I found myself living in Geneva, Switzerland during the winter semester of my third year of university. Hesitant to live abroad at first, during those six months away I took advantage of the train to explore the vast amounts of natural beauty within the country. From breathtaking vistas to indulgent and rich cuisine, Switzerland is an idyllic place that has been able to retain its old world, storybook charm.
While Switzerland might be overlooked during European adventures because of its small size and elevated priced tag, it’s absolutely worth a visit.
Here are my top eight reasons why Switzerland should headline your next vacation:
1. The language.
Switzerland is unique in that it uses four different languages and many dialects. The country is divided into Swiss German, French, Italian and Romansh cantons, with three overlapping border towns being officially bilingual. The country is divided geographically with the German region (Deutschschweiz) in the east, north and center; the French area (la Romandie) in the west and the Italian area (Svizzera Italiana) in the south. With more than half of the population speaking a dialect of Swiss German, it’s a beautiful thing to see how a country can be so similar, yet so unique depending on which language is most prevalent.
Plan your trip by exploring at least one spot in each of the language areas. If you only have a week, try spending a couple days in Bern (German) then heading south to Lugano (Italian) and then west to Lausanne (French).
2. The cheese.
Unlike in North America, the most popular type of cheese you will find in Switzerland is Gruyère. Named after the town in which it is made, this creamy, nutty, sweet cheese has a salty flavor and is often aged for five months to a year. Visit La Maison du Gruyère to learn the delicate process through which this cow’s milk cheese is made. Emmentaler, Swiss Brie, Swiss Camembert (or Tomme) and other regional blends are also commonly found throughout the country.
But, you can’t think about cheese without also indulging in a proper Swiss fondue or Raclette. A popular dish in the winter months, fondue in Switzerland is traditionally prepared with melted cheese blended with garlic and white wine. Raclette, on the other hand, is made of a melted cheese wheel that is scraped off and served with potatoes, pickled onions, gherkins and dried meats. While in Geneva I loved going to La Buvette des Bains with friends to spend an evening sipping white wine and dipping fresh bread into a giant pot of melted cheese.
3. The covered bridge of Lucerne.
One of the most famous landmarks of the Swiss German city of Lucerne is the Chapel Bridge. This covered wooden footbridge spans the Reuss River diagonally to link the old town to the new one. Dating back to the 17th century, the Chapel Bridge is the oldest surviving truss bridge and its interior is decorated by triangular paintings that depict popular scenes to promote the Catholic Church.
4. The spot where adventure seekers meet.
If I could recommend one spot that you can’t miss in Switzerland, it would be Interlaken. This town is nestled in between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz alongside the Aare River and is surrounded by majestic rolling mountains. Transporting you into a fairytale, Interlaken is the place to try outdoor sports and explore nature at its finest. Backpackers from far and wide make the journey to Interlaken to try skydiving, canyoning, hang gliding, paragliding, white water rafting or whatever else you may find that raises your adrenaline. During my weekend getaway to Interlaken, I stayed at the iconic Balmer’s Hostel and went white water rafting with Alpin Raft down the Lütschine.
5. A home for the world.
Geneva is the home to many international organizations, but most famously the Red Cross Museum and the United Nations Office. Known as The Palais des Nations, the UN Office offers daily guided tours in 15 languages showcasing The Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room, The Salle des Pas Perdus, and a selection of gifts presented to the UN Office in Geneva from various countries all over the world.
One of the most iconic landmarks of the UN is the Broken Chair sculpture by Swiss artist Daniel Berset. It was constructed by Louis Genève to serve as a form of opposition to remind politicians of the devastation and destruction caused by landmines and cluster bombs.
6. The chocolate.
Switzerland is known all over the world for its creamy milk chocolates. Take a look into the precise production process at Maison Cailler in Broc, which gives you the chance to see and taste their exquisite creations. First opened in 1897, the museum takes you through the factory’s history and delicate manufacturing. The Atelier du Chocolat at Maison Cailler also offers weekly workshops on chocolate making and other delicious topics.
Zermatt is a town located in southern Switzerland that has been a popular spot for skiers and mountaineers for the last century. The infamous Matterhorn mountain peak, popularized by the Toblerone chocolate bar, has tempted many diehard climbers to make the pilgrimage to its summit of 12,740 ft. For less adventurous onlookers, spectacular views of these mountain ranges can be reached by cable car or the world’s highest open-air railroad, Gornergratbahm. To help prevent air pollution from obscuring views of the Matterhorn, Zermatt is also a combustion engine-free zone, allowing only electric vehicles.
8. Lake Geneva.
Travel along Lake Geneva to the town of Montreux, the spot where crisp blue waters of the lake meet the Alps. I’ve always wondered that if you grew up living next to something so beautiful, would you still be in awe every time you saw Lake Geneva?
Stroll along the banks of the lake until you reach the historic Château de Chillon reflecting onto the water. Or, hike through the UNESCO World Heritage Site Lavaux (between Lausanne and Montreux) to explore the rolling hills of Geneva’s wine region. For music lovers, be sure to visit in July to check out the Montreux Jazz Festival that hosts a number of music acts in other genres beyond jazz.
Have you been to Switzerland? How did it captivate you?
Featured Image: Birdie Coffee via 12 Hours