The Best of the Swiss Alps

Clear alpine lakes, bucolic valleys, dramatic craggy peaks, fresh mountain air, perfect chalets, the gentle tinkling of cowbells carried on the breeze: The Swiss Alps remain the most iconic mountain landscape in the world. Drive over breathtaking mountain passes, hike meticulously maintained trails, ski pristine powder, indulge in a world-class spa – the picture-perfect scenery will stay with you long after you leave.

Highlights
Flüela Pass, 7260 Zernez, Switzerland
The Grand Tour of Switzerland includes thrilling bends and scenic views at every turn, and five of its famous alpine passes stand out—literally—among the rest of the route. They are engineering wonders that often overlook natural wonders as well. The Flüela Pass, which connects Davos and Susch, reaches a height of 7,818 feet. Your ascent through alpine forests delivers views of the valley below on a route that Avis ranked number 4 on its list of the “world’s best roads.” The Julier Pass is lined with picturesque lakes and ends at the village of Tiefencastel, with its historic, and equally picturesque, Church of St. Stefan. The San Bernardino Pass in southern Switzerland follows a route used since the 15th century and sits on the border between the country’s German and Italian regions. With its serpentine twisting path, the Tremola Pass in Gotthard is a wonder of 19th-century road design. After navigating its many twists and turns, enjoy one of the famous sausages sold from a hut at its summit. Finally, if the Furka Pass looks familiar, it’s likely from its big-screen appearance in Goldfinger. Fortunately as you drive to the highest point on the Grand Tour, at 7,969 feet, you’ll be able to simply enjoy the scenery without any villain in pursuit.
St Moritz, Switzerland
In a country full of swanky resort towns, St. Moritz takes the crown with its wide array of five-star hotels, designer stores, and award-winning restaurants. The town is also home to such exciting activities as skijoring and ice cricket, which help to keep all the celebrity visitors entertained.
Talstrasse 1, 8001 Zürich, Switzerland
This esteemed, five-star hotel, set in its own park overlooking Lake Zurich and the Alps, has a remarkable history. Opened in 1844 by Johannes Baur, the property hosted the world premiere of Wagner’s Die Walküre (Wagner himself performed), and Alfred Nobel’s former secretary, Bertha von Suttner, came up with the idea for the Nobel Peace Prize in one of the hotel’s salons.

The 119 rooms are individually decorated with styles ranging from Art Deco to French Louis XVI and English regency, but all feature exclusive fabrics and furnishings from Europe, plus marble bathrooms with heated floors. The amenities are many, from valet parking and on-demand, chauffeured limousines to a round-the-clock concierge and even car-repair and flower-purchasing services.

There are two renowned restaurants on-site, along with an inviting bar and an idyllic garden.
Schweizerhofquai 2, 6004 Luzern, Switzerland
Max Chocolatier, a boutique chocolate shop in the heart of Lucerne, creates exquisite hand-made chocolate that is meant to be savored. The store is located on a high-end shopping street near the lake. While I normally don’t gravitate to “fancy” chocolate boutiques, something about this place beckoned. It is an intimate shop and the friendly staff is happy to explain the types of chocolate that best suit your preferences. Max Chocolatier uses local, 100% natural ingredients, so the chocolate products vary by season: there are spring, summer, fall and winter “collections” with different ingredients and recipes. In addition to basic chocolates (milk, dark, hazelnut, caramel, orange, etc.), there are also more exotic types with ingredients such as pumpkin, chili, and edelweiss providing some international flavor. Beautifully, lushly-packaged boxes of chocolate line the shelves. Clearly these sweet tidbits are lovingly crafted to please all your senses. While not inexpensive, each small bite delivers a rich, intense taste with a luxurious mouth-feel. Well worth it! www.maxchocolatier.com
3920 Zermatt, Switzerland
Just as Rome has the Colosseum and Paris the Eiffel Tower, so Switzerland has the Matterhorn. Located above Zermatt, this 48,195-foot wonder attracts hordes of visitors, eager to see the morning sunlight beam off its four faces, ski its neighboring mountains, or even attempt to climb the beast itself. The Matterhorn, however, is not for the faint-hearted and has claimed the lives of more than 500 people since it was first scaled in 1865—an average of 12 per year. It’s also been replicated at Disneyland in California as a rollercoaster.
Alpinastrasse 23, 3780 Gstaad, Switzerland
Opened in 2012, the Alpina is one of only two newly built, five-star hotels in Gstaaad in more than a century. Situated in a wealthy hilltop area in Oberbort, the hotel offers stellar views of the Bernese Alps (including the Spitzhorn and Oldenhorn) and the valley scenery of the Saanenland—as well as an impressive amount of discreet luxury. Built in traditional Swiss chalet style, the limestone-and wood-structure contains 56 rooms and suites that pair antique and artisan furnishings (wardrobes, tables, carved ceilings) with contemporary design pieces. All rooms have great views, though the higher the better; on the 5th and 6th floors, you’ll find the jaw-dropping, duplex Panorama Suite, with separate dining and working areas, and a fireplace. Furthermore, throughout the hotel’s public spaces, guests can see art by famous artists like Barbara Kruger, Tracey Emin, and Bosco Sodi.

