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17 experiences to tick off your Swiss bucket list in 2017

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17 experiences to tick off your Swiss bucket list in 2017
Hiking a mountain pass: just one of your 17 for 17. Photo: Caroline Bishop
09:58 CET+01:00
With its incredible scenery, unique customs and festivities and active lifestyle, there's always something new to do in Switzerland. Make the most of your life here by trying one of these 17 experiences for 2017.
1. Travel through the new Gotthard Base Tunnel
 
Photo: Markus Huwyler/Swiss Image
 
Newly open to passenger trains after 17 years of construction, this 57km rail tunnel is the longest and deepest in the world. Be one of the first to try it out by jumping on a fast train from Lucerne or Zurich to Lugano. You can even book a cab-view ride through the tunnel with SBB. If you’re not in a hurry, mix things up on the way back by taking the old high alpine train route, built back in 1882.
 
2. Build an igloo (and sleep in it)
 
Photo: Christof Sonderegger/Swiss Image
 
Try your hand at igloo building at the 6th annual Igloo Festival at Engstligenalp near Adelboden from March 18th-19th. Judges award marks for “creativity, beauty, safety and functionality”. If you think you’ve got what it takes, get doodling a design and sign up to take part before March 3rd.
 
If that sounds like far too much hard work, sleep in a ready-made igloo instead by booking a night in one of IgluDorf’s seasonal hotels in places including Zermatt and Gstaad. Some ‘igloo suites’ even have a private Jacuzzi to help you keep warm. 
 
3. Learn to ski 
 
Photo: Christian Perret/Swiss Image
 
You can’t live in Switzerland and not try skiing – at least once. There are numerous resorts across the country that are perfect for beginners, including Villars, Saas-Fee and Crans-Montana, and plenty of ski schools with English-speaking instructors. And if you decide skiing’s simply not for you, just spend the rest of your day at a mountain bar, soaking up the sublime views with a hot chocolate in hand. What’s not to like about that?
 
4. Toboggan down a mountain
 
Photo: Christof Sonderegger/Swiss Image
 
Switzerland’s fabulous toboggan runs are a real rush. Test out your skills in Les Diablerets in the Vaud Alps, where a 7km run is open during the day and after dark on selected evenings. When you’ve honed your steering skills, head to Grindelwald in the Bernese Oberland to try the country’s longest sledge run, a thrilling 15km track from the top of the Faulhorn. You could even do it on a velogemel – Grindelwald’s very own bike-sledges. 
 
5. Go to carnival 
 
Photo: Christof Sonderegger/Swiss Image
 
The Swiss love a carnival, and Basel’s Fasnacht is one of the oldest, biggest and best, complete with parades, musical bands and glorious costumes they’ve spent all year making. You’ve got to have stamina though – it starts at 4am on March 6th and is pretty much one non-stop party until 4am on the morning of March 9th. No wonder this epic festival is vying for a place on Unesco’s ‘tangible heritage’ list.
 
6. Watch the burning of the Böögg
 
Photo: Agi Simeos/Zurich Tourism
 
Head to Zurich on the third Monday in April for the Sechseläuten, one of Switzerland’s quirkiest events. A spring festival dating back to the Middle Ages, the highlight is the burning of the Böögg, a snowman effigy symbolising winter, which is placed on a bonfire and set alight. According to myth, the quicker his head explodes, the better a summer Switzerland is likely to have. So there are big cheers all round if the poor Böögg doesn’t last too long.
 
7. Go winetasting in the Lavaux
 
Photo: Jan Geerk/Swiss Image
 
If you’re new to Switzerland you may not know much about its long wine heritage. Rectify this on a visit to the Unesco-protected Lavaux vineyards between Montreux and Lausanne, which date from the 12th century. Best of all, visit on the annual caves ouvertes (open cellars) weekend, when you can sample local wines on a potter through the terraced vineyards in the May sunshine. 
 
