Tailormade tour The Grand, Grand Switzerland rail tour Switzerland

15 nights/16 days

Lausanne • Zermatt • St Moritz • Lugano • Lucerne • Bernese Oberland • Saanenland • Montreux

This grand rail touring holiday of Switzerland, the ultimate of Swiss rail holidays, encompasses stunning mountain vistas, serene lakes, and creaking glaciers on iconic railway lines; you stop in enchanting lakeside towns and small cities; and spend cosy evenings in quaint, chocolate-box villages beneath imposing mountains such as the Matterhorn.
Holiday price guide

Available year-round subject to the opening period of the hotels, from about £3,935 per person.

Luxury Swiss grand touring holiday by train including dramatic mountains, serene lakes and iconic trains

Highlights

Lake Geneva • Lausanne • Zermatt • Matterhorn • Glacier Express • St Moritz • Bernina Express • Tirano • Lugano • Lake Lugano • Gotthard Panorama Express • Steamboat • Lucerne • Grindelwald • Wengen • Interlaken • Golden Pass Line • Saanenland • Gstaad • Montreux

Day by day

Travel by rail or by air from London to Geneva on your first day. Perhaps spend an hour or two exploring the city, home to fine watch-making, the headquarters of the UN, and the Jet d’Eau fountain. Wander around the Vielle-Villa, the largest Old Town in Switzerland, stopping at the St Pierre Cathedral. From Geneva, catch a train along the northern shore of the lake to Lausanne. During your time in Lausanne, choose from its many elegant attractions; seek out the impressive historic monuments as well as the new, modern additions. Lausanne Cathedral is believed to be one of Europe’s most beautiful Gothic monuments, crowned by spires of unusual purple and orange hues. A new Olympic Museum has recently opened in the heart of Lausanne’s Old Town; three levels depict Olympic history in all its colourful grandeur. Beside the Olympic Park is the promenade at Ouchy Harbour, which, when lit up in the evening, will be one of the highlights of your trip. The promenade takes you from the gardens along to the Haldimand Tower, the Bellerive Swimming Pool, the Chateau d’Ouchy, and the port. Enjoy dinner in this beautiful area before returning to your hotel. You spend one night in Lausanne.

Today you travel by train from Lausanne to Zermatt. This train journey takes just shy of three hours, passing the 80 hectares of the stunning Lavaux terraced vineyards, Montreux and Chillon Castle, Martigny, and pausing at Visp while you change trains for the narrow-gauge single-track railway to the mountain resort of Zermatt. As you enter Zermatt, the area’s crowning glory will make itself apparent: the Matterhorn. Around it, over 400km of walking and hiking paths vein the landscape, allowing you to capture stunning panoramas of both Zermatt and the Matterhorn while uncovering more of the Alpine flora and fauna. You spend two nights in Zermatt.um of Transport. Finish your day with a sumptuous dinner in one of Lucerne’s many gourmet restaurants.

Small railways from Zermatt take you high up into the mountains, reaching 3000m above sea level, and the Glacier Paradise cable car transports you up to Europe’s highest viewing platform. To extend both your experience of the railways of Valais and the mountains, take the Gornergratbahn up to the summit of the Gornergrat, from where you can bask in views of 38 mountain peaks. Consider visiting the Hornlihutte, where for decades climbers have famously stayed as they prepare to climb the Matterhorn, via the Hornli Ridge, the Zmutt Ridge, or the north wall. For something wholly unique, spend an hour or two at the Zermatlantis Matterhorn Museum, a faithfully recreated archaeological site. After a thrilling and busy day exploring this dynamic area, dine in one of Zermatt’s abundant gourmet restaurants or back at your chosen hotel.

Travel east from Zermatt to St Moritz on the iconic Glacier Express. Depart before 9am, with a view to arriving just after 5pm. The Glacier Express begins by taking you through small, picturesque villages and past monuments that have become emblematic for Valais, including the Stockalper Castle in Brig. We include a delicious three-course lunch based on a seasonal menu (drinks not included). Tasty specialities from the regions which you pass through are served to you at your seat by the friendly stewards, whilst you enjoy the changing scenery. The train then takes you through the Furka Tunnel of the Furka Steam Railway to Oberwald, weaving its way between traditional alpine chalets, the ice caves of the Rhone Glacier, and the vast panoramas of the mountainsides. Nestled in the indomitable Gotthard Pass, the train stops in the important north-south connection point of Andermatt. Cross the Oberalp Pass network of tunnels and viaducts to reach Disentis, crowned by its own Benedictine monastery. Take in the scenery of the Ruinaulta, and the fairytale rooftops of Chur, Switzerland’s oldest city. The castles and palaces of the Domleschg Region pass your windows as you gain on St Moritz, as well as the ochre-fronted houses and solitary tower of Tiefencastel and the idyllic summer resort of Davos. Join the Bernina Railway Line as you cross the Landwasser viaduct, navigate the loops of the track, and travel through the Albula Tunnel. With St Moritz not far away, pass through Bergun, dedicated to the wonders of Swiss rail, and Celerina, home to the Cresta Run. At 1856m above sea level, visitors to St Moritz are welcomed by stunning views across the lakes of the Upper Engadine Valley, and the refreshing dry, clear, Alpine climate. You spend two nights in St Moritz.

Spend your time in St Moritz navigating the local peaks via railway, reaching the Piz Corvatsch, Chantarella, and Corviglia, where a cable car takes you up to Suvretta’s most famous viewing point. If you have time, enjoy the water sports at the sublime Lake Sils and Lake St Moritz, or the windy Lake Silvaplana.

You depart from St Moritz on the journey across northern Italy from St Moritz to Lugano. Board the distinctive red carriages of the Bernina Express train and first travel through the Val Benina, stopping in the quaint village of Pontresina. Then, the Bernina Express takes you around the Montebello Curve, which not only tackles the changing altitude in an innovative way but allows you plenty of time to take in the views of the Morteratsch Glacier. The train then hurtles on, gaining altitude once more until it reaches the highest point on the Rhaetian Railway, Ospizio Bernina, at 2253m above sea level. You will next pass Alp Grum, the only restaurant that is accessible exclusively by rail. Passing through grand and elegant Poschiavo and the small village of Le Prese, the Bernina Express finally brings you over the border into Italy. In Tirano, you have an hour to enjoy the charming combination of Italian architecture and Alpine backdrop. Perhaps stop off at the Santuario della Madonna di Tirano on the central square, or seek out the historic monuments and paintings dotted around the town. Then, board the Bernina Express dedicated coach across to Lugano. Pass fertile green agricultural land, ancient towns and villages, flourishing green vineyards, and Lake Como on your way. You spend two nights in Lugano.

