Welcome to Switzerland - the Heart of the Alps

In terms of dimension, Switzerland is only one ninth of Germany, however it is one of the leading countries regarding tourism and quality of life in Europe. The country in the southern part of Central Europe borders on Germany, Austria, Italy, France and the Principality of Liechtenstein. The landlocked country Switzerland is mainly mountainous and is also called “Heart of the Alps”, although, only a seventh part of the Alps is Swiss. However, the mountain landscape is amazing and thousands of snow-covered peaks are rising to the sky of the winter sports paradise. The highest mountain is the Dufour-Peak with 4,634 meters. A contrast to the mountain world is the Lago Maggiore and many others of the 1,000 Swiss lakes. The biggest ones are the Lake Constance and the Lake Geneva.

The climate in Switzerland in characterized by the Alps. Like the extreme differences in altitude there are also big changes in climate. At the northern part of the Alps there is a continental climate, typical for Central Europe. At the southern part you can feel the Mediterranean influence. In general, the weather in Switzerland is quite unsettled due to Atlantic influences. In the high valleys there is a stimulating climate with lots of sun. In the glacier region you can experience a dry arctic climate. The most favourable regions regarding weather are the southern cantons Valais and Ticino, also called the “sun-rooms” of Switzerland.

Switzerland is a very modern state, although its history reaches far back in time. Already 400 years B.C., today’s West-Switzerland has been populated by Celtic tribes. The foundation of the country is based on different confederations, which were connected to the “Eternal Union” (“Ewiger Bund”) in 1291. In 1848 the democratic Swiss state has been launched officially.

Switzerland is rich in popular holiday regions. Beside city trips, hiking and skiing vacations are important flagships for tourism in Switzerland. Symbol of the famous hiking region Bernese Oberland are the mountains Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. The most visited holiday resorts are Grindelwald and Adelboden. In Graubünden you find perfect winter sports conditions. In Davos, skiers can make use of 300 kilometer slopes. The largest community in Switzerland offers great winter sports conditions until late spring. Wellness tourism takes place in the towns of Scuol and Vals.

The Tessin region offers numerous hours of sun and southern atmosphere. The spa resorts at the Lago Maggiore are a popular destination throughout the year. In the canton Wallis everything is about the Matterhorn. Most popular towns for vacation in this region are Zermatt and Saas Fee. Do not miss to stroll through the historic town center of Bern. In the town of St. Moritz skiing has its origin. Today, the “jetset” enjoys the numerous snowbars and slopes. If you are looking for nostalgia, take a tour with the steamship on the Vierwaldstätter Lake. To get an idea of the whole beauty and variety of the destination Switzerland, you should take a ride with the Bernina-Express.

Vacation Rentals and Holiday Homes in Switzerland

Cantons of Switzerland

Graubünden is the biggest canton in Switzerland and the less populated at once. This leaves lots of space for impressive landscapes and almost 1,000 imposing mountain peaks. Highest point of the region is the Bernina with 4,049 meters. Furthermore, the region offers more than 600 lakes that invite to relax and 150 valleys that can be discovered by hiking tours. It is not without reason that Graubünden is well-known holiday-corner of Switzerland.

Tourism plays a very important role and mainly takes place in posh resorts, like Davos, Arosa, St. Moritz or Lenzerheide. On more than 10,000 kilometers well-constructed hiking paths, tourists can explore the region. At the Rhine-Valley, vineyards open their doors to the public, but also winter sports is a popular activity in the region as there are more than 2,000 kilometers of slopes. In Graubünden you find the eldest town of Switzerland, the town Chur. In the town of Scuol wellness tourism plays a very important role. The rock-thermal-baths Vals invite you to spend some unforgettable hours, so does a stay at the Heidi-Village Maienfeld.

