Time is at the heart of Swiss culture. They are master watchmakers, trains are punctual, and the all important coffee hour is always at 4pm. As the country’s magnificent clocks ring out, the coffee shop packs out. Ironically, however, on Switzerland tours, you’ll discover it’s also a country where you completely lose all sense of time, being distracted by the sheer drama of its mountainous landscapes, the Swiss Alps and sub-Alpine Jura Mountains covering nearly 60 percent of the country.
On walking holidays in Switzerland, you almost need to keep an eye on your watch as you walk across the High Passes of Valais, the Bernese Oberland or along the country’s Camino, the Way of St.James, as time dissipates into thin air. And if you want to treat yourself to new gear for cycling holidays, Switzerland is perfect for precision time keepers. Whether you are cycling around Lake Constance or on the high roads of the Valais, be prepared to let your time targets go for a while, though. And just enjoy Switzerland’s timelessness.
Where to go
High Passes of Valais
The Valais canton, or region, in the south of the country, encapsulates every Swiss cliché you could think of and will stop you in your trekking tracks. With 41 mountains over 4,000m, in winter it looks like the peaks on a perfect Christmas cake. But in summer months, when these mountain landscapes between the Simplon and Grand St Bernard passes do their big reveal of flower-rich meadows, larch forests, emerald lakes and panoramic views, the Valais is verging on velvety. Walk the complete section between Brig and Grimenz in ten days, or divide it up into either the east in six days or the west section in seven days. For cycling holidays, Switzerland’s High Passes are a definite lead-out.
Way of St James
The Via Jacobi or Jacobsweg, open April to October, is part of the European network of Caminos all eventually leading to Santiago de Compostelo, although Switzerland has wrapped up its section beautifully into a chocolate box version of heavenly bites. Walk all of it in 21 days, on a self-guided tour between two of Europe’s most famous beauty spots: Lake Constance and Lake Geneva. This walking tour is long, and without any technical or trying ascents, but you can also take it on in sections: Lake Constance to Einsiedeln, between Einsiedeln to Interlaken or from Interlaken to Romont, all ethereal paths in their own right.
Tour du Mont Blanc
This tri-partite trek is one of the most magnificent multinational mergers you will come across. The Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB), Mont Blanc Circuit or Il Giro del Monte Bianco, depending on which language you opt for in Switzerland, is a 170km circumnavigation of the massif’s lower levels. As the dameblanche of European summits stretches across France, Switzerland and Italy, Switzerland is just one part of this adventurous sandwich. Swiss highlights include walking between Col de Balme (2,191m) on the border with France, with views of Aiguille d’Argentière mountain, and Col de la Forclaz (1,527m), or the trek from Col de la Forclaz (1,527m) to the idyllic Swiss mountain town of Champex.
Via Alpina and Bernese Oberland
The Bernese Oberland, also called the Bernese Highlands or Bernese Alps, is home to the most masterful of Switzerland’s mountains: Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. You don’t have to summit to get it though, with our walking holidays in Switzerland’s central Alps following a section of the Via Alpina long-distance trail between Meiringen to Lenk. Spend a week walking up to exquisite elevations like Blüemlisalp or Grosse Scheidegg, the latter proffering views of the great peaks. Or ease your way up to the high points by taking a cable car up to Allmenalp and hike the highlands to Bonderchrinde. It’s all a panorama of Bernese beauty.
Jura Crest Trail
The Jura Crest Trail, open April to October, is Switzerland’s oldest long-distance trail, covering spectacular ridges such as Aiguilles de Baulmes and passes with infinitesimal sub-Alpine views. On one day of walking alone you get up close and personal with five passes of Staffelegg, Bänkerjoch, Salhöhe, Schafmatt and Untere Hauenstein. Conquer the Jura Crest Trail in 19 days, with the help of some trains and cable cars, meaning that this is an invigorating rather than testing walking holiday. Or take on a smaller section, still packed with elevated wonders and traditional villages between Weissenstein and Couvet.
Things to do
- For cycling holidays, Switzerland has a chocolate box menu of delights on offer. Indeed, one cycling holiday even has you wheeling through ‘chocalatiering’ lands, so there is no issue with topping up the carbs on that one. Road cyclists who want to push themselves up passes, and soar down Alpine valleys have the perfect ‘breakaway’ on our Valais cycling holiday. Cycling around Lake Constance has fewer peaks and troughs, but more countries, as this vast lake, in the Alpine foothills, with shoreline meadows, vineyards and beaches, leads you into not only Switzerland but also Germany and Austria. Fed by the Rhine, you can also add a visit to the spectacular 150m Rhine Falls onto your Lake Constance cycling route.
- Travelling by train in Switzerland is both eco-friendly and eco-fantastic, boasting some of the most exhilarating train journeys in the world. Many of our Switzerland tours are accessible by train, such as the Via Alpina and Bernese Oberland walking holiday, starting in Meiringen, which is just an hour from Lucerne by train. The Tour de Mont Blanc starts and ends at Chamonix, a popular Alpine train station, and you can start and finish the St James Way by train too. You can also go hiking alongside the world famous Rhaetian Rail route, hopping on and off the train whenever you please. Read more about train travel in Switzerland on The Man in Seat 61’s award-winning website.
- Mountains may dominate landscapes in Switzerland but the lakes are often the leading ladies. Lake Constance, known locally as Bodensee, is the best known of all its 1,500 lakes or so, and our cycling holiday around Lake Constance, with electric bikes also an option, is one of our top Switzerland tours. Both Constance and Lake Lucerne feature on our St James Way walking holidays, and our Bernese Oberland walking holiday has its finale on the shores of Lake Geneva, the largest lake in Switzerland. For a lake wanderlust fest, our Ticino Lakes and Valleys walking holiday is an aquatic arcadia, with Lake Lugano its most sought after mountain oasis. But the oscar for leading lady of the lakes goes to our walking holiday in the High Engadine Valley, also known as the Pearl of the Alps, interspersed with sapphires of St. Moritz, Silvaplana, Champfèrer and Silser lakes.
Responsible travel tips
- Switzerland suffers from overtourism in some key spots during summer months, especially from large group coach tours. By going on one of our sustainable walking holidays in Switzerland, you are supporting small hotels, restaurants, and artisan food or drink makers, following ancient paths that will never see a coach, and also respecting the country’s culture of peace and quiet.
- We don’t sell downhill skiing holidays in Switzerland and, with climate change, such holidays are going to become more and more damaging to this small country’s precious biodiversity. The snows are melting earlier and glaciers are retreating. Snow cannons are put into action in order to provide artificial snow for the powder pushers and they are using up vital groundwater as a result. During the 2020-2021 ski season, 53% of Swiss ski resorts were artificially covered with snow, which also contains chemicals when sprayed at high elevations. So, let’s leave the heights to heal in winter and enjoy their magnificence by walking or cycling in spring, summer and autumn instead.
- Respect the etiquette of mountain refuge huts and shared accommodation on Mont Blanc walking holidays. This includes leaving your boots in allocated boxes, using your own sleeping bag liner, respecting the peace and quiet of early nights and keeping your stuff tidy. Having cash for the bar in huts or other small rural businesses also goes down well.
- You don’t need to buy drinking water in plastic bottles anywhere, as tap water is, not surprisingly, perfect in Switzerland. Don’t be tempted to top up your bottle with glacial melt water, however, as minerals and animal waste can cause sickness.