to pay a visit. Just around the corner from the famous-from-postcards Wasserturm and Kapellbrucke (the water tower and chapel bridge), the annual Lozarner Weihnachtsmart is set up at Franziskanerplatz.
There are stalls at the market representing countries as varied as Sweden and Britain and Senegal and Tibet and almost each one sells Christmas decorations, traditional dishes, and warm drinks with a shot of something strong in them. I spy hot toddies, coffees with rum, and of course, much loved and widely available gluhwein: hot, spiced, wine. I take it upon myself to sample it at several stalls (so you won’t have to) and a clear winner emerges — the Swiss stall makes it best.
What is about travelling by train that incites the romantic in all of us? Maybe it’s because it is one of the least hectic methods of travel with some of the best views and one of the most efficient ways to traverse a country and take in the highlights of each city that you stop by.
Switzerland is one of those countries that train travel should come naturally. Within a week, you can cover Bern, move around three cities on the edge of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva), saw two glaciers, headed back north to Interlaken and Lucerne, all by train, before heading back to Zurich.
There’s a Bernese saying that goes, “Switzerland has watches but Bern has the time.” The words ring true, especially for many of us who live in capital cities like Singapore or Kuala Lumpur and sport Swiss-movement watches on our arms. The laid-back nature of the Bernese and cobblestone city centre are far from the makings of a capital, yet Bern is the capital of Switzerland and a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well.
The Old Town of Bern is a great introduction to Switzerland that will quickly get travellers acquainted with this laid-back lifestyle. Take in a full view of the city from the Rose Garden that blooms 223 rose varieties in spring for unrivalled views of Bern. Framed by the Aare River, the medieval town has a 6km-arcade of sandstone facades punctuated by Renaissance stone fountains topped with colourful effigies (from which pure and potable spring water flows from). While Bern has an exceptional public transport system, itis best to explore the city on foot to uncover the city’s secrets, such as the many vaulted cellars that line the streets. Used in the middle ages to keep goods at a cool temperature in summer and winter, many of the vaulted cellars have now been converted into shops, cafes and even galleries, giving visitors a whole new world to explore underground.
Travelling on foot will also bring you to prominent landmarks in Bern. As Bern is the seat of Switzerland’s government, a visit to the Federal Palace of Switzerland (Houses of Parliament) is a must in the world’s oldest neutral country. An outstanding symbol of politics to all nations, Bern’s take on governance is to allow visitors to see focal points of the buildings, and follow the debates from public galleries when parliament is sitting and even organise a meeting with a member of their choice.
While the Federal Palace of Switzerland is an important piece of architecture to the Swiss, the Cathedral of Bern (Das Berner Munster) and Bern Clock Tower (Zytglogge) hold much more significance to the local Bernese. The Cathedral of Bern is Switzerland’s largest ecclesiastic building done in a Late Gothic style. Over the main portal is the depiction of the Christian belief of the Last Judgement where the righteous are separated from the wicked. This diorama watches over parishioners who walk in through the front door — a reminder of the fate that be falls mankind in time to come.
As for the Clock Tower, visitors can view the ornate astronomical clock with its parade of bears and dancing jester on the outside or take a secret tour into the clock’s tower to see the intricate mechanics of the clock. Pendulums swing, and gears and cogs click second by second mechanically in the top room of the tower. This impressive mechanism is said to have been in motion since it was built some 800 years ago — a precedent to the now famous and reliable Swiss movement perhaps.
It is said that theoretic al-physicist Albert Einstein was inspired by the Clock Tower in May 1905. The brilliant scientist had imagined a streetcar moving away from the tower at the speed of light and it was then that he had his breakthrough moment that helped outline his paper on the ‘special theory of relativity’ in six weeks. His scientific discoveries are what help modern day scientists understand our world today. For the casual couch scientist, head to the Bern Historical Museum, which has an extensive exhibition devoted to Einstein’s personal life and his theory of general relativity broken down into simplified video explanations.
