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If skiing is not your thing, you still can have a fabulous time in Winter Wonderland. I have winter vacation ideas for you that will entice you to visit.
We are spoilt for choice when it comes to places and options for playing in the snow. A fresh sugar-coat puts a sparkle on the landscape and a smile on your face. Brisk air and thrilling chills, playing all day under sunny skies and soaking in a hot tub under the moon - snow-white is the colour of joy!
I don't know about you, but I adore wintertime. I don't like it that much in cities and lower areas where snow is often scares and fog obstructs views, but high in the Alpine areas winter is a fascinating time even if you don't ski or snowboard at all.
So, have fun! Play, hike, glide, slide - or slow down, sit, take a rest and wash your strains away in a thermal bath.
Zipping down a hill on a sledge is an exhilarating experience. No worries, you can go as fast or slow as you like - you are in control. And we have some of the longest groomed toboggan runs to offer - some as long as 15 km (9.3 miles). Afterwards, you really deserve a hot chocolate.
No matter where you will be staying, you are bound to find a great toboggan run. But if you need ideas, here's a page with the best and longest runs we have.
Slip back in time and take a horse drawn sleigh ride. You'll be toasty warm under blankets while you will be chauffeured by horses through the beautiful winter landscape. You might even be tempted to sing "Winter Wonderland" accompanied by the sleigh bells. No matter if the sun shines or heaven sends snowflakes, you'll be smiling from ear to ear.
Glide on a dog sled under snow-covered trees and through an open winter landscape. You'll be inspired by their enthusiasm but the adventure itself is surprisingly quiet and peaceful. It leaves you relaxed but you feel energized at the same time.
A very different dog experience for families is provided by the Barry Foundation. You'll walk with Saint Bernard dogs. Adults will lead the dogs on a leash while children sit on the dogs sled. Book very early since the Barry rides are very popular: Foundation Barry or tourism office Champex-Lac.
Ice skating was the first sport offered in the Swiss mountains for winter guests (together with tobogganing). The first ice rink opened in Davos in 1870, and this is still Europe's largest natural ice rink, hosting numerous international art and speed skating championships.
Glide away the day on natural ice rinks in Davos, Klosters, Alp Raguta above Feldis (accessible by a chairlift), Skateline Albula from Alvaneu Bad to Surava (3 km), Lakes St. Moritz, Silvaplana, Sils and Champfèr and an ice-trail in Sent (in the Engadin), Lenzerheide, Arosa (all in the Canton Graubünden); Saas Fee and Bettmeralp-Aletscharena (Canton Valais); Schwarzsee and Murten (both in the Canton Fribourg); Lac de Joux (Vaud); Ice Magic in Interlaken, and natural ice rinks in Gstaad and Wengen (in the Bernese Oberland); Sihlsee (Canton Schwyz).
Many larger cities, such as Chur, Zürich, Lucerne, Bern, Schaffhausen, Geneva, Lausanne, Vevey and Thun build artificial open-air rinks.
Here you find an alphabetical list of all skating rinks in Switzerland.
A fairly new and unique winter experience for us is ice fishing. It is becoming increasingly popular though. At the moment, the offer is still relatively limited. The ice fishing season starts early January and lasts as long as the ice on lakes is safe. This unique winter experience is open to all ages and even for those who have never fished. Sit back (bring a sled with you) and relax while you wait for the bait. Here's a list with lakes that are open to ice fishing. It's not a complete list though. For example, ice fishing is also possible on Lake Taney (Valais) and on Lake Sils (Engadin/Graubünden).
You can obtain a permit online or on-site.
"And it may have no practical purpose in itself but it is a repository of human possibility and if it's handled just right, it will be exact the kind of poetry." That's what Paul Gross' character says in the Canadian movie "Men with brooms". I liked it so much I bought my own copy (I do admit I am somewhat of a Paul Gross groupie:). Anyways, it is a fun activity for the whole family. There are approximately 170 curling clubs in Switzerland and you can either take a course under knowledgeable guidance or just swing the broom with friends or join a group that is playing for fun. Many of the ice rinks offer extra space for curlers.
From small and cosy thermal baths, to large and dedicated wellness resorts - the choice is yours. Wallow in a 40-degree outdoor pool; imagine steam curls forming into cloudy shapes, snowflakes dissolving gently in the water's milky depths or a tantalizing view on a sunny day. You'll be lulled into a semi-comatose state and don't even want to think of returning home. Of course, indoor pools are offered as well. This is even for skiers a fabulous way to restore the body after a sportive day on the slopes or recover from an après-ski hangover.
Thermal waters have a relaxing effect on the muscles, are stimulating for the cardiovascular system and releaving chronic diseases such as joints pains, arthritis and rheumatism, and have healing effects on allergies. There are over 50 official Thermal bath destinations in Switzerland, but if you count all the Hotels that offer Wellness too (mind you, not always with thermal water) there are many more options to enjoy a relaxing winter holiday.
