Looking for a festive getaway? Switzerland could be just the ticket, says Carolynne Dear.
Snow storm - making some family memories.
Following another stifling year of lockdown in Asia, who could blame us for craving a break in cooler climes?
A strong contender this winter is Switzerland, which is now open and quarantine-free for many areas of the world, including travellers from Singapore and Hong Kong.
Dreamy landscapes, heaps of snow, bucket loads of fresh air and a plethora of festive and fun outdoor activities are strong draw-cards for Asia-based families. If you’re looking to (safely) escape the heat and humidity and to perhaps make up for a missed snow season last year, Switzerland could be just what you’re looking for.
Earlier this summer, Switzerland opened up to fully vaccinated travellers and many social distancing regulations were softened. Hospitality is fully reopened, mask wearing is no longer required outside and there are no restrictions on outdoor sports and activities.
In a country that is world-renowned for its safety and ability to function like clockwork, it has been no surprise to hear that Switzerland was quick to implement a ‘Clean & Safe’ campaign. A raft of safety protocols have been introduced for the hospitality and events industries to protect both guests and staff. Masks are compulsory inside holiday accommodation and hospitality venues and staff must ensure a one-and-a-half metre distance in waiting areas. Cleaning regulations have been ramped-up, contact details for at least one person per travelling group must be noted and payment must be cashless and contactless as far as possible. Masks are also compulsory on trains and other public transport.
Make this winter memorable - and if the Swiss snow doesn’t entice you, the chocolate and gluhwein might.
Six great reasons to head to Switzerland
Salvage your ski legs
Swiss Ski Schools will have you back on the piste in no time.
With ski resorts inaccessible last winter, we’ve all missed a year of whizzing down the slopes. If you’re feeling a little out of practice, don’t worry. Switzerland’s network of ski schools offer to get you confidently back on your feet in no time. Whether you’re a beginner or a rusty returner, the Swiss Ski Schools promise to have you skiing in just three days - with the promise of a free-of-charge repeat course if you don’t quite manage it.
Classes are supervised by Swiss Ski School instructors and they’re confident they’ll have you enjoying an easy, blue run by day three.
Instructors are also of course able to show-off the best of the country’s slopes with breaks in stunning mountain huts.
There are also full- and half-day ‘First Ski Experience’ offers, enabling guests to enjoy a ski or snowboarding taster.
Winter holiday experiences don’t get more memorable than spending a night in an igloo surrounded by some of the most stunning mountain scenery in the world. The Igloo village at Switzerland's Zermatt offers just such an experience - and at an altitude of 2,700m with stunning views of the Matterhorn and Valais Alps.
After meeting with your guides, there’s a five minute train ride and ten minute hike to the village where you’ll be met with a warming homemade mulled wine.
Activities in the village include snowshoeing and there’s even a village hot tub. Fuel-up with a traditional cheese fondue in the evening before snuggling down in your lambskin-lined igloo for the night. A hot cup of tea will be dropped off to your sleeping bag the following morning. Enjoy a leisurely breakfast at Hotel Riffelberg before catching the train back down the mountain.
Switzerland is host to one of Europe's longest sledging runs; find yourself speeding down a massive 11kms of slippery slopes.
Bin Pintenfritz runs from Faulhorn in Grindelwald, through Bussalp and down to Grindelwald Oberall - a descent of just short of 1,400m - with magnificent views over the Schreckhorn, the north face of the Wetterhorn and the Eiger mountains as you slide.
Slippery dip - don't forget to check out the stunning views as you slide.
Suitable for older families looking for adventure, the exhilarating experience begins with a two-hour hike up to an altitude of 2,600m from First to Faulhorn via Lake Bachalpsee. The climb affords amazing views of the north face of Switzerland's Wetterhorn mountain and the Schreckhorn mountain. It’s hard work, but at the top you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views over much of Switzerland - not to mention the prospect of a super-fast descent back down to Grindelwald Oberall.
The run takes its name from Fritz Bohren, former owner of the Faulhorn mountain hotel, who was also known as ‘Pintenfritz’. Allegedly, he used to sledge to Grindelwald after work to let his hair down. However, it remains a mystery as to how he returned back up to Faulhorn after a night on the town. These days, there’s a train.
Along with the Swiss mountain views, the run also takes in the snowy forest near Bussalp - look out for deer on the edge of the forest as you whizz through the trees.
Ice, ice baby
ICE MAGIC adventure world is open from mid-December until February and offers fun family moments on a series of ice rinks linked by ice paths and surrounded by breathtaking mountain scenery.
Night show - tripping the light fantastic at Ice Magic.
There’s a separate, covered rink for children where they can safely find their feet with the help of the skating aids provided. The ice on this rink is also less slippery, so parents can walk alongside skate-free to supervise. If they’re feeling confident, kids can also try their hand at soft hockey.
Skates, aids and helmets are all available for hire, including double-bladed children’s skates. Just bring warm coats and gloves and don’t forget your sunscreen.
Fuel-up at a selection of dining spaces serving traditional Swiss winter warmers.
Let’s face it, a European Christmas isn’t a European Christmas without a visit to a festive market.
Zurich, Switzerland’s shopping capital, will be ramping up its offerings from November onwards with late-night and Sunday shopping along with a plethora of picturesque Christmas markets, both in the city and around Lake Zurich. They include the oldest Christmas market in the Insta-friendly Old Town and the Christkindlimarkt at Zurich Main Train Station, which is held under a sparkling, 50-ft Christmas tree bedecked with no fewer than 7,000 Swarovski crystals.
Browse a huge selection of gift ideas set out among the beautifully decorated market stands and don’t forget to grab an obligatory glass of mulled wine, or a warm punch for the kids; typical festive bites include Swiss favourites such as raclette and fondue.
Zurich Christmas markets not to miss include Badener WunderDorf, Winterthur Old Town, Zurich Main Station, Zurich Old Town, Zurich Opera House, Einseideln with its imposing Benedictine monastery backdrop, and Rapperswil-Juna set amongst medieval buildings.
Also not to be missed are the stunning Christmas decorations and market further south at Montreux. The picturesque town is set on Lac Leman and at Christmastime it comes alive with its market and other festive attractions. Browse market stalls on the promenade, the Loggers’ Village and the Gourmet Space and don’t miss the light show. In addition, there’s ‘Medieval Magic’ at lakeside Chillon Castle and a Santa House on the peak at nearby Les Rochers-de-Naye.
Wrap-up for a stunning snow hike.
Picture the scene - gently whirling snowflakes, stunning mountain vistas and a silent, white wilderness. The picturesque Aletsch Arena in southern Switzerland is crisscrossed by 72 kilometres of winter walking trails, affording hikers breathtaking views of the winter landscape of Valais, home to the mighty Matterhorn mountain. Easy hikes of between five and ten kilometres pass by snow-covered forests, frozen rivers and sunny plateaus.
A great way to see Switzerland is with a Swiss Travel Pass. This offers holidaymakers unlimited use of trains, buses and boats, including premium panoramic trains such as the Glacier Express.
The Pass covers more than 90 Swiss towns and cities as well as free admission to more than 500 museums country-wide, mountain excursions in areas including Rigi, Stanserhorn and Stoos and 50% discount on many other mountain excursions. And if you invest in the Swiss Family Card travel pass, children under the age of 16 get to travel free.
More information and booking details for the activities mentioned here can be found online.
This feature appeared in the Autumn issue of Asia Family Traveller magazine. Never miss an issue by subscribing here.