From Bern, we head south towards Lausanne, but not before making a quick stop at Broc-Fabrique, home of Maison Cailler, the oldest brand of Swiss chocolate still in existence. Even before our train pulls up to the station, the strong smell of cocoa beans roasting hits us and our mouths start to water at the thoi ‘gilt of trying one of Switzerland’s most established brands of chocolate. It doesn’t take much effort to use our noses as guides to find the all-white maison with a calligraphic Cailler brandished at the top. The museum/factory has self-guided tours that take visitors on a spectacular journey from bean to bar through specially designed rooms with special effects that tell the history of chocolate-making, how Cailler brought this art to Switzerland and a shortened factory walkthrough of making a simple piece of Cailler milk chocolate. The tour then culminates in a sample room where visitors can taste test various chocolates, pralines and bonbons produced right at Maison Cailler. Fulfil souvenir requirements for friends and family back home by stocking up on Cailler chocolate products in the gift shop or, indulge in a rich and frothy hot or ice cold chocolate beverage with a pastry at the cafe.
With chocolate-filled bellies, we continue on to Lausanne, the first of three cities we visit that are located along the shores of Lac Leman. Lausanne is famous two things: for being the final resting place of Coco Chanel (she’s buried in Cimetiere duBois-de-Vaux), and for being the Olympic Capital of the world. Lausanne was chosen as the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) by Baron Pierre de Coubertin for its peaceful surroundings in 1915. Today, it is where the President of the IOC resides and where The Olympic Museum is located.
For anyone who wants an in-depth study on the Olympics, from its beginnings in Greece to the most currently held games in Rio de Janeiro, The Olympic Museum is to be visited. It is possible to spend a whole afternoon walking around the 3,000m2 interactive exhibits that showcase the things like the first Olympic flag, how the games are chosen and the various lanterns and torches that carry the Olympic flame from Olympus itself to the host country of the games, as well as significant events in the Olympics’ history, and even sports memorabilia from medallists in the games. It is worth it to hire a guide just to learn more details about the Olympics in general and to find hidden gems within the exhibits.
After a day in Lausanne, we move on towards Riederalp for a taste of the Swiss alps. Getting to Riederalp requires making a stop in Morel first to take the cableway up to the ski resorts. Along the way, however, many choose to make a detour at Vevey first, the second city of this leg of the tour that faces Lac Leman. Its lakeside promenade makes for a perfect post-lunch stroll, where bronze statues of sea nymphs riding sea horses arise from the water of the lake. There are other notable statues as well, such as the Giant Fork that sticks out of the lake and the statue of Charlie Chaplin facing the waters.
Charlie Chaplin, the iconic English comedian of the silent film era, spent his last years in Vevey in Manoir de Ban, which was recently converted into a museum just in 2016. The museum retraces the life of the cinematographic genius, while the adjoining studio immerses visitors into the world of silent film. Those with extra time on their hands can even stay to walk around the expansive park where the manoir is built on. The 10-acre estate is a slice of nature that has unobstructed views of Lake Geneva and the alps all year round.
It isn’t enough to just look at the alp s in Switzerland, being at the Swiss alps itself is just as integral to the experience of visiting Switzerland. We take a short train ride from Vevey to Morel where the cableway station is located to easily get to Art Furrer Hotels in Riederalp Mitte, a ski resort. Mid to late winter is the best time to visit Riederalp as this is when snowfall is the thickest and the ski slopes are in full swing. The piste slopes are great for skiers and snowboarders and the surrounding bunny hills near the cafes are perfect for novice snow sport enthusiasts or those who just want a couple of exhilarating rides on a small snow sledge.
Riederalp is also the gateway to viewing the Aletsch Glacier, which is the largest glacier in the alps. The striking glacier can be fully taken in from the viewing point just a short walk away from Moosfluh Station near the ski resort. Look out for the Matterhorn on the way up to the glacier. The peak made famous by Tobelerone chocolates is also clearly visible on the walk over.
