Places to Love: Switzerland
Many people dream of visiting Switzerland. The sheer beauty of the alps, the legendary cheeses and chocolates—does it get any better than that? On this season of Places to Love, I visited the Bern area. From an alpine garden on an idyllic mountaintop and going deep underground experiencing the cheese grotto in Gstaad, to biking through the waterfall covered valley of Lauterbrunnen and finally floating down the icy cold Aare River in Bern, adventure awaits in Switzerland.
PLACES AND STORIES TO LOVE
A Cheese-fueled Adventure in Gstaad
Known as a popular ski resort town amongst high society and the jet set crowd, Gstaad somehow still feels down-to-earth. Though the slopes, international schools and fancy hotels get a lot of press, at its heart, Gstaad remains an agrarian hub. The region boasts 200 farms, 80 of which still use Alpine pastures for grazing their renowned cows. And we all know what comes from cows: delicious cheese.
I couldn’t resist the siren call of Molkerei Gstaad’s epic cheese cave. Imagine a tiny, nondescript structure nestled into a hillside. Through its door, you’ll find a cheese lover’s paradise. Reaching 60 feet below the earth, thousands of cheese wheels age for two or three years. It’s the cows’ alpine diet that makes this cheese special. Instead of always grazing in the same pastures, these cows graze at a variety of altitudes, where different grasses, flowers and plants grow. The result is a complex and delicious cheese you simply can’t find anywhere else. To book a tour of the cheese cave, call +41 (0) 33 744 11 15, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’d prefer to eat cheese rather than learn too much about it, visit Molkerei Gstaad’s storefront in the town proper. Here, you can buy cheese and other snacks, as well as reserve your very own Fondue Backpack. This adorable bag comes equipped with all the ingredients to feast on your own fondue picnic: Traditional thick fondue, crusty fondue bread, spices, fondue pot, warmer, plates and forks. Set up your fondue set somewhere with a storybook view, and you’ll be as happy as a Swiss cow. Hot tip: bring your own wine for the full experience.
Schynige Platte Botanical Alpine Garden
With majestic mountain views at every turn, it’s hard to remember that some of the best views are actually looking down. Located atop an idyllic mountain, Schynige Platte Botanical Alpine Garden showcases 650 of the region’s native plants. Stroll along the easy 1 km walking path and experience two-thirds of the regions alpine flora without having to climb several summits. Expect to spend 30 minutes to four hours here, depending on your interest in flowers and plants.
If visiting a garden doesn’t seem up your alley, know that half the fun is getting there. First, you head to the tiny town of Wilderswil to board a 120-year-old cog wheel train. From there, you climb 6500 feet through some of the most beautiful terrain in the world. It’s spectacular and worth the price of admission on its own.
It should be noted that the garden is open seasonally, typically from May through October, and admission to the garden is included in your train ticket.
IF YOU GO
Make the most of your garden visit by booking a tour. It’s always good to call or email ahead of time, though you can book on the spot. Pricing runs about 80 USD per group, with a max of 20 persons.
Tel. number: +41 33 828 73 76
Lauterbrunnen by Bicycle
Lauterbrunnen is easily one of the most beautiful places on earth. The problem? Everybody knows it. The adorable town center teems with big tourist buses and loads of tourists. Which is fine, but it does zap some of the magic.
You should absolutely go, but with the intention of getting out of town. One of my favorite ways to see any new place is on two wheels. Rent a bicycle, then head into the stunning valley. Imboden Bike can recommend a route that best suits your abilities. If you’re lucky like me, you’ll bump into a cheese vending machine along the way. Only in Switzerland!
IF YOU GO
This area is known for extreme sports. Adrenaline seekers can sign up for paragliding or skydiving.
+41 33 855 21 14
Lauterbrunnen (which translates to “many fountains”) lives up to its name. With its 72 thundering waterfalls, secluded valleys, colorful alpine meadows and lonely mountain inns, the Lauterbrunnen Valley is one of the biggest nature conservation areas in Switzerland.
Bern: The Capital City that Sets Its Own Pace
Home to just over 142,000 residents, the Bernese lifestyle is nothing short of enviable. In fact, they rank amongst the world’s top 10 cities for best quality of life. It’s easy to see why. Low unemployment, nearly non-existent crime, beautiful views and a glacial river running through it all. What’s not to love?
This city seems to run at its own leisurely pace, and yet a trusty timepiece remains one of the most iconic sites in town. The Zeitglockenturm, or Clock Tower, dates back to 1530. The clock still operates today with much of its original inner workings intact. Crowds gather at four minutes to the hour to watch its revolving figurines dance and twirl, all leading up to the clock striking on the hour.
To experience the clock up close and personal, sign up for a tour. If you’re lucky, Markus Marti, the timekeeper for nearly 40 years, will guide you. From inside the tower, you’ll witness the clock’s movements step by step, from its mechanical figures to the clock’s famous third crow. Visit their website to book.
IF YOU GO
Be sure to soak in clocktower’s wonderful view over the capital’s streets and rooftops.
Bim Zytglogge 1
The Old City is home to the clock tower, as well as Switzerland’s tallest cathedral, and an impressive collection of Renaissance fountains. It is a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site, due to its intact medieval core.
A Trip in a Bottle
Have you ever wanted to bottle up a place a take it home with you? In Bern, you can! Pay a visit to Swiss perfumer Brigitte Witschi. She derives her handcrafted scents from the alpine world, which some believe possess magical healing powers. Whether that’s true is simply a bonus—her unique scents are absolutely enchanting. Try one of her signature scents, or let her help you craft your own. It’s a shopping experience you won’t soon forget.
IF YOU GO
Let Brigitte help you craft your new signature scent.
Art of Scent
3011 Bern, Switzerland
Tel: +41 31 761 22 18
The World’s Coolest Commute
The Aare is the longest Swiss river, and it runs right through Bern. While most river cities tend to just look at their local water feature, the Bernese hop right in. During the warmer months, you’ll even see folks swapping their suits and ties for swim gear, throwing their stuff in a dry bag and commuting home via the swift waters! I encourage you to join them—it was one of my coolest Swiss experiences. I mean that both figuratively and literally. The river originates from the Oberaar glacier in the eastern Bernese Alps, making the water quite refreshing.