Mountain High: 6 Reasons Why Switzerland Is Better In Summer
Forget ski seasons, mountains come into their own in summer.
Last year I headed to The Alpina GStaad in Switzerland, to discover how electric bikes and cars can help you get the most out of a long weekend when you long to be in nature
The hills are alive...with the sounds of cow bells. They ring out like experimental jazz notes down the green valleys as picture postcard pretty cows slowly amble around the slopes of Gstaad.
A town known for it's attraction to the wealthy global elite, there's more to Gstaad than red chino'd bankers and Chanel models.
Forget the winter season, where the town drowns in diamond bling and visit in summer, when the Swiss scenery can be a restorative tonic long weekend that soothes cynical city souls.
6 Reasons Why Switzerland Is Better In Summer
1. Pretty hikes
Yes snow and skiing is amazing but I can’t help thinking that winter visitors to the mountains miss out on all that glorious colour. Criss-crossing Gstaad, there are 300kms of hiking trails that connect Alpine restaurants, forests and gorges.
Arriving at nearby Lauenen for a fairly flat hike on my first day of a long weekend break, the range of shades of green and brown are almost overwhelming. The Swiss canton of Bern is a verdant pasture land of lush fairytale style pine forests, rich wildlife and pretty flower beds.
I set off round the lake with a local guide and within minutes we came across a low baying sound that hovered over the still water.
Tracing it back through a forest trail we discovered a Swiss woman practising her alpine horn, the long curved pipe resting on a tree trunk. Her music was considered a devotion to nature my guide explained, she’s thanking the landscape for looking after her. Forget what you know about the Swiss, there’s a deep respect and love of the dramatic seasons here, it's easy to see how the valley shapes people’s souls.
The rest of the hike was spent spotting birds, flowers and herbs, all of which are lost to sight every winter.
2. Eco-hotels really shine
Switzerland, and Gstaad in general, aren’t short of incredibly luxurious hotels that welcome in the A-listers each year.
The Alpina Gstaad isn’t shy of welcoming the more eco aware A-list - from Richard Branson to Madonna - but despite its obvious pedigree, all its guests are treated like royalty. Different languages flow across the Michelin starred dining room, with waiters switching tongues every 30 seconds, and bottles of Champagne go for eye-watering amounts in the extensive wine cellar.
That aside, the hotel has a real soul that cares about providing a consciously curated, eco-aware setting, that's the perfect base for exploring some of Switzerland's prettiest scenery.
The Alpina Gstaad might look like a five star hotel - and certainly lives up to its guests' expectations - but there's a lot going on behind the scenes to reduce its impact in every direction.
Image Alpine chic meets modern design at this grand Gstaad hotel
The Alpina Gstaad’s owners are also committed to really promoting a more sustainable future, from hosting high level summits on philanthropy to encouraging guests to interact with each other, through a quirky Alpine summer house in the garden where you can arrange to meet fellow travellers for a tea ritual and spot of conversation.
3. Tuck into delicious local produce
The modern European restaurant, Sommet, focuses on seasonal food and delicious vegetarian dishes don’t play second fiddle to Switzerland’s traditional reliance on meat.
With no fresh powder to capture, I lingered over a leisurely breakfast, complete with proper paper newspapers, homemade yoghurts, jams and pastries and fluffy omelettes on the sunny terrace overlooking the hotel’s pristine estate. Oh and I had my own detox juice made to order.
During the summer months the hotel’s bees live on site and make the honey that appears every morning for breakfast.
Local farmers are supported, waste is kept to a minimum and the hotel is phasing out all single use plastic.
4. Bike ready
Forget skis. Leave the snowboards at home. Pick up an electric bike and hit the windy mountain roads via pedal power. From The Alpina Gstaad, I set my sights on a nearby ‘hill’ that the super helpful concierge had recommended, as it had a pretty lake at the top as a reward.
It doesn't take long to whizz through the designer store strewn town of Gstaad with its spendy clientele and be out amongst the bright green fields.
An electric bike is perfect for exploring the long single lane tracks that bend carefully around verdant, perfectly tidy mountain farms and being able to hear the cow bells’ drift on the gentle breeze. Gearing up a steep nearby hill and circumnavigating some hefty cows on the thin path, I was rewarded with the most azure, quiet lake at the top, it felt like discovering a secret portal to a more colourful world.
Having sniffed at them before, I fell in love with the electric bike. It’s like going downhill on skis, except uphill, without all the clobber and no risk of avalanches. (On the downhill straight stretches on the way back to Gstaad I got up to 40 kms an hour.)
What the bike allowed me to do was to spend a half day exploring nearby pretty peaks and tackle steep gradients without having to hike laden down with gear or be out all day. It’s the perfect way to get out into the mountains if you’re on a mini break and want to maximise the time you have.
4. Say cheese
Without all that pesky snow, it’s so much easier to see more of Switzerland, than just the valley you end up booking in.
The medieval hilltop town of Gruyere (yes home of the cheese) is around 30 mins away from Gstaad. All of the cobbled streets lead to the fortress that has stood guard here for hundreds of years.
Nowadays the 13th century chateau has been filled with an assortment of castle appropriate medieval homewares, while the ancient streets are lined with galleries, artisan crafts and even a Tibetan art museum. If you want to do the cheese thing, then La Maison du Gruyere, offers tours. The historic factory receives milk twice a day from 36 nearby farmers and produces 48 wheels of cheese each day.
5. Go electric
It’s not just electric bikes that make the Swiss valleys more interesting, The Alpina Gstaad has an electric car (sponsored by Leonardo Dicaprio’s foundation) that can be borrowed for free by guests who want to do more than just soak up the valley vibes.
With a range of about 100kms it’s enough to get out and explore for a day out, and the hotel will pack up a luxurious picnic for you if you want to spend some time out on the flower covered hills.
6. Forget the mountain and just have me time
Winter holidays generally mean getting up early to hit the slopes, only getting to the sauna and spa after a few hours on the slopes.
Skip all that in summer, pass Go and move straight to the spa. At The Alpina, the Six Senses Spa is a haven of eco-friendly treatments.
Want to go one step further? The Alpina has a Silent Stay programme where on wearing a badge or bracelet, all staff will respect your wish to be quiet and will communicate via written message.
Offset your flights with one of these carbon offsetting programmes.
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