Gstaad must be the inspiration for snow globes, such is the perfection of this stunning Swiss alpine village, with its white-capped mountains, gingerbread ski chalets, charming cobblestone pedestrian town center replete with a central outdoor ice rink and immaculately groomed horse-drawn carriages. Dotted about the village are top designer boutiques (think Chanel and Cartier), sparkly Swiss jewelers, contemporary art galleries and Michelin-star restaurants. No wonder Gstaad has charmed celebrities and royals from Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Kennedy to Prince Charles and Madonna, but this is not a place for posers and paparazzi as discretion is the theme in Gstaad, where the uber wealthy come to relax.
Gstaad is also a winter playground for Euro billionaires and their children, many of whom are enrolled at Le Rosey, the most expensive private school in the world (costing about $100,000 a year) that has its winter campus here.
We visited the quintessential place to be seen in Gstaad — the 100-room Gstaad Palace, perched above the village like a fairy-tale castle. We were there to investigate the sumptuous facilities — a 19,000-square-foot spa with indoor and outdoor pools, five restaurants, a legendary bar, the “GreenGo” nightclub, and the new and recently revamped suites.
Gstaad Palace, which celebrated a hundred years in 2013, is a fourth-generation, family- owned property with 80 percent repeat guests and a staff tenure average of 15 years, making it a place for familiar faces and known luxuries. Expect Moncler- clad families on and off the slopes during the day, a buzzing apres ski in the Lobby Bar morphing into fancy dress and fine dining for dinner and, finally, trust-funded heirs swilling champagne and dancing into the wee hours at “GreenGo,” where bottles sell from 150 CHF (around US$152) to up to 40,000 CHF (around US$40,463).
Suite Scene: As the hotel is shut during the off seasons, the Palace rooms are renovated during the annual closures and no room is used for more than four seasons without a complete overhaul including all furniture and fixtures. The focus has been on suites; we loved the nearly 1000-square-foot Corner Suites (Room No. 410 or any ending in No. 10), which have a dining and living room with sofa bed, a large bedroom and even more generous closets with loads of shelving. These can be connected to a 500-square-foot Junior Suite (Room No. 409) and / or a Double Classic (No. 408) for even more sleeping space. This configuration of rooms is also available on the second and third floors, all with stunning alpine views. As most clients come with family and staff, 80 of the hotels 100 rooms are connectable.
With high demand for suites for hosting intimate drinks and dinners, last winter the Palace added four Deluxe Suites (we saw Room No. 416). Made by combining two Classic Rooms, a 1,000-square-foot Deluxe Suite has a bedroom with balcony, living room with dining table, wet bar and wine fridge, a full bath off the bedroom and a half bath off the living area for guests.
In the turrets of the Palace are two Tower Suites (we saw No. 716), with one turret housing a bathtub and the other a games table / office.
The nearly 2,000 square feet suites come with a full living room, dining table for 10, three balconies and jaw-dropping mountain views. For even more grandeur, there is Room No. 800, the Penthouse Suite, renovated in 2014, which has three bedrooms, a kitchen, a 1,500-square-foot terrace with 270-degree views and a Jacuzzi.
Dining: Surrounded by private, multimillion dollar chalets, locals come and enjoy the Palaces fine food and lively scene. Not to be missed: The Lobby Bar, where the hotels plush seats and sofas are pleasantly packed at apres ski with guests sipping Moscow Mules while taking in the mountain views; locals say you’ve not been to Gstaad unless you’ve had a cocktail here. Follow this with a truffle champagne fondue dinner at La Fromagerie, which is housed beneath the hotel in a former bunker for the Swiss National Bank, cozy and delicious after a day on the slopes. Fun Fact: La Fromagerie is the most popular restaurant in Gstaad, though only open in winter, they go through four tons of cheese every season. Top Tip: Book La Fromagerie a month in advance.
Le Grand Restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and a four- or five-course dinner. Even more formal is Le Grille for Michelin- star quality food (expect fellow guests in diamonds and long dresses, jacket and tie for men). Those looking for Italian cuisine should dine at Gildo’s that has a rotating roster of chefs from the finest summer resorts in Italy. This winter the chef is from the five-star Forte Village in Sardinia.
