Switzerland: famous for its mountains. But where there are mountains, you find valleys. Glaciers form in them, rivers run through them, waterfalls crash into them, lakes settle in them, and we swim and sail them, walk their banks and adore them.
In the canton of Valais, 11 billion tonnes of ice makes up Aletsch, the Alps’ largest glacier, while Lake Bianco, which remains frozen all winter, is reached by a Unesco World Heritage railway that links St Moritz with Italy – and the liquid mirror that is Lake Oeschinen is perhaps the most beautiful mirror of all.
Closer to sea level, the Rhine Falls is Europe’s most powerful waterfall and comes complete with castle, while the 300m Staubbach Falls were enough to inspire the poet Goethe.
The paddle steamers of Lake Lucerne are there to take you on a voyage into the past, while the emerald-green waters of the Verzasca, flowing into Lake Maggiore, attract swimmers, scuba divers and bungee jumpers.
It’s Switzerland – come on in, the water’s beautiful.
This huge river of ice stretches more than 23km from the Jungfrau region to the Massa Gorge, some 2,500m below. Guided glacier walks are the best way to experience this ice colossus, which was shaped in the last ice age but is under threat today. It is 3km shorter than it was 150 years ago, so don’t be in the position of not knowing what you’ve got till it’s gone.
The panoramic viewing platforms, the glacial mountainscapes, the exquisite Alpine flora and wildlife, even the gondola ride from Fiesch to the Eggishorn viewpoint, are absolutely not to be missed.
Lake Bianco, Graubünden
Climb aboard the iconic Bernina Express in Chur, get off seven stops later at Ospizio Bernina and you are on the shores of Lake Bianco, some 2,234m up, fed by glacial milk – that’s meltwater loaded with silt, giving the lake its milky white colour. Once the ice sets in for the winter season, the mirror-smooth surface becomes a gigantic skating rink, and if you look down, you’ll see fish swimming below the deepening white ice, as if they were swimming through clouds; while above the ice, the reflections of the sky and surrounding mountains are of an almost surreal beauty.
Lake Oeschinen, Bernese Oberland
One of nature’s prime spots for serious deep reflection, the high-altitude Lake Oeschinen is hailed as Switzerland’s most beautiful. In its icy clear waters, the glacier-covered peaks of the Blüemlisalp and surrounding forests find their image reflected back, and should you be tempted to swim in this aquatic Alpine mirror, there are several beautiful bathing spots from which to launch yourself in the summer months.
Rhine Falls, Schaffhausen
Raging and thundering like a huge, deafening round of applause rising into an enormous auditorium of air, the Rhine Falls, Europe’s most powerful waterfall, is like witnessing Mother Nature thrashing about on steroids. It is an overpowering natural spectacle that even comes with a castle attached.
At 150m wide, and making a 23m drop from the High Rhine at 600,00 litres each second, you can take a boat cruise – choose from three-, 15- or 30-minute rides – or take it all in from the viewing platform at Schloss Laufen am Rheinfall, a mere 1,100 years old, and with a fine restaurant too.
Staubbach Falls, Bernese Oberland
The Lauterbrunnen Valley is home to 72 waterfalls, but if you visit just one, make it Staubbach Falls. Switzerland’s signature waterfall is 300m high, plummeting into the green pastures of the valley below.
The German poet Goethe was drawn to this quintessential slice of Alpine beauty and gave us his “Song of the Spirits over the Waters” in response. While we can’t all deliver immortal verse, we can feel the spirit of the place. There’s a tunnel to a sheltered cove right behind part of the waterfall’s drop. Stand there, and be astounded by the waterfall’s view of the world.
Lake Lucerne, Lake Lucerne Region
Nothing beats a paddle steamer cruise across Lake Lucerne, taking in the surrounding mountain vistas, as well as sites from the Swiss national epic, William Tell. Lord Byron and the Shelleys took such a trip in 1816, when Mary S was writing Frankenstein. Far from a monstrous experience, it gives you unspeakably toothsome Alpine views from the waters of the lake, and there are stops at various piers that connect to mountain railways and cable cars, including the world’s first cog-wheel railway from Vitznau up to Rigi Bahn.
Once a well-kept secret among the Swiss, the Verzasca has been dubbed “the Mediterranean soul of Switzerland”. It runs through a secluded valley ribboned with 300km of walking paths that meander between mountain peaks, through rich alpine pastures and along the lakeside.
It is an area steeped in tradition, dotted with beautiful little villages and packed with unspoilt vistas. And if you want to bring an adrenaline rush into play, try a bungee jump from the Verzasca’s 220m dam.
Switzerland’s unique mountain scenery is as iconic as its watches, cheese and chocolate.
Connecting with its natural beauty on skis or snowshoes is as rewarding as experiencing the urban flair and quality of life synonymous with Swiss cities.
So whether you’re travelling now or planning ahead, discover Switzerland at myswitzerland.com