5 winter wonderland escapes in Switzerland to visit now
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After traveling to more than 68 countries in search of the most inspiring and empowering places to visit, Switzerland is at the top of my list when I’m looking for a magical winter destination with jaw-dropping scenery, top hotels, resorts, and restaurants, and unparalleled winter activities.
I first fell in love with Switzerland when I was in college and spent the summer backpacking across Europe. I vowed someday I would return to the Swiss Alps in the winter to ski at some of the phenomenal resorts and once I did, I was hooked.
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If you’re ready to hit the slopes, Switzerland says it’s ready to welcome visitors. Earlier this month it was the first European country to ease its COVID-19 travel restrictions post-omicron, while still taking steps to try and make things as safe as possible for its visitors and residents. See our news about Switzerland reopening for what you need to know to plan your trip.
Here are five of my favorite destinations to visit in Switzerland in winter.
Growing up my favorite ride at Disneyland was the Matterhorn and I couldn’t wait to visit Zermatt, the quaint, romantic village at the base of the real-life 14,692-foot majestic beauty the Swiss say is the most photographed mountain in the world. There are no cars allowed in Zermatt and the vibe is laid-back luxury where you’ll find unique, boutique places to stay and authentic culinary experiences. For the best views of the Matterhorn, I picked the five-star historic Riffelalp Resort with just 65-rooms for a peaceful escape.
Zermatt is a true skier’s and snowboarder’s paradise where you’re guaranteed snow 365 days a year. If you want to take things at a slower pace there are dozens of hiking trails where you can enjoy the spectacular scenery. One of my favorite photo ops of the Matterhorn is at Zermatt’s famous restaurant Chez Verony that’s right on the ski hill. It’s the perfect place to order fondue and a glass of Gluehwein, a delicious hot mulled wine that’s Christmas in a cup.
Don’t Miss: Take a quick half-hour train trip up to Gornergrat for one of the best panoramic views of the Swiss Alps.
Insider Tip: Zermatt books up quickly during the holidays so be sure to reserve your room well in advance.
How to get to Zermatt: Zermatt is car-free but you can fly into Zurich (ZRH) and take a three and a half-hour train ride or it’s a four-hour train from Geneva (GVA). You can also take a taxi or helicopter (Air Zermatt) and the famous Glacier Express from St. Moritz. If you have your own vehicle there’s a parking garage in nearby Tasch.
St. Moritz is Switzerland’s dazzling darling. A favorite hot spot for international jet-setters and celebrities, this world-class destination is legendary for offering up the poshest resorts, spas, restaurants, and winter sports activities. When I skied here I stayed at the idyllic Carlton Hotel that makes you feel like a VIP from the moment you arrive.
Related: How to ski Switzerland by yourself
One of my favorite all-time travel experiences started in St. Moritz when I took the famous Glacier Express train between St. Moritz and Zermatt. This is the slowest express train in the world and on this 7-1/2 hour trip, it’s all about the journey and appreciating the breathtaking scenery. Be sure to have your camera ready!
Don’t Miss: Checking out the ice skating in St. Moritz. You can enjoy a traditional rink like the one in front of the Kulm Country Club where the Winter Olympic Games were held in 1928 and 1948 or hit the magical Madulain Ice Path that meanders through the countryside and along the river and is known as one of the most beautiful skating tracks in the world.
Insider Tip: Before St. Moritz was recognized as a luxurious ski resort it was known as a place of healing with its mineral springs and spas so be sure to schedule some spa time to pamper yourself.
How to get to St. Moritz: Zurich (ZRH) is the nearest international airport where you can take the SBB train right from the airport into St. Mortiz, or it’s about three hours by car if you want to drive.
Another celebrity favorite ski resort Gstaad has been a playground for the rich and famous for decades. When I arrived the five-star Le Grand Bellevue hotel picked me up in a 1963 classic Bentley once owned by Roger Moore when he lived here and filmed James Bond movies in Switzerland. Royalty also visits Gstaad and if you want to feel like you are part of the royal experience another favorite place to stay is the impressive Gstaad Palace.
