Drivers on the new Grand Tour of Switzerland may visit the village of Lavertezzo in the Verzasca Valley. // © 2015 Switzerland Tourism
Switzerland may be petite — at roughly 16,000 square miles, it is one-sixth the size of the United Kingdom — but the central European country is rich with cultural sights, plus magnificent highways and railways that connect them.
This year, the Swiss tourism industry is going out of its way to show travelers just how easy it is to crisscross the nation by promoting the Grand Tour of Switzerland, a new road itinerary that showcases 44 attractions along nearly 1,000 miles of scenic roads.
There’s also the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland, perfect for rail enthusiasts who prefer a hop-on, hop-off experience.
“The main purpose of the Grand Tours is to get visitors off the beaten path,” said Maja Gartmann, coordinator of media relations for Switzerland Tourism. “You don’t have to travel far to get different experiences here.”
Driving the entire route would be grand indeed, but those short on time can pick and choose the sights they most want to see and drive accordingly. Here are five destination ideas to help travelers see another side of Switzerland via the Grand Tour.
Just 30 miles from Lucerne, Mount Pilatus is a year-round destination with beautiful views of central Switzerland and thrilling adventure opportunities.
In the winter, visitors ride toboggans, inflatable airboards and snowbikes. Come summer, Pilatus Rope Park steals the show with aerial ropeways, tree climbing and a freefall experience called the Powerfan. Guests looking for something slightly less anxiety-inducing will enjoy the mountain’s new aerial cableway, set to debut this spring.
Engadine’s Swiss National Park
Founded in 1914, Swiss National Park in Engadine features more than 100 square miles of pristine land, plus hiking trails, nature paths and excursion options for travelers of all ages and ability levels. It’s also the place to go for wildlife viewing. Ibexes, chamois, marmots and more make their home in the park, and thanks to strict conservation regulations, it’s common to spot the creatures in their natural habitat.
The Lavaux Wine Region
Traditional stone houses and terraced vineyards make the Lavaux wine region a unique Swiss sight. Stretching for nearly 20 miles along the shores of Lake Geneva, the famous leveled vineyards date back to the 11th century and are one of 11 UNESCO World Heritage sites suggested by the Grand Tour.
Travelers can walk or ride bikes on the pathways lining the terraces, and information panels detail different facets of local viticulture along the way. Be sure to sample local varietals at nearby wine cellars before you leave.
The Verzasca Valley
A visit to Verzasca valley can be a romantic escape or an adrenaline rush, depending on the itinerary. Strolling along the river or visiting the 17th-century Ponte dei Salti, a double-arched stone bridge, are among quieter possibilities.
For a serious rush, the adventurous head to Verzasca Dam on Lago di Vogorno for a James Bond-style bungee jump — the 720-foot fall is the same one depicted in the film “GoldenEye.”
The Emmental Region
To get a sense of life in the Swiss countryside, visit quaint Burgdorf and nearby Affoltern im Emmental, a pastoral municipality dotted with dairy farms. The short drive between the two areas cruises through forest and past the storybook hamlet of Heiligenland.
Since the production of Swiss cheese originated in the region, the Grand Tour suggests renting an E-bike (available in Burgdorf and Langnau) and downloading an app that guides riders to 21 sights along the Emmen Valley cheese trail.