Switzerland has been awarded the ‘Favourite European Country’ title at The Guardian’s Travel Awards 2011. Lonely Planet’s Kerry Christiani is seduced by Switzerland’s chocolate box beauty
Population 7.6 million
Foreign visitors per year 8.6 million
Languages German, French, Italian, Romansh
Major industries Mechanical and Electrical Engineering Unit of currency swiss franc (SFR)
Cost index Cup of coffee SFR3.50-5 (US$4-6), midrange double hotel room SFR150-300 (US$178-355), one-day ski pass SFR55-75 (US$65-89), slopeside fondue in a cosy alpine chalet SFR20-30 (US$24-36)
Why go in 2012? Epic journeys and eco angels
Whether it’s economic growth, political stability or sustainable snow, little-miss- perfect switzerland always finishes at the top of the european class. With its model railways, chocolate-box towns and outrageously beautiful mountains, the country should be the envy of all. but, critics say, doesn’t perfect actually mean dull? Isn’t Switzerland all holey cheese, skis and lights out by 10pm? Well, not quite.
Brush aside the stereotypes for a minute and the land of Heidi can also be hip. Stand in the wave-shaped shadow of Renzo Piano’s Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern, party in Züri-West’s industrial-chic clubs and experience a heart-stopping moment while glacier bungee jumping in Interlaken, and you’ll discover a switzerland with art, attitude and an insatiable appetite for adventure. goody two-shoes just doesn’t get a look in.
This year Switzerland’s gloriously accessible alps will become even easier to reach, thanks to the launch of 19 new TGCts from Paris, and the construction of the groundbreaking Gotthard rail tunnel getting underway. At higher altitudes, resorts are increasingly taking the green, car-free run; slow travel is feted on 60,000km of footpaths and the Jungfrau railway, a romantically old-fashioned train line, will celebrate its centenary in 2012. Der Weg ist das Ziel (‘the journey is more important than the destination’) say the swiss. and they’re right, yet again.
Life-changing experiences Switzerland is all about life that bit closer to nature. Send your spirits soaring as you schuss down Zermatt’s freshly groomed slopes, the first rays spotlighting the perfect pyramid of the matterhorn. Be awed by the icy grandeur of the 23km aletsch glacier and the thundering rhine falls, Europe’s largest cataract. Or play among 3000m peaks in the solitary wilderness of the swiss national park, with a crisp blue sky overhead and only the marmots for company.
Festivals & events
Basel’s Fasnacht is Switzerland’s carnival must-see, with its torchlit processions, spectacular costumed parades, fifers and drummers. It kicks off at 4am on Monday 27 February.
Half a million revellers get their groove on at Zürich’s street parade (11August), with love mobiles and DJs pumping out techno and house.
On Monday 26 November, Bern’s Zibelemärit (onion market) ushers in winter with 50 tonnes of tasty onions, confetti throwing and squeaky hammer head-bashing fun.
Watch out as santa wannabes in full costume battle it out in disciplines like chimney climbing and gingerbread decorating at the ClauWau championships in the alpine village of Samnaun in November.
“You’ll discover a Switzerland with art, attitude and an insatiable appetite for adventure. Goody two-shoes just doesn’t get a look in”
The latest back-to-nature trend is cow trekking, the brainchild of an organic farmer at Bolderhof in Hemishofen. Trekkers can saddle a tyrolese grey for a jaunt through bucolic countryside to the banks of the rhine. Only in Switzerland…
Hot topic of the day
Locals are still umming and aahing over EUmembership and how it would affect the country’s coffers and neutrality. Renewable energy is the burning issue in a growing number of alpine resorts as the impact of global warming kicks in.
In 1943 Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman synthesised lsd while seeking a migraine cure. Despite the odd trip, he lived to the ripe old age of 102.
There’s no sea for miles, but Switzerland has 1500 crystal-clear lakes where you can take the plunge.
Famed for their ‘armed neutrality’, the Swiss hate war but ironically love bunkers. Underground, the country is one gigantic nuclear shelter.
Hiking yes, nude hiking…nein! Appenzell residents recently voted against allowing naturist ramblers, mostly from neighbouring germany, to hike in their mountains.
Hooray for Bollywood putting Switzerland’s dreamy scenery on the map and doubling the number of Indian visitors in the past decade. From Geneva to Engelberg, the hills are alive with the sound of Hindi and the aroma of Balti.
Most bizarre sight Riederalp Plateau in August: 500 residents, 17,000 cowpats and one hell of a chüfladefäscht (cow pat festival). This Valais village knows how to shovel shit with a smile. Bring your boots, garden spade or golf club for a day of dung- pulverising contests.
Extract taken from Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2012, available to purchase from www.lonelyplanet.com