I am standing on the edge of a Swiss mountain, looking down at a steep, rocky cliff. Tethered to my paragliding instructor, I listen as he gives his brief, but vital instructions, about what would happen next.
“When I say run, run,” he says. “And don’t stop until I tell you to stop, even if we are in the air.”
That was it. All the words I heard before jumping off of a cliff.
Moments later, we both sprint toward the edge of the mountain, only for the paraglider to catch the air at the exact moment it needed to before the cliff dropped away. While my instructor navigates the parasail, I take in the breathtaking views of Lake Geneva, a glistening crescent-shaped lake shared by France and Switzerland. My instructor points out that from the air, we could see both countries and the border in between. He also tells me about a famous tree that resides in the middle of Lake Geneva, as well as the iconic Château de Chillon, a thousand-year-old Swiss castle built on the water’s shores.
This is Switzerland: a country filled with majestic sights and a vivid history. This bucket list location has activities for everyone—from sightseeing, to nature-filled adventures to shopping. The country is landlocked, bordered by five other countries - Austria, France, Germany, Italy, and Liechtenstein - so you can easily visit one or more of these countries during your stay. Here are some of the ways to make the most of your travels to this mesmerizing country.
Parasailing is a popular activity in Switzerland, and there are several locations around the country that offer it during all four seasons. Most parasailing sessions last for about 20 minutes of air time, and offer great views of Switzerland. While parasailing can seem intimidatingly dangerous, it is actually very safe for adventurers of all ages, with a minimum age of just six years old. While there are several good sights to soar above, two of my personal favorites include over Lake Geneva or through Mont Blanc, France.
While you can parasail during all seasons, there are a few tips and tricks that make for an enjoyable flight year-round. Sunglasses, hiking boots, and sunscreen have proven to be useful tools in the mountains. If flying during the wintertime, expect to see the mountainside dotted with both snow and skiers. If sailing during the summertime, you may catch a glimpse of a few lakes or medieval castles.
Some of the best hiking can be found in Annecy, France—approximately a 45 minute drive from Geneva, Switzerland. Lake Annecy is surrounded by a multitude of mountains, perfect for hiking in the spring and summer. The trails on these mountains are ideal for all levels of hiking, catering to the beginners, the experienced, and those in between. After soaking in the beautiful views from up above, make sure to explore the restaurants that Annecy has to offer.
The country of Switzerland is 731 years old, and has been the setting of several historical events during its lengthy lifespan. Because of this, there are several medieval castles that are worth a visit. In Switzerland, you can get a pass for the historical castles, and visit them at your leisure. One of my favorites is the Château de Chillon, located just outside of Geneva. This castle is located just on Lake Geneva, and is surrounded by mountains, rivers, and trails for both walking and hiking. Not only are the views amazing, but the castle itself is a beautiful work of architecture. Tours are offered in all languages, or you can simply take a pamphlet for a self-guided tour. After touring the castle, visit the ice cream stand nearby to enjoy a sweet treat on the water before embarking on a walk around the lake.
You can also choose one of the many scenic train rides to explore the country. One of them, The Grand Train Tour of Switzerland lets you travel in style as you discover the country through panoramic views along the route. You can hop on and off to visit the different towns and landmarks, experiencing the entire tour using your Swiss Travel Pass.
Known as one of the best ski destinations in the world, Zermatt, Switzerland is the perfect place to learn, or practice your skills. Sporting incredible views of the famous Matterhorn, a towering Alpine mountain that you may have seen on Toblerone Chocolate boxes. Take the incline shuttle from the Zermatt city center to any height on the initial mountain, then from there, explore the mountains surrounding the Matterhorn. Zermatt is on the border of both Switzerland and Italy making it an ideal spot for tourists wanting to pack in multiple sights and activities. If you start skiing in the morning, you can reach Italy in time for lunch and take the lift back to Zermatt before dinnertime. Skiing is offered year-round in Zermatt, as it snows all months of the year. If you go during a warmer season, however, be prepared for shorter skiing hours.
If skiing is not for you, don’t worry! Zermatt also features a variety of shops, restaurants, and outdoor activities. There are numerous hiking trails from the city center, and tobogganing down the mountain is a fun activity for all ages!
One of the most relaxing things to do is to bike around the city of Zurich. Follow the waterways of Zurich to the heart of the city for a unique glimpse of both wildlife and city life.
Europeans are known for having impeccable style, and the Swiss are no different. When visiting, make sure to stop by one of the many shoe stores, as the Swiss are known for their love of stylish tennis shoes. Some styles are released in Europe before America, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled. Local Swiss brands are also often sustainably made, and very trendy. Take a few hours out of your trip to explore the shops around Switzerland.
While in Switzerland, it is necessary that you visit a traditional fondue restaurant. These restaurants are easy to find in all Swiss cities, and are perfect for a quick bite, lunch or dinner. Since Switzerland is also surrounded by five European countries, it can be a fun adventure to visit another country for a bite to eat. For example, if you are staying in Geneva, France is about a 30 minute-drive away.
You'll find a variety of places to stay from cozy country inns to palaces to wellness and spa hotels all steeped in Swiss tradition. No matter where you stay, you'll receive a warm welcome and personal attention.