Nestled in the heart of Europe and bordering Italy, France, Germany and Austria, Switzerland may be significantly smaller, but its sumptuous offerings rival those of its neighbors and deliver European charm at its best: medieval architecture, including the administrative capital of Bern (a UNESCO -World Heritage); masterful cuisine in Michelin-star restaurants with panoramic views of alpine chains and azure lakes; transcendent spa experiences; picture-perfect villages; and of course fondue and chocolate galore. And thanks to revered efficiency, infrastructure and safety – including amazingly well-maintained roads, tunnels and high-speed trains – traveling through this edelweiss-laden wonderland is a pleasure.
Start your adventure in Zurich. While the international financial capital and birthplace of Dadaism used to maintain a more buttoned-up vibe, this vibrant city has let its hair down and is now an epicenter of European arts and culture. Set alongside a tree-lined promenade and sparkling Utoquai (‘bathing palace’), La Réserve Eden au Lac has been carefully restored by Philippe Starck with a dramatic aesthetic that blends mid-century modern elements with whimsical nautical touches. It’s also home to Eden Kitchen, where chef Marco Ortolani creates his daring interpretations of Italian delights. This historic cultural monument with 40 rooms and a wide view of Lake Zurich is only a 10-minute walk away
the Bahnhofstrasse in the old town, where the glittering worlds of finance and high fashion collide. And on a hilltop, also overlooking the lake, amid the tranquility of adjacent woodland and a golf course, lies the splendor of the Dolder Grand, where guests can be invigorated in a lavish, Japanese-inspired spa and dine in some of the restaurants serving the best fillets in the world City in the in-house restaurant Saltz. The city’s transformation is also evident in Zurich West, a former industrial area turned hub of art galleries, and Im Viaduct, a mecca for locally sourced delicatessen items and up-and-coming fashion labels.
Just a train or car ride away from the whirlwind of city life are two of Switzerland’s most enchanting Shangri-Las: one is tucked away in the mountains, the other on the lake shore and oozes Mediterranean ambience. Together they offer travelers the ultimate itinerary to experience the crème de la crème of the country’s natural wonders. Tucked away in the Bernese Oberland in the Swiss Alps lies the small but discreet hillside hamlet of Gstaad. Long a ritzy winter playground for Moncler-clad royals and jet-setters, this enchanting gem immerses visitors in an alluring mix of old and new world with a surprisingly down-to-earth vibe, from hillsides with cows grazing in pastures to traditional ones dollhouse-like Swiss chalets made from wood sourced from locally grown trees. On the city’s central promenade, Hermès, Louis Vuitton and coffee lovers treat themselves to a lazy afternoon at busy cafes like Charly’s, Cappuccino and Pernet Fine Foods.
Whether you want to hit fast-paced slopes in winter, hike some of the 300 kilometers of hiking trails through green slopes in the pouring summer light (including the waterfall-dotted lake hike in nearby Lauenensee), or simply bask in the splendor of Gstaad’s flora and fauna In an animal-rich environment, a sumptuous Alpine view room is essential. And you’ll indulge in decadence at several of the region’s ritzy properties, each with its own distinctive aesthetic.
In the stately Gstaad Palace Hotel, for example, you can revel in fairytale nobility. Since 1913, this hilltop chateau has exuded opulence, from the majestic lobby lounge flanked by plush red-hued furniture and wood-coffered ceilings, to the white-jacketed staff at Le Grand Restaurant, to the lavish 1,800-square-foot spa. One of the most impressive moments of awe occurs when you step onto one of the guest room balconies. The feeling is of being thrust deep into the splendor of the enveloping Alps and it is mesmerizing.
