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Summer in Vaud Region, Switzerland. An immense canton in terms of population and size, Vaud is a visual treat, one replete with dramatic, quintessentially Swiss terrain — the Alps, the Swiss Plateau, and the Jura Mountains. With France on its western border, Vaud is one of only four cantons where French is the official language. It is also a land where summer activity is firmly focused on the outdoors.
Glacier 3000, summer fun in sunshine and snow
Few places in the world promise winter activities all year round, but such is the lure of Glacier 3000, a destination blessed with sunshine and snow, and clearly designed with fun in mind, hence the multitude of options offered to visitors.
This polar paradise of powder is located at the highest point of the Vaudois Alps, rising to an elevation just above 3,000 metres, anchored by a futuristic building that was designed by the Swiss architect Mario Botta and that comes with inspirational views of the surrounding mountains, including the Eiger, Jungfrau and Matterhorn.
Perhaps the most eye-catching part of a visit here is the Peak Walk by Tissot, the only suspension bridge in the world that connects two mountain tops. The bridge measures 107 metres long and 80 centimetres wide, and links the peaks of View Point and Scex Rouge; it is free of charge, open all year-round, and standing on it, feeling as free a bird, adventurers will drink in stirring Alpine views in every direction.
The Ice Cathedral is a seasonal natural phenomenon, a cave that forms when spring and summer water that fills the cave drains in the autumn to produce a 20-metre cavern with ethereal ice walls that reflect light in otherworldly ways.
For families, the highlight of any visit to Glacier 3000 is often the dogsled ride, pulled by Huskies in the spectacular glacial landscapes, generating joy for young and old. More thrills are in store during the Alpine coaster, with 520-degree circle turns, ten curves, six waves and three jumps that deliver action-packed speeds of up to 40 km/h along the one-kilometre stretch. This is high adventure on the highest-situated toboggan run in the world, with moments of weightlessness and amazing vistas that will take the breath away of even the most seasoned traveller.
There are many other excursions that await at Glacier 3000, from riding in the Snow Bus (a snowcat that crunches over the crisp snow and can hold up to 20 people for forays into the glacial landscapes) to walks on the glacier, from skiing, snowboarding and cross-country skiing to taking a scenic flight above the powerful, snow-capped mountains. The obvious question at Glacier 3000 is whether the fun will ever end?
Switzerland’s cheese & chocolate trains!
Running into early summer and restarting at the end of summer, another unique opportunity presents itself in this slice of Swiss paradise. The adventure starts with the GoldenPass-MOB scenic train journey from Montreux or Zweisimmen, where the destination Château-d’Oex lies. Here visitors will uncover the secrets of making a Swiss alpine cheese: At the restaurant Le Chalet, the farmer makes one Le Chalet Bio cheese per day from 400 litres of fresh milk cooked over an open wood fire. The demonstration is performed in the traditional manner, and the rustic setting adds to the charm of the experience, with guests also enjoying a delectable fondue.
For a visual thrill, a GoldenPass-MOB trains miniature railway on the first floor sits above diners, and all guests receive a souvenir bag as a memento of this special excursion. Close to the restaurant, in the centre of this alpine village, the day continues at the Espace Ballon, where the exploits of balloonists are explained. The exhibition pays special attention to Brian Jones and Bertrand Piccard, who on March 1, 1999 departed from Château-d’Oex to become the first people to circumnavigate the world in a hot-air balloon without stopping, a feat that took 15 days.
Another culinary delight involves travel by train, in this case the Chocolate Train, a trip that lets travellers enjoy the stunning Vaud scenery. Running from early May to late September, this adventure begins with a train trip aboard a Belle Epoque carriage from Montreux to Montbovon, transferring to a luxury bus.
The first stop is the medieval town of Gruyères, with cobblestone streets and ancient ramparts, and for which the famous creamy, nutty cheese is named. Here, you will be able to watch how the cheese is produced at La Maison du Gruyère cheese factory before setting off to explore the village. The journey continues on to Broc, where the Maison Cailler chocolate factory is an interactive, multi-sensory exploration into the history of the intoxicating, irresistible world of chocolate. To sweeten the experience, the visit ends with a chocolate tasting.
Hike through an alpine garden at Les Rochers-de-Naye in Montreux
The scenery is the real star of another train escape to the mountain Les Rochers-de-Naye, where the 55-minute rack-train ride — a toothed rail system used for steeply inclined sections of track — promises jaw-dropping views across the Alps and Lake Geneva as it departs from Montreux.
