Mini guide to activities in Switzerland
A hiker walks over rocks near Switzerland’s Aletsch Glacier, the largest glacier in the Alps. (Cornelia Doerr/Getty)
Known as a summer and winter sports paradise of pines, peaks and glimmering lakes, Switzerland offers many more ways for visitors to pit themselves against its remarkable landscape than on a ski piste.
Lake Lucerne twists and turns around steep mountainsides, and in its eastern reaches, the föhn (dry downslope winds) create the perfect conditions for sailing. Adventure Point arranges guided canoe and kayak tours of the lake and, for thrill-seeking sorts, canyoning excursions can also be booked (canoe tours £50, canyoning from £80).
While the revolving mountaintop restaurant from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is Murren’s best-known attraction, its via ferrata offers real-life action. A mile and a half of cables, bridges and ladders leads along the cliff edge that overlooks the astounding Lauterbrunnen valley. Although it’s free to use, first-timers using a via ferrata should rent equipment locally and go with a guide (guided via ferrata £65; mid-Jun–Oct).
Venture to the bowels of the Earth at these eerie 938-metredeep caves in the Muotatal district. At 118 miles in length the Holloch Caves are the second-longest caves in Europe. You’ll need a guide, sturdy footwear and warm clothing to explore here. Trekking Team arranges everything from short tours to day expeditions deep into the mountain, and overnight bivouac tours offer a surreal experience, including a fondue feast in the inky darkness (tours from £60).
The tiny village of St-Léonard, a few miles northeast of Sion, hides Europe’s biggest underground lake, discovered in 1943. It’s around 300 metres long and 20 metres wide, and remains at a constant 11C. To see its clear emerald waters shimmer, take a 30-minute guided boat tour (mid-Mar–Oct; tours £6.60).
The Saas Fee Resort is located in a magnificent amphitheatre of 4,000-metre peaks. Take the year-round Allalin funicular up to 3,500m for a glacial panorama, or in summer, whisk yourself up to the sunny slopes of Hannig via cableway before flying back down a three-and-a-half-mile dirt track on a sturdy mountain scooter. Scooter and helmet hire is available from the station at the top of Hannig (day scooter/helmet hire £19).
At 14 miles, the Aletsch Glacier is the largest glacier in the Alps. Cable cars from the resorts of Riederalp, Bettmeralp and Fiescheralp offer easy viewing, but to get really close, put on some crampons and take a guided glacier walk (aletscharena.ch; tours around £35). If you’ve got the guts and a head for heights, trek to the foot of the glacier, to walk across the 124m-long Aletschji- Grünsee suspension bridge.
This moderate circular hike takes you in four or five hours from the Oberalp Pass to the dazzling blue-green lake of Lai da Tuma (Tomasee in German) – the source of the Rhine. From the pass, head south and west uphill to the top of Pazolastock. The trail continues along the ridge line and down to the lake before returning north.
The area around the resort of St Moritz makes for exhilarating biking, it being crisscrossed with 200 miles or so of trails. One of the best is the five-hour Suvretta Loop starting at the summit of Corviglia, taking in forests and meadows en route to the 2,615-metre Suvretta Pass before a spectacular descent to the town of Bever. Engadin Bikes offers rentals (day hire from £20).
Created in 1914, the Swiss National Park is a nature-gone-wild swathe of larch woodlands, waterfalls and high moors. You can head out on your own, but you might get more out of a guided hike with the National Park Centre. These include wildlife treks to the Val Trupchun, where you could see ibex, chamois and golden eagles (tours from £18).
Where to stay
At Ranch des Maragnènes, a family-run farm, guests can snooze in sleeping bags in a straw-filled barn, eat country breakfasts of bacon and eggs, and canter off into the countryside on horseback (near Sion; barn spaces £20).
Gasthaus Bargis is a snug, timber-fronted b&b, with unfussy rooms, wrought-iron beds and terraces for some, affording incredible views of the green hills and peaks nearby (Kantonsstrasse 8, Klosters Dorf; from £125).
The Hotel in Lucerne is all streamlined chic, with refined suites featuring stills from movie classics on the ceilings, and floor-to-ceiling windows with city views (Sempacherstrasse 14, Lucerne; from £285).
The main airports are in Zürich and Geneva, and airlines flying from the UK include BA, easyJet, Helvetic Airways, Jet2.com and Swiss. Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Gatwick, Heathrow, London City and Manchester all have direct flights to Zürich (from £115), while Geneva can be reached from these airports and also from Bournemouth, Glasgow, Leeds-Bradford, Liverpool, Newcastle, Stansted and Southend (from £80). Switzerland has fast motorways, and an efficient rail system.