Category Archives: Switzerland

5 Picturesque Towns in Switzerland You Must Visit

Beyond the chocolate, yodelling and swiss cheese, Switzerland’s landscapes and scenery will really have your heart racing as you realise, it’s the country where your fairy-tale dreams are made of.Cultured, stunning alpine peaks, endless hiking options, riverside picturesque chalets and a combination of traditional and contemporary architecture. It’s a destination that any type of traveller can enjoy.

Here are the top 5 towns we recommend visiting when heading to Switzerland.

Lauterbrunnen

This quintessential alpine village sits between glacial-encrusted valleys that nestles quirky chalet-style houses and the best traffic jams caused by cows with bells. It may seem like a small quiet town but there’s a lot to do from even the most relaxed traveller to the adrenaline-seeker.

As you arrive in Lauterbrunnen, you’ll be welcomed by Europe’s highest free-falling waterfall that looks over the entire village, Stabbauch Falls. If hiking is in your itinerary, there’s a route leading behind the waterfall which may get you wet, but is actually quite refreshing after a good walk.

Lauterbrunnen is also the perfect place to catch a train from if you want to head up to Jungfraujoch, the highest peak of Europe. You’ll want to sit window side as you go past stunning scenery of clear lakes and alpine meadows that takes you closer to the snowy peaks.

If you’d like to get even higher than Jungfraujoch, skydiving is another option.

Lauterbrunnen with a view of Stabbauch Falls

Montreux

If you’re a lover of the Jazz music, historic beautiful castles, wine and chocolate, Montreux is the town for you.

This resort town sits on the banks of Lake Geneva and is the perfect balance for a holiday that seeks culture, adventure and serene. Montreux also holds the second largest annual Jazz festival in the world, usually held end of June to mid July, which music lovers can enjoy.

If music is not really your scene then go back in time and head to the impressive castle, Château de Chillon. It’s a staple point of Montreux that overlooks a panorama of the Swiss mountains and Lake Geneva.

Castle Chillon in Montreux

Basel

Multicultural, arts, impressive architecture, galleries, museums are just some of what Basel is known for. This town is truly a dream come true for art lovers. It’s nestled along the iconic Rhine river and is Switzerland’s third-largest town. It’s close to France and Germany too so if those two countries are in your list to visit then stopping by Basel is a must.

Basel is also blessed with 300 days of sunshine every year so even if you’re visiting during shoulder seasons, expect to still get a bit of sun.

The most exciting part about Basel is how the town celebrates Christmas. White snowy Christmas, markets lined with fairy lights and festive decorations, it’s truly a magical shopping experience and definitely not to be missed!

Stein Am Rhein 

When you think of fairy-tale towns, Stein Am Rhein should come to mind. And if you haven’t visited this picturesque quaint village, you’ll soon find out why you should.  

This town is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Switzerland where timber-built architecture, beautifully painted facades and ancient street plan style are still alive and well to this day. With only 3,000 population, cobble-stone streets with original pastel coloured and baroque style buildings, it truly is one of the most charming towns in Switzerland. Aside from its beauty, there’s so much to do from visiting museums, relaxing by the Rhine river or just admire the paintings along the walls of the buildings. If you want to escape from reality, this is the place to be. 

Christmas in Basele st

Epesses 

 One of Switzerland’s most underrated village is the hillside town, Epesses. It’s perfectly placed in the heart of the Lavaux UNESCO region and blends stunningly with the vines while having views of the Alps. With its narrow streets and balconies looking over Lake Geneva, Eppesses is a stop to experience a much more relaxed and quieter holiday while taking in the amazing scenic views.  

The most beautiful Swiss rail journeys

Switzerland is known the world over for its delicious chocolate, incredible scenery and epic rail journeys. And all of these things form an essential part of any travels in Switzerland: imagine sitting back in a comfortable carriage eating delicious chocolate while looking out at incredible mountain and lake views.

This daydream is not so out of reach… In fact, we offer a number of awesome rail journeys around this tiny but mountainous country. But with so many to choose from, what are the best rail journeys for you?

