8 Best Places In Switzerland That You Won't Find In A Travel Guide
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8 Best Places In Switzerland That You Won't Find In A Travel Guide

Your backstage pass to this small but multifaceted country.

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8 Best Places In Switzerland That You Won't Find In A Travel Guide
Andrea Volken

As the daughter of a Swiss immigrant, I am no stranger to the immaculate appeal of the country. I first visited at three weeks old, and have lived much of my life metaphorically with one foot in Switzerland and the other in Washington state. It is no secret that Switzerland is an attractive tourist destination, but too many times I have spoken to a person about their time there, and they say, "I love Switzerland! I think I went to Zurich...or something" Zurich, or something? Don't get me wrong, Zurich is great -- a happening place with great shopping and a lovely old town -- but that is but scratching the surface of the things to be seen!

So, without further ado, I present to you a insider's look to things to see, do, and experience in this spell-binding country.

Gspon, Switzerland, overlooked by the Bietschhorn

1. The hike from Gspon to Saas Grund.

Not surprisingly, you will find a lot of these places in canton Valais. This is likely because that is where my family is from, and just happens to be the best canton in Swizerland. (We have the Matterhorn -- need I say more?) In Valais (or Wallis, per the German spelling), you will find a French-speaking portion, a German-speaking portion, and a very proud group of people, the German speakers equipped with an extremely strange sub dialect of Swiss German.

"That's really special," says my father of this beautiful hike that begins in his hometown of Stalden. To get to this hike, you first take the train to Stalden, a small town and hometown of my dad. From there, you take a little gondola to Gspon, and hike five to six hours on a scenic and quintessentially Walliser hike.

Lugano, Switzerland

Bellinzona Wine Festival

Gandria, Switzerland

2. Lugano.

Ah, Ticino. I was lucky enough to live and study here for a year and a half, and I often find myself wondering why I left. In Switzerland's Italian-speaking canton, you will find yourself wondering if you have stumbled in to the romantic charm of the southern neighbor, until you realize that the trains operate efficiently, and everything is still super clean.

Lugano is the main event in Ticino, boasting a beautiful lake that sits below mountains. Native palm trees line the shore, which is quite a sight to see, especially when it snows.

You could hike to the top of San Salvatore to see the impressive panorama, or head to neighboring Bellinzona and stroll through the castle.

Gandria, a village and one-quarter of the city of Lugano, sits along the northern shore. Predominantly accessed by boat, one can also take a lakeside footpath lined with olive trees from Lugano to Gandria, the aptly named Sentiero dell'Olivo.

At Château de Valère, overlooking Sion, Switzerland

3. Sion.

In the middle of wine country, just thirty minutes by train from my grandparent's house in German-speaking Brig, is French-speaking Sion. Ooh-la-la. The capital of Valais, Sion has Castle Tourbillon and the Castle of Valeria erupting out of it. I like to walk the old streets, peruse the art gallery, the castles, and sip on some of the area's Fendant, the acclaimed white wine. There is also great rock climbing nearby!


4. Grindelwald.

In the canton of Bern and the wake of the savage beauty of the Eiger and the Jungfrau, Grindelwald is a Swiss mountain town to which photos simply cannot do justice. My godfather (a mountain guide, like my dad) and his family live here, and you can catch glimpses of him leading routes from their home.

Here you can ski, trail run, and hike with the spectacular backdrop of the surrounding peaks.

Me, an abnormally tall six-year old, in Zermatt, Switzerland

Climbing the Riffelhorn, Zermatt, Switzerland

Martin ("Dad") Volken in his element

5. Zermatt (the right way).

Alright, Zermatt seems like an obvious choice, but as a proud Walliser, I could not let this go unmentioned. My parents lived here for a while in their 20s, and it is just an hour and a half by train from my dad's hometown, so we have ties to the place. As a teenager, my dad even starred in a film about Edward Whymper, the first man to climb the Matterhorn. This legendary peak is the most photographed mountain in the world because it is the most beautiful. Both of those statements are facts. Zermatt has a really fun nightlife in the winters, with the Après-ski community and otherwise.

If you are going to be in Zermatt, you have to go in the mountains. Ski over the border in to Italy and back again, go hiking and climbing in the surrounding natural areas, visit the alpine museum! If you have your sights set on climbing the Matterhorn, take this advice from my mom, the manager of our family's guiding office and co-owner of the family business: "If you have minimal mountaineering experience, you need to be very fit and have strong basic movement skills scrambling on rock. Some experience in alpine climbing is necessary."

Take the advice, folks. Gina knows best. She also recommends booking a mountaineering trip guided by my dad. Definitely do not go without a guide, and definitely go with my dad! He is internationally certified and renowned, and knows the mountains like old friends.

Valle Verzasca, Switzerland

College freshmen at the Ponte Dei Salti

6. Valle Verzasca.

The Verzasca valley in Ticino is absolutely mind-blowing. The jade mountain stream is clean, clear and runs over polished rock, and in some parts, forms waterfalls and natural jacuzzis. There is good climbing in the valley, as well as ample opportunity for jumping in to the water from rocks and the Ponte dei Salti. Or you could opt to mimic 007 and bungee jump off of the Verzasca dam, where the real scene was filmed.

Hike to Schwarzsee, Lötschental, Switzerland

7. Lötschental.

If you want to get deep in the Swiss-ness, more specifically, the Oberwalliser-ness, Lötschental should be on your radar. Take a hike, sit by a mountain lake, and then go to a restaurant and order a Walliser Teller (various local cheeses, meats, and bread) and some wine.

8. Chateau de Chillon.

Chateau de Chillon is an ISLAND CASTLE (yes, both) on Lake Geneva, in the French-speaking canton of Vaud. Originally a Roman outpost, then the Savoy's fortress and residence, it is now open to the public for visits and tours.

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