Use your time in Lugano to explore this cultural lakeside town, which is quintessential of the Ticino region. Lugano’s Old Town will be one of the highlights of your stay here, with its relaxed café culture influenced by both the Italian border and the prominent Swiss towns to the north. Pay a visit to the Cathedral of Saint Lawrence, which sits at the top of the gently stepped Via Cattedrale. This Roman Catholic cathedral was founded in the Middle Ages and was drastically rebuilt in the late 15th century. Its tower still rises high above Lugano, crowned by a distinctive green dome. For a further, more rounded, insight into Swiss cultural history, visit the waterside pink-fronted Museum of Cultures. Lake Lugano is perfect for a final sweeping boat trip, or for sampling the local water sports. The peak of nearby Monte Bre can be reached by funicular railway from Casserate, from where you can take in the sublime views, seek out the forested beauty spots, and embark on a hiking trail. San Salvatore can also be reached by funicular railway from Lugano, and offers an alternative, but no less stunning, perspective.

You will next embark on a route shaped by the legend of the Swiss National Hero of Liberty: Wilhelm Tell. Begin this journey by catching a train to Bellinzona, home to three of Switzerland’s best-preserved Medieval castles, where you may need to change for Fluelen. This train journey weaves its way along the valleys of Ticino, passing the waterfalls of Biasca, the Italianate architecture of Faido, a series of historic isolated chalets, and the town of Airolo. On your way out of Ticino, you will pass through the Gotthard Strassentunnel, as well as the complex network of rail lines in Goschenen. Navigate the Gotthard Loop Tunnels as you travel through the canton of Uri towards the southernmost point of Lake Lucerne. The railway track follows the course of the Reuss River, across flat, wide valleys as it loses altitude. In Fluelen, disembark the train and make your way to the nearby marina. Board the Gotthard Panorama Express steamboat or salon motorboat as you begin the true exploration of Wilhelm Tell’s story. Pass the Rutli Meadows, where Friedrich Schiller’s telling of the tale is set, and which was also the site on which a treaty was signed in 1291 between Lake Lucerne’s neighbouring cantons. The boat also stops off in Sisikon, home to Tell’s Chapel and Tell’s Slab, where Wilhelm Tell reputedly jumped from the bailiff’s boat and pushed it back into the stormy lake waters in the original story. Disembark from the boat at the lido of the Swiss Museum of Transport in Lucerne where you stay next for two nights.

An essential visit on any stay in Lucerne is the Chapel Bridge, the city’s main landmark and the most photographed monument in Switzerland. Walk along the bridge, taking in the views of the Reuss River, the so-called Water Spike, and the Water Tower. For both historical significance and architectural beauty, visit the 17th century Jesuit Church, which overlooks the water and is topped by two droplet-shaped domes. Above the city is the Musegg Wall, a 14th century structure that once protected the city within. Though the city now sprawls outside of this wall, the nine defensive towers still remain, three of which are open to the public. Enjoy lunch in a pavement café on the Kornmarkt Square, beside the colourful Pfistern Guildhall, the Hirschenplatz Square, or the Weinmarkt Square, where Lucerne swore its federal oath with Schwyz, Uri, and Unterwalden. To see some exemplary Swiss culture, visit the prestigious KKL Luzern gallery, the Rosengart Collection of works by Picasso and Klee, the Wagner Museum in Tribschen, and the Swiss Museum of Transport. Finish your days with a sumptuous dinner back at your hotel, or in one of Lucerne’s many gourmet restaurants.

This touring itinerary then takes you southwest from Lucerne into the Bernese Oberland. The train journey takes you along the western shore of Lake Lucerne, Lake Sarnen, Lake Lungern, and north around Lake Brienz. Change trains at Interlaken, perhaps spending an hour admiring the stunning location of this town and move on up the steeper cog railway to the Bernese Oberland village of Grindelwald. You spend two nights in the Bernese Oberland.

The enchanting chocolate box village of Grindelwald affords stunning views of the surroundings from your location at over 1,000m above sea level. The two nearby villages are connected by two cable cars, by bus, or by train, and both sit at the base of the Jungfrau. Your stay here is therefore perfectly placed for enjoying the most iconic attraction of the Bernese Oberland. Travel by funicular railway up to Jungfraujoch, the highest railway station in Europe, to appreciate the stunning views. For hiking trails, take cable cars up to the Monch and the Eiger, or simply follow the softer trails that lead out of Grindelwald. The picturesque Lake Fallboden makes for idyllic and relaxing afternoon and evening walks. Complete or begin your stay in Grindelwald with a self-guided stroll between the rustic wooden chalet houses.

At around lunchtime, board the train from Grindelwald back to Interlaken, along the picturesque Simmental as the track climbs to Zweisimmen, and then to Schoenried in the Saanenland along the first section of the GoldenPass Line. You spend two nights in the Saanenland.

On the border between the cantons of Bern and Vaud, the Saanenland marks the surreal convergence of five valleys. Schoenried itself sits on slightly higher ground than its famous neighbour, Gstaad. The area is known for its delicious Alpine dairy products, which are served in many of the gourmet restaurants that line Gstaad’s main promenade in the form of fondue or raclette. The Moelkerei Gstaad allows visitors to taste a selection of the 3,000 cheeses produced in the Saanenland. We recommend spending a few hours in the Saanenland joining the dots between the traditional farmhouses that surround the fields outside Gstaad, and perhaps venturing further out on one of the many Alpine trails and paths. Adventurous visitors may want to take a trip up to Glacier 3000 to take in the views of 24 of the surrounding mountains that measure above 4000m.

In the late morning, board one of the panoramic coaches of the GoldenPass Line for the two- hour journey from Schoenried to Montreux. After Gstaad, the GoldenPass Line crosses the border into Vaud, stopping first in Rougemont, and then Chateau-d’Oex. Here the mountain sides are dotted with quaint chalets and churches; an image that is very typical of the Pays-d’Enhaut. The villages you will pass next all retain their own individual architectural character, emerging out of plumes of evergreen trees. In Rossiniere and Montbovon, passengers can view the startling translucent turquoise water that runs in rivers crossed by ancient wooden bridges. At Les Avants, the train begins to wind its way down the hillside towards Montreux, through the steep vineyards that hug the shores of Lake Geneva. You stay in Montreux for two nights.

