The Do's and Don'ts of Switzerland
By: Tatiana Warkentin
- Don't...just stick to Zurich and Geneva. Both are absolutely wonderful cities and they both capture different aspects of Swiss culture beautifully. Geneva is located in the heart of French-speaking Switzerland and the whole world can be found there: the UN, the International Red Cross, the World Health Organization. They call Geneva home, along with 200+ other government and non-government international organizations. Zurich, on the other hand, is Switzerland’s financial hub with a trendy, affluent well-dressed side. It plays host to Europe’s largest street party while still home to the world’s fourth largest stock exchange. They’re both amazing, but not the only places Switzerland has to offer.
Do...explore the country. It truly amazes me how many people overlook the rest of Switzerland. Bern, its capital, has a medieval town center that is a UNESO world heritage site and is the former home of Einstein. Montreaux, also known as the Swiss Riviera, has 700 hectares of UNESCO protected vineyards you can hike. Zermatt offers the famed Matterhorn. Even the little villages and towns found along the way as you adventure your way through the country offer something speak and unique.
- Don't just limit yourself to chocolate and cheese. The Swiss consume on average 25.6 lbs of chocolate per year and an average of 44 lbs of cheese per year. Those are staggeringly impressive numbers. The Swiss take their cheese and chocolate very seriously. You can even lease a cow and benefit from farm fresh local produced cheese (http://www.rent-a-cow.ch/) or tour a magnificent chocolate factory in Veyvey (http://www.cailler.ch/). But don’t just stop at chocolate and cheese. There is a whole world of Swiss food that isn’t fondue and truffles.
Do try to eat locally and seasonally. Eating local is not a buzzword or fad in Switzerland. It’s just what’s done. If it’s not in season it’s hard to find. If it’s not produced within Switzerland it carries a hefty price tag. Currently we’re in the midst of asparagus season which means every grocery store has piles or white and green asparagus with bunches so big they could probably be used as a personal safety device if you weren’t going devour it right away. In a few short weeks though there won’t be a spear to be found. Up next, strawberry season!
- Don’t just go skiing and hiking. These are both very popular activities here. Much like Canadian kids who learn how to skate just after they learn how to walk, the same could be said about Swiss children and skiing. Ski season runs from about mid-December to the end of March in most regions. Some higher-altitude regions have people hitting the slopes in summer. Hiking is particularly popular in the spring and summer with over 50,000 km of well-marked designated paths hiking is often the activity of choice on weekends. I admit I’ve taken up hiking since moving here and don’t regret it for a second. However, I would love to have a little extra bravery to try some of Switzerland’s lesser known activities
Do try, hot air ballooning. Not long after we moved into our apartment in August 2011 we noticed while we were sitting on our balcony a lot of hot air balloons drifting around the sky. We thought this was an isolated incident. Then the morning there more and then a few days later one afternoon a hot air balloon almost took out my chimney. I finally asked our Swiss friends, “is this a thing here?” Apparently it is. Switzerland has some 600 hot air balloons and the small Swiss town Château d’Oex has been the launch site for many round the world balloon trips and home to International Hot Air Balloon Festival (www.festivaldeballons.ch).
- Don't just live the postcard. One of the first things we heard from our family and friends back home when they saw pictures of where we were living was, “you live in a postcard.” Yes, yes we do. The view from our balcony is one that people wait their whole lives to see once and we see it multiple times. We’ve had beer overlooking rivers so clean you can see straight to the bottom and hiked through mountain ranges that I’m fairly sure if I hadn’t been there myself, I would think the pictures were photoshopped. Experiencing the postcard that is Switzerland is truly a wonderful thing but sometimes you need to take the road less traveled by.
Do embrace the weird and wonderful. Since relocating here I’ve learned something, Switzerland is weird. So very, very weird but in the most interesting and awesome way. In Bern alone you have a stature of a baby-eating giant, a 200-year-old stuffed St. Bernard named Barry and the bones of an elephant that the Bernese townsfolk shot with a cannon. Lausanne has Europe’s largest stuffed great white shark. If you find yourself in Chur in mid-August you can attend the International Alpine Beard festival. If beards aren’t your thing, what about the Amphibious Car festival at Lake Neuchatel? Switzerland is a weird little place and that makes it all the more charming.
This is Barry who saved over 80 people in his lifetime and has become a folk hero to young and old and even has a children’s snack food named after him
- Don't just brush up on your German. Knowing a few survival phrases is incredibly helpful however, don’t focus all your efforts on German. It’s handy, but not as handy as you might think it is.
Do brush up on your French and Italian and Swiss German. Switzerland has 4 official languages, German, French, Italian and Romanish. Where you find yourself will dictate which language is most helpful. Also remember Swiss German is far more a spoken language then it is a written language. It’s helpful in carrying on conversations but that’s kind of about it.
- Don't spread out on a train.
Do use one seat on a train and store your luggage appropriately. If the train is full and an inspector finds you have your luggage on your seat next to you. You WILL be charged for a half-fare ticket for your luggage to be paid on the spot.
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Contest Comments » There are 10 comments
I always love reading about your adventures in Switzerland. It is a weird, wonderful and incredibly beautiful country. I am so hoping to come back for a visit one day!
Great article. It's giving me some insight for our upcoming trip in April. Thanks Tatiana !!!!!
It's so great seeing Switzerland and other places through your eyes via words and pictures. THANKS
I never thought I could love Switzerland more but your stories make me excited to go back and explore the country!
One of the best meals we had on our honeymoon was in a small town in Switzerland where we had to point at the menu to order. Your article reminded me of a great memory!
Guilty of #1! Oh well, I guess I\'ll have to go back :)
After reading this article I really can't wait to come back to Switzerland for another visit to experience some of the alternatives too.
If I ever saved enough pennies to travel somewhere far away, my biggest worry has always been that I would unknowingly waste my time there by getting caught in the whirlwind of touristy "must sees" while completely missing out on the authenticity it has to offer. I love reading articles you've written about travel, because you present tips in a balanced way that isn't overwhelming. There isn't anything "shiny brochure" about what you share, and I kind of love that. It makes me want to go adventuring!
You've inspired me to make a stop in Switzerland the next time I'm in Europe. Great article!
Excellent tips. I will definitely keep these in mind when I travel to Switzerland for the first time in July. As always, I enjoy reading about Tatiana's adventures and perspective; I appreciate how her outlook changes and develops with each new experience and adventure.