Spa: Indulgence is king at Gstaad Palace. After skiing, it is best to take advantage of the spa’s relaxing hammam and a gemology treatment such as an anti-aging and smoothing scrub and massage with ruby cream or “The Precious” facial with malachite, amethyst or smithsonite.
Where to Ski: Gstaad comprises 136 miles of slopes at altitudes between 3,000 and
feet including Glacier 3000, which is the only glacier in the region (well-heeled locals go by helicopter). The Palace offers a Ski Butler service to attend to your skis, transport and any other arrangements. The best areas for families are the Wispile and Eggli, which are connected by blue and red slopes and are about a two-minute shuttle ride from the Palace. There’s a fun, new Family Terrain park on Hornberg in Saanenmoser with jumps, tubes and ice bridges.
Slope-side eats: Insider tip is Restaurant Waldmatte on the mountain at Chalberhoni in the middle of the Eggli skiing area. Enjoy traditional Swiss cuisine in a rustic setting among locals and jet-set.
Off the slopes: The Palace has a Family Winter Package, which includes an excursion to Cailler, the oldest chocolate brand in Switzerland, for a tour of the factory and lesson in tempering chocolate and the chance to make your own chocolate bar.
Maison Cailler chocolate is divine (loads of samples) and the tour includes the history of the company as well as how Swiss chocolate is sourced and produced today — all extremely well done and a highlight of our trip (kids ages 6+ to adults!).
Advisors can get in touch with Melanie Horn, director of sales.
Since it opened in 1899, The Dolder Grand has been the place to stay in the financial capital of Zurich. With a privileged perch high above Lake Zurich, the hotel is home to a Michelin two-star restaurant and a stunning spa. This is where celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio find respite; the guestbook is filled with rapturous praise from the likes of Laurence Fishburne, Eva Longoria and the Dave Matthews Band.
On a recent trip to attend the hotels Epicure culinary festival, it was found that The Dolder Grand continues to devise innovative amenities (like the art iPad to explore the hotels collection) and exciting experiences (like Epicure) to delight guests.
The hotel has just 175 guestrooms, but the “back of the house” is enormous — bigger than the hotel itself. We strolled what the staff call “the highway” to discover the myriad kitchens, the dry cleaning for staffs uniforms, and — perhaps most impressive of all — the florist workshop where a four-person team creates stunning arrangements from the fresh flowers delivered daily. (12,000 carnations are used for the famous Easter “egg” display in the springtime.)
Epicure was a highlight. Reigning over the highest ranked restaurant in Zurich, Chef Heiko Nieder serves refined cuisine that combines unexpected flavors and textures. Three years ago, Nieder launched Epicure as a gourmet event with gala dinners and expert-led Masterclasses starring haute products like caviar, cigars and Cognac. For the third edition in September 2016, Nieder invited four culinary giants: Andreas Caminada from Switzerland, Harald Wohlfahrt from Germany, Pascal Barbot from France, and Chicago-based Curtis Duffy, whose innovative cooking and life story have captivated American audiences. Epicure has become so popular that it sold out within two hours after the reservations line opened.
Nieder explained his strategy in selecting the invitees, all of whom boast three Michelin stars. Flailing from different countries, this quartet of international chefs represents a diversity of culinary styles, so that diners can indulge in a unique experience each night of Epicure, if they so desire. Cooking in tandem, the two chefs create an eight- course feast, complementing each others styles. Nieder riffed on Duffys wagyu ribeye dish, creating an accompaniment to his pigeon course that echoed Duffys pitcher of Thai bouillon. At the end of the meal, the 40-person kitchen brigade paraded through the restaurant to a round of applause.
The Dolder Grand isn’t just about gastronomy. At a time when the hospitality Zeitgeist is all about art-filled hotel spaces, The Dolder Grand has displayed an impressive art collection since it reopened after a renovation in 2008. Major oeuvres can be found throughout, by the likes of Salvador Dali, Flenry Moore and Keith Haring. Andy Warhols “Big Retrospective Painting” hangs above reception. With a dedicated art iPad, guests can tour the hotel and immerse themselves in the artwork.