A pioneer in sustainability (even the remarkably massive slippers in the guest room are fashioned from eco-friendly felt), The Alpina Gstaad is where purpose-driven innovation meets cutting-edge design and rejuvenation, right down to the elegant stone-studded underground tunnel entrance, worthy of a Marvel superhero’s lair, and the on-site Six Senses Spa with an expansive grotto, Himalayan salt room and chromotherapy sauna. Embellished with Swiss antiques, carved ceilings, and reclaimed wood, the sumptuous accommodations (each furnished with flower-filled private balconies to enjoy views of the snow-capped mountains) are the epitome of bucolic alpine pomp. An oasis of this haute could only accommodate one of the most famous chefs in the world. And Martin Göschel, the virtuoso who has been awarded a Michelin star and 18/20 Gault Millau points, will enchant you with his culinary masterpieces on the Sommet. Göschel’s bespoke tasting menu, featuring locally sourced ingredients, is a rhythmic fusion of French classics and international flair that is sure to satisfy the gastronomic fantasies of any discerning foodie – from delicately baked linden petal with pickled celery and apple jelly to Alpina bee garden sole, prepared tableside. Imagine slowly dipping a divinely translucent piece of raw fish in beeswax and watching it bake right before your eyes. The result is culinary splendor. Oenophiles will also marvel at Sommet’s amazing wine selection, which includes hundreds of rare vintage bottles and prized Swiss wines (less than two per cent of which are exported, so this is the time to indulge), including Pinot Noir and Chasselas, the most famous being white and an idyllic complement to the region’s famous fondue.
Reminiscent of an intimate English country house, Gstaad’s Le Grand Bellevue is minutes from the nearby train station (in the quaint neighboring town of Saanen) and is a hub of renewal thanks to the property’s showstopper, Le Grand Spa. This theatrical haven of tranquility includes 17 wellness sanctuaries, including hay, infrared, Finnish, and herbal saunas; an ice cave; and an indoor pool. After hours of bliss, retreat to one of the tranquil, elegant yet whimsical veneered guest rooms. Soak up the surroundings at Michelin-starred Leonard’s, where chef Francesco de Bartolomeis creates modern, Italian-inspired cuisine with his four- or six-course surprise menus.
From the mountains to the lake: Ascona, on the shore of Lake Maggiore, lies on the border between Italy and Switzerland and exudes Mediterranean flair. This former fishing village in the canton of Ticino offers a decidedly alluring and more low-key alternative to Lake Como
a quiet but sophisticated vibe with fewer crowds and mostly Italian and German speaking travelers. The colorful facades of centuries-old buildings, swaying palm trees and awning-covered lakeside cafes with seating spilling out onto the sidewalk line the cobblestone streets of the Piazza Grande. Just beyond this postcard backdrop is a narrow maze of charming lanes lined with local shops full of regional finds, like painted ceramics at Le Capre, coveted European skincare and cosmetics at Farmacia Amavita, handcrafted wooden homewares at L’ulivo di Cinzia, designer splendours at Ewa Opoka Sagl and a sophisticated collection of homewares at VAL. The city plays host to several festivals throughout the year, including JazzAscona in the summer, where visitors enjoy hundreds of free concerts along the lake.
Just a few steps away is the crown jewel of Ascona: the Green Globe-certified five-star Hotel Eden Roc. A member of the exclusive Swiss Deluxe Hotels association and owned and operated by the carbon-neutral Tschuggen Group, this lakefront oasis offers an unrivaled private beach and marina, with watersports galore (including stand-up paddling, canoeing, and glamorous rides in one of the limited-edition Riva boats of the Hotels from where you can enjoy the unspoilt countryside, hilltop houses and exotic Brissago Islands dotted with flowers and plants). With a captivating aesthetic that blends classic elegance with modern, whimsical glamour, courtesy of local designer Carlo Rampazzi, this is hedonism at its finest: lakeside pools, impeccable service, a 1,950-square-foot spa, resident Moving Mountains program, designed to inspire visitors to connect with nature, and fine dining at the Eden Roc Restaurant, where scampi are cooked at the table, and La Casetta, a cozy stone-enclosed lake house steeped in World War II history.
Other local treasures include lunch at the area’s legendary grottoes. Once used as wine and food storage cellars, these rustic taverns look straight out of a scene game of Thrones. Grotto America is outstanding. Nestled in vegetation on the banks of the Maggia River, Grotto America offers highlights such as charcuterie platters, fresh seafood and a delicious porcini mushroom risotto. And Locanda Barbarossa in the sprawling Gutshotel Castello del Sole specializes in some of Ascona’s most remarkable French-Mediterranean dishes, under the culinary direction of chef Mattias Roock, who uses ingredients grown on the estate – another definitely Swiss experience you’ll savor. Now all you have to do is plan your return soon.