Wondering what there is to like about Switzerland?
Fondues, scenic train rides, unparalleled landscapes, chocolates, and ski trips of a lifetime are just some of the reasons why you must visit Switzerland.
We will be exploring the top 15 reasons why this, not so over-commercialised tourist mecca is an attractive travel destination for every South African.
As for the question on everyone’s minds, yes it is mighty expensive but hey, you get what you pay for!
Whether it is the spectacular scenery, or the safety and security, Switzerland is a country that will leave you wanting more.
Contrary to South Africa and a large part of Europe, notorious for its hoard of snatch thieves, pickpockets and gypsies, Switzerland ranks 2nd globally as per the Global Finance’s safety index factors.
2. A melting pot of cultures and languages
Switzerland is a country that is characterized by its cultural diversity. Geneva, for example, is home to 190 different nationalities that live and work in its city. And that’s just Geneva. The country borders Germany, France, Austria and Italy which adds to its diversity.
The western part of Switzerland is French and includes cities such as Lausanne and Geneva.
That said, travelling from one region of Switzerland to the other feels like you are country hopping.
3. Peaceful, calm nation
Switzerland is a relative sea of calm, which could possibly be attributed to its stable democracy you see in action.
As a result, it is a country that you can quite easily disconnect in, and free yourself from that political rubbish you have to deal with daily.
4. Its climate(s)
Switzerland has an incredibally varying climate which is heavily influenced by the Alps as well as by the Atlantic Ocean. And whilst you may think that it is covered in snow all year round, or thoughtout the entire winter season, think again.
Don’t be surprised by the fact that you can spend a morning ploughing down the snowy Alps, then the afternoon soaking up the sun around one of the countries lakes.
Winters in the northern plateau are mild and damp, whereas higher altitudes experience arctic temperatures. At altitudes above 1200-1500 metres or so, precipitation in the winter falls mainly as snow.
The south side of the Alps is strongly affected by the Mediterranean Sea, and so winters there are mild and the summers warm and humid, and sometimes hot.
The mountains also add an extra dimension to the "mild" Swiss climate, as the elevation is an important factor for the temperature at a specific location.
Also, mountains can stop clouds, resulting in a moist cool climate on one side of a mountain, and a dry sunny climate on the other side.
5. Snap postcard-worthy pictures
“Every picture I took in Switzerland looked like it’s from a postcard,” said every person we know who has visited the country.
Be wowed by nature’s astonishing beauty, where lush green pastures, skies in stunning hues of blue and the magnificent Alps come together to form a picture that truly represents the Instagram catchphrase #nofilterneeded.
Almost anywhere you end up in the country, you're likely to have a view of something spectacular, whether it be crystal clear lakes, rolling hills, snow capped mountains, or waterfalls.
Switzerland stands unique in boasting about its array of astonishing lakes, some of which are among Europe’s largest and most beautiful.
If mountains, lakes and scenic landscapes weren't enough to convince you to visit, then Switzerland’s abundance of waterfalls might just. It is home to Europe’s largest plain waterfall, the impressive Rhine Falls. The sheer size and power of this fall will just take your breath away.
It also has its fair share of falls that are among the highest in Europe.
In the Lauterbrunnen Valley, you can find 72 spectacular falls cascading down the mountains. These falls have inspired worldwide poets and painters and have arguably become recognisable landmarks for the country.
Some notable falls of the region are the Staubbach Falls and mysterious Trümelbach Falls, which can be found inside the mountain.
The Matterhorn mountain is recognized around the globe as the proud symbol of Switzerland.
Its lonely peak, resembling that of a jagged tooth juts up into the sky, challenging mountaineers worldwide and welcomes less energetic visitors looking to enjoy its tranquil beauty.
But this is not the only mountain that will get you excited. 20% of the Alps are in Switzerland which means that there are still approximately 100 peaks waiting to be marvelled at.
Each being close to or higher than 4000meters above sea level and can be easily reached by aerial cable cars, cog railways or gondolas.
6. An outdoor playground
As mentioned above, Switzerland has no shortage of natural scenes, which makes it an outdoor playground for adventure lovers.
Not only can you go skiing and snowboarding in the winter, but in summer, you can take advantage of more than 60 000kms of uniformly marked hiking trails that criss-cross the country.
Here is another fact that you can appreciate: There are almost as many marked hiking trails as there are roads for motorized traffic. Can you agree that the Swiss are serious about getting outdoors?
There are a few other outdoor activities that you can take part in, like snow-shoe trekking, tobogganing, sleighing.
The countries extensive cable car and gondola system makes it so easy to hop from one mountain to the next.
7. Switzerland for breakfast, Italy for lunch
If you are like me, you love country hopping. And what better place to do that in Switzerland.
It does after all neighbour 4 other countries. Germany, France, Italy, Austria and the tiny state of Liechtenstein are all easily accessible with Switzerland’s incredible and punctual railway network. I am not even kidding when I say that Swiss trains are on time down to the second.
The best part of this is, you can wake up in Switzerland, have lunch in Munich (which is 4hours away by train), and be back in Switzerland for a late dinner.
Looking for another destination? Milan can be reached in 1h40 from Lugano.
8. Cheese and Chocolate
Now is not the time to diet. The Swiss are famed for both their cheeses and chocolates.
Love cheese? There are over 400 cheeses resident to Switzerland, with some having received “protected” status and not produced anywhere else in the world.
You should just check out the cheese sections in the stores.
One traditional cheese dish to enjoy is the traditional Swiss fondue. Emmental and Gruyère are melted in a huge pot and mixed with dry white wine, then you can dip pieces of rustic bread in it.