Stride out on a walk in cosy alpine villages or glitzy resorts and walk on dedicated and groomed winter trails. There's no rush. I am almost sure that you could spend your days traipsing along snowy mountain paths without getting bored. You'll revel at the beauty of the winter landscape.
And it even doesn't have to be a sunny day. Imagine… snowflakes dancing from heaven, stroking gently your face, and landing on your eye lashes. The snow-laden tree branches are giving in under the heavy load and cool chunks of snow are landing on your shoulders or finding their way into your coat collar. Outside noise is almost completely muffled. Only the crunching sound of your footsteps, the occasional barking of a dog or a deer will be reaching your ears…
You can happily walk along trails on your own or join one of the guided tours, depending on your fitness level and interests. Some of the guided hikes include a meal of local specialties in a cosy café or alpine hut.
Or snap on a pair of snowshoes and walk along a trail or make your own treks. Again, you can do it alone or join a guided tour.
Especially for families, walking in the company of lamas, goats or donkeys is a joyous experience and I bet none of your children will feel bored. Many destinations offer guided tours with the cuddly companions.
Here a list of a few of them: St. Niklaus (Wallis); Gossau and Ossingen (Zürich); Malcantone (Lugano, Tessin); Flüeli (Lucerne), Giswil (Obwalden - near Lucerne); Wilen (Thurgau); Surrein and Safien in the Surselva and Klosters (all in Graubünden); Allschwil (Basel); Bucheggberg (Bern); Wilderswil, Diemtigen and Simmen Valleys (Bernese Oberland); Chasseral region (Jura).
Playing in the snow and having fun all the way with a whimsy creative activity in the sugar-coated landscape will bring a smile to your face. You are getting to be a child again while building a snowman. Or give it a feminine twist and build a snowwoman, a snow goddess. Roll small balls of snow until they become giant gloves and roll them down a hill. Lie down into the fluffy whiteness and use your arms and legs as window wipers and make a snow angel. Snow truly brings out the playfulness in people.
Traditional igloo structures pop up every winter in our high alpine ski resorts. Tuck in for the night and snow-camp on Enstligenalp (Adelboden), Mt. Stockhorn, Iglu-Dorf in Gstaad in the Bernese Oberland; Engelberg near Lucerne; Zermatt in the Canton Valais; Davos and Arosa (fondue evening only) in Graubünden.
Or do you prefer more comfort? Have a look at the eco luxury resort Whitepod above Monthey. They do offer spa experiences too.
Enjoy the winter wonder world from above and touchdown in a remote area where snow crystals glitter like diamonds. A fondue in a remote mountain hut tastes twice as delicious. Or land softly on a glacier for a champagne breakfast. Give me a shout if you need a recommendation.
Snowmobile tours are not as widely offered as elsewhere. There has to be a solid reason to get a permit (think environment). But there are a few outfitters that offer snowmobile tours - short trips or overnight experiences. For example in Engelberg (at the foot of mount Titlis), in St. Moritz (Graubünden), in Madesimo (right below the Splügen-Pass but in Italy), in Gstaad (Bernese Oberland) and on Allalin (Saas Fee in the Canton Valais).
Relaxing on board a train may give you a whole new appreciation for Switzerland's fabulous winter scenery. There's no better time to ride the Glacier Express between Zermatt and St. Moritz or the Bernina Express between Chur and Tirano than in the splendour of a winter landscape. Switzerland has many scenic train routes. Then again, pretty much any train ride through Alpine areas will be magical.
A fairy-tale experience is the full moon excursion on the Bernina Express to Alp Grüm (with dinner); the Gourmino experience between Chur and St. Moritz; a culinary evening on the Arosa Bahn between Chur and Arosa (all in Graubünden); the Après-ski train from Andermatt to Disentis and back - see video below (Uri to Graubünden), or a Fondue train through the Gruyère countryside.
Enjoy the same pristine peak views as skiers do. Meat up with your skiing family or friends in a restaurant on top of a summit for lunch or a snack. The good thing is that you don't need to buy a day pass for skiers; you can purchase a return ticket for any cable way, funicular, even for a chair lift. Soak up the sun on a terrace surrounded by a wreath of alpine peaks.
What about an exclusive, romantic evening with a candlelight dinner or fondue in cable cars? Possible on Pfingstegg (Grindelwald), from Weggis to Rigi Kaltbad (near Lucerne) or up to the Rinderberg from Zweisimmen (Bernese Oberland). Similar experiences in Grächen and Zermatt (Valais) and from Adliswil to Felsenegg (Zürich) and in the Pizolbahn in Bad Ragaz (Heidiland) as well as on the "Sky Télécabine du Roc d'Orsay" in Villars-sur-Ollon (Vaud).
Many mountain top restaurants also offer romantic candle light dinners on the summit, including late transportation back to the bottom stations.
