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Alpine treasures in Switzerland
There’s nothing quite like the Alps, especially when the mountain range covers 60 per cent of the country, and the culture is built around it. The Swiss rail network makes it easy to travel around Switzerland, dropping you off at historical villages, ancient churches, vineyards, cable cars, sparkling lakes and magnificent restaurants.
Castles and glaciers
Brig is an alpine town located close to the Italian border in the southern Swiss Alps, at the foot of the Simplon Pass. In the old quarter of town, wander the cobble-stoned streets to view historical buildings and the Stockalper Castle – one of the most important baroque palaces in Switzerland. Due to its physical characteristics, Brig was the site of the first man-made road in the Alps, so that Napoleon could move his armies.
To get out into the mountains, take the train to nearby Morel. From there, hop aboard the cable cars that will whisk you up to the viewpoint overlooking Aletsch Glacier. This is a river of ice that flows for more than 23 kilometres – the longest in the Alps.
An easy hike back along the Panorama Ridge Trail will take you past lush grassy slopes that are dotted with wildflowers and grazing cows. There are plenty of benches to take a break and admire the snowcovered peaks in the distance. In Riederalp, before you catch the cable car down, enjoy lunch at Restaurant Derby. Order the schnitzel and a rivella – a beverage made from milk whey. The Hotel de Londres is a lovely place to stay when in Brig.
Ask for a lake view room at Hotel de la Paix when in Lusanne to catch a glimpse of the dazzling Lake Geneva. With evidence of habitation dating back to 6,000 BC, Lausanne was originally settled by the Romans. Visit the 12th century gothic cathedral, and then stroll street-after-street of aged, red-roofed buildings and fine manor houses, and you’ll gain an appreciation for why this city has long-attracted artists and visitors.
For a different perspective of the Alps, and of France located across the lake, hop aboard one of Compagnie Generale de Navigation’s refurbished steam boats. While sailing, enjoy an aperol spritz as you tour past quaint villages, and the UNESCO vineyard terraces that date back to the 11th century.
Dip into fondue heaven
Despite its claim to fame for worldclass ski resorts, Gstaad exemplifies small village charm. Take a horsedrawn carriage ride through the alpine pastures of surrounding farms. Here, cheese is in abundance. To learn more about Swiss cheese making, and the cows’ yearly migration up to the Alps, join a group tour of the Cheese Grotto. Here, you’ll see where 3,000 wheels of cheese are stored – 25 metres underground.
Once above ground, you’re rewarded with the best part. Pick up a fondue backpack, with all the fixings, at the visitor’s centre. Then, make your way over to one of five specially-designed huts that were made to look like a giant fondue pot.
At Romantik Hotel Hornberg, located smack-dab in the centre of the alpine meadows, you’ll have the ultimate fondue experience. In a centuries-old alpine hut, a server dressed in traditional dirndl-style attire will serve you a meat and seafood fondue, followed by a Swiss chocolate fondue – the ambience is off the charts.
Villages, views and vineyards
Grindelwald alpine village is located in the Bernese Oberland region. Hop on another cable car to take you to the First Cliff Walk – a metal suspension path that wraps around the mountains. Prepare for an adrenaline rush, as the trail culminates on a suspended glass observation deck that juts out 45 metres, providing stellar views of the valley below.
In Spiez, located next to Lake Thun, visit the 1,000-year-old church and adjacent Spiez Castle. The neighbouring vineyards contain 60 different grape varietals. Follow-up with a wine tasting at Spiezer Winery. The wine at the castle is aged in a centuries’ old wine cellar in the biggest oak barrels you’ve ever seen.
After a long day, check into Hotel Eden Spiez. Here, you can enjoy a spa experience, complete with an outdoor brine bath, a salt cave, saunas and steam baths before calling it a night.
Kate Robertson can be contacted at email@example.com