During your stay in Montreux, we would recommend exploring the railway history of the area, taking the Vineyard Train (S31) through the Lavaux terraced vineyards between Vevey and Puixdoux-Chexbres, the train through the meadows to Rochers-de-Naye (on which you can sometimes see the Jet d’Eau in Geneva), or the Chocolate Train to the Maison Cailler chocolate factory and museum. The highlight of your visit to Montreux, however, may well be Chillon Castle, perched on a rocky outcrop and seemingly emerging out of the water. This is Switzerland’s most popular historical landmark, and, with its fairy-tale beauty, it is easy to see why.

If flying back from Geneva, you take the train from Montreux to the airport. Or, if travelling back by train you will depart for Paris and then continue by Eurostar.

We had the most amazing holiday. We loved the location, hotels, train travel and food. All the trains were well planned and on time.
Mrs M, July 2018

Holiday price guide From about £3,935 per person based on two people sharing a double room and including for second class rail travel. First class supplement about £360 per person.

Holiday Code CHBR10

Luxury Swiss grand touring holiday by train including dramatic mountains, serene lakes and iconic trains

We had the most amazing holiday. We loved the location, hotels, train travel and food. All the trains were well planned and on time.
Mrs M, July 2018

Holiday price guide From about £3,935 per person based on two people sharing a double room and including for second class rail travel. First class supplement about £360 per person.

Holiday Code CHBR10

Our prices include ● Scheduled flights from the UK to Geneva return OR rail travel London to Switzerland return via Paris (first class can be booked at a supplement)
● 8-day Swiss rail flexi pass (first class can be booked at a supplement)
● 1 night’s bed and breakfast in a Superior double room with garden view at the Hotel Angleterre et Residence, Lausanne
● 2 nights’ bed and breakfast in a Standard double room at the Romantik Hotel Julen, Zermatt
● 2 nights’ bed and breakfast in a Classic double room at the Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains, St Moritz
● 2 nights’ bed and breakfast in a Comfort double room at the Hotel Lugano Dante, Lugano
● 2 nights’ bed and breakfast in a Classic double room at the Hotel Wilden Mann, Lucerne
● 2 nights’ bed and breakfast in a Standard double room at the Romantik Hotel Schweizerhof, Grindelwald
● 2 nights’ bed and breakfast in a Classic ‘Rellerli’ double room at the Hotel Alpenrose, Schoenried in the Saanenland
● 2 nights’ bed and breakfast in a Double room at the Grand Hotel Suisse Majestic, Montreux
● 3-course lunch on the Glacier Express (drinks excluded)
● Concierge service and Expressions Holidays regional helpful hints

Our prices do not include ● Early check-in or late check-out at any hotels (although we can arrange this on request at additional cost)
● Any other services not mentioned above, such as transfers and meals except breakfast at hotels
● Personal holiday insurance. This is essential and cover should be in place from when you book the holiday.
● Local tourist tax, usually between Swiss Francs 1 and 3 per person per night, and payable locally to the hotel
● Transfers in Switzerland station to hotel unless offered by your hotel
● Transfers in Paris if travelling from London to Switzerland by train

Luxury Swiss grand touring holiday by train including dramatic mountains, serene lakes and iconic trains

Expressions Holidays includes these hotels in this touring holiday as suggestions, but they can be substituted by others in the same region, if you have a preference to stay elsewhere.
Hotels included in this tour
Lausanne
Hotel Angleterre et Residence

Hotel Angleterre et Résidence is a charming, traditional, Swiss-style, 4-star hotel in a prime location. Delicious cuisine, exceptional service and immaculate grounds offer guests a truly relaxing and indulgent experience.

Superior double room with garden view

Zermatt
Romantik Hotel Julen

Romantik Hotel Julen is a 4-star chalet hotel with a boutique Alpine ambience in a stunning location in Zermatt. Excellent dining and spa facilities and comfortable accommodation make it an excellent base from which to explore the area.

Standard double room

St Moritz
Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains

Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains is a 5-star luxury spa hotel in a beautiful Alpine location. Offering fine dining, extensive spa facilities and impeccably grand accommodation, it is an excellent spot to recuperate after a day on the slopes.

Classic double room

Lugano
Hotel Lugano Dante

Hotel Lugano Dante is a comfortable, 4-star hotel in the centre of Lugano. This hotel serves as a comfortable and welcoming base from which to explore the town, lake and surrounding rural area.

Comfort double room

Lucerne
Hotel Wilden Mann

Hotel Wilden Mann is a 4-star boutique hotel in an excellent central location. With gourmet cuisine and stylish, comfortable accommodation, the 500 year-old hotel balances its historic and old-world style with elegance and modern facilities.

Classic double room

Grindelwald
Romantik Hotel Schweizerhof Grindelwald

Romantik Hotel Schweizerhof Grindelwald is a 5-star chalet-style hotel with an abundance of character and immense sense of privacy, perfect for couples or families travelling together. The style, ambience, service and cuisine offer a glimpse of authentic Swiss life.

Standard double room

Schoenried
Hotel Alpenrose 4-star hotel

Hotel Alpenrose is a 4-star boutique hotel with outstanding restaurant situated in a charming village near Gstaad, ideal for taking the train and cable cars to visit the surrounding mountains. Enjoy the panoramic views from the terrace over the valley with Gstaad below and the mountains all around.

Classic ‘Rellerli’ double room

Park Gstaad 5-star hotel

The Park Gstaad is a 5-star, grand hotel in an alpine chalet-style situated on a slight hill above Gstaad enjoying panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and pastures.

Superior forest view room

We had the most amazing holiday. We loved the location, hotels, train travel and food. All the trains were well planned and on time.
Mrs M, July 2018

Holiday price guide From about £3,935 per person based on two people sharing a double room and including for second class rail travel. First class supplement about £360 per person.

Holiday Code CHBR10

Luxury Swiss grand touring holiday by train including dramatic mountains, serene lakes and iconic trains

Highlights of the Bernese Oberland

As a place of incredible natural beauty and the birthplace of skiing, the Bernese Oberland is a destination with a host of possibility for active and cultural activity. Essential to any visit to this region is the Jungfraujoch glacier, known as the Top of Europe, accessible via the narrow cog railway (Jungfraubahnen) up to the Jungfraujoch train station, standing at 3,454m above sea level. The Peak Walk suspension bridge, crossing between two peaks above Glacier 3000, reaches a thrilling 107m long and affords walkers magnificent views of the Matterhorn, the Mont Blanc Massif, the Eiger, the Monch, and Jungfrau. We also recommend visiting the area around Grindelwald, from which it is easiest to board a rail trip to Jungfraujoch, to see the Aletsch Glacier, the longest glacier in Europe, and begin a hike or mountain walk through the Lauterbrunnen Valley. The adventure sports centre of Interlaken is perfect for lake swimming, boat cruises, hiking, biking, horse-riding, and water sports. One of the area's quirkier landmarks is the Big Pintenfritz, Europe's longest toboggan run, reaching 15km in length and descending a total of 1,631m.

