Jun 15, 2018
Switzerland may have a global reputation for cheese, chocolate and neutrality but in addition to its cobbled streets and calm politics, there is a wealth of unique experiences that you might not expect. Here are six of the most surprising.
Abbey Library, St. Gallen
As one of the oldest surviving libraries in Europe, this whimsical collection shows its age in the best way. Tucked into the north-east corner of Switzerland, the Baroque-Rococo style library was founded in the mid-18th century but evidence of a library on the same site dates back as far as 820 CE. The walls, therefore, are unbelievably rich in its history, considering they hold around 12 centuries worth of careful collecting.
Art Basel, Basel
This celebrated art festival has three global outlets (Miami and Hong Kong also play host) but Basel, in Switzerland’s north-west, was its first home. A gathering of some 4000 artists from almost 300 of the world’s top galleries, Art Basel creates a palpable buzz around contemporary and modern art creations from both established and emerging artists. The festival, that has an Associate Partner in luxury watch brand Audemars Piguet, also includes a packed program of art-focused talks, forums and film screenings for true aficionados.
Hammetschwand Elevator, Ennetbürgen
There’s no shortage of vantage points to appreciate snow-dusted mountains across Switzerland but this particular spot isn’t like the others. The Hammetschwand Elevator is the tallest outdoor elevator in Europe, ascending the rocky Mt. Bürgenstock 1127 metres above sea level in less than a minute. If you think the view is impressive, consider the structure’s staying power: built around the turn of the 20th century, it’s stood through two world wars. It’s also since had a conversion from its original wooden frame to steel so those with height qualms will appreciate its stable refurb.
H.R. Giger Museum, Gruyères
Certainly, you should sample the town’s namesake cheese (La Maison du Gruyères should do the trick) but behind the city’s quaint, cobbled streets is a fascinatingly sinister museum offering. Spot the extraterrestrial perched on the museum exterior and you’ve uncovered the H.R. Giger Museum – a museum created and curated by the brains behind the figures that populated the chilling and visceral Alien film franchise. Inside, the lair-like interior is purposefully dim and uninviting, with the best of the surrealist artist’s works evoking a wildly unsettling atmosphere quite apart from the charming host town.
UNESCO-listed vineyards, Lavaux
Less than two per cent of Swiss wine is exported which goes a little way to explaining why the mountainous nation isn’t internationally renowned for plonk. That doesn’t dim its impressive standing in the wine world however: there are over 200 types of vines twisting their way around the country, with 40 representing ancient indigenous varietals. The impossibly green terraces of Lavaux, rising majestically from the shores of the mirrored Lake Geneva, produce such delicious drops of Chasselas that the almost 2000 hectares have been protected by UNESCO since.
Certainly Switzerland is flush with green meadows and dense forests but one of its major cities also lays claim to one of the world’s largest and most significant collection of succulents. In fact, The Zurich Succulent Plant Collection, opened in 1931, features over 6000 different species, including the rare and fascinating selenicereus grandiflorus, or the ‘Queen of the Night,’ that fleetingly blooms its flowers on one night every year during the summer.
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