The hotel facilities are some of the best in Switzerland, ranging from an authentically Cuban-style cigar lounge to multiple Michelin-starred restaurants. The hotel’s Six Senses spa spans a whopping 21,500 square feet and includes an 80-foot-long lap pool, while an immaculately landscaped garden, designed by French garden designer Jean Mus, brims with Alpine plants and corresponding fragrances in the summer.
7132 Vals, Switzerland
Spa and architecture fans will appreciate 7132 Hotel, in the Swiss village of Vals, which was built with the award-winning thermal baths designed by architect Peter Zumthor. The complex features two hotels: The five-star 7132 Hotel and the four-star house of Architects by 7132. The latter has wings named after the famous architects that designed the rooms in them, including Tadao Ando, Kengo Kuma, Thom Mayne, and Peter Zumthor. Sizes of rooms vary, but they all ooze comfort and quality. The spa is a definite highlight of any stay here, though the hotel’s restaurants are a close second. And yes, hotel guests get free access to the thermal baths.
Auf dem Fels, 3920 Zermatt, Switzerland
Built into a mountainside with uninterrupted views of Zermatt and the Matterhorn, The Omnia is a contemporary take on a mountain lodge, envisioned by the late modernist architect Ali Tayar. From below, the glass, metal, and larchwood exterior—and, most strikingly, the slanted roofline—seem to echo the great mountain itself. Entering the hotel is similarly dramatic; from the street, guests walk through a softly lit tunnel to glass elevators, which lift them out of the rock toward the hotel lobby, with dizzying views of the village below. Inside the 30-room property (12 of which are suites), Tayar employed soft, neutral colors to harmonize with the surroundings and create a sense of understated luxury. No two rooms have the same layout, yet all but one have balconies with views. A freestanding fireplace separates the granite-and-leather-accented lobby from a small library stacked with oversize art and design books, while two outdoor terraces are perfect for sipping coffee with views of the Matterhorn. The spa features an outdoor whirlpool, Turkish bath, and steam room as well as an enclosed heated pool that opens to the outdoors through a glass wall on one end.
This champagne bar looks like a mirage as you’re coming down the last stretch of the narrow Sunnega run back into Zermatt. A classic après-ski spot, it’s where the local instructors gather at day’s end. The Cuban-born bartender is always playing great music, from Bob Marley to Jack Johnson, while skiers stay warm with heat lamps, fur blankets, and, of course, multiple glasses of Veuve Clicquot.
Rue du Bourg 53, 1663 Gruyères, Switzerland
If you visit in the autumn, watch out for the falling apples on the outdoor terrace of this old fondue chalet in the center of the medieval village of Gruyères. Salads are fresh heaps of greens, bouillon is served with or without egg, and platters of AOP-protected (Appellation d’Origine Protégée, or Protected Designation of Origin) dried meats arrive on cutting boards. But since Gruyères is home to Switzerland’s first luxury product, Gruyère cheese, opt for heavy stuff like croûte au fromage (an open-faced grilled-cheese sandwich), gooey raclette served with boiled potatoes, Alpine macaroni and cheese, quiche gruyèrien, and moitié-moitié fondue, made with pungent vacherin and Gruyère cheeses and best washed down with Swiss wines like chasselas. In the winter, don’t miss the fondue vacherin, served melted in its original tree-bark packaging, or the chestnut vermicelles atop a bed of meringue and Gruyère double crème.
Avenue Centrale 134, 1884 Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland
Villars-sur-Ollon might not top the list of world-famous Swiss ski towns, but this quaint place packs a punch—particularly with its newish bar, Moon Boot Lounge. After tackling some of the region’s finest (and, more importantly, uncrowded) slopes, young skiers and friendly instructors head to the outer-space-inspired Moon Boot to get the party going. Resident DJs spin the latest Euro pop hits, while an extensive cocktail and shot menu keeps the revelry going well into the night.
16 Route du Centre Thermal
Canton Valais is not only the capital of après-ski; conquered by the Romans in 25 B.C.E., it’s also home to Switzerland’s largest concentration of ancient thermal baths, including popular spots like Brigerbad and Leukerbad. A lesser-known favorite is Les Bains de Saillon, a 45-minute drive from the Les 4 Vallées ski area (Switzerland’s largest), and home to a refurbished thermal-bath complex. There you can soak your muscles in bubbling waters while watching the pink Alpenglühen (Alpine glow) glide across the toothy summits. Its lengthy outdoor Rivière Thermale, aka lazy river, is lined with grottoes, steam rooms, and saunas, while physical and massage therapists remain at the ready indoors to help visitors recuperate from ski-related injuries—or simply to facilitate some indulgent pampering.
This Alpine area in Appenzellerland sits at an altitude of more than 5,000 feet and is home to the much-photographed Aescher-Gasthaus, Switzerland’s version of the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. The 19th-century guesthouse was constructed directly into a jagged cliff face and while guests can no longer stay overnight, it’s a popular place for a meal. The cable car to Aescher departs from Wasserauen, and then a 20-minute hike passes ancient Wildkirchli caves that were once home to prehistoric bears and, later, 16th-century hermits. There’s also a grotto chapel built right into the stone, a small museum, and a sheep farm on some seriously steep meadow terrain.
Tortin, 1936 Bagnes, Switzerland
Skiers and visitors who think fondue and raclette are the best expressions of Switzerland’s melted-cheese cuisine will be surprised when they taste their first Käseschnitte (called croûte au fromage in French-speaking Switzerland). This soul-satisfying, open-faced, broiled-cheese sandwich is usually laden with bacon or ham and topped with perfectly bronzed cheese or a cheesy cream sauce before being garnished with cool pickled cukes and cocktail onions. Cabane du Mont-Fort, a self-serve kiosk located in a 1920s stone Alpine hut on the slopes of Verbier at Les 4 Vallées (Switzerland’s largest ski resort), has the best in the country, not to mention stunning views of Mont Blanc from its outdoor picnic tables. Don’t expect fawning or fast service, but you can count on a thick slice of bread anchored by a slab of melted cheese, marbled sweet and smoky bacon, and a few tomato wedges to offset the fatty richness.
Riedweg 156, 3920 Zermatt, Switzerland
This family-run micro-village in Valais offers 36 rooms across six separate chalets. Huddled together on a hill above the popular ski resort of Zermatt, the buildings reference the area’s traditional architecture, from the timber frames to the hunting-themed decor.

