When you stay the night at Fluhalp, you can wake up to a view like this. Pretty darn spectacular!
For Z, we’re talking about the siZe of Switzerland, which is small. It has a surface area of 41, 285 sq. km.
If numbers aren’t your thing, let’s consider two comparisons.
If you think of Portugal as small, well, I have news for you. With Portugal’s area at 91,985 sq km, Switzerland is less than half the size of Portugal.
For those of you in the US, here’s another way to see it. Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island have a combined area of 45,694 sq km… their powers combined are larger than Switzerland!
So, I think you’ll agree with me that Switzerland is small. But, as we have seen throughout my A-Z Challenge, its small size doesn’t diminish its awe and wonder! And because it’s so small, it is easy to experience a majority of the country during a single visit.
Another advantage of Switzerland’s small size is that if you’re planning a trip to Europe, you can easily combine Switzerland with another country. Switzerland borders France, Germany, Liechtenstein (technically a principality of Switzerland), Austria, and Italy. Have fun exploring!
As an aside, the Swiss perspective of distance is completely different from my American one. For example, some people in David’s immediate family don’t come to see us very often because we live “too far away”. AHEM. We live 30 minutes away, at most… The *face palm* has been my go-to reaction to this mentality.
Well, there you have it! To an outsider, Switzerland may be a small step; but to most Swiss, this small step is more like a giant leap!
In my post on Emblematic Exports, I mentioned some yummies that Switzerland produces. But really, Switzerland has more than just Emmental cheese and Toblerone, Lindt, and Nestle (Cailler) chocolates. That’s just what it frequently exports.
Since I’m more a fan of sweet, you get a post solely about Swiss chocolate!
So you know Toblerone, Lindt, and Nestle already! Let’s look at other brands that the Swiss know and love.
Favarger. Geneva-based. The Aveline is their “undisputed specialty”.
Frey. Owned by the Migros grocery store chain and sold only in their stores. I learned that Frey is the leading Swiss chocolate manufacturer!
Suchard. Originally from Neuchatel. The name still lives on at Wodey Suchard, the oldest confectionery in Switzerland.
Villars. Known for their good chocolate but especially for their collectible gift boxes.
You’d think it’d be easy. Walk in to the bank. Tell them you have some money. Sign up for an account.
Sorry, not that simple.
First of all, walk in to the bank. What bank?? There are so many choices! Credit Suisse? Raiffaisen? A cantonal bank? A local bank? The post office? Because yes, the post office is (among other things) a bank. Go figure.
Second, for those of you who want one of those anonymous accounts… sorry, they don’t exist anymore! Banks know the identity of every one of their customers. But they won’t reveal your identify without your consent, so there’s still that…
Ok, so, you walk in to the bank to open an account. You tell them you have some money. Before you can open an account, they want to make sure you are a solid investment. They will ask for proof that you have money. That you have enough money to be worth their while. And they will verify that your moolah comes from an honest source.
Let’s say your money is good. If you are American, chances are you still won’t be able to open an account easily. Why, you ask?
“As Swiss bank accounts for US citizens require additional administrative work, many banks prefer to open these accounts only when large sums of money are involved.” Source
Unless you have large sums of money, forget it.
And Switzerland is even getting stricter with American account holders. This Time article from December 2013 explores some account closings… because the account owners were American. There is a lot of political and administrative back story to this. If you’re interested, I’d suggest you read the article!
Today we’re talking alcohol; Switzerland produces its own selection of wine, beer, and liqueur. The Swiss Germans are more in to beer and Swiss French more in to wine. These preferences have their roots in the culture differences of these two groups. As I have a preference for wine over beer, I guess I’m in the right part. My apartment, in Francophone Switzerland, even looks out over a vineyard.
But instead of looking at Swiss alcohol in general, I’d like to talk about a specific place I appreciate: La Cave des Bouquetins (website in French or German only).
This family-owned winery was founded by the late Dr. Henry Wuilloud. After his fatal mountaineering accident, his two children decided to continue the family business. Dr. Wuilloud’s son Romain (one of my hubby’s army buddies) tends the vineyards and the doctor’s daughter Isaline makes the wine with competence and passion.
They have, hands down, my favorite whites. Especially their sweeter Arvine and their special Plant Wine (dessert wine, currently sold out).
You can go in and taste their wines every Saturday morning from 10am to noon. I’d recommend it if you’re ever in Sion.