Bernina Express

The Bernina Express, along with the below Glacier Express, are probably the most famous journeys in Switzerland and rightly so. This journey takes you through some of the most dramatic and breathtaking scenery that Switzerland has to offer and all in just four hours! The highest altitude train journey in Europe, this route is the only one in Switzerland that crosses the alps without the use of any tunnels – meaning that it is also home to some of the steepest rail lines in Europe. But never fear, Swiss engineering is at its finest on the various train routes around the country and the Bernina Express route is no exception. This journey encompasses 196 bridges from Zurich to the high altitude peaks of Chur to the palm-fringed lake of Tirano before picking up the scenic coach to Lugano.

Highlight:

The sweeping views of inaccessible areas in the Swiss Alps, where locals speak Romansh, the little spoken fourth language of Switzerland.

You can experience this trip on…

Ultimate Swiss Rail Adventure from Lucerne to Zermatt
Bernina Express from Lugano to St Moritz
Grand Train Tour in a loop from Zurich

Glacier Express

Stretching 274km between Zermatt and St Moritz, the Glacier Express is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Over seven hours, admire primeval forests, deep gorges with rushing rivers, views of the Matterhorn and other dramatic crags soaring above until suddenly you are among them, crossing the Oberlap Pass at a staggering 2,033m above sea level. Some of the inclines on the ‘world’s slowest express train’ are so steep that the drinking glasses on board have been tailored with a tilt to avoid any mishaps. Whether you are in first or second class, the panorama wagons with glass all the way up across the ceiling allow for sensational views that will stay with you long after your journey ends.

Highlight

Despite the 91 tunnels along the way, the Glacier Express route shows off Switzerland’s nature at its finest with many ‘pinch-me-is-this-real’ views and some truly daring feats of engineering – whether that be some of the 291 bridges or the incredibly steep inclines taken very slowly as you near the Pass.

You can experience this trip on…

Ultimate Swiss Rail Adventure from Lucerne to Zermatt
Glacier Express from  St Moritz to Zermatt
Grand Train Tour in a loop from Zurich
Deluxe Switzerland from Sils-Maria to Bern

Golden Pass Line

The Golden Pass line spans from Lucerne to Montreux via Interlaken over 191km. It runs alongside lakes, the Brunig Pass, the Giessbach waterfalls, Lake Thun and then finally descends into the gorgeous valley near Montreux above Lake Geneva. Look out for classic Swiss chalets nestled into the verdant greenery or pristine snowy fields of the land around you.

Highlight

You can choose to embark on the Golden Pass Line in either a modern train carriage with panorama windows, or the Golden Pass Classic, a throwback to classic rail travel with Belle-Epoque era carriages.

You can experience this trip on…

Tops of Switzerland – Golden Pass Line from Interlaken to Lucerne
Grand Train Tour in a loop from Zurich
Swiss Food Trail from Lucerne to Montreux
Swiss Museum Trail from Lausanne to Bern

The Chocolate Train

Did someone say chocolate? That delicious treat, perfected by the Swiss in the 19th century. This iconic rail journey brings together the best of Swiss food – chocolate and cheese – for a deliciously fun day on the tracks. From Montreux, the train takes you to Gruyères, the home of the renowned cheese for a delicious lunch stop. Hop back on board and it’s off to Broc, home of the Cailler-Nestle chocolate factory. You can choose from a modern panoramic carriage or Pullman Belle Epoque style carriage.

Highlight

Chocolate + Cheese + Romantic Rail Travel + Epic Scenery = HEAVEN.

You can experience this trip on…

Swiss Food Trail from Lucerne to Montreux

Jungfraujoch

From Lauterbrunnen Valley all the up, up, up to the highest altitude train station in Europe, this train trip truly has you feeling as though you are on top of the world. Jungfraujoch sits at 3,454m above sea level and is accessed through a long steep mountain tunnel – this one is not for those afraid of heights! There were many hardships in creating this route which is well documented at the interesting museum as you get off the train.  Incredibly, this line was opened in 1912, the Swiss once again railway pioneers.

