Did you know winter tourism originated in Switzerland exactly 150 years ago? Back then, a Swiss hotelier named Badrutt made a bet with his summer guests. He promised them a dry climate, brilliant snow and sunny days if they returned in winter.
If they didn’t find themselves tanned and relaxed at the end of their stay, he’d foot their entire trip. Several families took Mr. Badrutt up on his offer and the rest is history. The English flocked to Switzerland in winter, Swiss guides ventured into North America, and they started many of our ski hills in Canada in the US.
I just returned from a week in Switzerland experiencing for myself these winter activities that so captivated those early tourists. Here’s a look at what I got up to.
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As soon as I landed in Zurich, I hoped on a train and hightailed it to the middle of the Swiss Alps. (You definitely don’t want to travel without a Swiss Travel Pass!) We began our journey in Engelberg, a sweet mountain town in central Switzerland.
Engel means angel in German and you’ll spot several angel monuments and knick knacks around town. (I didn’t make the connection at first and thought the citizens were slackers who hadn’t put away their holiday decorations yet.)
You can do so many winter activities in and around Engelberg – from snowshoeing to electric snowmobiling to sledding, it’s not just about skiing on Titlis. (But there’s plenty to do at Mt. Titlis in summer, too.) My favourite anytime of year, is the walk across Europe’s highest suspension bridge. Slightly scary, but the views are spectacular – all frosty white – in winter.
Next, we trained it to Lucerne, to take part in their annual Carnival. Lucerne Carnival kicks off with a bang at 5 a.m. sharp and throngs of locals make their way to the Chapel Square, as do dozens of marching bands. Everyone is dressed up in full costumes and shredded phone books turned into confetti rain down on the crowd of thousands.
Here’s a shot of Lucerne before the Carnival madness. This is a city of bridges and it is laced with lovely medieval squares and a historic city center. (There are also a lot of confectionary shops, which is why I came home with 6 pounds of chocolate bars.) Even if you’re in Switzerland for a short time, you’ll want to do a day trip to Lucerne.
St. Moritz White Turf
You know you’re in a surreal landscape when you stop counting those wearing full length furs, because it’s more striking the odd gal who isn’t wearing one. Yes, friends, I made it to the St. Moritz White Turf horse races!
Ever since I watched the mini-series Lace in the 80s, I’d fantasized about mingling with the jet set in the alps, and this was the event to do that at.
The White Turf horse race take place on this frozen lake, that I just happened to have a great view of from my room at the swish Klum Hotel.
White Turf is one of those events that’s on the circuit, if you’re a gazillionaire. Lots of champagne tents, sponsors and old money swanning about with their non-hat-head hair and gorgeously groomed dogs.
Bobsleigh St. Moritz
Surprisingly, bobsledding is full on in St. Moritz. Visitors can go on the real bobsleigh course complete with G-forces and all.
I thought I would die! My heart was in my throat the whole time – especially when I was introduced to our pilot.
This guy looked like your quintessential European playboy: good looking, incredibly charming, impeccable manners. You can see how thrilled I am when we met. You couldn’t wipe the grin off my face.
And I made sure we got a cute couple shot at the end of the ride.
Naturally, I ate my weight in cheese (and chocolate) the entire trip. Besides dunking cubes of bread and boiled potatoes into the cheese fondue, we also speared apple and pineapple.
Gotta say pineapple and melted cheese is not a pairing I’d recommend, but the apple was a refreshing alternative to all the carbs. Not that I cared what I ate this trip.
I returned home jeans much tighter, heart a little lighter. Europeans really know how to enjoy life. The week was a true tonic and covered such a wide range of activities, I didn’t for once wish I was at tropical resort.
Because Switzerland is actually a sun destination, just without the beaches. Still if you’re headed there in winter, you’ll want to make sure you pack the right gear. For that, check out this packing list for Europe in winter.
Do you go for winter holidays (in snowy destinations)? What’s your favourite spot or activity?
Thank you to Switzerland Tourism for inviting me to explore this winter wonderland. It was one of those magical, unforgettable trips.