Raclette is also a noteworthy kind of cheese and dish. Pieces of Raclette cheese are poured over potatoes or meat and placed in mini grills. Delicious!
Chocolate in Switzerland has been dubbed as “dark gold” and for good reason.
Many of the world’s famous chocolate brands all started out in Switzerland. Lindt, Toblerone and Nestlé hailed from here.
Although Lindt & Sprüngli officially started in 1899, the owners started making chocolate as early as 1845. They where the first to invent the conche, a revolutionary manufacturing technique that led to "melting chocolate" as we know and love today.
9. The public bathrooms
Public bathrooms would not usually make the "Top 15 reasons why lists" for any country. But in Switzerland, the bathrooms you will find in train stations are incredibly clean. Almost as clean as the one you find in your hotel room.
In fact, almost everything in Switzerland is incredibly clean.
10. Health Conscious Food
Cheese and chocolates aside, the Swiss eat incredibally healthy. It is one of the only countries in the world where you are less likely to find preservatives and unnatural ingredients in their food.
So much so that, according to the global health rankings, the average life expectancy of the Swiss is 83 years.
Swiss food is fresh, and you can definitely taste the difference. Although eating out can be very expensive, it sure is worth it.
Switzerland's citizens regularly rank among the world's happiest, so what makes them so cheerful during their working hours?
That is because they have a really healthy and strict work-life-balance.
According to the OECD world happiness rankings, the average Swiss citizen works 1,632 hours a year, 144 less than the world average.
In addition, employees must have a minimum of 11 hours off between shifts/days, according to the Swiss economics secretariat.
In addition, lunch breaks are sacred. If you eat a sandwich at your desk, people will scold you. If it is summer, going for a swim in a nearby lake is an acceptable way to spend your lunch hour.
Swiss companies also offer fairly generous policies for vacation leave, parental leave, and childcare benefits, making it easy for working parents to manage their family lives as well.
What’s more, is that the Swiss nation is relatively quiet, introverted and polite, all whilst being mindful of people's privacy and need for “quiet time.”
As a result of all of the above, don't travel to Switzerland expecting that everything will be open on a Sunday. Everything, in almost every city is on lockdown.
It can be a little bit frustrating at first, having to plan around the Swiss strict working hours but once you consider the reasons why this happens, you can appreciate the rest day given to you, even if it is your vacation.
12. Soak in the best quality thermal waters
So what do the Swiss do as part of their work-life-balance routines?
They rejuvenate their stressed out minds and souls in one of Switzerland’s many thermal baths that serve a long-standing history of 2000 years.
Thermal water, in general, is rightly considered a natural source of health, youth and beauty and beneficial to the human body. They are widely used in the treatment of respiratory diseases and muscular disorders especially that of rheumatism.
You will appreciate the restorative retreats that are on offer in luxurious indoor spas around the country. Better yet, some of these thermal spas can be found outdoors among the Alps. These thermal baths never look more beautiful than in winter when the snow is heavily falling.
A few thermal baths you can consider is the Les Bains De Lavey that boasts the hottest thermal water in the country, the Leukerbad Therme, being the largest thermal spa in all of Europe, and the fairy-tale setting of the Alps as provided for by the Mineraldbad and Spa.
There’s no better place than Lausanne and Zurich to party and there is a club for every age and every taste, some with well-known
DJ’s that have the grooves down. The variety of bars, cafes and music clubs is astounding – and the cities itself isn’t exactly forgettable.
14. Luxury watches, Say what?
Almost everything in Switzerland is of ultimate luxury, and the unique watches that come from this country are no different.
In the St. Imier Valley, you will find one of the three major Swiss watchmaking centres. This factory still uses original equipment, including an antiquated rose engine, to perform age-old techniques such as guillochage, a process that creates precise decorative patterns. And the workers still labour by hand to produce dials for a coterie of Switzerland’s leading watch brands, including Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Chopard.
Today, Swiss watches, particularly the handcrafted mechanical variety, lauded for their precision and pedigree, are synonymous with luxury.
A Swiss airlines advertisement at Zurich Airport couldn't have summed it up better: “Like shopping for a Swiss watch. Hard to make a mistake.”
15. For the Festivals
Switzerland has no shortage of magnificent festivals that you can attend.
One such event is the colourful nine-day International Hot Air Balloon Festival held every January by the Château-d’Oex in the Vaudois Alps.
You will love this festival for its aerial displays, the night show, and all the balloon rides.
Switzerland is also famous for its wine especially in Geneva where Switzerland's oldest and largest festival takes place. The Fête des Vignerons (Winegrower’s Festival) in Vevey on Lake Geneva is only held five times a century and is also a Unesco-recognised event too. Last held in 1999, it will run from July 18th to August 11th in 2019.
The fête’s origins date back to the 17th century when the Wine Guild held a yearly pageant in Vevey, at the foot of The Lavaux - one of Switzerland’s oldest wine-growing regions.
If you love sport then you can attend Switzerland’s largest traditional sporting event called the Federal Swiss Wrestling and Alpine Festival.
It is a fantastic celebration of Swiss wrestling, seeing the country's best wrestlers, resembling that of a half sumo-wrestler, competing in a circular area filled with dust.
It only happens once every three years and the 2019 outing takes place in Zug from August 23rd to August 25th.
These are just a few of the many festivals happening each year in this diverse country.
Be sure to check out our most recent piece on the Lucern Carnival here.
First Published on THE SOUTH AFRICAN.