Switzerland may be known for its winter-wonderland mountainscapes and world-class skiing from November through March, but this Alpine paradise is a captivating destination all year long. In summer, the high-altitude towns and trails offer a respite from the scorching temperatures and tourist throngs of seaside destinations, while fall ushers in a spectacular technicolor show of autumnal foliage and cobalt skies.
Spring, on the other hand, is a time of reawakening in Switzerland as the winter chill eases, the days stretch longer into the evening, and mountain passes snowed over for months open up to travelers again. If you’re looking for a scenic escape between April and June, here are some of the top spring attractions and sights to lure you to Switzerland.
As a largely Alpine nation, Switzerland has historically marked the end of the challenging winter months with a number of celebratory spring festivals. The most famous has taken place for the past 500 years in Zurich, where locals flock to the city to celebrate Sechseläuten. This huge spring festival included parades, period costumes, and marching bands in the streets, culminating in the burning of a giant Böögg (snowman figure). In other towns, spring is feted with processions of children donning floral crowns to honor that year’s May King and Queen or with a traditional Eierläset (egg race) with competitors representing winter or spring race to fill a basket with eggs.
The countryside near Montreux is blanketed with daffodils (also known as narcissus) and the annual flowering is a magnet for photographers and nature enthusiasts. With the Alps towering on the horizon, these meadows become so blanketed with white flowers that they have become known as the “May snow”. These wildflowers are becoming harder to spot due to the use of agricultural herbicides in the surrounding farmland, but local conservation groups are making moves to save this spectacular annual sight.
Summer is the peak season for Switzerland’s scenic train routes, but you can also enjoy beautiful vistas in the later weeks of spring. The UNESCO-listed Bernina Express, which crosses 196 bridges and passes through 55 tunnels on its way over the Bernina Pass between Tirano in Italy and Chur in Switzerland, is one of the most spectacular rail journeys in Europe. The Glacier Express between Zermatt and St. Moritz passes across gorges, over glaciers, and above river valleys, making it another unforgettably scenic train ride.
Each spring, Switzerland’s wineries throw open their doors for the annual Caves Ouvertes, or “open cellars”, festival. These all-you-can-drink wine tastings are a great way to sample the country’s little-known wines and explore the UNESCO-listed wine country of Lavaux on the northern shores of Lake Geneva. Just purchase a glass and taste the local Chasselas white and other area wines. If you don’t try them here, you may not have another chance as Switzerland exports less than 5% of its annual production.
Switzerland’s high-altitude hiking season doesn’t kick off in earnest until the beginning of summer, but there are breathtaking trails that can be explored in the valleys and lower mountain slopes earlier in the year. Consider a hike to the dazzling Aare Gorge or to the Trummelbach Falls; the trails to both open in April. Keep in mind that even though many trails are open come spring, the weather can still be very unpredictable. Be sure to check the forecast before hitting striking out into the mountains.
Usher in Spring in Ticino
The southern canton of Ticino sits right on the Italian border and boasts a mild microclimate that makes it one of the first corners of the country to enjoy rising temperatures and days of sunshine. With its unique mix of Mediterranean and Alpine influences, Ticino is a fascinating destination all year round, but it’s particularly beautiful in spring when colorful azaleas, magnolias, and camellias bloom around Lake Maggiore.
If you want to stretch your ski season to the max, you can head to Switzerland’s high-altitude resorts like Zermatt and Verbier that offer skiing late into the spring (or, when the weather cooperates, all year long). Most lower altitude Swiss resorts close down when winter draws to a close, which seems to be coming earlier every year, but the colder climes near the mountain peaks have open runs as late as May. That said, be sure to check snow conditions ahead of time to avoid disappointment.