At a time when the world’s greatest travel luxuries revolve around nature – space, clean air, sunshine – and sustainability, Switzerland shines ever brightly.
For many travellers today sustainability is the word.
Treading lightly and giving back to the environments and communities we visit seem more important than ever. We’ve become more aware of the impact our globetrotting has on the planet. And we’ve developed an appreciation for the luxury of switching off, taking things slow and noticing the details.
While many countries around the world tow the sustainable line – sometimes tokenistically – Switzerland is truly embracing it. It makes sense – this is a place where nature is writ large. Where the wilderness seems wilder, the skies wider, the mountains higher.
The country has impressive goals for future development with environmental targets in mind. But you don’t need to wait to travel; this postcard-perfect part of Europe is already a pioneer when it comes to going green.
Here are 10 ways to experience Switzerland as an eco-conscious traveller
Travel by train
Trains are not only extremely environmentally friendly – emitting less CO2 than any other form of motorised transport – but they’re also in plentiful supply across Switzerland. More than 9,000 Swiss trains travel along 3,000 kilometres of track every day. Small wonder they’re one of the most popular ways to see the country. On top of this, SBB (Swiss Federal Railways) generates the electricity for its trains from hydropower, with energy sources for stations, offices and company buildings 100 per cent carbon neutral.
Go by foot
When the scenery is so spellbinding, taking it slow is key. And the best way to do that in Switzerland is by walking between destinations and attractions.
The country is blessed with 65,000 kilometres of marked hiking trails. There are endless highlights. Among them, the four-hour trek to the Monte Rosa Hut from Rotenboden in Zermatt; the five-hour round-trip from Mount Brè up to Monte Boglia; and the 11-kilometre amble through the UNESCO-listed Lavaux Vineyard Terraces.
Farm-to-table, paddock-to-plate, seasonal, local – one of the best ways to take the natural pulse of a destination is through its food.
Hot tip: It doesn’t get much fresher than at Restaurant Mühle, sitting pretty inside Thurgau’s Hotel Kartause Ittingen. This former monastery is ringed by vineyards, orchards and gardens and grows a staggering 120 different herbs. On top of this, employees make nine varieties of cheese and 90 per cent of the wine consumed on the estate. Zero-mile dining in its truest form.
Immerse yourself in nature
Being amid nature makes you feel good – we all know it, science proves it, and Switzerland promotes it. Across the country you’ll discover 18 nature parks. These include the Biosfera Val Müstair, the first Swiss UNESCO high alpine biosphere reserve.
In addition to mountain-ringed Graubünden villages and organic farms practising and preserving old traditions, this part of the world is home to the Benedictine Convent of St John, a World Heritage Site that is clad with the country’s greatest series of figurative murals, painted circa 800 AD, as well as dazzling Romanesque frescoes and stuccoes.
It is a testament to the cleanliness of Switzerland’s lakes and rivers that locals and visitors regularly dive in for a swim, right in the heart of its major cities.
In Lucerne, splash about in the 19th century Seebad on Lake Lucerne’s National Quay. In Bern go with the flow down the river Aare. Follow the lead of locals, who stuff their clothes in plastic bags that double as a flotation device. The activity is so revered it has been added to the UNESCO list of Swiss traditions.
Mountain air doesn’t get any fresher than when you’re inhaling it while skiing or boarding down a powdery Swiss slope – in fact, Davos’ air quality was recognised for its health benefits as far back as 1853.
Flims Laax Falera ski resort is aiming to be the world’s first self-sufficient alpine destination. It is well underway with more than 160 initiatives implemented. Production of climate-friendly hydro energy already exceeds the destination’s electricity needs, and the resort has developed and uses plant-based wax on skis and snowboards.
Swiss towns and farms have been implementing sustainable practices for centuries. A selection of country-wide thematic trails offer visitors a glimpse into eco-forward destinations, explorable at your own pace.
The Massa Trail in Blatten-Belalp, for example, educates about the parallels between the Valais region and the Himalayan country of Nepal. Both utilise innovative man-made channels to transport water supplies to mountainous crop-growing areas. A hike along the Massaweg path here highlights ancient irrigation systems, not to mention the jaw-dropping views.
Explore under the stars
When the sun goes down in Switzerland, nature’s beauty shines ever bright. With vast stretches of wilderness – free from roads, street lights and high rises – much of the country delivers star-spangled night skies.
Mount Rigi is the perfect place for an evening hike. The full moon and stars above will be your guiding light. The alpine trek starts at Vitznau-Hinterbergen and sees you arrive at Rigi Kulm just in time to watch the sunrise.
Nurture your mind, body and spirit
Travel doesn’t have to mean sacrificing activities that nourish all aspects of your being: mind, body and spirit. Take, for example, the e-bike and wellness tour through Switzerland’s Jurassic hills in the Vallée de Joux: pedal at a leisurely (and assisted) pace around Lac de Joux, stopping for a swim or paddleboard at one of the lake’s pretty beaches, then cycle on to the wellness park in the Vallée de Joux Sports Centre, where you can soothe weary limbs in the sauna, steam bath and outdoor Jacuzzi.
Style and sustainability unite at many of Switzerland’s leading hotels. Especially at the historic Schloss Wartegg on the southern shore of Lake Constance.
Built in 1557, this imposing castle maintains a proud history while implementing forward-thinking eco-programs, from renovations featuring sustainable materials and natural fabrics to an on-site hydro station to generate its own energy. The magnificent castle grounds include ProSpecieRara vegetable gardens, cultivated biodynamically and designed to nurture rare Swiss plant species.
This Vacations & Travel story on how to have a sustainable holiday in Switzerland was produced in partnership with Switzerland Tourism.