Booking Tips: The clever, curving architectural design by Foster and Partners affords lake views for 80 percent of the rooms. Thoughtful in-room touches include a Nespresso machine, a Swiss electrical adapter, luxe bath products by Kerstin Florian, and intuitive technology. At the touch of an iPad button, you can close the curtains over the floor-to-ceiling windows leading to your balcony. A trip of a switch and you can discreetly signal to house-keeping that you are “not to be disturbed.”
VIPs are comfortable here throughout the year; there is no peak season. The top room in the house is the two-bedroom Maestro Suite, named for conductor Herbert von Karajan. It occupies 4,300 square feet in the highest point of the main buildings tower. Musical references abound, including a grand piano and a harp as decor. There’s a sauna, a library, en suite kitchen and a circular dining room with a fireplace. The terrace offers the hotels best viewpoint over the lakeside city of Zurich. This suite can be booked for private events and special occasions.
Other top suites: The Carezza Suite (on the top floor of the Spa Wing, equipped with a terrace spanning the entire suite); the Masina Suite (also on the top floor of the Spa Wing, the film set for David Finchers “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”); Suite 100 (inspired by the Rolling Stones — The 100 Club in London); and the Terrazza Suite (a three-bedroom residence suited for longer stays). For VIP bookings, reach out to Director of Sales Anna Roost.
The sky’s the limit for the nine-person concierge team, led by Chef Concierge Eliane Walter Schuller, whose team can handle helicopter tours, flights on private jets and last-minute tickets for sold-out events. Recenty, the concierge team arranged to have a prestigious opera singer perform in a guest’s suite during a private dinner. Managing Director Mark Jacob — a graduate of both the Lausanne Hotel School and Cornell — is also an amiable presence at The Dolder Grand. Hotels are in his blood; Jacob grew up in the fashionable Swiss alpine resort of St. Moritz, where his parents managed the Suvretta House.
If you can tear yourself away from your room, The Dolder Grand has a free, hourly shuttle service to the Zurich city center. It’s well worth discovering the serene city, which was the home of choice for many cultural notables, including Thomas Mann, Carl Jung and James Joyce.
A word for fans of hotel breakfasts: It doesn’t get much better than this. Saltz restaurant is a gorgeous setting with cool design nods to Switzerland, including rocks from the Matterhorn and a red neon light tracing the alpine mountain panorama on the wall. The breakfast buffet is also perfectly Instagrammable. This work of art comprises pungent local cheeses, bircher muesli, fresh berries, salmon and flaky pastries including gluten-free options. In fact, don’t limit your Saltz experience to breakfast. Lunch and dinner are likewise delicious with a focus on excellent, locally sourced products paired with Swiss wines.
Work off the calories in the gym, whose fitness classes run the gamut from Pilates to Boot Camp. An urban resort of this caliber wouldn’t be complete without a destination spa — and this one was designed by Sylvia Sepielli, who just designed The Breakers’ new spa in Palm Beach. In a country known for its anti-aging beauty therapies and medical treatments, The Dolder spa stands out for its facilities. The Aqua Zone has a snow room, saunas, hammams, kotatsu footbaths and sunaburo loungers filled with heated black pebbles. There are 18 treatment rooms, where therapies utilize products by La Prairie, Kerstin Florian and Amala, and the spiraling meditation walk features a mosaic decorated with 10,000 mirrors. Overseen by Director Therese Martirena, the spa is not just about recharging your batteries. The four pillars are beauty, detox, relaxation and vitality. Note: The Dolder Grand also has a Medical Wellness program with a network of affiliated doctors for treatments and cosmetic surgery.
Icing on the cake: Soak in the Jacuzzi on the outdoor terrace, overlooking Zurich, the mirror-like lake and the mountains beyond.