8. Hike over a mountain pass 
 
Photo: Caroline Bishop
 
Before cable cars and cogwheel railways, the only way over the mountains was to walk. Experiencing one of the classic Swiss routes, such as the historic Gemmi pass, is must. From Leukerbad take the steep trail up to the pass (or you can cheat and get the cable car), and then follow the mildly undulating path through stunning landscape for around two to three hours until Sunnbüel, from where you can catch a cable car down to Kandersteg. This popular route is made more convivial by the presence of a mountain hotel half way along the trail, where you can stop for a hearty lunch before continuing on your way.
 
9. Gawp at Europe’s longest glacier
 
Photo: Caroline Bishop
 
One of Switzerland’s Unesco-protected treasures, the Aletsch glacier is Europe’s longest iceflow, at 23km. Prepare for your mouth to drop open on seeing this mighty natural phenomenon for the first time, whether on a hike in summer or skiing in winter. Access it by cable car from Betten, Mörel or Fiesch in the canton of Valais. 
 
10. Stay overnight in a Swiss Alpine Club cabin
 
Photo: Caroline Bishop
 
Hiking and Switzerland go together like tea and cake. And there’s no better way to experience the country’s hiking culture than by spending a night in a mountain cabin run by the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC). Usually located in remote places that take some effort to get to, they reward you with incredible views, a hot meal and a friendly atmosphere. Just don’t expect all mod-cons. Here are just a few of the many SAC cabins you can visit in summer.
 
11. Enjoy western Europe’s largest lake
 
Photo: Christof Sonderegger/Swiss Image
 
Switzerland may have many lakes, but at 580km2 Lac Léman – or Lake Geneva – has the most epic proportions and is a real focal point of life in western Switzerland. In summer there are many lovely swimming spots to choose from, such as the sandy beach at Préverenges, or the pretty shoreline at Lutry. Or take a boat trip around to lake, to the beautiful Château Chillon (pictured), or across to Evian or Yvoire in France.
 
12. Visit St Gallen abbey
 
Photo: Christof Schuerpf/Swiss Image
 
Another of Switzerland’s Unesco highlights is the abbey precinct in St Gallen, once one of the most important cultural centres in Europe. The cathedral dates from the 8th century and the stunning baroque abbey library, with its 170,000 books, is a real architectural and literary treasure.
 
13. Take a boat to the Rhine falls
 
Photo: Beat Muller/Swiss Image
 
Head to Neuhausen am Rheinfall near Schaffhausen to visit Europe’s highest waterfall, where the river Rhine barrels over a 23m drop. Take a river cruise up to the falls, hike up to the viewing platforms or visit at night to see the illuminations. 
 
14. Get into yodelling
 
Photo: Jodlerfest
 
Embrace a classic Swiss tradition by visiting this year’s National Yodelling Festival in Brig, from June 22nd-25th. Held once every three years for the past 30 years, the festival offers the a chance to hear the best yodellers in the country, watch a parade of yodellers in traditional dress, join in the general merriment and perhaps even get inspired to try a spot of yodelling yourself...  
 
15. Travel on the Rhaetian railway  
 
Photo: Renato Bagattini/Swiss Image
 
A triumph of 19th century engineering, this Unesco-protected railway travels through the alpine landscape of Graubünden using numerous viaducts and tunnels to negotiate its way past mountains and glaciers. No wonder it’s considered one of the most beautiful railway lines in the world. 
 
16. Watch the cows come down from the mountains
 
Photo: Caroline Bishop
 
Cows are important in Switzerland. Every year the hard work put in by our bovine friends over the summer months is celebrated as they come down from the alpine pastures to spend the winter in the valley farms. These autumn festivals provide locals and visitors with the opportunity to eat cheese, drink Swiss wine and have a party while watching cows adorned with floral headdresses and decorative bells make their way home. One of the best is held in the village of Charmey in the Fribourg prealps, in late September. 
 
17. Visit Bern’s Onion market
 
Photo: Caroline Bishop
 
A highlight of the Swiss capital’s calendar is the Zibelemarit, or Onion Market, held on the fourth Monday in November, when veg growers from the region come into town to sell 50 tons of onions and garlic presented in pretty braided strings. Dating back to the 15th century, this festival has become an excuse to eat, drink and be merry – all with an onion theme. Join the locals in getting up early (it starts at 5am) to tuck into onion soup and onion tart, drink Glühwein and throw confetti at each other.
 

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