The mountains top out at 2,000 metres above sea level, and while they are primed for skiing and winter sports in the colder seasons, summer makes them a perfect location for hiking and exploration. A natural attraction at Les Rochers-de-Naye is La Rambertia, a striking alpine garden filled with mountain plants. Here, wanderers will encounter 1,000 alpine species including two types of the Swiss mountain flower Edelweiss and 600 other local varieties.
For those that want to venture further, the Via Alpina is an iconic Swiss long-distance hiking route with 20 daily stages through the Alps of northern Switzerland, and highlights that include 14 Alpine passes, a wide range of alpine culture, flora and fauna, and countless postcard-worthy views.
Bike rides through undulating landscapes, vertiginous mountain passes, rolling vineyards, and verdant countrysides when in the Vaud region
To get the heart pumping even faster, take to two wheels. Vaud boasts a variety of landscapes to suit cyclists of any level, with rides taking in undulating landscapes, calming lakes, vertiginous mountain passes, rolling vineyards, and verdant countrysides. Vaud is a preferred region for SwitzerlandMobility, an app that helps to coordinate outdoor activity with public transport options, and most sports shops in the region offer e-bikes for hire, making wheeled adventures available to all.
Bike routes start at the 11-kilometre Lac de Mayen route that loops along forest paths and across meadows, past refreshment stalls that sell home-made tarts and spots by the lake where marmots and ibex live. The ultimate feat is the 665-kilometre Alpine Bike 001 trip, and there is no better way to experience the country’s beauty than biking through the Alps on this technically challenging 16-day journey that will test your fitness as it traverses old Roman trails, forest and alpine roads, high-mountain passes, remote valleys, and unsurfaced roads where the sound of cowbells and scent of hay and meadow flowers are your companions.
A shorter option is Le Classique, a 66-kilometre circuit with two mountain passes, the Pillon and Mosses, and breathtaking landscapes. Starting in the villages of the Pays-d’Enhaut, the tour passes through the Gruyère-Pays-d’Enhaut Regional Nature Park, with peaks over 2,000 metres to the right and left. From the village of Les Granges, the craggy peak of Gummfluh comes into view, while at Rougemont the landmark is the 2,285 metre Rübli.
For a break from the ride, visitors can wander the streets of Rougement, with its centuries-old chalets and spectacular church and monastery built by the monks of Cluny. The ride continues on through the Saanenland in the canton of Bern, through the villages of Saanen, Gstaad, Feutersoey, and Gsteig before returning to Vaud. From here, the only way is up, with an ascent through forest to the summit of Pillon (the starting point of the Glacier 3000 cable car), a refreshingly cool stop in summer. The descent from the summit of 1540 metres leads to the village of Les Diablerets and then up to the second pass, to the Col des Mosses with a 400m climb. As the end of the trip nears, stop at the village of Etivaz, a hamlet where the famous alpine cheese L’Etivaz AOP is made.
Mountain bikers will find their nirvana at the Downhill Bikepark, which features a descent from the foot of Tour d’Aï to the village of Leysin, a 700-metre drop with bends and ramp jumps. Different tracks come with differing scalabilities, and the natural makeup of Leysin’s mountain terrain allows it to be tackled in multiple disciplines — cross-country, descent, enduro and dirt biking — that are all guaranteed to get the adrenalin going.
More calming is the e-bike fun in Lavaux, an 830-hectare swathe of terraced vineyards that unfurl for 30 kilometres along Lake Geneva. This bucolic, serene e-bike tour is led by a certified Lavaux World Heritage guide, and the package comes with the rental of an e-bike, helmet, safety vest and lockers, the services of the guide, and a rousing finale with a bottle of Chasselas wine served in flutes. Add-ons include a gourmet picnic basket in the heart of the vineyards and the tasting of local wines accompanied by local cheese, bread, and charcuterie.
And at the end of it all, when travellers need some well-deserved down time, they can stay at a resort synonymous with relaxation and vitality. The Grand Hotel des Bains is linked to renowned spa of Yverdon-les-Bains by a glass tunnel, and a sense of well-being has prevailed here since the eighteenth century, with access to the hot springs, four pools, jacuzzis, and Turkish baths. The architecture reflects the Belle Epoque style, with a striking rotunda that dates to 1896 and 115 elegant rooms that are as breathtaking as Vaud’s resplendent outdoors. ◼
© This article was first published online in July 2022 – World Travel Magazine.