8 fantastic reasons to visit French-speaking Switzerland
Caroline Bishop · 31 May 2016, 12:06
Published: 31 May 2016 12:06 GMT+02:00
Updated: 31 May 2016 12:06 GMT+02:00
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1. Record-breaking lakes
Lac St Léonard. Photo: The Local
Not only does French-speaking Switzerland have Western Europe’s largest lake (Lac Léman), and the country's largest high altitude lake (Lac de Joux in the Jura) but it also has Europe’s biggest underground lake. Near Sion in the Valais, the 300m-long Lac St Léonard is essentially a cave filled with 24 million litres of water fed through the rock walls. It’s been open to tourists since 1949. Visitors can take an eerie boat ride to see the fish swimming in the crystal-clear water, or even watch an evening concert on the water. www.lac-souterrain.com/
2 The historic ‘bisses’
The bisse du Torrent-Neuf. Photo: The Local
Unique to the canton of Valais, the bisses are irrigation channels dating back to the 14th century. Built to irrigate the vineyards and meadows, many are now restored and make fantastic hiking paths. Relatively flat but often vertiginous, they meander through vineyards and forests and along cliff edges, with incredible views. Yes, parts of the Valais are German-speaking, but the most spectacular bisses (in our opinion) are to be found around French-speaking Nendaz, Verbier and Crans-Montana. www.les-bisses-du-valais.ch
3. The world’s only peak-to-peak suspension bridge
Photo: Glacier 3000
Opened in 2014, the Peak Walk at Glacier 3000, near Les Diablerets, is the only suspension bridge in the world to connect two mountain peaks. The views from its 107m length are stupendous (if the weather’s clear), looking out over the magnificent Vaud Alps in all their glory. Entrance is free. www.glacier3000.ch
4. Europe’s best city break destination
Photo: Geneva Tourism/Olivier Miche
Things are looking up for Geneva. Boring and expensive? Not so! The largest city in French-speaking Switzerland is currently ‘Europe’s leading city break destination’, an accolade dished out by the so-called tourism Oscars that the city of Calvin has won two years in a row.
5. Switzerland’s ‘grand canyon’
Photo: The Local
Its nickname may indicate delusions of grandeur, but the Creux-du-Van in the Swiss Jura is certainly a spectacle – the view from the top of the one kilometre diameter natural amphitheatre is beautiful. Down below, its forested depths contain a natural spring where absinthe drinkers used to gather to ‘trouble’ the potent liquid during the century it was banned (absinthe was invented nearby). It’s a fair hike to get to the top of the canyon from Noiraigue, or you can cheat and drive up.
6. Switzerland’s biggest cathedral
Photo: Lucia Degonda/Swiss Tourism
Built in the middle ages, Lausanne’s Gothic-style cathedral is the largest in the country and once an important place of pilgrimage. These days people come to climb its bell tower, see its beautiful rose window – considered one of the most important in Europe – and take in the view of the city from its perch in Lausanne’s medieval Cité.
7. Switzerland’s largest wine producing region
The Unesco-protected vineyards of Lavaux. Photo: The Local
The cantons of Valais, Vaud and Geneva are the three biggest wine-producing regions in Switzerland, with white chasselas and red pinot noir being the most produced grape varieties. Strung along the shores of Lake Geneva and east through the Valais towards Sierre, the vineyards are a wonderfully scenic place to hike and picnic, stopping for a dégustation (tasting) as you go. Among the region’s many annual wine festivals, September’s fête des vendanges in Lutry is a blast.
8. The world’s tallest gravity dam
Photo: Grande Dixence SA / essencedesign.com
At 285 metres, the Grande-Dixence dam in the Val d’Hérémence is the tallest gravity dam in the world and holds back 400 million cubic litres of water. Visitors can appreciate its impressive size on a guided tour of the dam in the summer months, and take a cable car up to the dam crest for a 360 degree view. It’s also the starting point for some beautiful hikes. www.grande-dixence.ch