While known for its luxury, Gstaad also has an authentic alpine charm with a fairytale village and cobblestone streets. It’s car-free so you can peacefully enjoy the many boutiques and restaurants. Beyond hitting the ski slopes, I found the best way to explore the area is by hiking. I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience hiking to Fondue Land and eating Fondue in a giant Fondue pot surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery in the Swiss Alps.
Don’t Miss: Gstaad has some amazing Swiss cheese markets that are perfect for planning your own alpine picnic.
Insider Tip: Another wonderful way to see Gstaad is to take a horse-drawn carriage tour around the picture-perfect Lake Lauenen.
How to get to Gstaad: From both Bern-Belp Airport (BRN) and Geneva (GVA) it will take you about two and a half hours by train to get to Gstaad. To drive from Bern’s airport it’s about an hour and a half, and from Geneva, it’s about two hours. If you fly into Zurich (ZRH) plan on three and a half hours by train or a three-hour drive.
Lake Geneva Region
I could happily spend an entire winter in The Lake Geneva Region (Vaud) of Switzerland because there are so many unique things to do and experience. My only problem with my first trip to the Montreux Riviera including Lake Geneva, the Lavaux UNESCO vineyards, nearby summits, mountain villages, and small cities like Montreux and Vevey was that I didn’t schedule enough time here.
For a home base, I chose the award-winning, historic, Grand Hotel du Lac, Vevey, a five-star 50 room luxurious property right on the shores of Lake Geneva where the rooms have spectacular views of the French Alps.
For more inspiring scenery you can take a scenic train up to Rochers-de-Naye, a local favorite, where you can ski, hike, and have a traditional Swiss fondue soaking up the scenery.
Don’t Miss: The Goldenpass Cheese Train runs from January to April and is where you can sample different Swiss cheeses and wines in first-class compartments on a Belle Epoque train car.
Insider Tip: The Swiss are famous for their chocolates and cheese but their wine is equally delicious. However, since Swiss wine is rarely imported into the U.S. if you want to sample some be sure to make a trip to the beautiful terraced vineyards of Lavaux overlooking Lake Geneva for some of Switzerland’s finest wines.
How to get to the Lake Geneva Region: The closest international airport to the Lake Geneva Region is Geneva (GVA) located just outside of Geneva on the Swiss-French border. As of December 13, 2021, you can now again fly Swiss nonstop from New York’s JFK to Geneva with four weekly flights.
A multi-cultural contemporary city, Zurich never disappoints. With its non-stop schedule of diverse activities, great nightlife, award-winning cuisine, and places to stay, it’s no wonder Zurich is constantly ranked one of the world’s best cities when it comes to quality of life.
One of my favorite places is in the heart of the city, Zurich’s charming medieval Old Town (Altstadt). Be sure to do the Zurich Old Time Walking Tour, it’s a fascinating way to start exploring the city.
When you’re ready to relax I stayed at the celebrated 5-star Dolder Grand hotel that’s perched high on the hill overlooking the city, the lake, and the Alps. It has one of my favorite spas in Switzerland that is a vacation in itself. The Dolder’s impressive 43,000 square foot spa has a palatial pool with panoramic views and indoor and outdoor whirlpools where you can sip your favorite beverage and toast the sunset.
Don’t Miss: Taking a boat trip down the Limmat River. This leisurely ride is a wonderful way to see the historic buildings of Old Town and take some great pictures.
Insider Tip: To save time and money I always get the Zurich Card to explore the city. You can get a 24-hour card for 27 CHF or a 72-hour card for 53 CHF and it includes unlimited second class travel by tram, train, boat, cable car and bus, in the city and surrounding area. It also includes some boat trips in addition to giving free or reduced admission to 43 museums and lots of other great discounts.
How to get to Zurich: To fly into Zurich (ZRH) you’ll find the most nonstop options on the country’s national airline Swiss Air. You can also find several nonstop flights from the U.S. to Zurich on United, Delta, and American.
Final tip for visiting Switzerland
The Swiss have one of the best train systems in the world and taking a train is one of the most efficient, affordable, and enjoyable ways to see the country. For extra savings be sure to get the Swiss Travel Pass that includes unlimited travel throughout the country on trains, boats, and buses, and children travel for free. No tickets are required just board and enjoy the ride!
Featured photo of Zermatt Village with Matterhorn in the background courtesy Leander Wenger and Zermatt Tourism.
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