I kicked off my summer by spending ten days in Switzerland on a whirlwind trip prompted by the launch of a new part of our company, AFAR Journeys—easy-to-book custom itineraries to the world’s most fascinating destinations.
Switzerland is famous for its breathtaking vistas, delicious cheeses and chocolates, and pricey timepieces. However, there are other sides to the country that are less well-known but equally appealing—the unexpected Switzerland.
Here are five of the lesser-known reasons you should visit Switzerland as soon as you can:
1. The Hotels
I was blown away by the hotels in Switzerland. Two of my favorites were the Alpina Gstaad, in the under-the-radar village of Gstaad, and The Chedi, in Andermatt.
Entering the Alpina is an experience unto itself. You’ll feel like you’re James Bond as you drive through a tunnel to the hotel entrance. As you enter the lobby, look up and admire the 32-piece wood-paneled ceiling above the staircase. Make sure you’re staying in a room that looks out on the glacier. I had to leave my blinds open just to make sure I’d catch the view at first light. The natural sights aren’t the only ones at the hotel: The collection of art at the Alpina is museum-worthy.
The Chedi boasts beauty of a different sort. The spa is one of the most stunning I’ve experienced. Enjoy a morning swim in the pool and then go for some pampering in one of their lavish and enormous treatment rooms. I also loved their restaurant, which included a 15-foot cheese tower and an extensive wine collection.
2. The Wine
Speaking of which, the Swiss produce some incredible wines, but you wouldn’t know it because they only export 3% of them. Spend time in the Lavaux region, about an hour by train from Geneva and right on Lake Leman. The views were breathtaking and the crisp white wines refreshing.
3. The Italian Switzerland
Ticino, the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, doesn’t get as much attention as the other regions of the country—but it should! Mixing the relaxed Mediterranean vibe of Italy with the beauty and precision of Switzerland results in a blissful experience.
Stay at Eden Roc, right on Lake Maggiore in the municipality of Ascona. The staff is friendly, the concierge voted the best in Switzerland, and Daniel, the hotel’s GM, goes out of his way for guests. Charter a boat and explore the lake, do some waterskiing, or merely relax on one of the beach chairs and take in the views.
You’ll also want to rent a car and head to the magical Bavona Valley. The villages of the Bavona are made up of picturesque stone houses that haven’t changed since they were built in the 15th and 16th centuries. Oh, and they have waterfalls running through them.
4. The Infrastructure
The Swiss have made public transportation a thing of beauty: extensive, clean, and punctual. (Amtrak and Greyhound execs, may we suggest you visit Switzerland, pronto!) You can buy a Swiss Transit Pass that gives you access to the entire grid. Two of my favorite rides were the Glacier Express from Andermatt to St. Moritz, and the Palm Express bus from St. Moritz to Lugano.
5. The Graciousness of the People
Everyone in Switzerland was so hospitable and friendly. The Swiss seem like a humble people, but when it comes to showing visitors an insider’s view of their country, they are proud. When in Zurich, we spent time with our friend Coco, who showed us around Zurich West. This edgy, industrial part of Zurich has incredible restaurants, clubs, and even its own version of New York’s Highline. At each stop we met more locals and got a different peek at life in Switzerland’s largest city.
Switzerland is a country on everyone’s list. But after my trip, I’d say you should put it at the top.