Festivals in the Bernese Oberland

The festivals and celebrations in the Bernese Oberland tend to revolve around the prominence of winter sports, such as the AUDI FIS Ski World Cup in Adelboden and the International Lauberhorn ski races in January; yet, during the summer and autumn months, there are many more that celebrate Swiss culture and tradition. Unique in the winter months, however, is the Belle Epoque week in Kandersteg, when the Belle Epoque era is embodied in a series of sporting and social events. In July and August, the Lake Thun Festival brings the peaceful lakeside alive with musicals and productions from all over the continent. In October, the AlpKultur Festival in Lenk im Simmental pays homage to all aspects of the region's traditions for a period of two weeks, with an Alpine festival, Hornussen tournaments (a type of Swiss ball game), and a range of interactive workshops.

Gastronomy in the Bernese Oberland

Like much of Switzerland, cheese makes up a large part of the regional food production. The Diemtigtal, in the west of the Bernese Oberland, is the largest Alpine cheese-making area in Switzerland, and so is the optimum place to visit an authentic mountain dairy. Many farms will serve breakfast or lunch alongside a cheese-tasting, or allow visitors to watch the cheese as it is made. The organic dairy on the Schwarzenberg Alp in the Wiriehorn area is one such as this. The AlpKultur Festival in Lenk in Simmental offers visitors the opportunity to briefly live life as a mountain farmer: helping with milking, cheese-making, looking after the animals, visiting farmsteads, and sleeping in the Alps.

Luxury Swiss grand touring holiday by train including dramatic mountains, serene lakes and iconic trains

Highlights of Grisons and the Engadine

Between the peaks, valleys, and lakes of Grisons and the Engadine, towns and villages with hidden cultural treasures abound. Some of the oldest settlements in Switzerland are located here, still with the same medieval atmosphere. One of the most iconic images associated with Grisons is Tarasp Castle, built in the 11th century, perched on its hundred-metre-high rock in the centre of its surrounding valley. To see more of traditional Engadine style, visit the ancient villages of Guarda, Ftan, and Sent. The village of Zernez is known as the ‘Gateway to the Swiss National Park,' which also extends south into Italy. The Inn Valley is the perfect place to admire your surroundings. 60km of hiking trails wind their way across the landscape between Maloja and Scuol, believed to be the most rewarding trails in Switzerland because of the high-altitude views. Between the months of May and September, the Inn Valley gorges are ideal for rafting, as their calm turquoise waters bustle white. The Bains Engadine in Scuol were the first Roman-Irish baths in Switzerland, now providing saunas and pools with a very impressive backdrop.

Cultural highlights of Grisons and the Engadine

The three main towns of interest are Chur, Davos, and St Moritz. Chur is the oldest city in Switzerland, affectionately named the ‘Alpine City.’ Twisting streets and historic buildings, restaurants, bars, museums, galleries, boutiques, and a pedestrianised Old Town mean the city is abounding in charming character. A farmer's market is held in the main square of the Old Town every Saturday morning between the months of May and October. High above the town stands the Bishop's Palace. Fortified walls surround the central courtyard, which holds the Cathedral of the Assumption, dating back over 800 years. Chur is also home to the region's three largest museums. Explore its history in the Rhaetian Museum, the works of prestigious local artists at the Museum of Fine Art, and the flora, wildlife, and geological history at the Graubunden Natural History Museum. The two most popular mountain peaks in the area around Chur are the Branbruesch and the Dreibundenstein, both accessible by cable car and hiking routes. Chur has the highest concentration of restaurants and bars in Switzerland, making it an excellent destination for gastronomists and those who enjoy sampling a range of delicacies in a new restaurant each night. The highest ‘town’ in the Alps, at 1560m above sea level, is Davos, another popular destination with winter sports enthusiasts. In the summer, however, the snow melts to reveal over 700km of hiking paths. These can be accessed via cable cars up to the Jakobshorn (2590m), the Weissflujoch (2844m), and the Rinerhorn (2490m). Horse-drawn carriages take you along the narrower valleys of Sertig, Dischma, and Fluela. At Davos Lake, visitors can take a refreshing swim or enjoy the sports available at the sailing and surfing area. Alternatively, visit the Zugenschlucht gorge to follow the geology trail, the rocky path of the river, or to visit the mining museum. For something even more unusual, spend an hour at the Monstein Brewery, the highest brewery in Europe, and the first in Switzerland to be opened for tastings and tours. St Moritz is perhaps the best-loved Alpine winter destination in Switzerland, and possibly Europe. At 1822m above sea level, visitors are welcomed first by views across the Upper Engadine Valley. The local peaks, including the Piz Corvatsch, Chantarella, and Corviglia can be reached via mountainside railway, and from Corviglia, you can take a cable car up to Suvretta's most famous viewing point. Though St Moritz is not a waterside village, the nearby Lake Sils and Lake Silvaplana are perfect for water sports, particularly the latter, which is known for being windy. The village of St Moritz itself is smattered with quaint cafes and stunning buildings with peaked roofs, and the central churches provide beautiful destinations after a morning of exploration on foot. Just outside St Moritz is Celerina, home to the Cresta Run, one of the area's most famous attributes. Celerina is also the first stop on the Glacier Express route from St Moritz to Zermatt: a journey of viaducts, steep inclines, spiralling declines, and some of Switzerland's most famous mountains.

Festivals in Grisons and the Engadine

In Switzerland there is only one nationally celebrated day, the Anniversary of the Founding of the Swiss Confederation on the 1st August, aside from Christmas, advent and New Year. Apart from these, festivals and holidays are determined by the canton and the town. The residents of Grisons see in the first day of March with Chalanda Marz, in which bells are rung to chase out the winter. In Disentis on July 11th, a religious procession takes place to honour Saint Placidus. In Pontresina, St Moritz, and across the canton, the BSI Engadine Festival brings the region to life with performances of classical music in August. The most unusual of the major festivals in Grisons and the Engadine may well be in Chur, at the Chur City Festival and Alpine Beard Festival in August. In the autumn, Chur Theatre performs a diverse international theatre and dance programme, and in August every two years open-air opera is performed at the Haldenstein Castle.