Valais (Wallis)
The canton Valais is located in the south-west of Switzerland and covers the catchment area of the Rhone. The Rhone-Valley forms the border between the German-speaking Upper Valais and the French-speaking Lower Valais. North of the Rhone-Valley the Bernese Alps arise. In the south, the peaks of the Valais Alps characterize the landscape. In this area the Swiss mountain giants are collected and you find more than 30 four-thousand-meter-peaks. The Matterhorn reaches a height of 4,478 meters. With the 4,634-meter-high Dufour-Peak in the Monte Rosa Massif, the canton Valais has the highest mountain in Switzerland. Furthermore, the county has the largest wine growing region in Switzerland. In the rural regions numerous customs and traditions are still preserved. At different celebrations the people still wear traditional clothes. There are wine festivals full of atmosphere or the people meet for cow-competitions.
Touristic hotspots in Valais are the winter sports villages Zermatt and Saas Fee. Mountain hikers and extreme winter sports athletes prefer the Riederalp or Crans-Montana for their activities. Cultural historical attractions are the Baroque buildings in Sion or Brig. The most important profane building in the region is the Stockalper-Palace in Brig. Worth-seeing are the numerous churches, decorated in Valais Baroque style. Typical for the region are the farm houses made of black-brown weathered larch wood, that can be found everywhere in Valais.

Ticino (Tessin)
The canton Ticino, also called “sun-room of Switzerland”, is the most southern canton in Switzerland. The canton got its name from the river Ticino. In the north, the peaks of the Gotthard-Massif forms a natural border. In the south, the Ticino region becomes a wedged part of the Italian Lombardy. The natural variety of Ticino is very impressive and reaches from snow-covered alpine peaks to southern flair at the Lago Maggiore or at the Lake Lugano. In this region there is a very mild climate with more than 2,000 sun-hours per year. At the banks of the lakes, palm-trees, olive-trees and magnolias are growing. Until the 15th century Ticino was part of the dukedom Milan. On the order of Napoleon, the republic Ticino was found as a part of the Swiss confederation in 1803.

Ticino offers a large variety of activities to its visitors. Hiking, climbing, golfing, paragliding and skiing are the most popular ones. In the touristic centers Lugano, Locarno or Bellinzona there is a noble flair. Expensive boutiques and posh music- and movie festivals make Ticino to a place for the rich and beautiful. But also loneliness can be experienced in Ticino, for example during a hiking tour through the valleys. In the old towns of Giornico or Biasca you can visit numerous historic buildings.

The Swiss metropolis Bern is capital of the same-named canton. Bern is the second largest canton in Switzerland and is characterized by its capital. It is the only canton that holds parts of the three Swiss regions Jura, Alps and Mitteland. The biggest mountain in the region is the 4,274-meter-high Finsteraarhorn. Its lowest point is located on 402 meters at a canyon in Wynau. Due to the size and the natural variety of the canton, visitors of Bern can expect many leisure activities.

The mountain- and lake landscape in the Bernese Oberland is one of the most visited regions in the county of Bern. The Emmental with its cheese diaries and farm houses decorated with flowers is a great place to visit. The pile-dwellings at the Bielersee Lake have just been recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old town of Bern is visited by tourists from all over the world every day. Places of interest are the late-Gothic cathedral, the pretty Federal Palace, the Zytglogge-Tower at the end of the Kramgasse or the modern Paul-Klee-Center.

Zurich (Zürich)
The canton Zurich is located in the north-east of Switzerland. It is very densely populated and is mainly located in the Swiss Mittelland. Its capital is the same-named city Zurich. In the south-east of the country you find a pre-alpine scenery. Highest mountain of the region is the Schnebelhorn with 1,292 meters. Other famous mountains that invite to a visit are the Hörnli and the Uetliberg, the local mountain of Zurich. A touristic attraction is the Lake Zurich. The canton in its present form exits since 1803. In terms of economy Zurich is the strongest Swiss canton and is characterized by the world-financial-city Zurich.

