Produced by SilverKris for Switzerland Tourism
You might be forgiven for thinking that a winter adventure to Switzerland is primarily for those with skis, cross-country kit and snowboards. After all, the country’s most stunning mountain resorts have been geared to sporty, outdoorsy types. But now there are more reasons than ever to skip the slopes, with one-of-a-kind tours galore.
The Swiss aren’t kidding when they say the Alps can be enjoyed by doing next to nothing. From riding a gourmet cheese train to soaking in a medicinal thermal spring, there’s an only-in-Switzerland experience waiting for everyone.
Here are our favourite seven activities to try.
In a country associated with the finer things in life, it should come as no surprise that Switzerland is home to some of the world’s most beautiful spa resorts. Little wonderlands of thermal pools, herbal sanariums and stone baths, they are a breath of fresh air and can be found tucked in nooks across the country. The Grand Resort Bad Ragaz delivers a fizz of excitement with its baroque-era Helena Spa and steam rooms that are fed by the toe-wrinkling waters from the nearby Tamina Gorge. Then there is Leukerbad Spa, effectively Europe’s largest Alpine chill-out zone, which comes with stone grottos that date back to Roman times. If the succession of thermal pools here fail to soothe your senses, maybe it’s time to try the similarly vast Walliser Alpentherme next door.
These days, everyone has ridden a cable car or vertiginous gondola. But not so many have traded end of day après-ski for driving a piste machine in the dark, when the slopes are closed and the groomers begin reshaping the mountain for the next day. Jump in the cabin at Saas-Grund near Saas Fee in Valais and a staffer will show you a side to ski resort life that few ever see. Best part? You’ll see slopes bathed in extraordinary starlight. Be a good student and you’ll even walk away with a diploma.
Man and dog versus Mother Nature is a scene that has played out for centuries in the Swiss Alps. It is still one that epitomises the timeless appeal of the destination. Far from an ordinary excursion, dog sledding will see you lurch through snow-filled forests towards mountain panoramas, all while learning the fine line between cruising and colliding with oncoming trees. You can get to know the pooches and their handlers with the Swiss Mushing Company, based at the Glacier 3000 Ski Area, or race over snow and ice on the Plaine-Morte Glacier at speeds of 30kmph in Crans-Montana. Either way, you’ll get a firsthand lesson in canine teamwork and come nose-to-nose with the hardest working tour guides in the mountains.
The snaking train ride from Chur in Grisons to Tirano in Italy on the Rhaetian Bahn is one of the country’s most spectacular. As the railway corkscrews up and over the Bernina mountain pass, the natural theatre of Switzerland performs its greatest act: convincing you there is no better mountain journey on earth. Along the way, you’ll spy fairy tale chateau, hanging glaciers and cross over the 65m-high Landwasser Viaduct, a Unesco-worthy marvel of engineering. The bridge is but one of 196, though, and with some 55 tunnels to whizz though the train ride becomes one filled with peekaboo glimpses of mountains and waterfalls and stealing moments that no smartphone or camera could ever capture.
Visitors return summer after summer for Alpine hiking because it’s so accessible. And yet hiking rarely gets a look-in during winter. It’s a pity, because there are dozens of easy trails to follow through the country’s snow-covered landscapes. It’s an adventure made more tempting in the resort of Flims-Laax, where a 10km (2.5hr) culinary trail leads from the town centre on a three-course tour past Lake Cauma to Trin Mulin overlooking the Rhine Valley. Start with a Grisons’ charcuterie platter, before hiking to a traditional hut for local delicacy capuns (meat dumplings), then onwards for a slice of walnut tart. What more could you want from a day hike?
For decades, visitors knew they’d arrived in Switzerland when they checked-in to a grand dame hotel stuffed with stag antler hearths, fur-trimmed sofas and cigar lounges. Times have changed and now a stay is more likely to be in a transparent heated dome, an eco-pod perched on a mountainside, or in an igloo in Gstaad or Zermatt. There’s no arguing with the appeal of the Whitepod Eco-Luxury Hotel, a sustainable venture in Les Giettes, Matterhorn Region, or the four glass treehouse nests at Le Nids in Le Locle near the French border. Talk about being spoilt for choice.
You won’t find many places in the Alps where tying a lure to a line in midwinter feels more appropriate than the village of Melchsee-Frutt. Ice fishing is an unlikely if popular sport on the pretty-as-a-postcard ice here and you can book a guide to help you drill your own hole to fish on frozen Melchsee or Tannensee lakes. Located at 2,000m and yet still away from the yelping ski crowds, this is a Switzerland that rejects the normal winter cliches. Amid the spine-tingling scenery, you might land a memory that stays with you forever.
For more on Switzerland’s many diverse attractions, and other travel ideas in the country, visit the Switzerland Tourism website.