Highlight

The views of the glaciers and mountains surrounding you are magnificent. But remember to take it slowly with deep breaths of the fresh mountain air – you are 3,454m up after all and altitude sickness can strike down anyone (there are face masks with oxygen available for purchase if necessary).

You can experience this trip on…

Tops of Switzerland – Golden Pass Line from Interlaken to Lucerne
Grand Train Tour in a loop from Zurich

Gotthard Panorama Express Route

The Gotthard Pass has been significant in Swiss history for centuries. Christened in 1236 after the Roman Catholic Saint Gotthard of Hildesheim, what was once simply a mule track in the 1200s is now an extremely windy road, an 1882 rail tunnel and a revolutionary modern base tunnel opened in 2016. The Gotthard Panorama Express route begins in Lucerne, where you board the Wilhelm Tell paddle steamer to Fluelen, where a train meets you to continue your journey through the old Gotthard Tunnel and to Ticin (Lugano). The Gotthard Tunnel was built in 1882 at the cost of at least 200 lives over the decade it took to build. But it transformed Switzerland, allowing the north and south to connect with a 15km tunnel directly through the mountain pass. What had once been a lengthy and arduous journey became a simple train ride – the most modern and technically advanced journey of its time.

Highlight

The Panorama Express earns its name with great views of the Gotthard Pass scenery that have inspired many an international and local artist, including the precarious bridges, such as Devil’s Bridge.

You can experience this trip on…

Ultimate Swiss Rail Adventure from Lucerne to Zermatt
Gotthard Panorama Express from Lugano to Lucerne
Grand Train Tour in a loop from Zurich


Let’s start planning your Swiss rail adventure together! Contact your Tempo Holidays agent today.

Gastronomy 101: Swiss Food

When we think of Switzerland invariably we think of chocolate, cheese and the beautiful Swiss Alps. Rightfully so, Swiss Chocolate and Cheese are some of the best of its kind in the world, but there is so much more than these delicacies to enjoy in Switzerland.

Due to Switzerland’s history, there is no one dominant cuisine: rather, region’s have local dishes that have been adopted on a national level or they borrow from nearby countries’ cuisines and make it their own. Two of Switzerland’s most famous dishes, raclette and fondue, gained national popularity because of the Swiss Cheese Union’s push to boost cheese sales in relatively recent times. A similar tactic was undertaken to boost the flagging consumption of Reblochon cheese, a nutty soft cheese from the Haute Savoie on the French/Swiss border when tartiflette began to feature on menus thanks to the Union.

Many Swiss dishes therefore use rustic ingredients and are rather simple, with an emphasis on hearty, warm meals to sustain you throughout the day. Larger meals are usually consumed at lunchtime, with dinner being lighter, often with salad or cooked vegetables.

Cheese Dishes

Although there is definitely more to Swiss food than cheese, it does feature heavily in many delicious meals. Fondue – a pot of melted Gruyère and Emmental cheese with wine and garlic bubbling over a flame – is iconic, while raclette – cheese grilled slowly slice by slice then scraped onto boiled potatoes, gherkins and pickled onions – is almost as internationally known. Gruyère comes from Gruyères, a picturesque medieval town in Fribourg and also home to one of the most famous castles in Switzerland. On the famous Chocolate Train line, you can hop off in Gruyères to tour the dairy and see the castle.

Less known outside of Switzerland but no less celebrated within the country  are the cheese dishes of Älplermagronen, Vacherin Mont D’Or or the aforementioned tartiflette.

Älplermagronen, or herdsman’s macaroni, is made from all that has been easily accessible to shepherd’s in central Switzerland for centuries: macaroni, potatoes, onions, cheese, milk or cream and applesauce on the side. Vacherin Mont D’Or is a decadent cheese that is only available from September to April – a soft, pungent cow’s milk cheese that is covered with white wine and garlic and roasted in its wooden casing to then be smothered over boiled potatoes.

