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Switzerland is a must-visit country, a place to experience at least once. From the breathtaking mountain scenery to outdoor adventure and mouthwatering chocolate, it can make for an especially unforgettable holiday. While Zurich is worth a visit, don’t forget about its small towns which tend to be the very best spots of all, providing a charming gateway into alpine paradise.
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Gimmelwald is a tiny, very off-the-beaten path village that sits in the Bernese Alps. You won’t need a car to get there, as there are no roads – it’s accessed by cable car or on foot. This sleepy little farming community lies near the magnificent valley of Lauterbrunnen, which looks like a fantasy come to life, surrounded by dramatic, soaring mountains dotted with waterfalls. The town’s houses are notable for the stones called Schindles which sit atop the roofs to help them defend against the strong winds that come off Jungfrau Mountain.
Renowned for its namesake cheese, with a mild, nutty flavor that melts so well in fondue, few may be familiar the town of Gruyeres itself, but it’s so incredibly picturesque, set within the upper valley of the Saane River, you’ll want to visit if only to experience its striking scenic beauty. But you’ll have to pick up some cheese too, of course. There is a wide, stone-paved street that leads up to a grand 13th-century castle, along with imposing fortifications and spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding Alpine foothills that make it a jaw-dropper.
Thun is considered the gateway to the Bernese Oberland, set at the lower end of Lake Thun, one of the loveliest and largest lakes in Switzerland. A well-marked network of walking trails can be found around the lake’s shoreline, while the foothills above are ideal for hiking and mountain biking. The historic Old Town boasts a 12th-century castle at its center as well as a museum, which is situated just a little over a half-mile from the lake, along the Aare River. The medieval castle is dazzling and houses one of the most well-conserved representation halls of the Middle Ages, the castle tower, or Knight’s Hall, situated in the nearly unaltered dungeon. The corner towers boast magnificent Alps, city and lake views.
This small Swiss village is surrounding by incredible scenery, with wildflowers colorfully bursting into bloom in the hills during the summer, while snow-capped mountains serve as the backdrop. Overlooking it all is the Church of San Lorenzo and its bell tower which serves as Soglio’s iconic landmark, standing above the village. Walk the narrow cobbled streets to the Palazzo Solis, now a hotel, with has a wonderful Mediterranean ambiance and is surrounded by giant sequoia trees. It’s a fantastic place to simply bask among nature in relative solitude, especially whole on a hike through the chestnut forest or on the Bergell trail.
Guarda sits over 5,400 feet above sea level in the Lower Engadine mountains of the Graubünden canton. A tiny remote village, it hosts beautifully renovated 17th-century homes that have earned it the Wakker Prize for preservation of the town’s architectural heritage. Looking as if it comes from the pages of a story-tale, it was actually used as the setting for the popular 1945 children’s book written by Selina Chonz and Alois Carigiet, Schellen-Ursli. Guarda has managed to preserve many of its traditional customs making it an especially authentic delight, which includes the annual Chalandamarz event every March. People here still primarily speak Romansch—Switzerland, which is the country’s fourth official language following German, French, and Italian.
Interlaken is a popular paragliding spot thanks to its position, surrounded by glorious mountains and glistening lakes. While you’re taking a stroll through the town’s Japanese Gardens, take time to look up and you’re likely to see countless tiny humans flying above. This is also the gateway for exploring the Jungfrau region, and provides the opportunity to hop on the Jungfraujoch Express from the Interlaken train station to what’s known as the “Top of Europe,” over 11,332 feet above sea level. The view over the Alps is something you’ll never forget.
Nestled in the heart of Alpine Switzerland where eight mountain passes converge, there are many reasons to visit Andermatt. This village is as picturesque as they come while offering a wealth of attractions and activities that keep visitors coming back. During the summer, look forward to hiking and mountain biking, climbing and fishing, or simply enjoy one of the most scenic, peaceful panoramas by taking a ride on the slowest express train in the world: the Glacier Express, which brings passengers to Zermatt. The town is perhaps most famous for its skiing, however, with lifts running from the village to Gemsstock and Natschen.
The beautiful village of Zernez is the gateway to the Swiss National Park, the country’s largest nature preserve. Hiking and biking enthusiasts will fall in love with the town and this area with its extensive network of scenic trails that are unrivaled by most other villages in Switzerland. It’s also the ideal starting point for journeys to discover the Engadine region as well as the rest of Switzerland, Italy and Austria. In the village itself, you’ll find a wellness spa, opportunities for massage, an outdoor swimming pool with undercurrent, a children’s paddling pool and more. You can also join a expert-led tour to get to know Zernez better, including both its obvious and more hidden highlights.
Sion is one of the larger “small towns,” with a population of a little over 30,000 as the capital of Valois, but it oozes lots of small-town charms. The gateway to smaller villages throughout the canton, it’s renowned for its abundant sunshine, castles and mountains. Sicon boasts not one, but two castles, Castle Tourbillon and Castle of Valeria which sit atop mountains overlooking one of the country’s oldest cities. The Old Town is a lovely place to just sit and watch the world go by while sipping the local white wine, Ferdant, at one of the quaint cafes.