The quintessential alpine country, Switzerland is dotted with some of the world’s most iconic mountains. Here are Europe's largest glaciers, the most peaks over 4000 metres and the most picturesque ski resorts. A nationwide devotion to high standards makes life easier for winter holidaymakers: Swiss trains really do run on time, the national airline carries skis for free and without any fuss, and a nation of natural hoteliers ensures everywhere you stay is clean and comfortable.
Switzerland’s quaint image is more than just a sales pitch: for every one modern self-service cafeteria in Swiss ski resorts there seem to be ten ancient mountain refuges or high-class restaurants offering a full table service. The villages tend to have traditional old buildings, and are often pretty and sometimes car-free. Thanks to innate Swiss conservatism and high environmental awareness, the country’s mountains, woods and lakes have been carefully preserved and are relatively unscarred by development. And they are worth protecting too. There are fifty-seven Swiss 4,000m peaks including the Matterhorn, Eiger and Monte Rosa; and Europe’s biggest glacier – the Aletsch – is also in Switzerland. And where man has made an impact, it’s often to create something that’s worth seeing, whether it’s Europe’s highest ski lifts above Zermatt; or it’s highest railway station – the Jungfraujoch – above Wengen; or the Piz Gloria revolving restaurant at Schilthorn above Murren.
Staying in the Swiss Alps
Your hosts, the Swiss, do live up to a few stereotypes. Their worldwide reputation as the ultimate hoteliers is matched only by their famously serious approach to life (they even have a very small book book entitled ‘Tell me a Swiss joke’). But looking after foreign guests has been a way of life here for over a century and they do it very well, and usually in at least four different languages, one of which will be English.
Winter holidaymakers also benefit from a country that runs like clockwork: public transport is heavily subsidised and organised on the basis that you and your luggage (including skis), can get from pretty much from anywhere to anywhere in comfort regardless of the weather and at times that are likely to be useful, with stress-free connections.
Fortunately the most infamous restrictions imposed on Swiss city-dwellers (never mind not washing your car on a Sunday, how about not flushing the toilet in your apartment after 10pm?) don’t apply to Swiss ski resorts. But the spirit behind them is there and it means that whilst you can find lively apres-ski bars and nightclubs in most Swiss ski resorts if you want them, very rarely will you be kept awake by one if you are in your hotel room trying to get to sleep. It just would not be allowed.