5 Quirky Spots to See in Switzerland

 
12 December 2013

Switzerland is beautiful, clean… and a bit quirky. Here are some of the more unexpected sites to see in the land of the Alps.

Story by: 

Shelley Seale

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Switzerland is already well known as a place of pristine beauty, cleanliness and politeness. And the Swiss are also known for being fiercely independent, which is a big reason why Switzerland is one of the very few European countries that are not part of the EU. And with that independence comes a lesser known side of the Swiss: their quirky side.

Here are a few things that travellers can do to see a different side to Switzerland.

Get your Hipster Vibe on in Zurich West
Credit: Shelley Seale

Credit: Shelley Seale

The largest city in Switzerland, Zurich is filled with centuries-old architecture, charming street vistas and loads of shopping and dining options, just like most Swiss cities. But head over to the west side of the city, in an area that used to be an industrial site, and you’ll find a whole new creative class emerging. Start at Im Viadukt, where old railway arches have been transformed into a site for about 50 vendors that include boutique shops, art galleries, vintage furniture stores and the city’s first permanent covered food market.

Strolling from Viadukt past colourful street murals and art installations, you’ll find the Freitag Flagship store housed in stacked shipping containers, selling their unique bags and accessories made from recycled truck tarps. Just behind Freitag is a courtyard that’s home to a clothing boutique in a vintage trailer, organic vegetable patch and Frau Gerold’s Garden, an eclectic beer garden that sprung up from the unused urban space. Surrounding blocks offer other restaurants, nightclubs, bars and shopping where you can create your own Swiss West Side Story.

Visit a Glacier Garden
Credit: Shelley Seale

Credit: Shelley Seale

A trip to the Swiss Alps isn’t complete without riding the tram up to the Matterhorn, one of the most famous mountains in the world. The Matterhorn Express runs from the base town of Zermatt, a car-free village perfect for recreation lovers, to a viewing platform and restaurant atop the forbidding peak.

But underneath this craggy Alp, an enchanted ice world awaits. Take the elevator down inside the glacier, where tunnels have been carved into the frozen mountain to create pathways for visitors to explore the glacial paradise. Throughout, ice sculptures are lit with eerily haunting colours, and there is even a small ice slide you can zip down. Dress warmly!

Attend a Sheep Beauty Contest
Credit: Shelley Seale

Credit: Shelley Seale

Where there are mountains, there are usually shepherds. In Furi, a village halfway up the mountain between Zermatt and the Matterhorn, an annual Shepherd Festival is held in early September featuring folk music, food and festivities. The shepherds also compete with their best specimens of black-nosed sheep, who are judged in a beauty contest with standards that seem to rival Miss Universe—minus the talent portion.

Shepherds from around the area bring their sheep, which are paraded by the judges who closely inspect their curly wool locks. This means plenty of combing and coiffing that goes on during the build-up before the contest, so that the winning shepherd can have bragging rights to the prettiest sheep around. This is a great way to see a real, local (and very unique) side of Swiss culture.

Dine on a Self-Sufficient Mountaintop
Credit: Shelley Seale

Credit: Shelley Seale

Just outside the swank playground of the rich-and-famous that is St. Moritz you’ll find Muottas Muragl, long a source of inspiration for poets, writers and artists. At the top of the mountain is the first hotel in the Alps to be completely self-sufficient in terms of energy power: the Romantik Hotel. The only way to the hotel (other than a hearty hike) is by funicular railway.

Once at the crest, the Romantik hotel brings a minimalist style, with eclectic design elements from the salvaged materials used to renovate the 16-room property. Whether you are a hotel guest or not, dining mountaintop at the Panorama Restaurant is not only a delightful gastronomic experience, but also gives you one of the most amazing vantage points to take in the Engadin valley below.

Ride the World’s First Double-Decker, Open-Air Gondola
Credit: Shelley Seale

Credit: Shelley Seale

About a year ago, Switzerland became home to a unique feat of engineering: the first aerial gondola in the world to have an upper deck—and one that is open like a convertible car. Located in the town of Stans, about half an hour outside Lucerne, the Stanserhorn-Bahn CabriO cable car achieves this open-air top deck by connecting the cable cars at the sides, rather than from above the way a traditional aerial cable car is attached.

This allows passengers to take in the amazing views with no glass blocking the vista (you can also remain safely downstairs in the enclosed section of the tram). Once at the top, a viewing platform and hiking trails take you past playful marmots and more spectacular scenery. There’s also a very pretty revolving restaurant, or take a picnic up and enjoy the tables and grilling areas provided.

Using Switzerland’s incredible public transportation system, it’s easy to get from each of these places to the other—so take your opportunity to see some of the country’s more unique sightseeing options.

 

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Shelley Seale

Shelley Seale is a freelance journalist and author based in Austin, and TravelandEscape.ca's ethical travel reporter. She has written for National Geographic, USA Today, Globe Pequot Press, Andrew Harper Traveler and CNN, among others. Her mantra is “travel with a purpose."