Having just recently got my driver’s licence (27 years old is a FINE age to start driving, alright?), you can imagine the amount of Googling I’ve been doing regarding road trips. I’d always been a fan and I’d been on a few, but seeing as my husband was the sole driver on our escapades he had total dibs on our destinations – he drives, he picks. But the tables have now turned!
I recently visited Switzerland on business for one of my clients (you guys do know that I’m a freelance travel writer by trade, right?) where I was made aware of the Grand Tour of Switzerland. This new 1000-mile long tourist route encompasses four language regions, five Alpine passes, 22 lakes, and 11 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and incalculable viewpoints. That’s a lot of places to see – which is why I picked six of my favourite spots in the country… six places that summarize what Switzerland is to me.
(I am well aware that a list of must-see’s in Switzerland is borderline pointless – hell, you could stop pretty much anywhere in the country and still have a grand time. Because Switzerland. But this is my blog and I make the rules.)
Grand Tour of Switzerland: Know Before You Go
- Should you opt for the train tour with a Swiss Travel Pass, know that reservations are never compulsory (except on scenic trains like the Golden Pass or the Glacier Express) and that it can be used on all trains, trams, buses, and boats in the country.
Just a few kilometers west of the castle are the Lavaux vineyards, an 800-hectare wine paradise that stretches along the shores of Lake Geneva, where Chasselas crus are king and where views are to die for. Since July 2007, Lavaux is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Whether you come in by the motorway or the route along the lake, make sure to hand the wheel to the most experienced driver – these tiny routes along the wineries are sinuous, steep, and very difficult to drive with a standard European shift transmission (for full disclosure, I asked my dad)!
I recommend Domaine du Daley, whose adorable garden overlooks the terraced vines and the pristine Lake Geneva. On overcast days, you can even make out the French Alps in the distance.
Château de Chillon
It’s hard to tell what makes Chillon so special: is it its location on a peninsula in Lake Geneva, with the Alps and France as a backdrop, or is it its long-lasting history as a Roman outpost guarding the strategic roads leading to the mountain passes? Either way, Château de Chillon is a must, if only for the snapshots. It is a remarkably photogenic place!
Zermatt and Gornergratt
Zermatt is an adorable, car-free little Alpine town high up in the Swiss Alps shadowed by the famous Matterhorn. The imposing mountain is often covered in fog but when it does bless us with its presence, it seems like time stops ticking, as everyone turns their head to get a glimpse of the famous Toblerone mountain (that’s how my husband likes to refer to it, I’m sure he isn’t the only one).
To get the best view of the Matterhorn, hop on the highest cogwheel train in the world all the way up Gornergratt, where the might mountain will appear in all its glory – if the Swiss weather gods are kind enough to bless you with this gift. Should they be in a bad mood, there’s always the train ride itself, the Gorner Glacier, and the Lyskamm, nicknamed “the man devourer” because of its frequent avalanches.
Welcome to Switzerland’s largest city… that is nonetheless relatively small. Zürich is a walkable, cosmopolitan metropolis where one does not only find the world’s oldest vegetarian restaurant but also a peaceful lakefront and steep, historic cobblestone alleys. There are plenty of chocolate shops to keep you sated (like Sprungli, which has an outdoor terrace that locals love) and picturesque viewpoints (Jules Verne panoramabar, Grossmünster’s bell tower, Lindenhof park) to enjoy the city and its surroundings.
Side note: Zürich airport is one of my favourites in Europe. It’s compact in size and efficiently laid-out, which makes it easy to navigate even with short connections. If you have the possibility to land in Zürich, do it!
Lucerne and Mount Rigi
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Of course, a visit to Switzerland wouldn’t be complete without a stop in Lucerne. It’s consistently one of the most visited cities in the country, and with reason: with its iconic 14th-century covered bridge and its picture-perfect lakefront, it’s hard not to fall in love with it. Lucerne is also just a short boat ride away (on yet another of Switzerland’s turquoise lakes, no less!) from Mount Rigi, which can be accessed via the first cogwheel train in Europe, with scenic but dizzying views of 26 Swiss cantons and Lake Lucerne.
Now, even if you are afraid of heights, shove that fear aside and hop on that damn gondola (which is exactly what I did, with sweaty hands and shaky legs that is). It’s just too beautiful to pass! The entire experience, from the ride up to crossing the Peak Walk suspended bridge, is just so incredibly thrilling, seeing as it’s 10,000 feet high over the Diablerets area of the Swiss Alps. You’ll hate yourself for the first few minutes, but you’ll soon be too busy taking pictures and picking your jaw up you’ll forget what made you nervous in the first place.
[disclaim]I visited some of the places listed above while on business for one of my clients, and others on my own dime a few months back with my family, where my dad and I both engulfed unspeakable quantities of cheese. Like father, like daughter![/disclaim]