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Holidays to Switzerland Travel Podcast Episode 67 Transcript

May 18, 2024 Last Updated on May 18, 2024

Four seasons in Switzerland – When is the best time to visit?

You can see the full show notes and listen to this episode > here.

Good morning, Birgit. Thank you very much for coming back onto the podcast. It’s been some time actually since you’ve joined us. You were the very first guest on the podcast way back in Episode 2, which is such a long time ago now. Then you also joined us for the 25th episode. Here we are, Episode 67. It’s been a long time, but it’s great to have you back.

Thank you so much, Carolyn. Good morning, everyone. My name is Birgit Weingartner. I’m the marketing and media manager for Switzerland Tourism based in Sydney. We look after the Australian and New Zealand market. It’s so much fun to be back in the podcast, Carolyn. I can’t believe time flies when you’re having fun.

Doesn’t it ever. When you’re promoting Switzerland, it’s only got to be fun, that’s for sure. It’s just about springtime in Switzerland as we’re recording this episode. We’re here today to talk about the four different seasons and I guess the advantages and perhaps some of the disadvantages of traveling during those different seasons. So that for those listeners who are still a bit up in the air about what time of year they will visit Switzerland, hopefully the information that we give them today will help them to decide what’s the best time of the year for them.

Now, as I mentioned, spring is just around the corner in Switzerland, and this is what’s really known as the shoulder season. So it’s before the really busy summer month starts, and it’s also when daylight saving begins. So the days start to become longer, which can be a real advantage when you’re traveling. What are some of the benefits that you think there are for visiting Switzerland during the springtime?

Visiting Switzerland in spring is great if you like the mild temperatures. It’s ideal for hikes or cycling tours in the lower altitudes, or you enjoy the last of the snow on the highest mountain slopes. It’s really a wonderful contrast you can discover during the spring month. You can be lucky. You’ve got the last fresh snow on the mountain peaks and you go for a ski trip one day, but at the same time, you can do beautiful hikes in the lowlands as well.

I guess with spring, obviously, the flowers are starting to bloom too. So when the snow has cleared off the meadows and so on, there’s a lot of wildflowers starting to come out. The cherry blossoms in Zurich, well, in a lots of places in Switzerland. But every year on Instagram, I see these amazing photos of the streets of Zurich lined with the cherry blossoms in full bloom. They just look magnificent.

 Yes, they do absolutely. Central Switzerland, I remember growing up, it’s just beautiful around the Lake of Lucern with all the white. It looks just magnificent. It’s a bit like the purple trees. What are they called in Australia? It’s a bit that season.

In November. In Jacaranda.

Jacaranda, exactly. It’s so beautiful, absolutely. Spring with the lush green paddocks. It’s an amazing season to go and explore the outdoors.

You mentioned that there might still be some late snow on the mountains, and I know that’s probably… Well, it’s not a concern, but sometimes people are asking me, If I go in the spring, am I still going to be able to see any snow? A lot of visitors to Switzerland come from countries where there’s no snow, so seeing it is a real highlight. So obviously in the spring, that’s definitely still a possibility.

Absolutely. We have snow covered mountains all year round. For example, Mount Titlis or the Jungfraujoch where there’s always snow at the top, and it’s possible to snow tube, even during the summer months.

Yeah, excellent. So are there any special festivals or celebrations that you take place in Switzerland in the springtime?

Yes, we do have many customs and festivals all year round. For example, the one where I grew up in Zurich, so it’s close to my heart. In Zurich, we’ve got a winter official ending tradition which is called Sechseläuten, which means that ringing of the six o’clock bells and it’s usually on the third Sunday Monday in April. The custom dates back to the 1818 when a Guild, a trade association was first formed and held night time processions on horseback and it was musical escorts. So it’s a fun tradition. It’s for the whole family. Since 1862, the Sechseläuten has peaked in the burning of the giant Böög. So the Böög is an 80 kilo snowman over three meters tall, which is filled with fireworks and set a light at 6 PM sharp. So when the head of that snowman explodes, it signals the official end of winter.

The tradition has it that the quicker it explodes, the hotter and longer the summer will be. So there are many other spring customs that create a regional spectacle every year. So I would suggest just visit maybe myswitzerland.com and type in customs or festivals, and you get a whole overview of the year, what’s going to be held and where.

