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Plan a to-do list in Switzerland which doesn’t follow the usual well-trodden tourist path. Here are nine unusual ideas to make your holiday in Switzerland a truly unique one.
1. Otto's Bowling Cellar, Grindelwald
So secret is Otto’s Bowling Cellar it is frequented only by locals. The odd guest that does stumble upon this hidden grotto has almost always gotten lost. Not that they mind, because discovering Otto’s Cellar is really rather special. Located in the basement of the Romantik Hotel Schweizerhof, it’s one of very few retro bowling alleys that remain in the bowels of Switzerland’s most age-old hotels. It’s also where you can enjoy one of the best cheese fondues in Grindelwald. With traditional wooden chairs and timber walls; its chalet-like interior plays host to a shiny bowling alley and gigantic time-worn bowling balls. There are sheepskin throws and tasselled lamp shades, all in-keeping with the vintage décor, while the fondue, rich and hearty, is made from creamy Gertsch cheese and served with thick bread and potatoes.
2. The Museum Tinguely, Basel
For days when you need a bish, bash, bosh and wallop in your life, The Museum Tinguely documents the life works of Jean Tinguely, one of Switzerland’s most revered artists. During his life, Tinguely specialised in sculptural machines and kinetic art; great honking pieces of moving mechanical sculpture which he put together by any means possible, whether that meant stringing bicycle wheels to musical instruments, or scrap metal to porcelain dolls. His pieces are designed to make a commotion, and at this museum, his creations will whir into action at any given moment. Children especially like the noisy and colourful nature of the exhibits, while adults are equally enthralled by the ingenuity and intelligence of Tinguely’s most surprising artworks.
3. Fasnacht Carnival, Basel
Festivals don’t come much more eclectic than the Fasnacht Carnival. Celebrated nationwide and in up to 200 towns across the country, it’s Basel that hosts the largest (and most popular) in Switzerland. Celebrated Monday to Thursday following Ash Wednesday, the festivities begin at an alarming 4am in the morning, commencing with groups of fifers and drummers dressed in elaborate costumes and masks equipped with small headlights. These curious looking groups roam through the streets of the old city, playing their instruments and entertaining the spectators who are allowed to march amongst them. The Cliquen, or carnival cliques, carry transparent lanterns which tower up to three metres in the air; their costumes following a certain theme which is chosen months earlier. Other, smaller groups, wander from bar to street, singing and acting out events from the year just gone, with a heavy dosage of satire, tongue and cheek. And then there are the “Guggen" - groups of musicians who purposely play out of tune; the louder and more disturbing the better. As a spectator you are likely to be left speechless, it really is a spectacle of profound, yet brilliant, oddness.
4. Discover the elusive Alphorn: 20- 22 July 2018
In Switzerland, an Alphorn (the long conical woodwind instrument that resembles a giant two metre pipe) is almost as elusive as the NZ Kiwi. But similarly, look in the right places and you will find evidence of their existence.
The Swiss National Holiday, celebrated 1 August, is a great day to find an Alphorn blower, when Swiss patriotism is throbbing and talented players come out of their cubbyholes to show off their skills. Alternatively, the alpenhorn concert which showcases 150 alpenhorn players all puffing at once is an experience you don’t want to miss at the annual International Alpenhorn Festival in Nendaz. Or perhaps you’d rather lock lips with the instrument yourself? The Swiss Alphorn School offers weekend courses (usually in July) in the utterly beautiful region of Saanenland. Think green pastures and blue skies; rolling hills and snow-capped mountain peaks. The quintessential Swiss scenery to complement the sound of the country’s national instrument.
5. The highest train station in Europe, Jungfraujoch
Take the train to the highest station in Europe. Jungfraujoch sits at an altitude of 3454 metres and is better known as the ‘Top of Europe.’ After a staggeringly pretty journey by cogwheel train you will arrive in a fresh air wonderland, with stunning views across The Aletsch glacier: Europe’s largest. A lift will take you a further 117m to the Sphinx observatory, where you can marvel at a 360° view of beautiful mountainside. Follow that with a daring walk through the Jungfraujoch ice tunnel. Not for those with a nervous disposition, this seemingly endless corridor of sheer ice is little more than two metres wide, and tends to narrow somewhat unnervingly in unexpected places. There are a number of ice sculptures to distract you from the maddening sensation that you’ve discovered this endless icy tomb, and just when you think there is no end is in sight, you find an opening, and fresh air freedom awaits.
6. Lindt Chocolate Heaven
At the Lindt Chocolate Heaven store, you really are in cloud 9. Sitting 3454 metres above sea level, and only a skip and a jump from the Jungfraujoch train station, Lindt have created a dreamy world of rich Swiss chocolate – it’s every chocoholics’ dream come true. As well as being the highest chocolate shop in Europe, there’s also a mini museum which pays homage to the company’s longstanding heritage, along with introductions and explanations to the time-honoured craftsmanship of a chocolatier. And then there’s the shop. Willy Wonka eat your heart out, because nothing compares to the Lindt store at Jungfraujoch. Boasting every flavour you could possibly imagine, there are slabs of every shape, buckets of every Lindt colour, and walls lined with shiny ‘eat me now’ chocolate bars. Nothing tastes better than Swiss chocolate bought and consumed on a beautiful Swiss mountain.
7. Chaplin World in Vevey, Montreux
You don’t even need to be a fan of Charlie Chaplin to enjoy Chaplin’s World in Corsier-sur-Vevey. Like most things in Switzerland, this museum (of sorts) is modern, sleek and so well kept it gleams. Chaplin lived in the Manoir de Ban in Vevey for over 25 years with his wife and four children, and guests can now peruse the very home they all lived. There’s also a series of thematic rooms and characters from the best Chaplin's movies, and a short film detailing Chaplin’s life, work and career highlights. Visitors rave about their exploration of Chaplin World, often citing it as the most mesmerising museum experience in Europe. Do not miss this one.
8. Swim in the Rhine
In Basel you might like to live like a local and get yourself a "Rhein-Schwimm-Säcke". This translates into a ‘Rhine swimming bag’ and they are the perfect accessory for all those who like to take a regular dip in the Rhine – and come summer, plenty do. Suitable only for strong and confident swimmers, gliding along the river bank is a great way to cool off, and practical waterproof bags (favoured by the Basel residents) can be bought online, in the city or along the river itself. They double up as both a watertight holdall for popping in your valuables, and a flotation device. It’s best not to go into the Rhine alone, and if you want to swim amongst many, book your trip to coincide with the annual Rhine swim day, when thousands of people get into the river together. Dates vary so keep an eye out for updates.
9. Find your jam
In Luzern you’ll find the very upmarket Montana Hotel. With stunning views and an Art Deco ambience, it’s also home to Switzerland’s renowned Louis Bar. If you like your whisky you’re in luck. If you’re also a fan of jazz, funk and blues, you’ve pretty much lucked out. With over 130 classic Scottish malts on the shelf, and live music from Tuesday to Friday, it’s got more soul than Memphis Tennessee. There are also jam sessions held every Thursday and during winter, the ‘Good Old(ies) Sunday’ is just that – golden oldies from decades past. Let the nostalgia meet the Grouse.
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