Of course, all ways in the canton Zurich lead to the city of Zurich. The biggest city in Switzerland offers many great attractions, like the Great-Cathedral at the Limmatufer, the Swiss National Museum or the old town with its narrow alleys. Second largest city in the canton Zurich is Winterthur. Extraordinary collections gave it the expression “City of Arts”. The Art Museum, the Oskar Reinhart Museum and the Museum Briner and Kern house exhibitions with international standard. The Lake Zurich is nestled in beautiful pre-alpine landscape. During a boat trip you can discover the towns Küsnacht, Rapperswil, Kilchberg and other interesting places.
© Hanni Niederhauser / Travanto

Nature holidays in Switzerland

Where could one enjoy nature better than in a country as beautiful as Switzerland? Europe's most mountainous state is a true Garden of Eden boasting a wealth of diverse landscapes ranging from snow-capped mountains to green valleys, vast plains and glistening lakes. The extreme differences in altitude are responsible for this great topographical and climatic variety but what is most remarkable about this huge natural diversity is that in Switzerland, it can be experienced in a relatively small area of slightly more than 41,000 km2. Whereas in the eternal ice of northern Switzerland's glaciers artic temperatures prevail even in the summer months, you can relax under palms and enjoy a light Mediterranean breeze, if you spend your Switzerland holidays just about 100 kilometres further south.

Switzerland's most beautiful landscapes and most impressive natural wonders
The 150 metre wide Rhine Falls near Schaffhausen (about 50 kilometres north of Zurich) is an extraordinary and overwhelming nature spectacle. The waterfall was formed during the last Ice Age and hundreds of cubic litres of water per second plunge 23 metres into the river below, and right in the middle of the roaring water masses stands a mighty rock with a viewing platform. It can be reached by boat and boat tours usually stop there in order to give visitors the unique opportunity of experiencing Europe's largest waterfall up close.

Besides the majestic Matterhorn, the Gorner Gorge is one of the most impressive nature highlights of Zermatt. It was also formed by glacial forces just like the Rhine Falls and it features bizarre rock formations and waterfalls. You can cross this canyon either on a secured path leading through the bottom of the gorge, or if you are in for something more adventurous, you can hire a mountain guide and take the thrilling route through the upper part of the gorge.

The fascinating Great Aletsch glacier is also located in the Wallis/Valais. With a length of 23 kilometres, this expansive stream of ice is one of the largest glaciers in the Alps, covering an area of 100 km2 and carrying 27 billion tons of frozen water. Unlike most glaciers, the Aletsch is easily accessible on foot and thus very popular with hikers. Its surrounding forests are home to plant and animal species so rare that the entire Jungfrau-Aletsch region has been placed under UNESCO World Heritage protection.

The Swiss National Park at Zernez in the canton of Graubünden/Grisons is a place of pristine wilderness and makes a great day trip for all outdoor lovers. When visiting this park, it is important to note that nature conservation rules must be strictly adhered to. For instance, it is not allowed to leave the hiking paths. However, thanks to this, you will be able to observe countless wild animals including red deer, chamois, ibexes and marmots. If you are lucky enough, you might even catch a glimpse of the wolf, lynx, golden eagle or bearded vulture. These elusive creatures also live in the Alp's oldest national park that celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2014.

With a height of about 850 metres, the Gurten – Bern's local mountain – might not be the highest peak in the Swiss Alps but it is nonetheless a great place to enjoy nature and to get some excellent panorama shots of Switzerland's capital city, the Aare – the country's longest river, and the Bernese Alps with the famous Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.

Mountains might be Switzerland's most prominent characteristic but there is also a multitude of beautiful lake and river landscapes, and these are no less impressive. Lago Maggiore, part of which is shared by Italy, is the largest lake in southern Switzerland (Tessin/Ticino) and home to two small islands: the Brisaggo Islands – famous for being a botanical park where, thanks to this region's mild climate, more than 1,500 subtropical plants from all around the world prosper in the open air – and the Isola di Sant'Apollinare – a smaller island where nature is allowed to grow wild.