Finally, tartiflette is scalloped potatoes with onions & lardons, baked covered with reblochon cheese and is popular in French border towns such as Annecy too.

Most of these cheesey delights are widely available on and off piste. After a hard day in the Alps around Zermatt or St Moritz, this gooey goodness definitely hits the spot!

Regional Food & Wine

If cheese isn’t really your thing, never fear, there are many other options in Switzerland. Every region of Switzerland seems to have its own sausage. In fact, there are other 350 variations of sausage in the country! Papet Vaudois features the saucission vaudois – a loosely stuffed, fat sausage, crimson in colour, that is served on top of a bed of leek and potatoes that has been cooked for hours.

Down in Ticino near the Italian border, polenta has been a staple for centuries. Polenta is traditionally served with delicious braised beef, cooked in large cauldrons over an open fire until it is thick and hearty, full of flavour.  Saffron grows in the canton of Valais and also forms a staple in Italian speaking Switzerland, often in a fragrant risotto. Ticino is on the Gotthard Panorama Express Line, a stop on the way to the Gotthard tunnel.

Back up towards the German border, Zürcher geschnetzeltes is a Zurich specific dish of diced veal and sweetbreads sauteed in a gravy of onions, butter, white wine, cream and mushrooms. Try this dish, as well as many other Zurich specialties on our shortbreak Taste of Zurich itinerary.

Sometimes zürcher geschnetzeltes is served with a potato rosti, grated potatoes fried into a crispy cake. Typically a breakfast for farmers in Bern, rostis are now all throughout Switzerland in various forms.

Basler mehlsuppe of Basel is a roasted flour soup that acts as a staple and fortifying dish. Made simply from flour, butter, onion, beef stock and a smattering of grated gruyère, legend claims that it was created when a chef got momentarily distracted and accidentally browned his flour. Fasnacht, the Basel carnival, is officially opened by serving of the mehlsuppe at 3am.

Sweet Delights

Switzerland is the perfect country for chocoholics. Ever since the 19th century when Swiss chocolatiers first  rose to prominence around the world for their work with cocoa, Switzerland and chocolate have gone hand in hand.

There are an abundance of chocolate shops everywhere you go, where you can choose from plain chocolate to truffles to chilli chocolate and more. Even in a regular supermarket, the quality of chocolate on offer at a small price tag far trumps what we have!

To fully immerse yourself in the ultimate Swiss Chocolate experience you can’t go past the Chocolate Train, taking you to the town of Broc where you can tour the Cailler-Nestle chocolate factory (and yes, there are tastings along the way).

There are many other sweet treats available in Switzerland too. Our favourites include lekerlis biscuits (spiced gingerbread-like biscuits made with hazelnuts), zopf (plaited sweet bread eaten on Sundays); bündner nusstorte (rich caramelised nut cake) and, towards Italy, many dishes featuring marroni (sweet chestnuts).

Are you ready for your Swiss food tour….?

For a full culinary experience while in Switzerland, try our Swiss Food Trail rail journey over seven days. Enjoy traditional farmhouse fondue overlooking views of the alps; a cruise on Lake Thun with fresh perch for lunch; the Chocolate Train; an Interlaken farmhouse three course dinner with wine – you can even assist in the preparation; and a wine tasting at the UNESCO listed Lavaux vineyards, among other experiences.

Alternatively, let us craft your very own culinary adventure through this beautiful country. Between the cheeses, the sausages, the chocolates and the wine, you might just get to do a little sightseeing too!

 

Visit Switzerland’s World Heritage Sites

Switzerland is the home of a dozen exceptional sites of cultural importance. From Neolithic stilt-houses to the modern architectural works of Le Corbusier, 12 sites around the country have been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status.

So what are they and how can you visit them?

Bern Old City

The capital of Switzerland is also home to a wonderfully preserved medieval old city. Founded in 1191, Bern has a rich history as a significant trade town and this is evidenced in the 6km of limestone buildings, medieval arcades, Renaissance fountains and the unique towers that dominate the old town. The impressive Cathedral (Münster) is in late Gothic style architecture and was originally built in 1421 – although the 100m high spire was not completed until 1893. Nearby stand the impressive Clock Tower, Zytglogge and the Armoury-turned-Prison Tower, Käfigturm.

