Nestled in the heart of Europe and bordered by Italy, France, Germany, and Austria, Switzerland may be significantly smaller in size, but its resplendent offerings rival its neighbours’ while delivering European charm in spades: medieval architecture, including the administrative capital of Bern (a UNESCO World Heritage Site); masterful cuisine at Michelin-starred restaurants complete with panoramic views of Alpine ranges and azure lakes; transcendent spa experiences; storybook villages; and, of course, fondue and chocolate aplenty. And, thanks to revered efficiency, infrastructure, and safety—including astonishingly well-maintained roads, tunnels, and high-speed trains—travelling through this edelweiss laden wonderland is a delight.
Begin your adventure in Zurich. While the international finance capital and birthplace of Dadaism previously maintained a more buttoned-down vibe, this vibrant city has let its hair down and is now an epicentre of European art and culture. Adjacent to a tree-lined promenade and sparkling Utoquai (“Bathing Palace”), La Réserve Eden au Lac has been meticulously restored by Philippe Starck with a dramatic aesthetic that fuses mid-century modern elements with whimsical nautical touches. It’s also home to Eden Kitchen, where chef Marco Ortolani churns out his daring spin on Italian delicacies. With expansive views of Lake Zurich, this historic 40-room cultural monument is just a 10-minute stroll from
the Bahnhofstrasse in Old Town, where the glittering worlds of finance and high fashion collide. And, rising up on a hill, also overlooking the lake, within the serenity of adjacent woodlands and a golf course, lies the splendour of The Dolder Grand, where guests can be invigorated at a lavish Japanese-inspired spa and dine on some of the best filets in town at on-site restaurant Saltz. The city’s transformation is also on full display in Zurich West, a former industrial area turned art gallery hub, and in Im Viadukt, a mecca for locally sourced epicurean provisions and emerging fashion labels.
Just a train or car ride away from the whirlwind of city life are two of Switzerland’s most enchanting Shangri-Las: one is tucked away in the mountains, and the other is perched lakeside and brims with Mediterranean ambiance. Together, they offer travellers the ultimate itinerary to experience the crème de la crème of the country’s natural wonders. Tucked away in the Bernese Oberland region of the Swiss Alps is the tony yet discreet slopeside hamlet of Gstaad. Long a posh winter playground for Moncler-clad royals and jet- setters, this enchanting jewel immerses visitors in a seductive blend of old and new worlds with a surprisingly down-to-earth vibe, from hillsides dotted with cows grazing in the pasture to traditional dollhouse-like Swiss chalets crafted with wood from locally grown trees. On the town’s central promenade, meanwhile, Hermès-, Louis Vuitton-, and coffee-clutching patrons indulge in a leisurely afternoon at such bustling cafés as Charly’s, Cappuccino, and Pernet Fine Foods.
Whether you plan on pounding pistes in the winter, hiking some of the 300 kilometres of trails through verdant slopes in the streaming summer light (including the waterfall-speckled lake walk in nearby Lauenensee), or simply basking in the splendour of Gstaad’s flora- and fauna-studded surroundings, a sumptuous room with an Alpine view is essential. And you’ll surrender to decadence at several of the region’s posh properties, each with its own distinctive aesthetic.
At the stately Gstaad Palace Hotel, for instance, you’ll revel in fairy-tale nobility. Since 1913, this castle on a hill has oozed opulence, from the majesty of a lobby lounge flanked with plush, red-hued furnishings and wood coffered ceilings to the white-jacketed staff at Le Grand Restaurant to the lavish 1,800-square-metre spa. One of the most sweeping moments of awe occurs as you step out onto one of the guest room balconies. The feeling is akin to being thrust deep into the magnificence of the enveloping Alps, and it’s spellbinding.