The best thing about exploring nature in Switzerland is that no matter where you are staying, you don't need to travel far in order to spend some great time outdoors. Just step out of your door and you'll be in the middle of a green paradise!
© Franziska André-Huber / Travanto

Winter sports in Switzerland

Winter tourism in Switzerland is still a relatively young tradition. It all began about 150 years ago, when spa guests, who usually spent their summer holidays in the Swiss Alps, discovered the benefits of the health-promoting mountain climate even during the cold season. Winter sports became a favourite pastime, although in those days the most popular sport was ice skating rather than skiing. It wasn't until the beginning of the 20th century that this discipline gained more and more enthusiastic followers. Especially after the Olympic Winter Games were held for the first time in St. Moritz in 1928, no more winter passed by without people racing down Switzerland's steepest slopes on two boards. The first large Swiss ski resorts to open were Davos, Grindelwald, Arosa and Leysin. Until the present day, they have never failed to attract thousands of international winter sport fans, travelling to Switzerland every year to enjoy the snow, the sun, the beautiful surroundings and the unique Swiss hospitality in one of the countless ski resorts. Ranging from cosy traditional mountain villages with ski-in ski-out accommodations to large modern towns with a lively nightlife, these nowadays cater for all tastes and budgets.

Popular winter sport regions and ski resorts in Switzerland
There are over 20 ski regions in the canton Bern but Adelboden is certainly one of the most attractive. Together with Lenk, Adelboden forms one of the largest ski regions in Switzerland, boasting more than 200 kilometres of versatile and perfectly groomed pistes that can be accessed with one single ski pass. Thrills and excitement are guaranteed thanks to several Audi ski cross parks, snow parks, speed and racing tracks as well as a night skiing slope. Adelboden also features magnificent winter hiking trails and plenty of snow activities off the pistes. These and the breathtakingly beautiful surroundings make this picturesque village an ideal winter holiday destination in Switzerland. Another place to spend unforgettable skiing holidays in the Bernese Oberland is the panoramic ski resort of Wengen. Surrounded by the soaring peaks of the world famous Jungfrau massif, this fantastic ski resort connects to Grindelwald, opening up endless skiing possibilities for all levels.

Besides Verbier, Saas-Fee, Crans Montana and the Aletsch Arena, the village of Zermatt is one of the numerous world class ski resorts in the Wallis/Valais. It is located in southern Switzerland at the foot of the majestic Matterhorn, right in the heart of a vast hiking and ski region. With an altitude of nearly 4,000 metres, the Matterhorn ski paradise is the highest ski resort in the Alps and an all year round snow paradise, where you can ski and snowboard even during the summer months. Zermatt offers you a total of 360 kilometres of skiable slopes, so both beginners and experts will find their perfect terrain, and it is even possible to cross over to nearby Italy via the Theodulpass. Heliskiing, however, is nothing for the faint hearted and only the true adventurers among you will dare to give it a try.

Graubünden/Grisons in the east of Switzerland is densely packed with excellent ski areas and you can choose between more than 40 ski resorts, which are all equipped with modern lifts and snow making facilities. For instance, Arosa and Lenzerheide have been joined to form one huge ski region with 225 kilometres of pistes, ranging from wide gentle slopes to difficult steep runs. The enormous LAAX ski region is similarly formed by three interconnected villages and covers 100 square kilometres. Whether you decide to stay at Flims, Laax or Falera, the 235 kilometres of slopes can be easily accessed from all three places, which have retained their distinct character. While Flims is an elegant wellness resort boasting great cross-country skiing and winter hiking opportunities, the charming and quiet mountain village of Falera is perfect for families. Laax, in contrast, enjoys a very vivid après-ski and attracts mainly snowboarders due its outstanding freeride areas.

The Berner Oberland, Valais and Grisons might be the cantons with the highest number of ski resorts in Switzerland, but even Eastern Switzerland, Ticino (Tessin), Lucerne, Vaud, Jura, Fribourg and Zurich are home to fine ski regions and make wonderful ski holiday destinations in Switzerland.