Gastronomy in Grisons and the Engadine

As Grisons is still comprised of three language areas (Italian, German, and Romansh), the cuisine remains eclectic and varied. Many ingredients, prominent in the Alpine terrain are recombined in new ways to create different, flavoursome dishes. Three popular dishes in particular are maluns, capuns, and pizokels. Maluns are made from boiled potatoes, which are then grated, rolled in flour, and then roasted in butter. Often eaten by farmers for breakfast, maluns are also popular snacks to accompany a cup of coffee or served with Alpine cheese at dinner. Capuns come in a range of varieties, but are always wrapped in savoy cabbage leaves, spinach leaves, or Swiss chard. Inside, they have some combination of dough, meat, fish, and vegetables. Pizokels are baked dishes of special dough and vegetables topped with cheese.

Luxury Swiss grand touring holiday by train including dramatic mountains, serene lakes and iconic trains

Highlights of Lake Geneva

Montreux, on the most eastern point of the lake is most famous for the Montreux Jazz Festival, which is held in international esteem. One of the most iconic sights, for both Switzerland and Montreux, is of Chillon Castle, jutting out on a rocky outcrop into the lake waters. This castle cannot be missed because of its fairy-tale beauty. You can also begin to explore the landscape around Montreux by rail. One railway takes you across Alpine meadows to Rochers-de-Naye at more than 2000m above sea level, from which you can sometimes see the Jet d'Eau in Geneva. The Swiss Chocolate Train, adorned with lavish Belle Epoque carriages, travels to the village of Gruyeres, where characterful old cobbled streets are lined with townhouses containing cafes and three museums. An imposing medieval castle sits at the top of the village. You can also reach the Maison Cailler on the Chocolate Train, where you learn about traditional Swiss chocolate-making and even make some of your own. The Vineyard Train (number S31) will take you through the 800 hectares that make up the Lavaux Terraced Vineyards from Vevey to Puidoux-Chexbres. The vineyards are the largest living cultural site in Switzerland and a recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site. Further west from the Lavaux Vineyards is Lausanne, home to the International Olympic Committee headquarters, but perhaps best known for simply being a particularly romantic and beautiful Swiss town. Gardens, promenades, and lakeside pathways ensure that your days here are as picturesque as they are cultural. At Lausanne's heart stands the Cathedral, believed to be one of Europe's most beautiful Gothic monuments. The purple and orange hues of its two main spires are visible throughout the town. It was originally built in the 12th and 13th centuries. In contrast with the Cathedral, immersed in the history of the cobbled Old Town, a new Olympic Museum has recently opened. Interactive displays illustrating the colourful history of the games are spread over three levels and include more than 1,000 objects and 150 screens. One of the highlights of the museum, however, is the Olympic Park. The artworks, sports sculptures, and beautiful patches of well-maintained nature provide a stunning setting for this modern cultural venture. From here, you can wander down the promenade at Ouchy, an area that is unrelentingly popular with residents. This promenade takes you to the Haldimand Tower, the Bellerive Swimming Pool, the Chateau d'Ouchy, and the port.

Cultural highlights of Lake Geneva

Any stay on Lake Geneva remains incomplete without a visit to the city that gives it its name. One of the key features of Geneva's cultural heritage is its place as the origin of fine watch-making. Workshops, boutiques, and museums all provide an insight into this prestigious craft. Even the Jet d'Eau fountain bears some connection, as it originally harnessed the power of the Rhone for the craftsmen of Geneva. Today, it acts as a captivating, animate monument to the skills, craft, and natural forces of the city. Geneva is also home to the Palais des Nations, the European headquarters of the UN. Guided tours take visitors through the building, which seems to blend geometric modern design with classical, palatial style. Geneva's Old Town, or Vieille-Villa, is the largest in Switzerland, laced with narrow alleyways and charming squares, and centred around the St Pierre Cathedral. 157 steps will take visitors to the top of the cathedral tower in order to appreciate the remarkable views over the fascinating jumble of unique townhouses. A very unique feature of Geneva is the Flower Clock in the Jardin Anglais. This precise and beautiful clock has the longest second hand in the world. Visitors interested in Swiss art and modern culture should spend an afternoon in the Quartier des Bains, wandering around the MAMCO and the Centre d'Art Contemporain before enjoying dinner in a chic bistro. Mediterranean Carouge is Switzerland's gateway to the south, with abundant Sardinian style. Finish your exploration with one of the four world-exclusive museums: the International Museum of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Le Musee International de la Reforme, the Patek Philippe Museum, and the Bodmer Foundation Library and Museum.

Festivals in Lake Geneva

Much of the canton of Geneva's culture is built around a celebration of its history and traditions. Perhaps one of the liveliest celebrations is the Oktoberfest, though many more unusual festivals prove equally enjoyable. In the first two weeks of February, the Antigel Festival brings a variable programme of music, dance, and other performances to the less likely stages. In March, the International Geneva Motor Show, largest of its kind in Europe, unveils a range of new innovative designs at the Palexpo Exhibition Centre. Similarly, in April you can visit the International Exhibition of Inventions, New Techniques, and Products in the same venue. On specific dates of the year, usually mid-May, a selection of museums stay open for the whole night, an event that is also celebrated in a number of bars. Also in May is a Day of Open Wineries, where upwards of 90 wineries open their doors for free to wine-touring visitors. A charge of 5CHF at one winery will enable you to taste wines at every other winery for no further charge. In June and July, parks, gardens, and secluded outdoor spots on the lake shores play host to a range of live music and DJ sets at the Ecoutes au Vert Festival. In the middle of June each year, Lake Geneva is transformed into the largest sailing regatta in Europe, with over 500 boats competing. Geneva's largest music festival is the Geneva Music Festival in late June, specialising in a range of musical genres, and accompanied by an array of food stalls. Impossible to forget is the Montreux Jazz Festival, founded in 1967, that brings an eclectic range of performances to the lakeside stages, not limited to Jazz. The Cine Transat, hosted in one of Geneva's parks, features a series of French and English films. The Prelude to the Geneva Festival and the Geneva Festival itself take place from the middle of July until the first week of August and are widely believed to be the highlight of summer in the region. Carnival rides, concerts, stalls with Swiss delicacies and street food, parades, and variety performances take over the lake shores, topped off with unique firework displays each and every night. The Festival de la Batie from the end of August to mid-September exhibits the works of many local artists from a range of disciplines in Batie Park. The Nuit des Bains sees several galleries in the Quartier des Bains open their doors for free. For a taste of Geneva's history, watch l'Escalade in the Old Town in the second week of December, which commemorates that defence of the city against the Duke of Savoy in 1602.

