Names of travelers: Jen Searle. It was a media tour, so a number of journalists and editors from local newspapers and magazines.
Destination: Villars-Gryon/Interlaken/Zurich, Switzerland
Dates: 13-18 February 2013
Your reason for visiting this destination: A group of journalists were invited to Switzerland by Swiss Tourism and Edelweiss (the sister airline to SWISS), which focusses on leisure travel and offers South Africans the opportunity to experience a snowy winter during our summer. The trip showed that Switzerland has much more to offer than just skiing; it’s also a steeped in rich culture and history, and boasts mouth-watering cuisine.
Our Little Black Book
The best hotel: We stayed in two fantastic hotels while in Switzerland, but my favourite was Villars Eurotel Victoria Hotel in Villars-Gryon. It boasts a fantastic restaurant and if you’re looking for an unique culinary experience, try the Alpine flower and herb menu created by Chef Joël Quentin.
The best place for dinner: Hiltl Restaurant, Sihlstr. 28, Zurich
This is a vegetarian restaurant but you don’t need to swear off meat to enjoy it. It’s a buffet-style restaurant and with about 20 different potato dishes to classic stir-fried and roasted vegetables, you’re spoilt for choice.
Also, Hiltl offers free WIFI, which is a treat in Switzerland as most restaurants and hotels charge you.
The best place for lunch: It’s a tie between Restaurant Botta at Glacier 3000 and Piz Gloria at Schilthorn.
Restaurant Botta is on top of Glacier 3000. The food was delicious – I recommend the raclette, which is a local specialty. (You can also eat downstairs at the self-service restaurant for equally delicious food, which is more Rand-friendly.)
Similar to Glacier 3000, Schilthorn takes you up nearly 3 000 meters and gives you a breath-taking panoramic view of the Alps. You can enjoy the view in the revolving restaurant, Piz Gloria. Try Spatzle – dumplings made with egg, flour and salt, which are served in a pan with cheese, bacon, fried onions & sliced pear.
The best place for a drink: In Villars-Gryon, take the cog train up to Bretaye and, if the weather is clear, you can enjoy a sundowner at 1800m while taking in the view of Mont Blanc.
The first thing travelers should do upon reaching this destination: Go for a stroll in the snow! Everything looks like something from a story book. If you’re an early riser, set your alarm for around 6.30am and get up to watch the sun rise.
The best place to shop: I loved browsing stalls at the village market in Villars-Gryon in the evening. Fantastic local crafts are showcased, including quilts and intricately cut paper decorations. When in Zurich visit Bahnhofstrasse, one of the world’s most expensive shopping avenues, home to many High Street retailers and 28 watch shops.
The best way to get around: Once you’ve arrived, head to World Travel and purchase a Swiss Pass. It’s the easiest way to get around, offering unlimited travel on Swiss rail, postal bus and boat transport networks. It also covers city trams and buses; offers half-price fares on mountain-top trains and cable cars; and free entrance to 400 museums.
If you want to feel like a local you should… You really can’t go to Switzerland without indulging in a cheese fondue, which is basically a pot of melted cheese comprising Gruyère and Emmental, white wine and kirsch. You dip chunks of bread in the melted cheese and, pickles and cold meats are often served as a starter. One of the top lessons I learned in Switzerland is that you should only drink wine or hot tea (without sugar or milk) while eating cheese fondue. If you drink water while eating melted cheese you get what the Swiss call ‘a ball in the stomach’ or what I call, a recipe for Enos.
Word of warning: the Swiss like to prank tourists by telling them that if you lose your chunk of bread in the fondue pot, then you have to pay a ‘penalty’. This could range from buying a bottle of wine for the table to doing a 100m dash outdoors naked!
Watch out for…When travelling up to higher altitudes, drink plenty of water and even keep headache tablets handy – especially if you’re accustomed to living at sea level – to help your body cope.
Don’t leave without…A must-see is Augusto Giacometti’s ‘Flower Hall’ painted ceiling in the unlikely venue of the police headquarters in Zurich. This artwork was commissioned 100 years ago when city officials wanted to warm up the gloomy building. While it’s usually tricky to visit municipal buildings in Europe, tourists are permitted every day between 9am and 11am and 2pm and 4pm. But no photographs are permitted.
1. See if the Villars Night Show Experience will be on during your trip. If you’re lucky enough to time your trip with this event, which happens six times a year, then you really shouldn’t miss out. It features 200 performers who ski, snowboard, drive snowmobiles, and paraglide (with skis on) down the Bretaye mountain-side to music hits accompanied by pyrotechnics and fireworks. (Some brave performers even ski down the mountain face with fireworks strapped to their backs and ankles!)
2. There are a number hotels in Villars, but if you are travelling in a group then renting a chalet in Vers-l’Eglise will work out to be more cost effective.
3. Ski clothing is essential for snow activities otherwise it’ll be a long trip back to the hotel in wet clothes. If you’re not keen to fork out for ski clothes, then look into renting or buying second-hand online.
4. When the sun comes out, so do the locals. If you’re planning on going to Schilthorn or Beatenburg on a clear day, you can be guaranteed that the busses and cable stations will be packed. This generally means queuing and a bit of shoving. Be patient but firm to ensure you also get to enjoy the day.
5. Pack an empty water bottle when walking through Zurich and you can top up on water directly from the Alps (and the outdoor temperature ensures it’s also perfectly chilled!)
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