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Swiss countryside/villages

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Did You Know … ?

  • Muhlebach boasts Switzerland’s oldest village center, with houses from the 14th/15th centuries.
  • The Nestle company was founded in Vevey on Lake Geneva, where it is still headquartered.
  • Gruyere is the traditional choice for cheese fondues and French onion soup.
  • Daniel Peter, cofounder of Peter, Cailler and Kohler chocolate makers, made the first milk chocolate in 1875.
  • The legendary story of William Tell is set in 1307 in the village of Altdorf.

Smell the cheese

It’s no wonder travelers of all personality types love the Swiss countryside. It boasts countless picture-perfect villages, green valleys, glimmering blue lakes, rolling hills and snow-capped mountains. The bottom line: This destination looks as gorgeous as it is supposed to look — and then some.

Switzerland is smaller than West Virginia, but it offers so many options that choices must be made.

Starting from Geneva in the west, wine lovers may drive to the Lavaux vineyards, set high above the lake. Also, signposted trails take cyclers past vineyards and along the Rhone River.

The scenic Gruyere area, to the northeast of Lake Geneva, is home to the black and white Fribourg cows that provide milk for the Gruyere cheese. Life in the countryside here may mean hearing cowbells, biking or hiking the trails or visiting the Cailler chocolate factory, and certainly visiting the hilltop medieval Gruyeres (spelled with an “s”) and eating cheese.

Similar options apply in the Emme River valley east of Bern, land of Emmental cheese (often called Swiss cheese) — but the cows are brown and the architecture distinctive: Timber inns and dairies boast big roofs and deep eaves.

Visitors seek natural beauty in central Switzerland, too, around Lake Lucerne. The village of Altdorf, origin of the William Tell legend, sits at the southernmost tip of this lake.

The village of Appenzell and the backcountry of the same name in the northeast are often ignored — but loved by any who visit. Appenzell’s rolling hills, with mountains as backdrop, also are home to cows and cheeses, plus resident farmers and craftspeople.

Choices in Switzerland’s far southeast and south take some effort to reach. For one, in the Lower Engadine, hamlets line the banks of the River Inn, and houses feature sgraffiti decorations made by etching designs into their stuccoed surfaces. This is the enclave of the Romansh-speaking Swiss.

Where Italian is the language, choices include the idyllic Bregaglia or Poschiavo valleys. Also, there is the canton of Ticino with its numerous hamlets, churches with medieval frescoes — and palm trees and purple bougainvillea. Lugano, the town and lake, are Ticino’s southernmost points.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Go hiking or mountain biking in the Gruyere region, taking advantage of themed trails that tell of the area’s legends. On one walking trail, you will see sculptures created with a chain saw.
  • Go windsurfing on the lakes of the Engadine.
  • See the outstanding cathedral and the medieval town center in St. Gallen, which is something of a gateway to the Appenzell backcountry to its south. Hike up the region’s tallest mountain, Mount Santis, for a view of the Appenzell valleys.
  • Sail on Lake Lugano. Or take a dive — with your scuba gear in place.
  • Follow a wine trail in Lavaux, Switzerland’s largest wine-producing area, located in viewing range of Lake Geneva. Follow this trail on a bicycle.
  • Go river rafting on the Aare between Thun and Bern.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Practice your Italian as you explore the villages and sample the food in the Bregaglia and Poschiavo valleys.
  • Travel through the Lavaux wine region by train, from Vevey, past the vineyards and on through picturesque countryside to Puidoux. It is a 10-minute train ride. Walk back.
  • Drive and walk through the Mustair Valley, with its Rom River flowing to and beyond the Italian border. Its meadows are said to be inhabited by elves.
  • The Emmental region, noted for its quintessentially Swiss landscape, holds much appeal for outdoors enthusiasts. Activities include, depending on season, cycling, hiking, horseback riding, llama trekking and snowshoeing. Take your pick — also, go to the Emmental Show Dairy to see how the eponymous cheese is made.
  • Buy a Eurail Pass appropriate to your schedule and intended destinations, to allow you to hop on trains for scenic journeys any time. Or choose other specifically Swiss Passes that include trains, motorcoaches and boats for more choice of scenic rides through Swiss villages and the countryside.
  • Sightsee, shop, dine and sleep over in any of several charming villages in the Graubunden canton in eastern Switzerland. Twenty-one such villages are part of Parc Ela, the country’s largest regional nature park. There are fortresses to see, as well.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Make your way to Schmidigehischere (often called Binn), the main village of the Binn Valley and considered one of the best-preserved of towns in an unspoiled valley. Overnight at the historic Ofenhorn hotel, and drive through the valley.
  • Grengiols which, besides preserving its authentic architecture and traditions, is noted for its tulips. In May, see the unique tulipa grengiolensis, which grows nowhere else. They are pale yellow with some red on the edges.
  • See the oldest frescoes, dating from 1576, that tell the story of William Tell. This Tell House is in Ernen, a village also known for its annual music festival and opportunities for fine dining. Muhlebach, Switzerland’s oldest small village center, is nearby.
  • Take a guided tour of the Chateau de Glerolles, parts of which date from the 11th century. It is located in Rivaz on Lake Geneva and is now a wine-growing estate.
  • Feast on the cheeses made famous here: Appenzeller, Emmentaler and Gruyere. Also, visit the traffic-free town of Gruyeres (remember, the town gets the “s”) and see its 13th century castle. A nearby traditional dairy in Moleson-Dorf lets you see how Gruyere is made.
  • Tour the Cailler chocolate factory in Broc. Sample the chocolates here (or anywhere) and buy some to carry home.

Additional Resources

For information, consult Switzerland Tourism at