Switzerland. Just the name conjures up images of dramatic mountains, sparkling lakes, charming towns and yes, cheese and chocolate. Of course there’s a whole lot more to this beautiful country than clichés, but when in Switzerland you’d be crazy to miss out on some of the things they’re known around the world for.
Having never been to Switzerland I decided to start my last European vacation by flying into Zurich and taking a few days to explore. As it was only going to be a short visit I wanted to take time to enjoy the charms of the city, but I also really wanted to see some of the countryside.
When I saw there was a full day “Switzerland Mountains, Cheese and Chocolate Tour” on Viator my eyes lit up. This was just what I needed. A whole day out exploring what lay beyond the city with cheese and chocolate in the mix? We had a winner.
The tour started at a decent holiday hour of 10.15am and promised to return us just over eight and a half hours later at 7pm so we could still have the evening in Zurich. To throw another cliché in the mix I’m happy to report that our driver kept to Swiss time and delivered on that promise.
As this was a small group tour, with a maximum of 16 people, our driver was also our guide, and managed to teach us about Switzerland’s history, culture, traditions, political system and more in between pointing out places of interest along the way. Just as important, he also knew when to be quiet so we could relax and absorb everything around us.
First stop on the tour was the Lindt Factory Outlet. Magic words to a chocolate lover.
While tourists can sadly no longer go into the actual Lindt factory to watch the chocolates they love being made due to health regulations, the factory outlet is the next best thing.
As you can imagine the store was filled with more kinds of Lindt chocolate than you could usually find under one roof, and at discounted prices. If this had been the end of my trip around Europe rather than the start a lot of friends would have received some special souvenir chocolate.
Knowing no chocolately goodness would survive weeks of travel until I got home to Sydney I kept myself on a relatively short leash. But there was no way I could leave without some Lindor ball pick and mix, including two flavours that were calling my name, Champagne and Caramel.
After chocolate, it was time for cheese, and we wound our way past the medieval castle in Rapperswil, out through lush green countryside and past colourful painted buildings until we reached the cheese factory in Stein, Appenzell.
Here we were able to watch the famous Appenzeller cheese being made, and try tasting a few of their varieties before heading back to the mini bus where cheese purchases joined chocolate ones in the fridge provided in the back.
It was here that I also realized that I had misunderstood something about the tour. I had assumed there would be a lot of chocolate and cheese to eat along the way, and had a very light breakfast to leave room for all the good / bad stuff.
As it turns out, there was a bowl of small free samples that we could try at the Lindt outlet, and then the cheese samples at Appenzeller, but it wasn’t enough to fill me up. My tummy may have been starting to grumble but the good news was a late lunch was around the corner, or should that be up the mountain, in a 6,000ft high revolving restaurant.
After catching a cable car up up up to the top of Mt Hoher Kasten we had free time to explore the gardens, take in the view, and have a bite to eat in the revolving restaurant.
Thanks to cloud cover at first there was no view to speak of, just white all around us, so I didn’t feel guilty going straight for the food. Then as I finished my beer and Vienna sausage the clouds parted, and I was on top of the world.
I had never seen a view like it before and can only hope to again. As the mountain drops away on all sides it creates a panorama that takes in the Rhine Valley, Austria’s Voralberg region, and much more.
The air is incredibly sweet and fresh, and the sound of bells echoes around us. At first I assume they’re from the cows we saw further down in the valley, but then look over the side of a barrier and there I see five happy goats making music as they eat dinner amongst some wildflowers.
It’s hard to leave this special spot in the sky but there’s one last stop on our tour. The village of Appenzell.
We may have seen some prettily painted buildings in the towns that we passed through during the day, but Appenzell takes that to another level.
The main street is filled with buildings that look like something out of a fairytale, or perhaps the Hollywood set for one. Intricate facades give clues as to the building’s history, with medicinal herbs painted on the pharmacy, and a Hershey Bar on Bazar Hersche as a reminder that this is where Milton Hershey’s family was once found.
We also pay a visit to the square where all elections are still decided by a public show of hands. This is not a town where you can hide your political leanings.
All too soon it’s time to head back to Zurich, but not before I promise myself that one day I’ll come back with friends, get a place to stay and spend some real time getting to know this special part of Switzerland.
But for now I’m happy that I’ve had a taste of the Alps. And of some chocolate and cheese while I was at it.
Amanda Woods travelled on the Switzerland Mountains, Cheese and Chocolate Tour as guest of Viator and stayed in Zurich as a guest of Hotel Ambassador à l’Opéra, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.