Italian for “iron road”, a via ferrata is a protected climbing route in the mountains. There is a steel cable that runs along the route, bolted to the rock every few meters. Wearing a harness and special lanyard+carabiners, we clip on to the cable and reclip after each bolt. When the rocks don’t lend themselves to being hand- or foot- holds, some are added:
These routes typically work their way up a rocky face, like this:
Yep. As I said. Up.
What’s exhilarating (or vertigo-inducing, depending on the person) is that when you ascend, sometimes you get to do things like this:
There’s a good reason the Swiss are known for watch-making. They are überpünktlich (link to Doug’s Blog with great thoughts on the subject). Over punctual. The Swiss French a tad less, but since the majority of the country is Swiss German, their influence goes a long way. A loooooong way.
Take trains, for example. They run on time. TO THE SECOND. I recall sitting in a regional train waiting for it to depart, which it was set to do at 17 minutes past the hour. When the second hand hit 12, the minute hand switched to :17, and the train took off. Literally all at once.
If a train is late, even by a couple minutes, the delay will be announced with apologies. My favorite time to people-watch is that rare occasion when a train is late but there is no announcement. Toes go a-tappin’, and there is a lot of huffing/puffing/sighing and looking at watches. Swiss. trains. should. not. be. late.
There are two near me in cities:
Bernaqua: Rates for 1.5 hrs, 3 hrs, or all day. Pay to park. Waterpark included in admission (and they have some great slides!).
Yverdon-les-Bains: 3-hr entrance. Free parking. The saunas and the outdoor jacuzzi are extra (but the jacuzzi is worth it at sunset if there aren’t a lot of people).
For the most part, thermal baths are found in the Alps, near hot springs. Here are the ones I like or have heard good things about:
Anzere Spa and Wellness: Can pay for a 2-hr or 3-hr entrance. Aquagym included in admission (sessions M-F 5pm, Sat 1pm).
Bains de la Gruyeres at Charmey: 3-hr or half-day entrance. Free parking. Saunas and hammams included in admission. Best after a day of sightseeing in Gruyeres (Cailler chocolate factory, Gruyeres cheese factory, castle, town).
Lavey-les-Bains: Can pay for a 3-hr or 4-hr entrance. Free parking. Saunas and hammams included in admission. This thermal center has bragging rights; its water comes from the hottest spring in Switzerland.
Leukerbad: There are actually two spas here, Leukerbad Therme (+waterslides) and Walliser Alpentherme & Spa. I’ve only been to Walliser Alpentherme, which has a 3-hr or all-day entrance. Pay to park. Aquagym classes included in admission. It has my favorite mountain view from the outdoor pool. If you want more privacy, top-knotch hotels here also have thermal baths just for their guests.
Ovronnaz: Bathing time is unlimited (as long as you don’t leave). Famous for their ski/spa package.
Saillon: Bathing time is unlimited (as long as you don’t leave). Saunas and hammams included in admission.
Therme Vals: Reservation required. Total relaxation.
Val d’Illiez: 3-hr entrance. Pay to park. Sauna and hammams included in admission. The building itself is beautiful; if they had oriented it differently, the view could have been spectacular.
The most prominent sound in Switzerland has to be the bell. I hear bells every day without exception.
Church bells ring on the hour and half-hour (and even on the quarter-hour). At 10pm, they ring a lot to announce the end of the day.
But some bells aren’t so punctual. Cows (and some sheep and goats… and even some donkeys!) wear bells around their neck. We can hear cow bells from our apartment window. So Swiss!
What sounds are unique to where you live?
If you’ve ever planned a trip to Switzerland, you’ve probably heard the big names: Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Bern… Lucerne, Lausanne, Interlaken, Zermatt, Gruyères, and Gstaad may have made the list, too.
I’d like to propose some places that let you experience Switzerland off the beaten path.
Near the German border:
Rhein Fall (ok, this one doesn’t qualify as “quiet”…) + Schaffhausen
Near the French border:
Creux du Van + Neuchâtel
Etang de la Gruère + Goumois
In the heart of the Alps:
All of Graubünden canton, especially St. Mauritz and the Swiss National Park
All of Ticino canton, especially Val Verzasca
Hérens Valley, especially Evolène and the Grande Dixence Dam
Panoramic train through Andermatt
Rossinière (near Château-d’Oex)