It’s obvious that Claude Nobs didn’t spend too much time thinking about a name. A former cook-turned-tourism officer, he thought it would be a good idea for jazz musicians to play in a Swiss town called Montreux, and promptly founded a festival to make it happen. Half a century later, Nobs has passed but his nonchalance has a lot to do with why thousands of people will make their way to the 2017 festival from June 30 to July 15.
Here’s a suggestion: Don’t go just for the jazz. Sure, Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald played here. But Nina Simone and David Bowie have graced these stages in the past too, as have Prince and Radiohead. Explore the private listening zones at the Montreux Jazz Café @ EPFL, world-class wineries like Corniche Lavaux and La Cave Vevey-Montreux and the medieval Château de Chillon.
Go out of respect for the late Leonard Cohen, who opened the festival in 2013, allowing the sounds of his gorgeous “Hallelujah” to reverberate across the Alps. Stay at the Fairmont Le Montreux Palace to feel like a movie star. And if you still need more reasons, know that this unpretentious event lets you get tipsy on the shore of Lake Geneva while listening to spectacular music. Be like Nobs; don’t overthink it.
The Benedictine abbey in St. Galien, established in 720, was one of the most important monasteries in Europe, as well as being a leading center for the arts, letters, and sciences. A priceless library was gathered and monks came from far and wide to copy manuscripts, many of which still exist. Only the crypt remains of the Romanesque church and monastery built in the 9th century. The present Baroque cathedral and abbey, by architects Peter Thumb and Johann Michael Beer , were completed in 1766 and feature exquisite Rococo decorations.
Several calamitous fires destroyed much of the Romanesque Episcopal church erected in 830-37 on the site where the Cathedral of St Gall now stands. The only part of the building to have survived the ravages of time is the 9th- 1Oth century crypt which became an integral part of the Baroque cathedral The bishops of St Gall have long found their final resting place here – a tradition that has continued to the present day. Among those buried in the cathedral are Abbot Otmar, founder of the abbey, who, ten years after his death in 769, was interred in St Otmar’s Crypt beneath what is now the west gallery, and Bishop Otmar Mader, who died in 2003.
Built in the second half of the 18th century, the abbey library is richly decorated with ceiling frescoes, intricate stuccowork, wood-carving, and intarsia. The two-story reading room, containing walnut and cherry bookcases reaching to the ceiling, is especially impressive.
Around 130,000 leather-bound volumes and 2,000 manuscripts are housed here. These include such bibliophilic treasures as a copy of the Song of the Nibelungen and Codex Abrogans (790), a dictionary of synonyms believed to be one of the oldest existing written documents in German. The best-known item in the collection is the St. Gallener Klosterplan, showing the layout of an ideal Benedictine monastery. Copied from an earlier manuscript by monks in the early 9th century, this document is thought to have been the blueprint for the St Gallen Monastery.
Baroque was the predommant style for much of the 17th and early 18th centuries. Whereas in Italy, the golden age of Baroque was the high Baroque of 1630–80, Germany saw a flourishing of late Baroque well beyond 1700. The hallmarks of Baroque architecture are its preference for dynamic, curvaceous forms and broken gables; its Gesamtkunstwerk, or fusion of the arts to create an exuberant whole; and its liberal use ofornamentation and sculpture.
The Baroque choir stalls (1763- 70),made of walnut and decorated with paintings and gilding, are by Franz Joseph Anton Feuchtmayer and Franz Joseph Staltzer.
The 11 Baroque confessionals in the nave are crowned with medallions featuring reliefs by Franz Joseph Anton Feuchtmayer and Anton Dirr dating from 1761-3.
Beneath the cathedral is the crypt of the earlier church. Its walls retain fragments of 10th-century frescoes above the altar.
The ceiling is decorated with frescoes by Joseph Wannenmacher
The fine Rococo pulpit, decorated with figures of the Evangelists and of angels, was made by Anton Dirr in 1786.
Two thrones by Franz Joseph Anton Feuchtmayer, decorated with paintings by Franz Joseph Stalzer. stand in the choir stalls.
