Once the ski season is put on ice, this unexpected summer holiday destination quietly comes into its own.
Oft overlooked by beach goers flocking to the shores of the Mediterranean, Switzerland has too long been left off the list of European sun-seekers. Before skiing started to dictate its seasons, travellers used to visit exclusively during the summer – and for good reason. With all the space and serenity that its more popular neighbours sometimes lack, the Swiss Alps become a natural playground of wild meadows, verdant valleys with crystal clear lakes, and rustic mountain villages brimming with down-to-earth folk traditions.
Long before entering the realm of Harry Potter – and before it became a James Bond film set – Grindelwald was known as the quintessential Alpine village. In winter it’s criss-crossed with ski runs and gondolas, before transforming into hiking territory each spring. And though small, it boasts a dramatic setting set below the commanding north face of the Eiger – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For a cloud level hike, the First Cliff Walk brings you to the summit of Grindelwald’s Schwarzhorn mountain. Viewing platforms look over the void for incredible photo opportunities, and on a clear day you’ll see a waterfall dropping into the valley.
Soak up some Swiss sunshine beside the Fire & Ice outdoor pool at Bergwelt Grindelwald – Alpine Design Resort.
Where to stay: With the Swiss Alps as its backdrop and the Fire & Ice spa taking wellness to new heights, every element of Bergwelt Grindelwald – Alpine Design Resort stirs the senses. Opening this month with a set of beautifully-crafted rooms and suites designed to complement the awe-inspiring landscape outside, this high altitude hotel is luxury at its zenith.
What to do: For a bird’s eye view of the mountains and valleys, Bergwelt Grindelwald can arrange sunny trips on ‘First Flieger’ – an exhilarating zipline – as well as mountain carts (a go-kart sledge hybrid) and ‘Trottibikes’, for family-friendly fun. There are also sommelier-led wine and Rügen tastings on offer, as well as cooking classes with the resident chef. You could even go foraging first, searching for mountain herbs and wild ingredients.
Left: Gstaad’s Mirage House by Doug Aitken. Right: The sweeping Saanenland Region in summer.
Shrugging off its glitzy winter ski coat, a summer visit to this exclusive resort will put you in the heart of the Alps, with picturesque chalets and plenty of high-end shopping on its world-famous Promenade. With over 300km of nature trails to explore, hiking in Gstaad in second to none, including a number of themed routes for families and groups to enjoy. The famous Lauenensee and panoramic loop around Hundsrügg and Rellerli are filled with scenic stop-off points for both mountain bikers and hikers alike.
Wake up to sun-soaked Alpine views from the Panorama Suite at Le Grand Bellevue.
Where to stay: Enjoying a central location on The Promenade, Le Grand Bellevue benefits from all the local amenities of Gstaad town. With a Michelin-starred restaurant, Art Deco bar, and 3,000 square-metre spa, there are plenty of reasons to stay inside at this early 20th-century grand dame as much as enjoy the great outdoors.
What to do: Tuck into a freshly prepared picnic in the private gardens at Le Grand Bellevue, under the shade of tall ancient trees. For something a little more active, the lawn can be used for outdoor games like croquet and even yoga classes. The mirror-clad Mirage House by American artist Doug Aitken is also well worth a visit – you can freely explore the striking structure, which has an open door.
Far more than a skiing hotspot, Verbier hosts an acclaimed classical music festival during the summer along with the thrilling Grand Raid Cristalp mountain biking competition. This well-positioned village has something to suit all tastes in the warmer weather, from high-altitude bars overlooking some spectacular scenery to miles of hiking and mountain bike trails through the surrounding mountainscape.
Where to stay: A short walk from the heart of the village, Cordée des Alpes Hotel has been thoughtfully designed to integrate with the surrounding alpine architecture. Cool off in the hotel’s 15-metre pool after enjoying one of the numerous nearby walks through forests and meadows.
What to do: With breathtaking views of the Alps and the Mont-Blanc and Combins massifs, Verbier is the perfect playground for paragliding. And for horseback rides in the heart of the mountains, The Verbier Equestrian Centre is open throughout the summer season.
Home to the iconic Matterhorn (you know, the mountain on the Toblerone bar) Europe’s highest altitude ski resort melts into a world of colourful wildflowers and luscious pastureland. During the summer months, the mountains surrounding Zermatt’s Gorner Glacier are still snowed under, though keen hikers can get up close to some of the glaciers that carved this epic landscape by taking the Matterhorn Glacier Trail.
Bathe in Valais Alps views from the 4.5 Suite at Hotel Firefly.
Where to stay: With two stylish options at the foot of the mighty Matterhorn, you’ll be spoilt for choice when deciding where to relax after a day in the mountains. Hotel Schweizerhof has an authentic Swiss chalet air about it (not to mention an indoor pool and Jacuzzi) and the family-owned, all-suite Hotel Firefly is surrounded by stunning views of the soaring peaks of the Valais Alps.
What to do: Surrounded by 38 mountain peaks at over 4,000 metres, Zermatt is the mountain bike paradise at the foot of the Matterhorn. The crystal clear waters of Zermatt’s lakes are also the ideal spot for some lake bathing, water skiing, and fly fishing.
Set high on a plateau above the Rhone Valley, Crans-Montana is a centre for outdoor adventure all year round. Together, these twin-resorts form a modern mountain town where you’ll find rustic inns and fine dining restaurants, and designer boutiques, all surrounded by panoramic views across the Valais Alps. From Rhone valley orchards and vineyards to high mountain pastures, the Valais Alps are brimming with local specialities for foodies – including distinctive salted, dry-cured beef – delicious with regional cheese such as the famous Raclette.
La Terrasse Valaisanne is the true heart of Crans Ambassador, a gourmet restaurant with one of the most beautiful viewpoints in the Valais.
Where to stay: With sublime mountain views at every turn, Crans Ambassador is a contemporary chalet which immerses guests in the surrounding natural beauty. With a gourmet restaurant, and traditional wine cellar serving up rustic Alpine dishes, there’s plenty of opportunity to indulge after working up an appetite in the hotel’s on-site Performance Lab.
What to do: When the meadows are green and the weather warm, seek out mountain-biking routes or head off on guided rock-climbing or trail-running excursions. Return to Crans Ambassador to sip a well-earned drink at Terrasse Valaisanne – with seats around an open fire, and mountain views.
Open meadows and shaded woodland, chalet-sprinkled valleys and the tinkling bells of horse-drawn carriages, St. Moritz is as magical in the summer as it is in winter. Thanks to the legendary Maloja wind, St. Moritz’s lakes draw a water-sports crowd in the summer for kitesurfing, windsurfing, and sailing regattas. These alpine oases are also wonderful for wild swimming.
St. Moritz is renowned for its spas as well as its slopes – treatments here often make use of local Alpine herbs and the natural springs.
Where to stay: An atmosphere of understated elegance awaits at The Crystal Hotel, which makes for a refreshing contrast to the glamorous reputation of St. Moritz. Indulge in some post-hike pampering with a nourishing Crystal salt body scrub in the spa followed by an anti-stress massage with essential oils.
What to do: For a different perspective on the mountains, take to the skies and leap from the tip of Corviglia on a hang-glider. The views as you soar are breathtaking. For something a touch more romantic, charter a horse-drawn carriage for a tranquil trot along St. Moritz Lake.