Exploring lakes in Switzerland

Mountains are the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Switzerland. The spectacular Swiss Alps are without doubt the country's most characteristic feature, but did you know that an enormous number of no less impressive lakes lies hidden in the shadow of these majestic peaks? The majority are rather small mountain lakes and perfect to relax and unwind in peaceful nature. However, if you are seeking a little more action, the larger lakes might be a better choice as they are usually easily accessible and boast a wide range of on- and off-shore leisure activities. No matter which of the 1,484 Swiss lakes you will finally decide for, they all share one thing in common: their crystal-clear waters!

Water sports and leisure cruises
On a hot summer's day in Zurich, there is nothing better than a refreshing swim in Lake Zurich, one of the nicest lakes in Switzerland. Its long and narrow shape resembles a banana and it attracts locals and visitors alike with a great variety of water sports such as swimming, diving, sailing, surfing etc. It also offers plenty of secluded spots where you can sunbathe undisturbed, for instance on the idyllic islands of Ufenau or Lützelau. Of course, Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) also offers first-class beaches and great water sports. It is one of Switzerland's largest lakes (582 km2) and lies to the southwest of the country, in the heart of the picturesque Lavaux – a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage wine region blessed with a mild climate and plenty of sunshine. A great way of exploring both Lake Zurich and Lake Geneva is during a boat trip. We can particularly recommend the special evening theme cruises on Lake Zurich, which are great fun and which will surely provide you with unforgettable holiday moments.

Mediterranean feeling guaranteed
Lake Maggiore and Lake Lugano are two lovely lakes in the canton of Ticino/Tessin and extend far into neighbouring Italy. While more than half of the surface of the 212 km2 large Lake Maggiore belongs to Italy, the significantly smaller Lake Lugano lies almost entirely in Switzerland. This region is the perfect holiday destination in Switzerland as it enjoys more than 2,000 hours of sunshine a year and a pleasantly warm climate, which allows not only subtropical vegetation but even exotic plants to prosper on the shores of both lakes, where you can relax under palm trees. After a long a day on the beach, round off your day at one of the numerous excellent lakeside restaurants in the world famous holiday resorts of Locarno or Ascona. Indulge in some fresh fish or other local specialities, whilst enjoying the typical Mediterranean atmosphere and the spectacular sunset over the lake and the captivating mountain panorama.

Small but excellent: mountain lakes
Mountain lakes are the true gems of Switzerland's Alpine worlds and come in varying shapes, sizes and colours. Some shimmer in mysterious green tones, while others allure with shades of intense turquoise. Some make no secret of their existence, while others, like the Cresta Lake, hide deep in the forests. Thanks to its exceptional water quality and wild and romantic setting, this pristine natural bathing lake is considered an insider's tip among locals. The Cresta Lake lies between Flims and Trin in the midst of the Graubünden (Grisons) mountains and can be reached on foot or by bus from both municipalities. The Blausee in the Bernese Oberland (Canton Bern) is another famous Swiss mountain lake. It lies in the heart of a nature park in the Kander valley and with its fascinating blue waters, the "blue lake" lives right up to its name. By the way, in the Wallis/Valais there is another beautiful Blausee. It is located near the Riederalp at an altitude of 2,207 metres, from where you can enjoy breath-taking views of the Matterhorn and the other four-thousand metre peaks.

This is just a small selection of magnificent lakes in Switzerland but there are hundreds and hundreds more which also make fantastic holiday and excursion destinations in Switzerland, e.g. Lake Thun and Lake Brienz in the Bernese Oberland, Lake Neuchâtel at foot of the Jura mountains, Lake Zug and Lake Lucerne in Central Switzerland, Lake Constance in Eastern Switzerland and the list goes on.