Gastronomy in Lake Geneva

With over 1,000 restaurants, Geneva is recognised as the capital of culinary delicacies in Switzerland. For decadent dining, choose one of the hotels that line the lake shores; for foreign cuisine, head to the Paquis district; for traditional Swiss dishes, dine in Geneva's Old Town; for Italian restaurants and French cafes, go to Eaux Vives; and for experimental, chic restaurants, eat in Carouge. Some ingredients to look out for in particular are cheeses from Gruyere, oil from Severy, charcuterie, perch, fera, char, and leeks. Vaud, the region in which Lake Geneva sits, is Switzerland's largest wine-growing region, and the most prominent grapes are Chasselas, Pinot Noir, and Gamay. You may also discover some Tartiflette, which originated over the French border in Haute-Savoie, made with Reblocohon cheese.

Luxury Swiss grand touring holiday by train including dramatic mountains, serene lakes and iconic trains

Highlights of Lake Lucerne

Begin your exploration of the Lake Lucerne Region with the famous city itself. To get your bearings, wander along the river or lakeside, stopping first at the Chapel Bridge, Lucerne's main landmark and the most photographed monument in Switzerland. This bridge gets its name from St Peter's Chapel, which stands nearby, and was built in the early 14th century, making it a true testament to its ingenious structure. The Water Tower that stands partway along the bridge once formed part of the city walls, and has served a number of functions, including that of an archive, prison, and torture chamber. Also part of the city's fortifications is the Spreuer Bridge, which, again, stretches across the Reuss, but with an unusual ochre design characterised by the small red turrets attached above the bridge's supports. The so-called ‘Water Spike,' which regulates the water level in the Reuss River, is recognised for being a truly unique sight, due to the specificities of its engineering. For more stunning, historical structures, visit the 17th century Jesuit Church, with its grand, regal Baroque façade, which was the first large sacral church to be built in Switzerland. High above the city is the Musegg Wall. Built in the late 14th century, the wall remains remarkably well preserved, as do the nine towers, of which three are open to the public. For a taste of traditional Swiss life, visit one of the historical squares hidden down the city streets and enjoy a light lunch or drink in one of the cafes. The Town Hall and Pfistern Guildhall, which is artfully painted, are situated on the Kornmarkt Square; the Hirschenplatz Square is named after an inn that dates back to medieval times; and the Weinmarkt Square is the site on which Lucerne swore its federal oath with Schwyz, Uri, and Unterwalden in the early 14th century.

Cultural highlights of Lake Lucerne

Lucerne is home to a variety of museums and galleries, including the KKL Luzern, the Rosengart Collection of works by Picasso and Klee, the Wagner Museum in Tribschen, and the most well-known of them all, the Swiss Museum of Transport. Once you have explored Lucerne's streets, restaurants, and shops, finish your tour with a visit to the Dying Lion of Lucerne. Commemorating the deaths of the Swiss mercenaries at the attack on the Tuileries at the end of the 18th century, this monument is one of the most moving in Europe. Follow the northern shore of the lake to the picturesque villages of Weggis and Vitznau. Weggis is recognisable from the water by the red-topped church spire at the village's highest point. The scattered houses in both are surrounded by green lawns, clusters of evergreen trees, and gently rising slopes. The Wilhelm Tell Express will take you by boat from Lucerne across the river to Fluelen, passing the iconic spots that feature in the legend of Wilhelm Tell, the best known folk character in Switzerland and the Swiss National Hero of Liberty. The meadows in Rutli, for example, are the setting of Friedrich Schiller's recounting of Tell's tale, and Tell's Chapel in Sisikon is built upon Tell's Slab, where he famously jumped from the bailiff's boat before pushing them back into the storm. Further inland, in the neighbouring cantons that claim sections of Lake Lucerne's shores, are several picturesque towns and villages with their own individual character. The town of Schwyz, in the canton of the same name, provides both a valuable connection with the cities and towns to the east of Lake Lucerne and an equally valuable insight into the traditions and atmospheres of small towns that have retained much of their historical air. The most popular and interesting part of this town, which is mainly characterised by its peaceful streets of chalet-style buildings, is the Hauptplatz. Here, you can admire the painted façade of the Town Hall while enjoying some food at the restaurant of the Hotel Wysses Rossli. Those looking to explore the landscape on foot or by cable car should head towards the two main peaks of the Lucerne area: Pilatus and Rigi. The former was once reputedly the home of a dragon and is now believed to be the final resting place of Pontius Pilatus, but most remarkable are the views across 73 Alpine peaks that can be appreciated from the top. Rigi is known as Queen of the Mountains, from the summit of which you can see 13 lakes, the entire Swiss Mittelland, and the borders into Germany and France. A cable car up to Rigi can be taken from Weggis. To enjoy the scenery by rail, take the funicular railway from Stoos to Fronalpstock or vice versa, the track of which is the world's steepest. Once on the mountainsides, you are at your leisure to embark on cycling tours and hiking tours to unveil the waterfalls and mountain streams, to take a once-in-a-lifetime skydiving or paragliding trip, or to take your time with a round of golf. The range of places and activities that surround Lake Lucerne is given its diversity by the stunning landscape, and by the coming together of so many cantons, each with their own unique culture. We would recommend staying long enough to try a little of everything to truly make the most of this fantastic and inspiring region.

Festivals in Lake Lucerne

Lucerne prides itself on being a city of festivals, a title that it lives up to through its blend of music, food, and theatrical celebrations. The biggest of these is without a doubt the Lucerne Carnival. Beginning on Fat Thursday before Lent begins, the carnival features three massive parades with masks, costumes, bonfires, and displays by the various societies in the area. Music festivals in Lucerne also include the World Band Festival at the end of September, the Lucerne Blues Festival at the beginning of November, the Lucerne Festival at the Piano in mid to late November, the two Lucerne Festivals (at Easter and in summer) which focus on classical music, and the Blue Balls music and art festival in late July. Sports enthusiasts might want to plan their visit in time with the Lucerne Regatta, on the 7th to 9th July 2017, and the Athletics Meeting, also in July.

Gastronomy in Lake Lucerne

The food around Lake Lucerne, like its history, is made diverse by the numerous cantons. Visitors can enjoy high-class gourmet food in stylish modern restaurants, or can enjoy traditional delicacies in smaller, family-run establishments. One example of a popular local dish is the Lozarner Churgelipastete, which comprises of veal and mushrooms cooked inside a puff-pastry casing. Those with a sweet tooth might wish to try the pear bread. To try some Swiss Alpine cheese, we would recommend ordering either the raclette or the fondue, as these are possibly the most typically Swiss dishes available. Finish off your culinary tour of Lucerne with some of the famous Swiss chocolate made by a local chocolatier.