Have dinner on the hotel’s terrace in the summer, when clear skies afford a picture-perfect view of the Matterhorn. The modern menu pulls inspiration from traditional Swiss cuisine.

All the rooms have balconies or terraces to make the most of the superlative views. Rent a whole chalet to accommodate up to 10 people. These come with separate living and dining rooms, and wellness areas (sauna, massage room) as well as open fireplaces.
Grindelwald, Switzerland
The Jungfrau is one of the main summits of the Bernese Alps, located between the southern canton of Bern and the northern canton of Valais, halfway between Interlaken and Fiesch. It’s the perfect place for the quintessential Swiss experience. The cows are actually moving their heads just to hear the bells ring. So many people take pictures of them, they must feel like movie stars. :)
3863 Gadmen, Switzerland
The Trift Bridge is the longest pedestrian-only suspension bridge in the Swiss Alps, spanning 170 meters (560 ft) at a height of 100 meters (330 ft) but when we got to it somehow it looked longer and higher. As afraid as I was I did not hike all the way there to quit so on the bridge I went. My family did not seem to share my fear, taking off ahead of me on the bridge. The bridge offers a superb view of the Trift Glacier melting into the Triftsee (the lake formed by the glacier’s melt water). From here you can go higher on the mountain but we did not have the strength or the time to continue on.
More From AFAR