Culinary Switzerland

Besides the magnificent mountains, beautiful nature and friendly locals, there is yet another good reason to visit Switzerland, and it might even be the best of all: the food. Swiss food is hearty and delicious, based on simple recipes and prepared from genuine ingredients. It is also extremely diverse, as the Swiss cuisine has been strongly influenced by the cooking traditions of Switzerland's neighbouring countries, which resulted in a great variety of regional recipes. Of course, there is also a couple of dishes and delicacies enjoying great popularity nationwide, such as cheese fondue, raclette, Rösti, Älplermagronen, Birchermüeslie, Swiss chocolates and cheeses. You should definitely try these during your next Switzerland holiday and on this occasion also indulge in some of the following mouth-watering sweet or savoury Swiss specialities.

Specialities from German-speaking Switzerland
German-speaking Switzerland spoils you with a huge choice of excellent meat dishes and irresistible sweets. Here are our absolute favourite meat recipes: Zürcher Geschnetzeltes and Berner Platte. As the name suggests, Zürcher Geschnetzeltes comes from Zurich. This specialty is a stew prepared from veal that is cut into narrow stripes. These stripes are then fried and served with a fine cream sauce seasoned with white wine. Mushrooms can also be added. The crispy, golden fried potato Rösti that usually accompany this ragout, complement the sauce perfectly. Berner Platte is a rich meat platter that originated in Bern and consists of different types of sausages and meats such as beef, ham, smoked bacon, pig or cow tongue, spare ribs etc. It is traditionally served with boiled potatoes and sauerkraut, pickled turnips and dried and/or green beans. It is a very old recipe that dates back to 1798 and commemorates the victory of the Bernese over the French army in the battle of Neuenegg. Sweet temptations from this part of Switzerland include Bernese Haselnusslebkuchen and meringues, Basler Leckerli and Mässmogge as well as Zurich Hüppen and Offleten.

Recipes from French-speaking Switzerland
The French love cheese and so it is hardly a surprise that cheese recipes are also very popular in the Romandie. Dishes like cheese fondue and raclette originated in the French-speaking part of Switzerland and enjoy worldwide popularity. We also particularly like Croute au fromage, another Swiss cheese classic. It comes from the Wallis/Valais, just like Cholera. This vegetable tart contains cheese, too, but the main ingredients are potatoes, leek, onions, apples, pears and bacon. It was probably invented during the time when this disease was raging in Switzerland - hence the somewhat strange name. Fresh fish is also eaten on many occasions in the Swiss-Romande. The most commonly served species include powan, perch and trout and they are caught fresh in the lakes of Geneva, Neuchâtel and Biel. Besides these, it would be a sin if you didn't try one of these typical specialties when on holiday in this part of Switzerland: Cuchole (saffron bread), Moutarde de Bénichon (very sweet mustard) and Gâteau du Vully, a cream cake made from yeast dough.

Delicacies from Italian-Speaking Switzerland
If you spend your Switzerland holidays in regions bordering Italy like the Tessin/Ticino and Graubünden/Grisons, you will come across many dishes inspired by the Italian cuisine. Risotto, for instance, is a traditional Italian dish and in the Tessin there is hardly a restaurant that doesn't serve its very own home-made version. Polenta and maroni are also typically Italian. These sweet chestnuts are popular throughout Switzerland, however, they are only available during the winter months. They are enjoyed either roasted as a whole or in the form of 'vermicelli'. Don't be sad, if you don't get the chance to taste them because you are travelling to Switzerland in summer – there are plenty of other products made from and with maroni, e.g. bread, bread spreads and pasta. Pizzoccheri is another dish with Italian roots, however, it is a typical specialty from Graubünden and its key ingredients comprise buckwheat pasta, vegetables and cheese. We can highly recommend this delicious dish, just as Capuns, Maluns, Plain in Pigna, Birnbrot, Bündener barley soup, Bündener Nusstorte, Engadiner Torte…

Just mentioning all these Swiss culinary delights makes our mouths water. How about you? Whether you are vegetarian or you love meat or fish – one thing is for sure, in Switzerland, you will never have to sleep with an empty stomach!

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