Luxury Swiss grand touring holiday by train including dramatic mountains, serene lakes and iconic trains

Highlights of Saanenland

The Saanenland is based in the convergence of five valleys. Streams, lakes, forests, and verdant slopes therefore provide a 360 degree backdrop to your stay here. The isolated and little-known Lauenensee, for example, is a bubble of peace and tranquillity, with pathways around the lake shores that lead up to a waterfall that crashes between jutting rocks on its way down the mountainside. In the winter, the lake freezes over, and there is every chance you may be the first to leave your footprints in the snow. Gstaad is perhaps what makes the Saanenland so well-known and so deserving of its own individual place as a region in our overview of Switzerland. The traffic-free main promenade is lined with perfectly maintained, authentic Swiss chalets, complete with dark wood peaked roofs, shuttered windows, and balconies. These chalets contain intriguing boutique shops and some of Gstaad's 100 restaurants, which serve anything from Swiss raclette to gourmet, refined cuisine. In the landscape around Gstaad lie a huge range of summer sports opportunities. More than 300km of hiking paths take you up and around the mountains and deep into the valleys. Mountain-biking, paragliding, and golf also remain continually popular with seasonal guests. Schonried hosts a famous toboggan run, while exhilarating downhill scooter rides can be enjoyed from Wispile to Gstaad or Sparenmoos to Zweisimmen. On the River Saane, you can wrestle the torrent on a raft or in a canoe. Schonried, on the so-called ‘sun terrace' above Gstaad, is one neighbouring village that is of particular interest. Schonried is an excellent starting point for many hikes or long walks, due to its sublime scenery and many cableways and high-altitude railways. The picture-postcard village of Zweisimmen is known as the Gateway to the Saanenland. Most notably, however, it is an important station on the iconic route of the GoldenPass Line, and the railway line that links the Bernese Oberland to Montreux. You may wish to visit Zweisimmen for the Rinderberg cable car, which takes you up to one of the largest ski areas in the Saanenland in winter, and up to an intricate network of walking routes in the summer. Various themed trails take you through the different elements of the local culture, such as around the authentic farmhouses with their carved murals, or high up in the mountaintops. There are ten villages in total in the Saanenland, each of which is charming in its own right. Should you have time, we would not discourage visiting as many of these as possible to admire the scenery from multiple angles.

Festivals in the Saanenland

A lesser-known highlight of the area's winter sports opportunities is the Zweisimmen Snow Games in January, featuring a waterslide through the Rinderberg water, ski-cross races, downhill mountain biking, and freestyle parkour. February and March in Gstaad are made all the more enchanting by the Sommets Musicaux de Gstaad, a small classical music festival. The summer sees two large tennis tournaments come to Gstaad: the J. Safra Sarasin Swiss Open Gstaad, and the Ladies Championship Gstaad. The Davidoff Saveurs Gstaad celebrates authentic local cuisine and wine in July. For more traditional celebrations, attend the Suufsunntig, an Alpine festival from July to August hosted on the nearby mountains. Also in the summer, from July to September, is the Gstaad Menuhin Festival, which honours the violinist and conductor after which it was named, with numerous performances of haunting classical music. The Hublot Polo Gold Cup Gstaad in August sees jockeys from all over the world racing Arab horses. Something a little different can be enjoyed at the Country Night Gstaad in September. Across the border into the canton of Vaud is Chateau-d'Oex, which hosts the International Balloon Festival, the most important balloon event in the Alps.

Gastronomy in the Saanenland

As in much of Switzerland, cheese plays an integral part in the local gastronomy of Saanenland. In Chateau-d'Oex and Rougemont, be sure to try the Etivaz cheese, which is made in the cauldrons of Alpine huts. In a quaint gourmet restaurant in Gstaad or on the lush rolling pastures of Schonried, try the fondue or raclette in the environment in which it was intended to be eaten. Local farms, particularly dairy farms, offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner service, with the opportunity to try some of their homemade produce and watch as the cheese is made.

Luxury Swiss grand touring holiday by train including dramatic mountains, serene lakes and iconic trains

Highlights of Ticino

Two of the main cities in Ticino lie quite close together in the south of the region: Locarno and Lugano. On the banks of Lake Maggiore, Locarno is rich with cultural treasure. Visit the 17th century Church of St Anthony, the 16th century Church of San Francesco, the mid-17th century New Church, or the late 15th century Sanctuary of the Madonna del Sasso to begin your tour of Locarno's beautiful and historic sites. Perhaps most noteworthy, however, is the Visconti Castle, in which there is a permanent exhibition of Roman glass. On Thursdays a market is held in the centre of the town, which always makes for an excellent place to enjoy Locarno at its liveliest, as well as to pick up a few delicacies. Venture outside Locarno to climb the Cadada Cimetta, from the top of which you can see both the Valais High Alps and Lake Maggiore, the highest and lowest points in Switzerland. Follow the paths of the Magic Valley or the Verzasca Valley to witness the turquoise-green, crystal-clear waters that flow there. For a more leisurely day out, enjoy a boat cruise on Lake Maggiore. As you leave Locarno and head west down the valley towards Italy, you will see the rocky gorges that prove so popular with cliff divers. Eerie tunnels and caverns have been carved out over time, providing ethereal little spots to stop off on your travels.

Cultural highlights of Ticino

East of Locarno is Bellinzona, a town remarkable in that it is the most Italianate town in Switzerland and capital of Ticino. The central medieval castle and its two neighbours are among Switzerland's best preserved, coming together to form a picturesque UNESCO World Heritage Site. The ramparts of the central castle run alongside the vineyards within, with lush grass carpeting the fortified walls. North of Locarno, you will come across Tegna, the site of some interesting prehistoric ruins. Continue along this route towards the Italian border on the Centovalli Express to discover the old wine press in the village of Cavigliano, the museum and cableway in Intragna, the cable car up to the solitary, traffic-free hamlet of Rasa from Verdasio, and finally, across the Italian border to Re, where the stunning, yet imposing, Sanctuary of the Madonna of the Blood stands on the very edge of a dramatic cliff. In eastern Ticino is Biasca, a town where a waterfall cascades down the mountainsides, under bridges and over rocks that have been smoothed by time. Towns and villages such as Airolo, Lavizzara, Acquarossa, Blenio, and Brione all offer alternative views on this beautiful region. Any visit to Ticino is incomplete without a few hours spent in Lugano. Famous for its eponymous lake, San Salvatore Mountain, and Monte Bre, Lugano is a quintessentially ‘Ticino’ town. Take the funicular railway from Casserate as high as possible up Monte Bre to witness the phenomenal panoramas and enjoy the traditional Swiss rail experience.

