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
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.
The article 'Mini guide to activities in Switzerland' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.