Most people on their first visit to Switzerland focus on the more popular destinations like Interlaken, Lucerne, Mt Titlis. Jungfrau etc. Nearly 90% of the travel agents atleast those in India also concentrate on these places but Switzerland has a lot more to offer. Every place that you go to in that country is so beautiful that it is difficult to come out with a list of must visit destinations. Since I have family staying there, I was lucky enough to explore some of the more offbeat ‘Swiss Treasures’ and I have put together a list of five such places in this post. Read on to know about them. I also have another travel post on Switzerland and that one is entirely on chocolate. Click this link to read 🙂
5 Offbeat Tourist Destinations in Switzerland
Stein am Rhein – I’ve left my heart in this charming and beautiful old town. Stein am Rhein is located in the canton of Schaffhausen and situated on the river Rhine. It is less than an hour’s drive from the Rhine Falls and about 55 kms from Zurich. Originally a small fishing village, Stein am Rhein developed in the 11th Century when Emperor Henry The II transferred the Benedictine St. George’s Abbey to the hamlet because of its strategic location. Soon, the small village grew to a prosperous commercial center.
Stein am Rhein is straight out of a Swiss fairy tale. You can take a stroll by the beautiful river promenade, eat a delicious meal at one of the many cafes lining up the promenade and once done, you must take a walk around the town and then go to the Rathausplatz – the square of the City Hall. The entire perimeter of Rathausplatz is lined by half-timbered houses with magnificent painted façades. Most of these houses are nearly 400 years old and you will be amazed at how well these medieval buildings have been preserved. There are quite a few cafes and shops inside the square as well and I will recommend you to try out La P’tite Creperie. I had a chocolate crepe there that was absolutely delicious and there was an Indian dal and spinach option too!
Bellinzona – Another charming old city located in south Switzerland. Bellinzona is the capital of the Ticino canton and located near the Italian border. The skyline is defined by powerful fortifications comprising three of the best medieval castles in Europe known as Tre Castelli.
Castelgrande is the oldest and the ‘grandest’ castle and is located on a hill top. It is walking distance from the Bellinzona railway station and takes about 15 minutes to get there. Castelgrande looks over the Old Town and its surroundings. There is a museum inside the castle and also a Michelin starred restaurant inside the premises. The other two castles are Sasso Corbaro and Castello di Montebello.
Bellinzona is quaint, charming, vintage and at the same time, quite modern. I loved walking around exploring the square, the lovely old houses, the churches and the many boutiques and cafes.
Lugano – If you are on a train from Zurich to Milan, get off at Bellinzona, explore the city, hop on the train again and get down at Lugano which is the next stop. Also in the Ticino canton, Lugano is Switzerland’s 9th largest city and lies on Lake Lugano, surrounded by the mountains of the Lugano Prealps.
Once you get off the train, make your way to the funicular station located inside the main railway station. Hop on and the train will take you right to the middle of the city centre which is the heart of Lugano. There are quite a few things to do and see in Lugano. First is definitely a boat ride on Lake Lugano. This is for 90 mins and if you have a Swiss tourist pass, the ride is free. Lake Lugano is surrounded by mountains and the views are breathtaking.
Also on your list can be a cable car ride up Monte San Salvatore or you can just spend a day exploring the city’s churches, cathedrals and the colourful Piazza della Riforma. Lugano has pleny of options for shopping and every major fashion brand has a store there. If you are interested in dining in a café that is a legend in Lugano and is more than 100 years old, go to the Grand Café Al Porto. The food is to die for!
Emmental – From the south we move to west central Switzerland. Emmental is a valley forming part of the canton of Bern and the region is devoted primarily to farming. Emmental is also the birthplace of the world-famous Emmental cheese. If you want to know more about how the Swiss make this cheese visit the Emmental Show Dairy located in a small and beautiful village. Here, you will experience both traditional and modern production techniques for the cheese. There is a souvenir shop where you can buy the cheese, a restaurant attached to the dairy where you can taste a lot of ‘cheesy’ goodies and also visit the dairy as it was in the 1700s.
Einseideln Abbey – is a Benedictine monastery located in the village of Einsiedeln in the canton of Schwyz. The abbey is dedicated to Our Lady of the Hermits or The Black Madonna. The Benedictine monastery has a history of just over one thousand years and since the Middle Ages, it has been one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Europe.
The Einseideln Tourism website states ‘The miraculous image of the Black Madonna was created by an unknown artist in the 15th century. Soon after, Mary and the baby Jesus were given magnificent broidered clothes. Depending on the celebration the color of clothes are changed. The clothes cover everything except their face and hands. On their heads they wear crowns; this is the way Brother Claus saw them. The Einsiedeln Black Madonna image belongs to the series of the famous Black Madonnas of Europe. The Black Madonna became black over the years from dust and the soot of the candles, oil lamps and incense. In 1803 the hands and face were painted black’.
You are not allowed to click photos inside the Abbey so I can’t show you how stunning it is. Do check the site for pictures and definitely include Einseideln in your list if you are visiting Switzerland.
If you are going to Switzerland on your own and not on a guided tour, the best way to travel within the country is by train. Buy a Swiss Travel Pass and you can travel by rail, road and waterway throughout Switzerland without having to pay again. The pass is expensive but believe me it is so worth it. You can also hire a car and Hertz, the car rental company is very popular and also, economical. All of these places mentioned above are very well connected by both train and road so you won’t have any problem visiting.
Do share more such offbeat tourist destinations in the comments below if you have been to Switzerland. I will go again next year and will make it a point to visit 🙂