Festivals in Ticino

As with much of Switzerland, there is a high focus on dairy products in both the regional dishes and their self-identification. To appreciate Swiss dairy products in Ticino, head to Ambri Quinto in the Leventina Valley at the end of September to enjoy the Agriculture and Cheese Fair. The first weekend in October brings with it a celebration of autumn. In Lugano, this autumn festival focuses on local products, folkloric music, and small dramatic shows. In Ascona, the autumn festival celebrates the versatile chestnut, with jams, cakes, cheese dishes, and entertaining concerts. Ascona's unique carnival is celebrated on Mardi Gras on the lake promenade. In Muralto on the second Sunday of March there is a fish festival beside the water, involving a fishing contest, music, games, and food stalls. Beside the smooth rocks of Solduno, on St Joseph's Day in March, the streets are filled with the smell of the speciality Tortelli, a fritter whose recipe is strictly guarded.

Gastronomy in Ticino

The varied and delicious specialities of Ticino may very well be the highlight of your trip, influenced by hearty Swiss cuisine, as well as Italy's Mediterranean flavours. One particular feature of dining here are the ‘grotto' restaurants. Usually housed in picturesque stone farmhouses, with abundant flower boxes, shuttered windows, and vast terraces canopied by views on which customers eat fresh, home-cooked food. Popular so-called ‘slow foods' include farina bona flour, cicitt sausages, Zincarlin cheese and shortbread biscuits. At the heart of many dishes you may come across are polenta and Merlot wine, which can also be sampled at a local winery. Originally cooked in a large cauldron like porridge, polenta is now best served alongside braised beef. Before leaving Switzerland, ensure you sample some of the world-famous fondue.

Luxury Swiss grand touring holiday by train including dramatic mountains, serene lakes and iconic trains

Highlights of Valais

During your stay in Valais, you will see lush meadows, rivers, and 4000m high mountain peaks topped with all-year ski slopes. Between these peaks, creaking, radiant-white glaciers mould to the gradients of the slopes and filter into the craggy valleys. The most famous mountain in Valais, and possibly the whole of Switzerland, is undoubtedly the Matterhorn. Its distinctive silhouette can be appreciated from miles around, but perhaps best from Zermatt. Take the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise cable car from Zermatt up to 3883m, making it the highest cable car in Europe, to the Panoramic Platform to look out across the other neighbouring 4000m high mountains and glaciers. Before returning to ground level, admire the mesmerising ice sculptures hidden within the Glacier Palace, a series of stunningly carved ice tunnels. Zermatt is an Alpine village known for its winter sports, being as it is one of the most popular skiing destinations in Switzerland. In the summer, when some of the snow has melted, Zermatt is a peaceful community of chic bars and cafes and quaint and characterful chalets. It comes highly recommended to those who enjoy hiking, walking, or simply the sight of those dramatic Alpine panoramas outside your hotel window. Those looking to experience the undisrupted beauty of the landscape but without the strenuous exercise of the hiking routes may wish to take advantage of the excellent local railways and connections. The Gornergratbahn, for example, is Europe's highest cogwheel railway, and its characteristic red carriages take visitors up to stunning Gornergrat. From Zermatt you can also board the Glacier Express to St Moritz in Grisons, which is a continually popular and iconic route. In the north of the Canton of Valais is the Aletsch Glacier, the longest in the European Alps and with the greatest volume. Reaching from the Bernese Oberland to the Rhone River, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a vast expanse of twisted, mottled ice which navigates sharp spikes of rock and thick clusters of pine forest. Between Bettmeralp and Riederalp, to the southeast of the Aletsch Glacier, is the Aletschji-Grunsee Suspension Bridge. Over 124m of thrilling high-altitude metal bridge hovers above the Massa Gorge, affording the brave and adventurous among us phenomenal, unparalleled views of the glacier. Northwest of Zermatt, towards Martigny, is Verbier, a luxurious ski resort known for attracting very elite clients. If you have the chance, it is worth spending a night here so as to take the first Medran cable car up to the summit of Mont Fort at 3329m to see the sun rise over the mountaintops. At Saas Fee, the Mittelallin funicular railway climbs underground to 3500m, where a revolving restaurant looks out across the Allalin Glacier and others that sit at 4000m.

Cultural highlights of Valais

Sion, in the northern half of Valais, is home to chateaux and palaces galore. Chateau de Tourbillon has a magnificent hilltop position looking down over the Rhone Valley. After a fire in the 18th century, mainly the brooding exterior walls remain, though the site offers a breath-taking, intriguing place for a walk. Opposite the Chateau de Tourbillon, on an equally majestic hill, is the Chateau de Valere. Originally started in the 11th century, the castle was built around an ancient basilica. Today, the castle church holds carved stalls, an apse with beautiful frescoes, and the oldest playable organ in the world, which dates from 1440. While visiting, take a tour around the castle museum, and, in the summer, enjoy one of the concerts held here. Another small castle in Sion houses the Musee d'Art, exhibiting works by artists such as Oskar Kokoschka, Caspar Wolf, and Ernest Bieler. For even more prestigious art collections, visit the Fondation Pierre Gianadda in Martigny, which houses works by the likes of Van Gogh and Picasso, and the Fondation Pierre Arnaud, which is a strikingly modern building with a mirrored exterior and a dramatic mountainous location in Crans Montana.

Festivals in Valais

Popular destinations and cultural cities lend themselves to high profile celebrations and festivals, which crop up around Valais at various points in the year. In Sierre, the Marche des Cepages in early September sees residents and visitors walk through the vineyards around the town, while drinking the produce and socialising with the winegrowers themselves. From the middle of August to the middle of September, the Festival de Sion sees international classical artists perform at many local stages, violinists compete, and many smaller free-entry stages pop up. Two weeks at the end of July see Verbier truly live up to its sophisticated reputation with a classical music festival. During the summer months at the Chateau de Valere in Sion, in the evening the castle walls are lit up with colour as part of the fascinating sound-and-light show. Something more unique is the Foire au Lard in Martigny, otherwise known as the Bacon Fair. Held in December, this festival has been around since 1801. In Riederalp, an unusual but very traditional festival takes place, the Chuefladefascht. Local residents throughout history would smash up cow pats and spread it as fertiliser across their fields; now, the game is to strike as many with your weapon of choice as possible and pluck out tombola prizes written down on paper and hidden inside.

Gastronomy in Valais

Valais the largest wine-making region in Switzerland, with plenty of wineries and vineyards open for tastings and tours. Other speciality ingredients include the huge range of savoury spices that grow here, including saffron. These local spices ensure that every dish in Valais' many gourmet restaurants will be seasoned and spiced to perfection. As with much of Switzerland, a very popular dish is the raclette, made using the best Alpine cheeses. For a heartier, homelier meal, seek out a dish that utilises the rich flavour of the local chestnuts, or choose to begin your meal with some fresh rye bread.

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