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A nature lover's paradise

Visitors to Switzerland in summer will discover mighty mountains, deep forests, picturesque lakes and rushing waterfalls

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The Gotthard Panorama Express zips through a region alive with legends and fairly tales.

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Heed the call of nature and explore Switzerland's numerous hiking trails and canoe routes.

BACK to nature is the theme for Switzerland Tourism as it invites nature lovers to visit the country this summer. Mighty mountains, dark gorges, deep green forests, picturesque lakes, rushing waterfalls and mystical moors - Switzerland is a paradise for nature lovers. Visitors have an opportunity to discover pristine nature, flora and fauna and seek inspiration in places of tranquillity and energy.

Mountains instead of meetings, wildlife instead of Wi-Fi, cabins instead of computers: follow the call in your heart and head back to nature, says Switzerland Tourism. Glorious hikes, thrilling bike trails and enchanting canoe routes promise unforgettable summer adventures. And it's all within easy reach from the country's charming cities.

Here are some highlights suggested by Switzerland Tourism:

HOBNOBBING WITH THE CAPTAIN ON LAKE GENEVA

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Who wouldn't like to steer a ship - especially one of the historic paddle steamers on Lake Geneva? Side-by-side with the captain, would-be sea dogs in search of adventure steer the fortunes of these magnificent vessels - outside on the captain's bridge or down in the ship's bowels.

It was in 1823 that the first steamship regularly plied the stretch between Geneva and Lausanne. There are eight in total - including La Suisse, a "real" steam-driven paddle ship - since Lake Geneva is also home to diesel-driven paddle ships.

From Lausanne the La Suisse sails to St Gingolph on the opposite shore and then to Le Bouveret. The next port of call is the majestic Chillon Castle. Then it's on to Montreux, Freddy Mercury's statue greeting from afar, and Vevey-Marché with its hectic farmers' market. One could spend hours on Lake Geneva. Saint-Saphorin, Epesses, Dézaley, the wine-growing villages in the Lavaux (a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2007) are strung like pearls along this part of the shoreline. This is where the top wines come from.

VISIT TO THE MURITH CHEESE MAKING FAMILY

Luscious green pastures with all kinds of flowers and herbs, the mighty Moléson in the background and wonderful views of the La Gruyère region - that's the scene on the high level alp (mountain pasture) occupied by the Murith family. The family has been here for five generations, making the tasty Gruyère d'Alpage AOP in the traditional manner summer after summer - and visitors staying in their B&B can experience the cheese-making process.

Before the sun rises to bathe the idyllic Fribourg landscape in its warming light, visitors make their way from the valley to the topmost alp. At an altitude of 1,500 metres, Nature around here is glorious, as is the sensational panorama.

"Salut," calls Alexandre, sitting on a stool and milking one of his 40 cows. The two cheese makers, father Jacques and son Alexandre, get up at around five in the morning. The cheese making, which starts after the milking, uses milk from the previous evening and the fresh milk from the morning. The raw milk is poured into a large copper vessel hung over a wood fire. It holds 800 litres. That's enough for Jacques and Alexandre to make two wheels of cheese, which they do every day between May and October, using all their experience, strength and attention to detail. That's a good seven tonnes a season, or 250 wheels.

The Murith family make Gruyère d'Alpage AOP in the summer months, Vacherin Fribourgeois d'Alpage AOP in the autumn, and whey cheese, cream and butter all year round for their own use. "How much milk the cows deliver depends on the weather", explains Jacques, who has now retired. He passed the business on to his son a year ago, although he still helps out where he can.

WITH A BAG LOAD OF MYTHS

Visitors to Switzerland can unload a bag load of myths in the historic Bellinzona-Lucerne mountain line with the Gotthard Panorama Express. Will the mythical creatures return to wreak their havoc - on this and the other side of the Gotthard? A few things point to the possibility during a trip through the Gotthard region.

When the Gotthard Panorama Express leaves Airolo to rush through the 15,003-metre Gotthard summit railway tunnel, it's arrividerci palms, grotti and merlot wine. Ten minutes later Göschenen comes into view and with it comes the first legend.

The photography carriage of the Gotthard Panorama Express has windows that open like in the old days, when the draught used to blow around your ears. Göschenen offers an appropriate motif: that's where the 12-metre diameter Devil's Stone is. Some time ago, the people of Uri had the devil build them a stone bridge over the Reuss at the top of the Schöllenen Gorge. In exchange, he was to receive the soul of the first thing to cross it. Expecting a person, he instead found a goat being driven across. Enraged, the devil picked up a huge stone with which to destroy his handiwork. Before he could throw it, though, an old lady appeared before him and scratched a cross on the stone, which then rolled back down the gorge as far as Göschenen.

Right, left ... strange, where has the church disappeared to now? Emil Steinberger, a popular Swiss comedian, knows the Gotthard line well and devised a sketch in which he entertains his fellow travellers with undisguised enthusiasm. At Wassen, the line's two horseshoe-curve tunnels and three different views of the village are disorientating. Its baroque church has perhaps become the best known in Switzerland since the Gotthard line opened in 1882 - a real fairytale, then.

In Flüelen, the Gotthard Panorama Express passengers transfer to a paddle steamer bound for Lucerne - soon passing the Tell Chapel on the Tellsplatte ledge, the site of dramatic goings-on: Bailiff Gessler had Wilhelm Tell clapped in chains and put in a boat, with the intention of imprisoning him in his castle in Küssnacht am Rigi. Suddenly, a storm hits the lake. Tell's escort, in fear of their lives, unchained him and begged him to bring them safely to land. Arriving at Tellsplatte, the legendary hero leapt onto the shore, simultaneously kicking the boat back into the raging waves and making good his escape.

After a leisurely cruise, the steamer arrives in Lucerne, myths and legends still echoing in your ears. For good reason, since many remain to be told.

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