Experience Bern yourself during short break on our Taste of Bern itinerary, including a walking tour of the Old Town and a Bern transport card. Bern is also a stop on a number of our train tours (Deluxe Switzerland & Swiss Museum Trail), coach tours (Swiss Splendour Tour & Swiss Grand Alpine Tour) and our self drive Grand Tour of Switzerland.

Lavaux Wine Region

The terraced vineyards of Lavaux stretch for 30km along the shore of Lake Geneva and are an example of centuries of agriculture in Switzerland. Over 800ha, the steep hills provide spectacular views over the lake and surrounding country below – not to mention producing healthy vines surrounded by 11th century stone walls. After a morning of sampling the local wine, look no further than a ‘pintes’ or mini restaurant for your lunch, set amongst the quaint old villages.

Enjoy a tour of the UNESCO listed Lavaux region on our Wine Experience excursion. Learn about how the grapes go from ground into the bottles and sample three of the regions unique blends, accompanied by gourmet regional treats. For those wanting the full Swiss gastronomic experience, our Swiss Food Trail Rail Journey encompasses the Lavaux wineries and beyond.

Benedictine Monastery of St Johann

The Monastery of St Johann has Charlemagne to thank for its existence and grandeur, although its upkeep has been thanks to the tireless work of the Benedictine nuns for centuries. Even today the building is a working monastery – do not be surprised when a nun turns up as your tour guide. The Monastery is home to the largest and best preserved figurative mural from the 8th century as well as many intricately decorated apses. It is also home to the region’s oldest castle tower, built in 960, which houses an exhibition of 1,200 years of monastic and architectural history.

The Monastery is located somewhat off the beaten path in Val Müstair. Although we don’t have any ready-made itineraries to take in this site, we can tailor-make a special trip just for you.

St Gallen Abbey

The library and monastery of St Gallen are truly beautiful sights to behold. A booklover’s dream, the library or Seelenapotheke (healing place of the soul) holds 170,000 books, a 2,700 year old Egyptian mummy and 2,100 wonderfully preserved manuscripts, many of which are on display in cabinets and on the walls. Another highlight of the district are the 16th to 18th century burgher houses with splendid, brightly painted windows.

Visit St Gallen and its incredible Abbey Library on our Grand Tour of Switzerland self-drive or talk to us about creating your own tailored itinerary. This site is definitely worth the hour drive from Zurich, whether you are a book devotee or not.

Castles of Bellinzona

The three castles of Bellinzona and the old Roman fortress walls dominate Bellinzona, in the shadows of St Gotthard’s Pass. Once a strong line of Roman defence in 590, all that remains from this time is a ruined wall. The three castles, with their complex fortification systems and imposing towers, are from the Middle Ages and were put in place to control the transit of people through St Gotthard’s Pass. Castelgrande, Castello Montebello and Castello Sasso Corbaro were all built around the 13th centuries and are the best examples of medieval castles in Switzerland.

Bellinzona is the capital of Ticino, which you visit on the Grand Tour of Switzerland self-drive. At only 40 minutes by car or 30 minutes by train from Lugano, a visit to Bellinzona is an easy day trip.

Jungfrau – Aletsch Swiss Alps

At 23km. Aletsch is the longest glacier in the Alps and the whole area from Jungfrau to Aletsch is recognised by UNESCO for its staggering natural beauty. The glacier can be trekked across for the truly adventurous or try a little hiking in the Alestch forest, home of some of the oldest stone pines in Switzerland. Down below, the valleys are their very own microclimate, with lush greenery that is largely unspoilt by tourism. From June to September, you can partake in the World Heritage Experience Afternoon and in July to September there are extra guided tours of the area.

