They take healthy living seriously, the Swiss. And through slogans like ‘Switzerland, get natural’ the tourism board is encouraging us Brits to get in on the act, too.
It shouldn’t be a hard sell – their rejuvenating lakes and mountains and fresh air have been attracting active types and convalescents year-round for generations, and as you’d expect from a country that gave us household names such as Kuoni, local operators know a thing or two about meeting travellers’ expectations.
The country attracts a loyal following and remains a steady seller for the likes of Kuoni. Jack Kirsch, the company’s market co-ordinator for Switzerland says: “Wengen is still our top-selling resort, along with Interlaken and Zermatt, but we are starting to see considerable growth in Adelboden, Grindelwald, Davos and St Moritz.
“We are also seeing more demand for three-star properties, but the four-star sector remains strong.”
Part of the country’s charm lies in its ethnic make up. Its different regions, or ‘cantons’, boast distinct French, German and Italian influences, evidenced in the local architecture, culture and cuisine.
Whether loading up on hearty staples such as raclette in the Valais, sampling Italian food in Ticino canton or splashing out at one of the country’s 93 Michelin-starred eateries, food is a highlight of any trip. As is exploring the picturesque towns and cities such as Lucerne, with its mix of contemporary and medieval architecture; Thun, with its fairytale castle; Chur, the country’s oldest city; and Zurich, the country’s largest city, with its charming old town.
Outside of the ski season, resorts like Les Diablerets are alive with possibilities such as paragliding and mountain biking. Klosters, home to the Swiss Bike Masters in July, is a good bet for cyclists.
Golfers will appreciate St Moritz, in Graubünden, with its five golf courses, while summer skiing in Zermatt is offered by Thomson and Crystal. Family-friendly active bases include Hoseasons’ Landal resort on Lake Walensee.
Having declared 2011 the Year of Walking, the tourism board is promoting the many hiking trails, details of which can be found at myswitzerland.com/hiking.
New products include UTracks’ seven-day Bernese Oberland walking tour, from £750, and Neilson’s guided Mont Blanc Snowshoe Week, which also visits France and Italy, and costs from £995 in January and February, excluding flights.
The many excellent spas offer another major selling point. Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, home to Grand Hotel Quellenhof & Spa Suites and Grand Hotel Hof Ragaz, recently invested €95 million refurbishing its accommodation and spa facilities.
Other options include the Grand Hotel Kronenhof, near St Moritz, with its 2,000sq metre spa, and the Cinq Mondes Spa at the Beau-Rivage Palace, which has cracking views of Lake Geneva and the Swiss Alps. At the Just Pure Spa at The Cambrian, in Adelboden, treatments are tied in with the cycles of the moon.
Other relaxing options include cruising Lake Geneva on a paddle steamer, taking a helicopter flight over the Weisshorn, Matterhorn and Monte Rosa mountains (20-minute flight from £165 with Kuoni); and hitching a ride on the Rotair, the world’s first revolving cable car (from £45 with Kuoni).
Gelmer funicular railway
Switzerland is also a rail-lover’s paradise. There are trains everywhere, in all shapes, sizes and gradients –106% in the case of the Gelmer, the world’s steepest funicular.
It’s home to Europe’s highest railway station, at Jungfraujoch, and Europe’s highest open-air cog railway, which runs between Zermatt and Gornergrat, offering glimpses of 29 mountain peaks and the Gorner Glacier (from £29 with Kuoni).
The iconic Glacier Express, from Zermatt to St Moritz, is sold by everyone from Thomson to Dertour and it’s the top seller for Great Rail Journeys, which also offers a standard class option through its value brand, Treyn. Another popular option is a ride on the Belle Époque-style Swiss Chocolate Train, topped off with a tasting session at the Nestlé factory in Broc (£35, Kuoni).
Other top picks include the William Tell Express and the Golden Pass Classic, with its vintage Orient-Express carriages, as featured in Thomson’s ten or eleven night Golden Pass Tour and Vintage Orient-Express independent train tour.
For its new nine-day Swiss Classic tour, Great Rail Journeys has chartered a vintage train, with restored 1940s carriages. Departing September 10, it starts at £2,355, including return rail travel from London, eight nights’ hotel accommodation, some meals and excursions (greatrail.com/uk, 01904 521 980).
Crystal’s new summer ‘immersion holidays’ offer experiential holidays based around resort centres such as Interlaken, Montreux and Zermatt. Thomson, meanwhile, has expanded its range of ‘Platinum’ hotel stays at properties like the four-star Hotel Parco Paradiso in Lugano, and introduced a new tour. A Taste of Switzerland includes a ride on the Chocolate Train and trips to Gruyère Castle, a cheese factory and the foodie centre of Gstaad.
Thomson and Crystal have also added Hotel Aristella in Zermatt, and the Hotel Royal Plaza and Swiss Majestic Hotel in Montreux. Plus, a new Thomson flight route is servicing the resort of Lugano via Zurich from Heathrow, Birmingham and Manchester.
Kuoni’s new family-friendly Swiss Adventure Tour includes activities such as tobogganing and zip-wiring, while Inghams has added a new property – the all-inclusive chalet Hotel Ambassador in Saas Fee, available on ‘chalet board’.
Send super-sleuths on Travelsphere’s 10-day Best of Switzerland tour (from £759), which visits the Reichenbach Falls, where Sherlock Holmes battled Professor Moriarti, and a museum devoted to the fictional detective (travelsphere.co.uk, 0800 112 3313).
New hotels in Lucerne include the Renaissance Lucerne Hotel. The nearby 23-room Hotel Villa Honegg, a five-star boutique country hotel, has an infinity pool and private cinema, while the renovated Hotel Pilatus Kulm, which opened last summer, is a historic gem perched on a mountainside.
In Bern, the five-star Hotel Schweizerhof opened last month, offering 100 rooms and suites. New offerings in Zürich include the four-star, 159-room Ramada Hotel Zürich City and the 300-room Renaissance Zürich Tower Hotel (opening in August).
New Zürich openings for 2012 include the funky 25hours Hotel and the B2 Boutique Hotel. Housed in a former brewery it includes a thermal spa, which is already open and offers 360-degree views of Zürich.
Deals and offers
Some resorts like Klosters and Davos provide passes offering free transportation, and free entry to local attractions.
Inghams includes a half-price travel card in all its Swiss holidays worth £60. Many Swiss hotels offer free nights. The Meierhof Davos, available through Kuoni, is giving up to seven free nights (with breakfast) for stays of seven nights or more until October 8.
Jack Kirsch, Kuoni, says: “Even though Switzerland is expensive, most hotels offer a four or five-course evening meal as part of the half-board, which represents real value for money.”
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