Winter in Switzerland – the dream
Having grown up on a staple of Bollywood leading pairs frolicking in idyllic alpine landscapes, I’d be lying if I say Europe in general and Switzerland, in particular, wasn’t high on my travel wish list. I’m sure for most of us 80s kids, our first visual introduction to snow wasn’t the slopes of Manali or Gulmarg but the mountains of Switzerland instead – imagine a winter in Switzerland! But when I started travelling as an adult, I quickly came to comprehend my non-negotiable travel preferences – unexplored and uncrowded. With Switzerland unfortunately, a bitter combination of the two in the form of a generation of Indian tourists inspired by Yash Chopra’s unrelenting devotion to this iconic alpine wonderland became the death knell to my dreams of ever visiting there.
And so Switzerland slowly slipped from my radar as I happily explored other mountains and meadows. But like an itch that we need to scratch, Switzerland had to be visited once and I found a rather simple solution one fine winter. Switzerland may be a sought-after summer destination but as a nature lover who is also a solitude seeker, a winter visit turned out to be just the thing I was looking for. I had no idea how Swiss winters would be or how the green meadows would transform or what the locals did in the freezing winters.
Journey into Swiss Winter Wonderland
One white January, I landed in Zurich and made my way past the idyllic scenery towards Interlaken. With the gorgeous peaks of Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau looming above the pretty town, a sleepy and deserted Interlaken welcomed me in the early hours of the day. By afternoon I had polished off a whole plate of Rösti, dipped several pieces of bread into fondue and had rented warm gear – all set for my Swiss adventure.
Grindelwald – the fairytale escape
My first excursion was to the fairy tale world of Grindelwald First, a popular summer destination for surreal alpine views and light hiking adventures. In the winter though, the slopes were as empty as if I were in a small village with a half decent population. I was thrilled that I didn’t have to jostle with hundreds of tourists for a view of iconic Eiger’s north face. Walking on the newly opened Tissot Cliff Walk, I looked into the Grindelwald valley with Swiss Chalets seeming like gingerbread houses buried under tons of snow. Paragliders hovered in the valley surrounded by soaring snow-covered mountains and the locals happily skied down the empty slopes. I was content at having indulged in a meek adventure of zip-lining and then digging into my heavy lunch at the only restaurant up there, ”Restaurant First”, overlooking the gorgeous mountains while soaking up the warm sun on a winter afternoon.
Finding solace at Interlaken
Later that evening, I went for a leisurely walk around Interlaken’s Schlosskirche, a 12th-century monastery converted to a castle church with beautiful stained glass windows in the 18th century. Walking further along, I reached Schlosspark, a vast open ground where paragliders taking off from Harderklum land. Sun was just setting and the ground was largely empty with few kids running around over the snow-covered pasture. A brazen cold was seeping in at equal pace as the sun was hiding behind the towering mountains. But in that moment of absolute banality, I found my most enduring Swiss memory. Travel has never been about sightseeing to me, it was always about peeking into the lives of others in strange lands, far away and unfamiliar to me.
Flying high at the Top of Europe – Jungfraujoch
The next morning, I braved freezing winds at Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe to take in views of gigantic Aletsch Glacier, the largest glacier in the Alps. Later that afternoon, I tobogganed down the slopes of Eiger like a child, careening dangerously over the 4-km ice track steering with my hands and body, and braking with nothing but my legs on a barebones sled. Tobogganing apparently is one of the most fun winter activities in the region. I can confirm; it was indeed incredibly fun to lose control and give in to the speed. That evening a bunch of us gathered inside a vast makeshift Igloo restaurant to chug down unending glasses of warm Glühwein along with unending fondue for dinner.
Winter in Switzerland – a reflection
When I arrived in Switzerland for my winter trip, I had no idea I’d not only see beautiful frozen landscapes but also get a glimpse of quintessential European winter life. My idea of surviving snowy winter didn’t extend beyond warm quilts, hot cups of tea and views from windowsills despite being an outdoor buff. But the Swiss taught me there’s no weather or reason that warrants self-imposed travel bans, and to never write off a gorgeous country because it was too crowded. All I had to do was to find a “jugaad”. Thankfully for me, us Indians are experts at it!