Take the precarious train ride up to the ‘Top of Europe’ on Jungfrau; look out to the Aletsch Glacier; and wander through the spectacular ice tunnel through the mountain on an excursion or our Grand Train Tour and Tops of Switzerland Tour.

Monte San Giorgio

The pyramid shaped Monte San Giorgio jutting out over Lake Lugano at just under 1,100m above sea level was once the location of a 100m deep ocean basin. Just like the pyramids of Egypt, today it provides a veritable treasure trove of history – not of an ancient culture, but of land animals and marine life living 240 million years ago. Since the 19th century, over 80 species of fish have been identified from the fossils discovered here and 30 marine and land reptiles. This include the huge deposits of marine saurians bones – some up to 6m in length!

Today, the woods of Monte San Giorgio are a great place for a little hiking as a day trip out of Lugano, where some of our tours leave from. Just keep your eyes peeled for some prehistoric history!

Rhaetian Railway Albula / Bernina

Stretching 122km from Thusis to Tirano, the Rhaetian Railway line is a true marvel of Swiss engineering. Opened in 1889, the route crosses 196 bridges, goes through 55 tunnel and 20 towns. With incredible man-made structures, viaducts, helical tunnels and hairpin turns, rail buffs will be in heaven while everyone else will be absorbed by the rugged landscapes of valleys and mountains that make this route the most picturesque mountain rail journey in the world.

Experience this unforgettable journey yourself as you crest the Bernina Pass on the Bernina Express. Or make this one journey of many incredible Swiss rail experiences on the Grand Train Tour.

La Chaux de Fonds & Le Locle

These two mountain towns are the watchmaking centres of Switzerland that have been built around this industry. Destroyed by fire, the neighbouring towns were reconstructed with a mixture of public and private funds with the goal of mono-industrial manufacturing. The resulting town plan maximised light and enabled ease of movement between towns.

Still working today, if you’d like to drop in to buy yourself a timepiece, there are twice hourly train services from Zurich. Although not home of lakes or medieval buildings, the prosperity of these two towns in the 18th to the 20th centuries created a huge amount of growth and so fans of modern architecture such as Art Nouveau  and the early modernism of Le Corbusier (more on him below) will enjoy wandering the streets.

Prehistoric Pile Dwellings

Pile dwellings, or stilt house dwellings can be found all over central Europe on the edges of lakes, rivers and wetlands. Some date as far back as 7,000 years ago and of the 111 sites listed, 56 of them can be found in Switzerland in the Alps. These dwellings have given us invaluable insight into life in the Neolithic and Bronze Age in Alpine Europe.

With 56 sites around Switzerland, many of the local councils have created small museums if you’d like to find out more (beware of the irregular opening hours).

Architectural Work of Le Corbusier

The most recent addition to the World Heritage list in Switzerland, the architectural work of Le Corbusier has been recognised by UNESCO for the influence it had on modern architecture the world over. Comprising of 17 sites, this transnational series is over seven countries, namely India, Japan, Argentina, Germany, Brussels and Switzerland. Two of these sites are in Switzerland: Villa ‘Le Lac’ in Corseux on the shore of Lake Geneva and the Clarté building in Geneva. Le Corbusier’s works are a testimonial to modern architecture and showed a clear departure from looks of the past. While he was completing his studies for these later works, Le Corbusier designed a number of buildings in La Chaux De Fonds.

Geneva is a stop on many of our itineraries. Explore these significant buildings in the architectural world on our Taste of Geneva package or let us tailor-make a trip to suit your taste.

Tectonic Arena Sardona

Another one of the natural sites listed as World Heritage, the Tectonic Arena of Sardona is home to the Glarus Overthrust – a strange phenomenon where an older rock strata, about 250 million years old, has edged its way over rock 150 million years its junior. This is a result of the European and African Continents colliding. Even for those of us who don’t have a keen interest in geology, the result is dramatically beautiful as the jagged Glarus Alps are glaciated and 3,000m above, with narrow river valleys below.

Although visible for kilometres around, Glarus Alps are not that frequented. To organise your own exploration, contact us today to tailor-make your experience.