Why not give it a try? I am an avid skier and always kind of sniffed at cross country skiing but then I lost a bet in my late twenties and had to try it. Oh boy, I felt muscles where I never felt them before. Ever since I am hooked and often do it after work in place of an indoor exercise activity. It fills my lungs with fresh air and lifts my spirits to the point of bursting. Seriously, if you feel a little blue, this will take it right out of you. And a sauna never feels better than after a couple of hours on cross-country skis. If you want to give it a try, you can rent skis and shoes in any Alpine resort.
Glide weightlessly through the air and enjoy the winter landscape from above. Tandem paragliding flights by qualified professional pilots are available in many, many locations. Even Airplane tandem skydiving is possible. You don't need to be experienced, just a little brave :-)
At the end of the day, meet up with your skiing friends for a drink at a ski-bar. They are often found near the bottom of funicular and gondola stations in the villages. Skiing is big in our neck of the woods, and there are many hot-spots where locals meet right after skiing - still in ski boots. Check out where they ditch the poles and join them in the fun. Then enjoy a fondue or raclette before you dance away the night. Sample one of our wines - you probably will never again get your hands on a bottle because we tend to drink most of wines produced in our vineyards ourselves.
Seriously, winter is THAT time to eat those cheesy dishes: Fondue, Raclette (melted cheese over open fire), Käseschnitten (open faced roasted cheese sandwich), Käsespätzle (cheese noodles), Käsewähe (cheese tart), Älplermaggaronen with apple sauce (elbow noodles with lots of cheese), potato gratin, cheese platter for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert… shall I continue? Frankly, we don't need winter to enjoy those comfort foods - we always find a reason to enjoy a tasty cheese dish, after all, Alpkäse - the cheese produced during the three summer months where cows munch on herbs and grass on high altutudes - has as much omega 3s as fish and olive oil.
Watch a hockey game, mingle with locals at a tobogganing competition or a horn sled race; attend a carnival, a ski race or an adrenaline producing cycling event on "fat bikes", air-board attack races, and horse races on snow and ice (Arosa and St. Moritz). Or watch skeleton on the Olympia Cresta Run in Celerina. The brave and moneyed can hurtle down the ice channel occasionally without having to be a member (men only though). Dress up at the Belle Epoque week in Kandersteg (always last week in January); have fun at the Snowpenair at the foot of Mts. Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau on Kleine Scheidegg - Switzerland's largest winter open air event with music groups (beginning of April); visit an ice revue and attend music events offered by many small and large ski resorts.
Christmas markets start end of November until Christmas Day.
Our cities are full of excellent museums, galleries, churches, cathedrals and more that are even interesting on a grey winter day. But often, you don't have to travel far: many villages and ski resorts have interesting cultural venues too, including museums with a wide range of topics such as local history, traditions, fauna and flora, the arts. You also find small but exquisite boutiques and specialty stores offer locally made items. However, the next city is never too far away. Just hop on a train and enjoy the ride!
Slow down and burn off stress way off the beaten path. Escape the hustle and bustle of your busy lifestyle - at least for a couple of days or a prolonged weekend. You'll never sleep better and deeper. Charming remote alpine huts, small boutique hotels and family run inns are waiting for you. Some offer top 5* amenities, others are simpler - but all of them are unique and relaxation is guaranteed.
Supposedly everything is cold and grey in winter. This may be true on some cloudy days in the valleys and lowlands. But there's a cure for it: the higher you go the better winter looks. You'll be regaled with superb views into valleys, onto lakes and you'll be surrounded by a wreath of sun drenched mountain peaks.
Winter can start as early as mid-November and last until end of April. Most high Alpine passes are not open for cars until mid or end of May. But to be honest, winter seems to start later and later. So, if you really want to experience the magic of the winter landscape, visiting between the second week of January and end of February is a sure bet for lots of snow in the Alpine regions. Don't stay in the lowlands, go as high up as you can.
Temperatures largely depend on where you will be staying; the higher up you go the colder it will be. Some say it's "blinkin' freezing", especially visitors from tropical areas. Always dress in layers: warm underwear, woolen sweaters, a thick cardigan, winter coat or a raincoat with a warm lining are best. Pack gloves, scarves, a hat and good shoes with rubber soles and boots for alpine areas. Wear a good pair of thick socks in them. And don't forget shades that block out that unforgiving glare on a sunny winter day.
You can pretty much rent everything from toboggans to cross-country skis and snowshoes to ski boots.
Each Swiss Alpine Resort has something to offer - the bigger the resort, the larger the variety. But villages often offer something truly unique that only can be experienced in that particular area - for example the Tschäggättä in the Lötschen Valley, Silvesterchlausen in Appenzell, the Witche's Downhill Race on Bellalp, the International Balloon Festival in Château'd'Oex, a Schlitteta in the Engadin and many more such events.
Find out what you are really looking for and then decide on the destination. The best way to find out what's offered is by contacting the visitor information center of the villages or resorts you are planning on staying. A quick search will bring up the website or address of any local tourism office.
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