The painting of the Assumption of the Virgin on the high altar is by Francesco Romanelli. Dating from 1645, it was later heavily retouched.
According to the Gallus-Vita (835) by Walahfrid Strabo, the Abbey of St Otmar was founded on the site where a monk named Gallus (c. 560- 650) later canonized as St . Gall- built a hermit’s shelter for himself in 612.
c. 720 : An abbey is founded by a priest named Otmar to preserve St. Gall’s relics.
816-37: A Benedictine abbey with a basilica is constructed.
1529: The people of St. Gallen expel the monks. They return in 1532.
1755-67: The Baroque Episcopal church is built with an opulent nave and stuccowork.
1758-67: The abbey library is built to house the priceless collectbn of illuminated manuscripts.
1805: Under Napoleon’s influence, the monastery is dissolved.
1824: The Episcopal church is elevated to the status of a cathedral.
1983: St. Gallen Monastery becomes a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Crampons on here. And Patrick, try not to slip on this section.” Kenton Cool’s causal tone and wry grin make light of the severity of the thin, snowy ridge caning a wicked line towards the Weissmies, a peak in the heart of the Swiss Alps. It’s half a foot wide at most and bloody terrifying, to be totally honest. Keeping focus is easier said titan done at an altitude of 4,000m – the silky air puts stamina under the pestle and makes the simple decidedly complicated. The ridge looks little different to a tightrope. Not even the endless massifs to my left and right, sprayed with the sun’s early golden glow, can distract me while I’m edging towards the white, pristine plank. Saying that, I am in very safe hands: Kenton is Britain’s most decorated climbing guide and something of a celebrity in the mountains. This year he successfully summited Everest for an incredible 12th time; this effort bearing more personal significance than any other following the catastrophic earthquake in Nepal in 2015, which claimed the lives of over 8,000 people and reduced much of the country to rubble.
He lost a number of close friends. His competence at altitude is hugely reassuring – over the past two days I have put my trust firmly in his aptitude, and (at this very moment) the three metres of rope dangling between us. (It’s a far cry from the cosy Soho bar where, four months earlier, we had excitedly ignited the idea of this trip over a few drinks.) With our crampons fastened we push on slowly, Kenton’s spikes cutting a fresh trail in the soft, precarious powder. I place mine meticulously into exactly the same grooves, my mind focusing on mastering the basics of balance, channelling my inner Philippe Petit.
The margins of error are absolutely tiny when climbing. One mistake, one misjudgement, one gulp of arrogance is all it takes to fail. Or worse – a wrong move here and it will be a fast, fatal journey to the bottom. Danger and risk are intrinsic to this sport; a sport that renders men and women mere ants among giants, totally at the mercy of elements that are well out of their control. But like a powerful drug, the sacrosanct feeling of success or indeed failure in the mountains is an unreachable itch that most climbers never shake. “You leave knowing that there is a chance you might not come back,” admitted Kenton when we met in London earlier in the year. “That it could be your last climb. If you become complacent at altitude, the mountain is going to kill you. But when you get to the top, the whole world radiating beneath your feet, there’s this tsunami of overwhelming emotion.
I would defy anybody to witness some of the views I’ve seen and not come away feeling inspired.” Challenge accepted… It had been an early start for a basic hut breakfast of dry bread and aggressive black coffee – a taxing 3.45am to be precise. Tim aim was to reach the peak, or the ridge at least, to watch sunrise over the Pennine Alps. “It’ll be worth it,” Kenton assured me as I threw my pack over my shoulders and stepped out into the bitter cold. A heavy fog was hugging the ground, reducing visibility to only a few metres.
For two hours we clambered up the steep, craggy-mountainside by the light of head torches, a deafening silence broken only by the crunching of rocks under sleepy soles. We emerged from the haze as the first inky tendrils of morning teased the skyline – here, just shy of the saddle point, we got a glimpse of the summit, a black silhouette towering into the star-studded ether. Several thousand metres below in the canton of Valais, two hours from Geneva, the municipality of Saas-Grund was still sleeping. By day it is equally as somnolent, but charmingly so. Timber cabins sit on mushroom stilts, window sills are adorned with vibrant flowers, and the neck-bells of sheep herds resonate above the trickle of glacial streams and the splutter of tottering tractors scything tall summer grass.
