Mon. Jul 15th, 2024

Autumn is the wild season in Switzerland. If winter brings speed on the slopes, summer rambles across flower-strewn alpine meadows, and spring the blossoming of culture in urban centres, then the shoulder season is a festival of bounty. Vineyards from the Vaud to the Valais throw open their cellars for tastings. Menus feature game and foraged mushrooms. ‘Castagnatas’ (chestnut festivals) take centre stage in the southern, Italian-speaking Canton of Ticino throughout October. October also marks the traditional time for celebrations of the ‘désalpe’ (the return of the cows from the pastures to the plains), featuring parades of garlanded animals – though this year’s events require vaccination certificates in many areas. Truffle hunting in Yverdon-les-Bains, on the south-western end of Lake Neuchâtel, commences in earnest in autumn.

The light at this time of year is magical, too: no two days over Lac Leman, or looking down from the heights of Jungfrau, are exactly alike. From neon pink sunsets to hazy, lazy days out on the water, the shoulder season retains Switzerland’s decidedly outdoor focus. For a country that is too often characterised by its efficiency and financial acumen, to the exclusion of all other attributes, autumn is the ideal moment to capture the warmth of Switzerland, to relish its still-long sunny days (expect temperatures in the upper to mid teens in town; 10C lower in the mountains), and to break a pandemic-induced cycle of UK holidays with something a bit different, but still easy (flights from the UK are less than two hours).

In a country that can feel more seasonally obsessed than Japan, leaf peepers will find dramatic vistas of changing colours in autumn and the Swiss have even launched a new foliage map here, offering live footage of the most spectacularly colourful areas.

The ease of navigating Switzerland is also a relief: there are never crowds, particularly in this relatively quiet season, and the standard – of food, hotels, guides – is reliably high. Here are five great ways to explore Switzerland right now…

Grindelwald is its prettiest in autumn CREDIT: Moment RF /shan.shihan

The best ways to visit Switzerland

1. On two wheels

The Swiss are a cycling nation. Come the weekend, everyone is out in their spandex: while it is not atypical to see an outrageously fit 60-something puffing her or his way up a major peak, electrical bikes are easy to hire and are also popular with locals. Cycling along wine tasting routes in the open cave season is a popular weekend activity, and there are good options for organised routes for visitors.

Other trips will take cyclists by chalets, past pastures clanging with cows, and from chateau to chateau, with perhaps a stop to taste the area’s cheese – the Maison du Gruyere ( offers an excellent tour and restaurant. One new highly accessible tour takes cyclists from Schaffhausen in the north to Geneva in the south west of the country along the Route Verte. Wending its way through six regional nature parks of the Jura Arc, this e-bike itinerary allows guests to explore monumental landscapes while also taking advantage of the regional bounty in the autumn.

The Swiss are a cycling nation – get involved on holiday CREDIT: iStockphoto /Uwe Moser

How to do it: A seven-night trip includes accommodation, breakfast, daily luggage transport, detailed itinerary documents, GPS data and hotline assistance. Guests are able to customise the stages and ride at their own pace (from 1,049CHF, or £829 per person;

2. Combining city and country

Swiss cities are a revelation, and the exquisite capital of Bern is perhaps the country’s greatest unsung hero. Its Münster, or cathedral, is Switzerland’s tallest, its arcaded central avenue is lined with original shops and restaurants, and its 13th-century clock tower, with a 15th-century astronomical clock, draws crowds hourly.

Audley’s 10-day trip features guided visits to Bern and beautiful Lucerne, where a cruise will take in views of Mount Pilatus. Next, you’ll drive through increasingly dramatic scenery to Grindelwald, the village in the Bernese Alps that overlooks the stunning Jungfrau region, with its chalets dotting the pastures and white-capped mountains as far as the eye can see. Using funiculars, cable cars, or taking to the trails, you will spend the next few days exploring Gstaad and then Zermatt, in the shadow of the Matterhorn. With guides at each stop, exploration is tailored to your interests and fitness levels. Zermatt in particular is a must-visit to the uninitiated. This car-free town, accessible via charming old train, delivers geranium-bedecked chalets in abundance, ample good restaurants and scenery unlike anywhere else in the world.

