Switzerland often thought of just a winter ski location has more to offer to those who just love being in the mountains without necessarily getting booted up. Festivities over New Year make it a fun place to be away from home especially if you are fed up of the expense of going out at home with high entry fees, long queues to get in anywhere and expensive taxis.
These are many ways to get to Switzerland depending on which side of the country you want to visit, but a couple of options to fly in are through Geneva to get to the west of the country and Basel to get to the north and centre of the country.
The train network in Switzerland is comprehensive and efficient with fast trains along main line routes and branch lines to get you into the mountains. Some of the lines are privately owned but they are no great trouble to travel on and link up well.
There are many places you might want to visit in the country once you’re there but a couple of good options are the mountains around Interlaken and the Zermatt area.
Interlaken can be combined with Lucerne which is a pretty town in winter and the lake looks lovely even if it is a little chilly. The train line between Lucerne and Interlaken is beautiful in winter but only a taster for what is to come. Interlaken is a good base to explore the Jungrau/Eiger mountains and hotels are not as expensive as you might think with options across different budgets – if you don’t mind a little walk you can get a cheaper option on the edge of town. Breakfasts are generally a cold buffet which you can eat as much as you want. Some hotels will also have warm food options.
Interlaken high street becomes a festival usually on one of the days around New Year with ice skating and a stage for music and a diverse range of bands playing through the day. Don’t expect Muse though, these will be Swiss bands usually singing in German. Many of the Swiss towns have festivities worth seeing at this time of year, whether it is a Christmas Market or more New Year orientated.
During the day you can take trips up the mountain railways to Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald, with restaurants in both towns for lunch. You can go further up the lines to Klein Scheidegg perched under the flank of the Eiger and get a beer or food up at the high altitude. The views will depend on the weather, it is fabulous if it is clear and still fun if a little cloudy – probably not so good if a white out. Take your hiking boots to walk around the resort in the snow and wrap up well.
The Jungfrau railway runs from Klein Scheidegg through the mountain to Jungfraujoch station. This is expensive and would only be worth taking in good weather but takes you up to the highest point on a railway in Europe. There is a network of tunnels at the station with restaurants, ice caves and viewing platforms both enclosed and in the open air.
For Zermatt, you take the private line up from Visp on the mainline. Zermatt, while higher than Visp, is set in a deep valley and you need to take either the cog railway up the Gornergrat for the best views or you can take the funicular through the mountain up to Sunnegga.
The Gornergrat railway is incredible and one of the rail highlights of Europe at any time of year. Wait for patch of good weather to take it, even days that are overcast may have a couple hours when the sky is clear. The Swiss will get kitted up in good mountain gear and take the train up to one of the mid stations, then walk down to the next for some fresh air. There is also a sledging trail that the kids would enjoy by the side of the track.
At the top there is a restaurant for food and a beer and the view across to the glaciers running across below the Matterhorn is amazing. You can hang out with the skiers but have one more beer than them knowing you are getting the train back down.
Sunnegga is reached through a funicular that goes up through a tunnel in the mountain. The view from the restaurant across to the Matternhorn is spectacular, but get here early before the skiers if you want a table with the best view. You can wander around the Sunnegga area and take the lift down to the beginners slopes to see what’s going on down there. To do more than this you really need to hire skis and do a days skiing but even if you don’t you will certainly feel you have got up into the mountains.