There is an intoxicating absence of urgency – such folly is left to those at higher climes. As the skiing masses flock to these slopes in winter, so too alpinists take advantage of Switzerland’s dramatic ranges in the warmer months – the country is home to more 4,000m peaks than any other in Europe, from leisurely strolls that wouldn’t strain your grandmother to torturous technical routes suited to only the most adept. Diversity is abundant. Yesterday we had tackled the frozen northern bluff of the 4,200m Allalinhorn, hiking through serac blocks and setting three ice screw pitches to scrabble up the 50-degree face with two axes – a hard-and-fast initiation to ice climbing.
By contrast, this morning we’re on the 4,017m Weissmies – lesser in altitude but more physically demanding – featuring nervy scrambling and glacier traversing. (And a seriously antisocial roll call time.) There were anxious moments as cold fingers clawed longingly at uninspiring rock ledges and unstable feet searched frantically for safe holds, but with each successful haul the view got that bit better, the summit got that bit nearer, and the acute feeling of triumph and an end to the pain drew closer. Until we negotiate the ridge, that is. Never have more cautious steps been taken -I was like a tipsy waiter carefully carrying a tray of delicate crystal-cut champagne flutes. Once safely across, we make the filial few strides to the top, where we rest, short of breath from the dearth of oxygen.
In every direction, scarped snow-capped peaks puncture the cloud inversion, and way down below the quiet valley towns are gradually waking up – it’s not yet 9am. Up here, I appreciate the pull to these heights: the early starts; the stale bread; the willingness to pillage one’s senses in order to summit; and the somewhat selfish risk of being a mountaineer. “You know, time is the most precious commodity we have,” says Kenton, flicking sweat from his forehead, “and the mountains allow you to escape all the crap. I can be physically exhausted when climbing, but mentally I’m never more alive.” Sitting here, gasping for deep gulps of air, I get it. It all makes perfect sense.
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.
The rock is cool and smooth, shaped by millennia of fast-flowing water. Looking out through a convenient peephole, I see the gushing water falling powerfully a few feet away from me. I can feel a nimble in my chest. A fine mist covers my skin and clothes. We’re at Trummelbach Falls in Switzerland’s Lauterbrunnen Valley. Lauterbrunnen is also known as the valley of the 72 falls, and as we drive up from Interlaken, we can see some of them in the distance. But the one we’re visiting is unique. Trummelbach is a subterranean waterfall, Europe’s largest, a majority of it located inside a mountain. It’s accessed by a lift that takes visitors underground. One minute we’re standing in the bright sunshine of a European summer day, and the next, we’re shivering inside a dark cavern lit by lamps that cast eerie dancing shadows.
I can feel the water before I see it. A vibration runs through the rock, up through the soles of my shoes, and into my body. I can hear it too, a mad whooshing and churning all around us. Exiting the lift, I go on to a series of tunnels and narrow staircases cut into the rock, leading to platforms and lookouts that reveal the ten cascades of Triimmelbach Falls. Each offers a powerful sight: a cascade from above, the side view of a corkscrewr-shaped one, and the overwhelming volume of water of a third, as you stand below it. They carry the meltwaters of glaciers from around the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau mountains— nearly 20,000 litres every second.
Visitors halt to take photos, kneeling and bending in their attempt to capture the size of the falls. I hang back and linger, awed by the shapes and designs the water has wrought in the rock. I’m dazzled by the tenacity of little flowers and shrubs gripping these rocks, growing sturdily despite the fact that sunlight only trickles in through gaps and skylights. When we leave the mountain and emerge into the sunlight, I can still feel the cool mist clinging to my clothes, and the sight of the thunderous falls, clinging to my mind.