Road trip: the Grand Tour of Switzerland

A road trip of epic proportions, the Grand Tour of Switzerland traverses the country, from mountaintops to lakes.

Switzerland’s scenery is so magnificent that it sears into your soul, all snow-clad peaks, gem-like glaciers and rolling green hills – the stuff of postcards.

The country’s petite size means that it’s a breeze to travel around as well, whether by rail (a spectacular choice) or by road (equally scenic).

The latter style of journey is epitomised on the Grand Tour of Switzerland, an epic 1,600-kilometre pilgrimage that takes in five alpine passes, weaves around 22 lakes, and visits 12 World Heritage Sites as well as two UNESCO biospheres.

You can enjoy the Grand Tour in your own time, and at your own pace – if you can’t do the entire route (which takes around nine days, at a leisurely speed), you can choose to just drive the sections that appeal to you the most.

Whichever you select, you don’t need to worry about getting lost as the Grand Tour, which is typically completed in a clockwise direction, has 650 official signposts. Jump behind the wheels, and strap in.

Switzerland’s dazzling mountain scenery stars on any travels around the country
Switzerland’s dazzling mountain scenery stars on any travels around the country © Jungfraubahnen/Jeroen Seyffe

Scenic wonders

If you’re driving, hold firmly to the steering wheel – if you’re not, do the same to your camera when you traverse the Tremola, a dramatic cobblestone road that zigzags up the Gotthard Pass. Along your journey you’ll also skirt turquoise Lake Brienz outside Interlaken, at which point it’s highly recommended you leave your wheels behind and take to the water – the nostalgic Lötschberg paddle-steamer here dates back to 1914.

Away from Brienz, other lakeside attractions you’ll experience include Chillon Castle in the charming town of Montreux, which sits perched on a rocky islet in the middle of Lake Geneva – this is Switzerland’s most visited historic monument. Your road trip will also take you to Lucerne’s Chapel Bridge (a historic wooden pedestrian bridge that spans Reuss) and the 11th-century Hallwyl Castle, a moated fortress that looks like it has been plucked from the pages of a fairytale.

The route is home to a ridiculous amount of places like this, taking you can back in time, not in the least the medieval town of Gruyères with its castle overlooking the river Saane. You’ll also stop by the three castles of World Heritage-listed Bellinzona, and wander through the old city in Bern, another destination protected by UNESCO.

The Tremola road zigzags through the countryside
The Tremola road zigzags through the countryside © Switzerland Tourism/Nico Schaerer

Mountain moments

These charming towns are wedged between jaw-dropping mountain vistas – head for the Jungfrau (one of Switzerland’s loftiest peaks), where you can climb to the top on a cog railway ride from Kleine Scheidegg – your journey takes you to the highest railway station in Europe.

Overlooking Lucerne, Pilatus is another giant peak, best accessed via the world’s steepest cogwheel railway from Alpnachstad – the spectacular upward journey is just as dazzling as the one you’ll enjoy on the gondola that whisks you to the summit of Mt Titlis, set 3,000 metres above sea level.

Then there is the mighty Matterhorn. The symbol of Switzerland with its pyramid peak, the Matterhorn is best viewed from the ravishing resort town of Zermatt, where you can catch the Zermatt Bergbahnen cable car up to 3,820 metres – and even ski back down again in the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, which is open for skiing all year round.

The Grand Tour also allows opportunities to experience many mountain railway day trips, as well as hiking and biking excursions.

You’ll find plenty of places to soak en route
You’ll find plenty of places to soak en route © Lenkerhof gourmet spa resort

A movable feast

Zermatt is not all about the Matterhorn – gourmands are guaranteed to love the 2.5-hour walk along the Findeln Gourmet Trail, which leads to a stellar collection of restaurants.

If you prefer to self-cater, pick up a Grand Tour Snack-Box, which has all kinds of regional treats in it, and top it up as you drive around. Think chocolate from the Nyon-based Alexandre chocolatier, honey made on the rooftop at the Marriott Hotel in Zurich and cheese from the Emmental Show Dairy.

On the road in Switzerland
On the road in Switzerland © Switzerland Tourism/Mattias Nutt

Wine lovers are also well catered

for with one of the Grand Tour highlights sure to be a stroll through the grapes in the Lavaux vineyard terraces. Of the five Vaudois wine regions, the World Heritage-listed Lavaux, located between Lausanne and Montreux, is undoubtedly the most spectacular.

Whether it is wine, culinary experiences, adventure, rail day trips, boat tours, village walks or city tours, the Grand Tour of Switzerland delivers.

Swiss road signs

From Basel to Bern to Zermatt, and all those mountains and lakes in between, planning your Grand Tour of Switzerland road trip delivers dozens of scenic highlights.

Switzerland map

This article was produced with content supplied by Switzerland Tourism and is a Vacations & Travel digital exclusive. Be the first to see more exclusive online content by subscribing to the e-newsletter here.

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