As Roslyn Jolly discovers, the winter wonderland of Switzerland is just as beautiful in summer
Switzerland is renowned as a winter-sport playground, but once the snow melts and delicate alpine wildflowers appear, this beautiful country transforms into a spectacular summer or autumn destination.
With its bracing fresh air, trumpeting a back-to-nature call from every alpenhorn, Switzerland offers endless possibilities for outdoor enjoyment in the most scenic of settings.
The Swiss embrace summer passionately. In the countryside, it’s all about connecting with nature through walking, cycling and paddling. In the cities, parks fill with picnickers, outdoor venues sprout like mushrooms, and people gather by the lakes or rivers to swim, sunbathe and socialise.
Basel, on the banks of the Rhine River, has a Mediterranean climate and a breezy summer lifestyle to match. Downtown, you’ll see board-shorts and bikinis aplenty as locals descend on the river, where pop-up markets and jaunty buvettes (bistros) add to the fun holiday atmosphere.
Take a river cruise to picturesque Rheinfelden and follow the Fricktal walking trail through charming meadows and orchards. Or let the country come to you at Fondation Beyeler – Switzerland’s most visited art museum – where a landscaped park overlooks fields of cows and corn.
In Switzerland’s largest city, Zurich, summer brings a busy calendar of outdoor music festivals, including Openair, Caliente! and Street Parade. Swimming in the Limmat River and Zürichsee is made easy by beautifully maintained public baths, some of which, like the art-nouveau Frauenbad, transform into hip, alfresco bars at night.
Explore the city’s many green spaces, such as tranquil Irchelpark and old-world Belvoirpark, or while away a languid summer evening at a riverside pub on the old stone quays of the historic Schipfe district.
Charming, compact Lucerne is considered by many to be the quintessential Swiss city. Perched on the edge of the mountain-ringed Vierwaldstättersee (otherwise known as Lake Lucerne), the city has its very own ‘Riviera’ with peaceful swimming areas and elegant lakeside promenades.
Head to Lucerne’s Lido Beach Club to swim, play beach volleyball or rent a stand-up paddleboard; watch the sun set during a jazz or fondue cruise on a Belle Epoque steamship, or tackle one of three canoe routes that reveal the fjord-like scenery of the lake’s more hidden reaches.
Walkers and cyclists have a wide choice of routes combining the best of landscape and history around Lucerne. Join an ibex (wild goat) safari on nearby Mount Pilatus or enjoy the thrills of a summer toboggan run. You can even spend a night on the mountain in a tree tent.
Summer is the best time to experience the renowned Golden Pass rail route from Lucerne. Stop after two hours at Interlaken or go two hours further to lakeside Montreux – either way, you’ll travel through a storybook land of lakes, meadows and villages.
Interlaken is the gateway to the majestic Jungfrau region with its extraordinary panorama of alpine peaks. On the rugged Eiger Trail, adventurous walkers gain breathtaking proximity to the mighty Eiger north face, a climber’s mecca.
For a gentler high-altitude experience, take the mountain railway to Schynige Platte where you’ll find a delightful alpine garden, lake views and accessible hiking tracks.
Higher still, at the Jungfraujoch, the Sphinx Hall displays a glacial landscape while ‘eternal ice’ allows year-round winter sports.
Lakeside, enjoy the balmy atmosphere at outdoor cafés on Mediterranean-style terraces. Watch or join the locals as they swim and windsurf in Interlaken’s two lakes, Thunersee and Brienzersee; cruise on a vintage paddle-steamer to Oberhofen Castle with its romantic overwater turret and dine beside palm trees at the adjoining lakefront restaurant.
Each July, the musical world converges on Montreux for its signature Jazz Festival. But Montreux’s position on the edge of Lake Geneva also brings quieter summer pleasures, such as the stroll along Promenade Fleuri to magical Château de Chillon, where white swans glide around a medieval fortress that seems to rise straight out of the cerulean lake.
Family-friendly hiking trails and a marmot sanctuary make the mountain perch of Rochers-de-Naye, a short cogwheel railway ride above Montreux, the ideal fresh-air destination for young and old.
In autumn, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Lavaux Vineyard Terraces turn to gold, inviting leisurely bicycle rides through the vines with stops for cellar-door tastings and fine dining.
If cycling is the new golf, Switzerland is the world’s fairway. Nowhere will you find a better network of well-marked bike trails, convenient public transport and bicycle-friendly hotels, all designed to make your cycling holiday run like Swiss clockwork.
From no-sweat e-biking to the most challenging mountain courses, Switzerland has a huge range of perfect – and perfectly beautiful – options.
For a true cycling adventure, head to the Engadin district in the country’s wild east. Here, more than 400 kilometres of epic bikeways await, including the scenic Corviglia Flowtrail and the raw, demanding Suvretta Loop. For non-cyclists, the Barefoot Trail at Celerina promotes grounded, mindful forest walking. A horse-and-carriage ride through the lush Fex Valley is an even more relaxing – and romantic – way to experience the glorious Engadin scenery and fresh air.
Can’t pick just one region? Use the immaculate rail system to get about or grab an e-bike and traverse the country on ‘the heart route’ – guaranteed to make you fall in love with Switzerland’s extraordinary natural beauty.