Switzerland’s car free villages allow you to enjoy the fabled mountain tranquility and breath-taking scenery. Leave your car behind, jump in a cable car and experience some stunning scenery.
Located deep in the Valais canton, on a sunny terrace with views stretching across endless Alpine peaks, it’s hard not to grin as you step out of the cable car in Bettmeralp. However, this is just the beginning. The real treasure of Bettmeralp lies on the other side of the mountain. Take the gondola to Bettmerhornand you’ll find the Aletsch Glacier which, at 23km, is the longest glacier in the Alps. In places, the ice is deep enough to fit a stack of three Eiffel Towers. From here you can hike along the Aletsch Panoramaweg, which runs alongside glacier, offering a succession of great view points. Save some time for a stroll through the magical larch and mountain pine Aletsch forest, home to the oldest trees in Switzerland. The gnarly, twisted shapes, straight out of Narnia, are up to 900 years old. The best lunch is a picnic overlooking the glacier, but if you’re looking for something more substantial head west to the Riederfurka, a traditional mountain inn with a new funky restaurant. For the really active, each year Bettmeralp hosts a 21km trail run – the Aletsch Halbmarathon – a beautiful though demanding route along the glacier.
Arriving here is an adventure in itself. Take Europe’s first cog railway built in 1871 from Vintznau to arrive at a spell-binding view across the Alps and 13 lakes. The slow and deliberate plodding of the train gives ample time to admire the scenery. Due to Rigi’s location in the center of Switzerland, just a short drive from Lucerne, most of the country is visible from the top on a clear day. In the summer, the gondola operator offers a unique romantic dinner option in the actual cable car. On the ascent, enjoy your starter, before stopping for the main course, followed by dessert on the way down. Reservations are essential. For the early risers, there are special sunrise rides.
Saas-Fee goes by the humble nickname of ‘The Pearl of the Alps’, yet somehow remains off the radar outside the ski season. It lies on a 1800 meter high plateau surrounded by 18 summits over 4000 meters high. The 22 gondolas and mountain trains provide unusually easy access to the high mountains with plenty of panoramic restaurant terraces. For fans of the 1980s, the Fellskin cable car featured in Wham’s classic Last Christmas music video. Skiing is also great here, with close to 150 kilometers of piste in the Saas area. The coverage is helped by the fact many slopes are north-facing. But the chilly temperatures provide plenty of excuses to try out the mountain bars and restaurants. The village is home to a revolving restaurant: at 3500 meters, it is the world’s highest. On a clear day, you can see as far as Lake Maggiore in Italy.
The list would not be complete without Zermatt, the official birthplace of Swiss mountaineering. With its expansion, Zermatt can no longer be called a village, more a small mountain city with its own share of ugly concrete buildings. However, that view of the Matterhorn reigning over the valley is difficult to replicate. Zermatt’s size makes it the perfect option for less energetic visitors with shopping, great restaurants and some luxurious spa facilities. Don’t miss lunch at Chez Vrony – a fantastic mixture of quirky and traditional with direct views of the Matterhorn. On rainy days, check out the Alpine museum and the dramatic story of the conquest of Matterhorn.
Across the valley from the beautiful but packed Wengen is quiet and peaceful Murren, reachable by a cogwheel train from Lauterbrunnen. The village has a 100-year old history as a winter sports destination but remains small with a handful of old wooden chalets mixed with some newer construction. Those in need of inspiration can enjoy a rhum tea accompanied by an apfel-strudel on a terrace whilst enjoying the view onto the Oberland big three of Jungfrau, Mönch and Eiger. Take the cablecar to the top of the Schilthorn, famous as the home of evil-incarnate Blofeld in the James Bond classic, ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.’ The exhibition, Bond World 007, contains interactive displays, including the bobsleigh used in the film, and showcases some of the filming techniques in such an extreme location.