After visiting Switzerland for the first time in late December/early January, I found myself quite taken by its charm and thoroughly enjoyed my time there. I wanted to share with you the 11 reasons that I fell in love with the country, and hope that they inspire you to think about making the journey. Being winter, the weather obviously had a big impact on my experience and while I would love to visit again in the spring to compare, I absolutely loved travelling around Switzerland in winter.
I think these reasons alone are the perfect excuse to visit this beautiful country, but there are many others that I have forgotten or left out just waiting for you to experience them yourself.
1. The Mountains
This one is a little obvious, but seriously from my first glance at the snow covered peaks I knew I was in love. The best bit is that there isn’t really anywhere in Switzerland that you don’t get to experience the incredible peaks and the vast scale of the alps. For a first hand experience of the mountains I highly recommend the Glacier Express train, and then in Zermatt you may want to check out the Gornergrat Railway. When I thought I had seen it all, there was always more. The Jungfrau region is also fairly spectacular and produced some of my favourite scenes with crystal clear lakes watched over by gigantic snowy mountains.
2. The Trains
Train travel in Switzerland is actually amazing. Not only does it give you front row seats to some of the best scenery, but it is also really efficient. Trains run regularly and on time which blew my mind. A 4 minute transfer time at a station would be plenty of time, while in Australia I could guarantee everytime the first train would be late meaning a missed connection. Trains are comfortable and everything runs smoothly. The only time we were delayed was due to a massive storm that literally blew trains off the track, and the staff did everything to ensure passengers would be able to make their connections.
3. The Churches
I’ve lost count of how many of my photos contain a church. Each little town tends to have a small church perched on top of a hill with a beautiful tall steeple. They are just beautiful to look at and make very nice subjects for photos!
4. The proximity to other countries
Switzerland is landlocked, making it really easy to pass through or travel to other surrounding countries. It shares its borders with France, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Liechtenstein. Our train from Germany to Switzerland passed through Austria and when visiting Montreux we were literally on the other side of Lake Geneva which carries the border of France and Switzerland. Again, I think being Australian makes the fact that you could just pop over to another country for a weekend or even just day more amazing as this big ol’ island makes even domestic travel expensive and difficult at times.
5. The Cheese!
I know, I know – I am allergic to lactose. Fun fact, in Switzerland all Swiss Cheese is required to follow a very specific set of requirements as set out in law. One of these means that through the ageing process required, the lactose will no longer remain within the cheese. So basically, as long as the Swiss Cheese has been aged for over 3 months, I can eat it without getting sick. And most gruyere cheese has been aged at least 10 months so it is pretty safe. So as I think should be a required Swiss experience, I enjoyed some traditional Swiss Fondue made with white wine, garlic, cornflour and of course HEAPS of cheese. Good news is that you can get the same brand of gruyere here in Australia at the supermarket that has been imported. Eating cheese again alone is reason enough to love Switzerland!
6. The Snow
Probably more for those of us who love winter, but I don’t think many people would look out at a fresh dusting of snow and say that it wasn’t pretty. Switzerland has recently had some crazy snow causing avalanches leaving people stranded. That is probably too much snow. But the snow we got in late December was just perfect. Yes it was cold, but it was exactly a winter wonderland and the experience of snow falling is one that I think everyone should have in their lifetime as it is truly one of nature’s most beautiful moments.
7. The Old Towns
In many cities in Europe, you will find the most beautiful old architecture as you wander the streets of the old towns. In Switzerland, I fell completely in love with the colours, with the narrow streets and the cobblestone roads. My favourite was in Chur which is dated as being one of Switzerland’s oldest settlements, while I still very much enjoyed walking through the streets of the old towns in both Zurich and Lucerne.
8. The Food
Besides the cheese and chocolate, Switzerland has a really interesting food scene. It is very international through the influence of its surrounding countries therefore you will find many Italian, French and Bavarian restaurants serving up some delicious food. Traditional Swiss cuisine is very similar to German being mostly meat and potatoes, with a particular variation being the Rosti – a large pancake style hashbrown with your selection of different toppings such as sausages or eggs (and of course cheese). We did also manage to find some great Asian restaurants as well when looking for vegetables after feeling like a break from all the meat.
9. The picturesque wooden houses
Travelling by train, you get to see much of the landscape that you would otherwise miss. I often found myself glued to the window as we passed little towns full of brown wooden houses with thick snow sitting on top. When you think of Switzerland in winter, these are the buildings that come to mind and each time we passed more I would think to myself, as long as I had a fire, a blanket and a good book I could very easily stay there a while.
10. The food-labelling
This is probably a bit of a weird one, but I seriously loved it and it had a significant impact on our trip. Firstly, I loved the supermarkets in Switzerland. You could easily buy everything you need in one location. Also, when is Australia going to start allowing you to buy alcohol in the supermarket? I feel like we are the only country that needs a second shop for this. Anyway, most foods would very clearly on the label specify whether it contained lactose or gluten or was vegan. You didn’t need to look at the fine print or decipher the ingredients. Some supermarkets even had tags on the shelf to alert you to allergy friendly foods. It just made supermarket shopping so much easier as at a glance I knew what I could eat. Also, all restaurants have the source of their food listed. For example most lamb is imported from New Zealand and prawns from Vietnam. This made deciding to eat locally sourced foods so much easier – how good would it be if we were more transparent about this at restaurants everywhere?
11. The Waterfalls
It’s no secret how much I love waterfalls, and while this trip wasn’t focused on them we still saw our fair share. About half of those we passed on board a train were frozen, capturing the powerful flow as it cascaded over the mountain edge. The most impressive was of course Staubbach Falls in Lauterbrunnen which cascades a massive 297 metres from an overhanging cliff into the valley near the town. Another favourite I was unable to take a photo of, but it was passing through the village of Lungern on route to Lucerne. An enormous, powerful waterfall was cascading from the snow capped mountains into the town which sat in a green valley on the edge of a lake, with of course a church perched on a hill in the middle. The perfect Swiss scene and one of the most beautiful looking towns, I only wish I had a chance to get off the train and explore more.
I hope some of these things inspire you to think about travelling to Switzerland, particularly in the white, snowy month of December! I know these 11 things along with many others made me fall in love with the country and make me eager to return one day.