Orson Welles said Switzerland’s accolades amount to 500 years of peace, brotherly love and the invention of the cuckoo clock. He was a cynic. What Switzerland symbolizes for the 21st century traveller is remarkable. Within this landlocked nation, her incredible natural beauty and peace allow you to be yourself because her prosperity and cleverly developed democracy make it a happy place to be.
Switzerland Tourism’s ‘Grand Tour’ offers a range of the most scenic and idyllic panoramic routes. The itinerary runs over 1600km, five Alpine passes, 11 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 22 lakes. Hire a car, enjoy the train, jump on a boat or use all three, nothing is left unattended. The Swiss Travel System offers a wide range of travel tickets and passes exclusively for visitors from abroad and have affiliated 115 hotels and off the beaten track charming guesthouses.
The short flight from London to Geneva with Swiss International was effortless. I arrived in the beautiful historical city of Lausanne in time to explore its striking gothic cathedral and the renowned Olympic Museums brilliant interactive and thought provoking depiction of the games. The winding cobblestone streets and interesting shops make it a perfect base for intimate cityscape trekking before heading out on your adventure.
My tour started roughly 9 km from Lausanne at Point i Cully. A place of beautiful vistas, lazy boat rides and fresh fish for sale on the water’s edge. Hiking, a village, an intimate and respected ‘Cooley Jazz Festival’ and the Lavaux Panoramic Railway are not to be missed here.
One of Switzerland’s best-kept secrets is its wine. I headed to the stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lavaux which houses 10,000 terraces of vineyards in various geometric patterns dating back to the 11th century. Roughly 40% of wine produced in Switzerland is consumed by the internal market. Switzerland’s love for its cultural heritage is exemplified here. I chose to wander on foot through its vine trails that stretch for 30 km from the Château de Chillon to the eastern outskirts of Lausanne in the Vaud region. This peaceful gradient of tiny villages and vineyard plots harness a distinctive micro-climate; and there are several wineries to stop off on route. I had lunch with Patrick Fonjallaz, a most gracious and engaging estate owner whose family have produced wine here for centuries. This winery has an elegant and gorgeous setting that you’ll want to return to. Over a couple of glasses in the cellar, surrounded by magnificent giant casks, Patrick explained local wine traditions and warmly divulged the secret of the ancient Chasselas grape. It’s proudly attributed to the Geneva region and is best produced by the Swiss, creating a big and plump, more mineral Chasselas. Lunch is served on his leafy sun-drenched terrace overlooking Lake Geneva. Locally sourced fish and an exquisite array of local produce reflect the passion this kitchen has for seasonality and freshness. Lavaux feels unhurried and genteel, oozing tranquillity and harmony. The musical impresario Prince wrote a song about Lavaux, no doubt inspired by this regions exceptional beauty; it cannot be overstated. If one could live here, you surely would.
It was now time to be go beyond adventurous and be brave. Lake Geneva disappeared in between the valley as I headed by train into the mountains on the GoldenPass Line to reach the highest point of the Canton Vaud. I transferred onto a cable car and arrived at the thrilling and breath-taking Glacier 3000 Les Diablerets.
Whether it’s relaxing outdoors in the mountain lounge or simply taking in the wondrous scenery of 24 summits over 4000m, there’s plenty to do here for all ages: whizz down the Alpine Express’ self-propelled toboggan, cross the exhilarating ‘Peak Walk’ suspension bridge, hike or a take a glacier snow bus ride. Lunch in the panoramic Restaurant Botta faces a shimmering Matterhorn and serves top notch Swiss fayre and of course another fine selection of Swiss wines.
The following morning I jumped back on the GoldenPass Line to Villars-sur-Ollon situated in the heart of the Vaud Alps. Set against a backdrop of spectacular beauty at 1300m, this area is the epitome of picture-postcard Switzerland. The walking trails surround a sparkling blue lake, red chocolate box train’s wind their way around the mountains as the wonder of Mont Blanc sleeps in the distance. I had a game of golf at Villars Golf Club which has two decent nine-hole alpine courses and a club house that falls nothing short of an idyllic spot to lose a few hours over another superb lunch.
My last day was spent on two contrasting railways; the ultra-modern GoldenPass Panoramic and the luxurious vintage Pullman Belle Epoque. From Montreux to The Pleiades in Les Rochers-de-Naye, very few words are needed: this is sensational, awe-inspiring iconic scenery. By late afternoon I’m exploring Montreux’s wonderful architecture with its very pretty long promenade that’s strewn with modern artworks. Swans parade in front of the award winning bronze of Freddie Mercury who gazes over his beloved Lake Geneva. A perfect ending to the day.
In a mid-eighteenth century Britain, European conflicts didn’t stop tourism, it excelled. The Georgian travellers of the ‘Grand Tour’ arrived in Switzerland because it was an adventurous destination and the heroic journey amongst travel literature boomed. This account touches upon the surface of what Switzerland’s own 21st century Grand Tour has to offer. The recurring theme here is timeless elegance and the Swiss are very clear about themselves, their history and its tourism.
It is no exaggeration to say, this country takes your breath away. It really has got the capacity to do this. Be adventurous: Switzerland offers something outstanding and unique and something of the majestic sublime.
Please see: grandtour.myswitzerland.com/en/
Swiss International Airlines operate several non-stop flights per day to Geneva and Zurich from London City and London Heathrow.
Article published in association with The Swiss Tourist Board, who arranged for DL Osborne’s stay in Switzerland.