Swiss Dining

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Swiss Dining
Germany, France, and Italy all play a part in Switzerland’s cuisine. Traditional, folksy favorites such as fondue and rösti are perfectly balanced with the extraordinary dishes offered by an abundance of high-end restaurants.
By Simon Willis, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of Hans-Peter Siffert/Switzerland Tourism
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    Fine Swiss Tipples
    Along with a diverse cuisine, visitors to Switzerland are able to enjoy a wide-ranging selection of fine beverages. Local wine is hugely popular among the Swiss; while it’s still rather unknown abroad, Swiss vintages are varied in flavor profile and generally of a high quality. The Valais area is famed for red wines, especially pinot noir, while the Lake Geneva area and the Three Lakes region produce excellent whites. Both dark and pale beer are popular, especially in the Swiss-German area, while fruity liquors such as grappa and kirsch are more potent choices.
    Photo courtesy of Hans-Peter Siffert/Switzerland Tourism
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    The Delights of Après-Ski
    Après-ski is endowed with a certain level of sophistication in Switzerland. While North Americans might like to end a day on the slopes by demolishing a bowl of nachos and two or three pitchers of beer, the Swiss have a rather more refined routine. A few glasses of wine or champagne are usually accompanied by a rich, body-warming cheese fondue or traditional rösti (roasted potatoes in a cake). Raclette (melted cheese with potatoes, gherkins, and pickled onions), a dish from the Swiss Alps, remains popular, especially when consumed in groups huddled in front of a roaring log fire. If you're still not properly warmed up, a shot or two of grappa liquor should do the trick.
    Photo courtesy of Christof Sonderegger/Switzerland Tourism
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    Diverse and Delicious Desserts
    Drawing influence from its neighbors—Italy, France, and Germany—the Swiss have whipped up a diverse dessert menu. The layered cake, Zuger kirschtorte, originates from Zug and consists of sponge, nut meringue, buttercream, and cherry brandy, while schokoladenpretzel (chocolate pretzels) are popular bites in the Swiss-German area. Variations of meringue are found throughout the country, often combining subtle vanilla flavors with fresh fruits or frostings to produce a piquant dessert. Chocolate is hugely popular and many cafés create their own style of chocolate fondue using small meringues, strawberries, and other fruits to dip into the warm, gooey contents. Etiquette tip—always cut soft desserts with a fork rather than a knife.
    Photo courtesy of Gian Marco Castelberg & Maurice Haas/Switzerland Tourism
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    Luxurious Swiss Chocolate
    Switzerland is, and always will be, synonymous with the finest, smoothest, and above all, most delicious chocolate on earth. No wonder then that the Swiss indulge in this luxury more than any other country in the world. Zürich-born Teuscher, located on Bahnhofstrasse, is world-famous and exports its chocolates to cities around the globe, including Beverly Hills and New York. For a comprehensive history of Swiss chocolate, head to Maison Cailler in Broc and enjoy the fully interactive, automated tour with the added incentive of a tasting session at the end. True chocoholics shouldn't miss the experience of taking a train journey from Montreux in the Chocolate Train.
    Photo by Christof Sonderegger/age fotostock
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    Become a Cheese Connoisseur
    Whether you are wandering the markets, dining in a café, or even just arriving at Geneva airport, the fragrance of homemade cheese is never far from your nostrils. One of the most famous cheeses is Gruyère. Visit its namesake town and the cheese factory, La Maison du Gruyère, to delve into the fascinating manufacturing process via audio guide, before sampling cheese straight from production. Much less well known is a tour in the village of Moleson—located on the southern outskirts of Gruyères—where live cheese shows give further insight into its making. Affoltern im Emmental, Bern, gave birth to the famous Emmental cheese, and dairy shows not only demonstrate traditional and modern techniques, but also allow you to take part in the process.
    Photo courtesy of Christof Schuerpf/Switzerland Tourism
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    Exquisite Dining Experiences
    Switzerland has plenty of world-class restaurants, but a few places in particular are exquisite culinary experiences. Fürstenau, in Graubünden, is home to one of three 3-Michelin-starred restaurants in the country. Set inside a tiny renovated castle, award-winning chef Andreas Caminada has made Schauenstein Schloss a magical, almost surreal, experience. Beautifully crafted courses include signature dishes of ravioli with lemon peel and succulent Graubünden lamb. Hotel de Ville, in Crissier, holds food and service to the highest standard. Chef Benoît Violier’s exquisite menu is divided into small classic dishes that pack a punch. In Basel, Cheval Blanc perfects French haute cuisine with Mediterranean flair in a spectacular riverside setting.
    Photo courtesy of Roebi Boesch/Switzerland Tourism
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    Romantic Dining in the Cities
    Switzerland’s cities are home to some of the finest romantic restaurants in Europe. Zürich is king when it comes to extravagance; French-themed Brasserie Lipp is a prime example. Located downtown, this restaurant is lauded for its seafood dishes—especially the seafood platter—and for its first-class service. The aptly-named, reservation-only Haute is renowned for its slow cooked veal, among other spectacular dishes. The setting—14th floor of the Hochhaus zur Schanze building—offers one of the best panoramic views in the city. Geneva’s beautiful old town is home to La Favola, a small Italian restaurant with intimate surroundings, and Les Armures, whose traditional food is served under cozy canopies.
    Photo courtesy of Martin Ruetschi/Switzerland Tourism
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    Switzerland’s Iconic Restaurants
    Verbier remains one of the most popular resorts in Switzerland, and nothing embodies its chic, trendy image more than La Vache (The Cow). This converted ski-lift station was opened by pop star James Blunt, former England rugby international Lawrence Dallaglio, and successful World Superbike racer Carl Fogarty. With the help of experimental chef Heston Blumenthal, the three celebs put together a menu of simple and inexpensive food such as homemade soup, pizzas, and burgers. In Mürren, multiple cable car rides take you to Schilthorn Mountain and its famous Piz Gloria, a revolving restaurant where the James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was filmed.
    Photo courtesy of Jost von Allmen/Switzerland Tourism
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    Dip Into the World of Cheese Fondue
    When in Switzerland, do as the Swiss do—and the Swiss eat a lot of fondue. While many towns and cities serve their own blend of sumptuous bubbling cheese, two places remain popular due to their continued excellence in the art of fondue. Fribourg traditionally combines two cheeses, Gruyère and Vacherin, to make a delicious moitié-moitié (“half and half”). Cafe Tivoli, located downtown, is exceptional and has been making fondue this way for the last 80 years. Le Chalet, popular with tourists, is one of a cluster of restaurants lining the streets of Gruyères, and has built a reputation on its moitié-moitié, which is eaten with pieces of potato and bread.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Fresh Foods and Local Markets
    Swiss food markets are the places to go for fresh, traditional, high-quality produce, and the chance to interact with friendly locals. Zürich has a selection of diverse markets; the best is found in its main train station, the Hauptbahnhof, and is held every Wednesday. A fine assortment of colorful vegetables, fragrant cheeses, and cured meats are among the goods peddled here. During the Christmas period many more markets spring up around the country, the largest being in Basel. The squares of Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz are decorated with charming wooden huts and Christmas lights, and festive favorites such as mulled wine, hot chocolate, and Christmas sweets are sold alongside traditional German foods.
    Photo by Barbara Boensch/age fotostock