Switzerland is the birthplace of winter tourism, which began in 1864 and it’s no secret that every year the country transforms into a whimsical wonderland during this time. Snow-capped mountains, towns and villages and beautifully decorated Christmas markets become a common sight and natural attraction from the end of November.
This year, Switzerland Tourism is reminding travellers that Christmas markets around the country will be opened throughout December. Some of the biggest and most popular markets are found in Zurich, Basel, Lucerne, Montreux and Bern.
Director of Switzerland Tourism Australia and New Zealand, Mark Wettstein, says while summer is the most popular season for Aussie and Kiwi travellers to Switzerland, increasingly, winter visits are also rising in popularity as the notion of the country being an impossibly expensive winter destination continues to shift.
“The transformation of the country is quite spectacular and it is attracting the interest of many travellers from this part of the world,” says Mark. “Ski and snow holidays in Switzerland may be a very well-known thing to do and still is among snow-sport enthusiasts, but more and more visitors are exploring other experiences such as the Christmas markets, culinary cruises and panoramic train journeys. Getting to know the country for its culture and people is very much a done thing for Aussies and Kiwis and we very much encourage the interaction and participation.
“Our traditional Christmas markets in the cities and mountain villages are quite special and very different to other markets around Europe. This is namely because our traditions differ from canton to canton, which is based on the language region, so variety in terms of culture, cuisine and activities is endless.”
Mark advises travellers heading to Switzerland to ensure they use the highly efficient and cost effective Swiss Travel Pass, which covers all public transportation from ship to snow. He adds that one of the most unforgettable journeys to take is the Gotthard Railway, which opened in 1882. An impressive engineering feat, the journey crosses 205 bridges, goes through seven loop tunnels and slices across some of the country’s most breathtaking scenery stretching from the Alps to the Mediterranean.
Cheese lovers should also check out the Train du Fromage, which will run from Thursday to Sunday every week from 3 December 2015 – 3 April 2016 between Montreux and Château d’Oex in the Lake Geneva Region. Pass holders will only need to pay an extra CHF39 to enjoy this journey in 1st class, which includes a welcome drink, a fondue lunch and entries to the show dairy to see same-named cheese being made over a traditional open wood fire, and museum.
Families will also be in for a treat with a visit to Rochers-de-Naye, where kids are allowed to run amuck and join in activities at Father Christmas’ private grotto 2042m above Montreux. Accessible via a cogwheel railway, the one-hour trip welcomes thousands of families each year and this year, it will operate from 20 November to 24 December.
Finally, travellers visiting the Lucerne region will be pleased to know that a brand new 8-person gondola will start operating between Engelberg and Titlis on 11 Dec. The launch of this gondola cable means waiting time to get up Mt Titlis will be cut significantly and travel time will take only 16 minutes.
Records show that the number of Australian travellers visiting Switzerland has increased YOY by about 5.6% and New Zealanders by about 5.1%. The use of the Swiss Travel Pass by travellers has also increased by about 30% overall from this region (up 32% from Australia and up 26% from New Zealand).