The town of Zermatt, in the shadow of the Matterhorn CREDIT: RudyBalasko /iStockphoto

How to do it: A 10-day self-drive trip, including international flights, vehicle hire, and all accommodation, from £3,850 per person

3. On the rails

One of the most comprehensive ways to take in the changing colours of the Swiss autumn is from a comfortable seat on a train. Curling around the mountain bends, you will see green valleys rising up to white-topped peaks, whizz by glowing turquoise lakes, and spectacular pink sunsets. One option for leaf peepers is the Golden Pass, linking the glittering Léman Riviera town of Montreux to Interlaken, in the heart of the Bernese Oberland. Bookend this two-hour trip with a visit to the beautiful Chateau de Chillon (; around £10.68 entry) the ancient tax stop for importers on the route from Italy to France, and some time in the mountains above Interlaken. Happily, no car is needed as the trains will take you everywhere you want to go.

Or you might opt for the Glacier Express, the must-do ride across the Alps, which takes travellers from St Moritz to Zermatt, crossing 291 bridges, passing through 91 tunnels and climbing higher than 2,000 metres. Spectacular views through the train’s panoramic windows are a treat as you enjoy a three-course meal.

One of the most comprehensive ways to take in the changing colours of Swiss autumn is from a seat on a train CREDIT: Moment RF /Roberto Moiola / Sysaworld

How to do it: A four-night holiday for two sharing costs from £1,688pp, including flights to Zurich/from Geneva, rail transfers, B&B (two nights at the five-star Waldhaus Sils in Sils Maria, two at the four-star Parkhotel Beau Site in Zermatt) and a first-class ticket for the Glacier Express, with three-course meal (

4. In pursuit of peak fitness

The shoulder season is a fine time to check in with your health. Where better than the Swiss mountains, where Britons have flocked for more than 150 years to take the air, exercise and enjoy a wholesome re-boot. With stunning panoramic views over the Bernese Oberland and the deft combination of wooden alpine cosiness with contemporary standards of luxury, Gstaad Palace offers exceptional spa breaks. Set at 1,050m, this is the perfect jumping off point for the 300km (185 miles) of signposted trails and paths that take walkers from lush valleys to high mountain peaks. This expansive network is connected by lifts and cable cars, ensuring that there is a route to suit all abilities. Exertion on the hills may justify culinary indulgence in one of the hotel’s five gourmet restaurants.

New at the Palace is a high-tech Cannabidiol (CBD) wellness experience with ID Botanicals, a Swiss brand devoted to restoring skin with natural ingredients (Ritual ID experience 390CHF, or £305, per person). A stay at the hotel includes access to saunas and steam baths, hammam, and a heated outdoor pool where you can take in the panorama in fresh mountain air.

Is this the best hotel swimming pool in Switzerland? The outdoor spot at Gstaad Palace

How to do it: Rooms at Gstaad Palace start from £550 per room, per night, including breakfast. The nearest airport is Geneva.

5. On foot

If you are after fresh air and slow travel, hiking or walking are the perfect antidote to stress. Self-guided walkers might explore the network of restored alpine huts and chalets that can be rented for reasonable prices at Choose one as a base – there are flashy options with outdoor hot tubs, and entirely isolated properties, that make up for what they lack in plumbing by their spectacular views and splendid isolation.

By October, the air up there gets a bit cooler, so you might also consider a walk centred around Lucerne, one of Switzerland’s most exquisite lakes, in a self-guided walk that takes you through farmland, up mountains, on boats and cable cars, and ends up in the village of Weggis, where you can relax in a heated outdoor pool following the week’s exertions.

Renting a property on Lake Lucerne is a special experience CREDIT: Moment RF /Silent Resilience Photography

How to do it: A six-night self-guided walking holiday around Lake Lucerne, up Mount Rigi, onto cable cars and staying from mountain-side to lake-side in charming chalet-style hotels, costs from £1,195 per person, excluding flights (


By Lala