A trailblazer in sustainability (even the remarkably substantial guest room slippers are designed with eco-friendly felt), The Alpina Gstaad is where purpose-driven innovation combines with cutting-edge design and rejuvenation, right down to the sleek, stone- embellished subterranean tunnel entrance befitting a Marvel superhero’s lair and the on- site Six Senses Spa complete with an expansive grotto, Himalayan salt room, and colour therapy sauna. Embellished with Swiss antiques, carved ceilings, and reclaimed wood, the sumptuous accommodations (each outfitted with flower- box-adorned private balconies for savouring the snow-tipped mountain vistas) are the epitome of bucolic Alpine swank. A haven this haute could only house one of the world’s most celebrated chefs. And Martin Göschel—the Michelin-starred, 18/20 Gault Millau–point virtuoso—beguiles with his culinary feats at Sommet. Incorporating locally sourced ingredients, Göschel’s bespoke degustation menu is a rhythmic fusion of French-based classics and international flair that’s certain to satiate any discerning gourmand’s gastronomical fantasies—from the delicate baked lime blossom leaf with pickled celery and apple gel to the Alpina bees’ garden sole, prepared tableside. Imagine slowly dousing a divinely translucent slice of raw fish in beeswax and watching it bake right before your eyes; the result is culinary magnificence. Oenophiles will also marvel at Sommet’s astounding selection of wines, which includes hundreds of rare vintage bottles and prized Swiss wines (of which less than two percent are exported, so this is the time to indulge), including Pinot Noir and Chasselas, the most prominent white and an idyllic complement to the region’s famous fondue.
Reminiscent of an intimate English country manor, Gstaad’s Le Grand Bellevue is just minutes from the nearby train station (located in the quaint neighbouring town of Saanen), and is a nexus of renewal thanks to the property’s showstopper, Le Grand Spa. This theatrical oasis of tranquility includes 17 wellness sanctuaries, including hay, infrared, Finnish, and herbal saunas; an ice cave; and an indoor pool. After hours of bliss, retreat to one of the serene, elegant yet whimsical veneered guest rooms. Savour the surroundings at Michelin-starred Leonard’s, where chef Francesco de Bartolomeis crafts modern Italian-inspired cuisine with his four- or six-course surprise menus.
From the mountains to the lake: Ascona, on the shores of Lake Maggiore, straddles the border between Italy and Switzerland and explodes with a high dose of Mediterranean flair. A decidedly alluring and more low-key alternative to Lake Como, this former fishing village located in the canton of Ticino offers
a serene yet sophisticated atmosphere with fewer crowds and mostly Italian- and German- speaking travellers. The colourful facades of centuries-old buildings, swaying palm trees, and awning-covered lakefront cafés with seats spilling out onto the sidewalk line the cobblestone roads of the Piazza Grande. Tucked just behind this postcard setting is a narrow maze of charming alleyways with local shops filled with regional finds, such as painted ceramics at Le Capre, coveted European skincare and cosmetics at Farmacia Amavita, handmade wooden housewares at L’ulivo di Cinzia, designer finery at Ewa Opoka Sagl, and a refined collection of home goods at VAL. The town also plays host to several festivals throughout the year, including JazzAscona during the summer, where visitors revel in hundreds of free concerts along the lake.
Steps away is Ascona’s crown jewel: the five-star, Green Globe–certified Hotel Eden Roc. A member of the exclusive Swiss Deluxe Hotels association and owned and operated by the climate-neutral Tschuggen Group, this lakefront oasis offers an unrivalled private beach and marina with water sports galore (including stand-up paddleboarding, canoeing, and glamorous rides in one of the hotel’s limited-edition Riva boats, from which you can relish the unspoiled landscapes, hillside homes, and exotic flower- and plant-flecked Brissago Islands). With an arresting aesthetic that blends classic elegance with modern quirky glam, courtesy of local designer Carlo Rampazzi, this is hedonism at its best: lakeside pools, inimitable service, a 1,950-square-metre spa, the resident Moving Mountains program designed to inspire visitors to connect with nature, and fine dining at Eden Roc Restaurant, where scampi is prepared tableside, and La Casetta, a cozy stone-encased lake house steeped in Second World War history.
Other local treasures include lunch at the area’s legendary grottos. These rustic taverns, once used as storage cellars for wine and food, look straight out of a scene from Game of Thrones. A standout is Grotto America. Immersed in vegetation on the bank of the Maggia River, Grotto America boasts such highlights as charcuterie boards, fresh seafood, and a luscious porcini mushroom risotto. And Locanda Barbarossa, inside the sprawling Castello del Sole estate hotel, specializes in some of Ascona’s most striking French-meets-Mediterranean cuisine under the culinary direction of chef de cuisine Mattias Roock, who uses ingredients grown on the property—yet another definitively Swiss experience you’ll relish. The only thing left to do is plan your imminent return.