Okay, great. Now, I probably should mention that we’re not going to talk about temperatures as such when we go through the seasons because the way the climate is these days, who knows what you’re going to get? Last summer in Switzerland, July was amazingly hot. I was there for the whole month and I don’t think we had one day of rain and the temperatures were really hot, which was probably… If we looked up the average July temperatures, they would have been well above.

So we’re not going to talk about temperatures as such. We’re just going to give people a bit of an indication of the weather they can expect. So moving on from spring into summer. Now, this is one of the most popular times for people to visit Switzerland. What are some of the important things that we should know about visiting Switzerland in summer?

Well, summer can get a little busier, of course, as I just said. Well, what’s not to love about summer, really? We take that into consideration. We have the long daylight hours, as you said in the very beginning, which extends your outdoor experience well into the night. Whether it’s mountain trips, city urban excursions, cycling, swimming in the rivers and lakes, and summer festivals, you can combine everything in one day. A sunset is normally around 9 PM. So you get the whole day and it can pack a lot in. Because Switzerland is a small country you don’t need to travel far to do a lot of different experiences in one day.

That’s right. And as you said, the days are so long, you can just fit so much in and really make the most of your time. It’s a very busy time now in Switzerland, isn’t it? So I think that’s one thing people need to keep in mind that if they’re going to the really popular, particularly the tourist destinations, that there could be queues for activities and cable cars and things like that.

Absolutely, yes. We’ve got that on our home page as well. You can actually check out what the visitor numbers are in certain areas so it’s worth checking the day before or just with the weather. If it’s a beautiful day, you know the mountains are going to be busy in summer.

It’s not only international tourist either, because I know in the summertime, the Swiss just absolutely love to get out into the mountains and you can’t blame them. You’ll find lots of Swiss locals hiking and getting out by the lakes and so on as well. I remember you mentioned to me one other time when we were chatting about it, quite a fun summer tradition in Zurich, the Badis. Can you tell our listeners a bit about that?

Absolutely. We’ve got the Badis, which are local baths, so some are in the rivers. In Zurich, we’ve got about four or five baths in the rivers, and then we’ve got Badis along the lake. So there are just little bath areas, and some have enclosures, they can get changed, some have not. But the really fun part is, they’re all, most of them, they’ve got restaurants in there and in the evenings they all turn into bars.

So during the day, it’s sporty. You get your swim, you have your sunbake, and in the evenings you’ve got your cocktails and you’re just going to hang. Have your feet in the water and you sit there till 10, 11, 12 o’clock at night and enjoy the beautiful temperatures.

Yeah, great. There’s not only the mountains that are calling in summer, but the cities when you can do things like that, too, that sounds like a really fun activity.

Absolutely, or the combination of both.

Yeah. Well, that’s the beauty of Switzerland, isn’t it? Such a compact country, you can include both. What about festivals and special activities and celebrations during the summer months?

You’ll come across Switzerland’s Summer Festival just about everywhere in summer because it’s peak season for the outdoors. There are music festivals in most of the city centers, but also in the mountains and on the lake shores. They’re all over. They all have one thing in common, all take place outdoors and charm everyone who loves summer.

For example, the Montreux Jazz Festival along the Lake of Geneva is a famous one, or the Paléo in Nyon. We’ve got the Blues Balls Festival in Lucern, just to name a few. But either way, Happy World Pride Week, everyone. We also have our Rainbow Festival in Switzerland. The street parade in Zurich, on the second weekend in August is not to be missed. Zurich becomes the capital of colors. 30 love mobiles, eight stages along the route, more than 200 DJs, live performances, as well as culinary nights, a must during the month of August. Absolutely.

Okay. There’s one other big celebration that you didn’t mention there, which is the Swiss National Day.

Oh, yeah. Yeah. How could I forget that one?

Exactly. I was a little bit, very fortunate to be in Zurich last year on the first of August, and it was just fantastic. The atmosphere, everyone was so happy. Well, it actually fell on a Sunday, so it was a weekend anyway, but it was just such a great atmosphere. What are some of the typical things or the typical ways people celebrate Swiss National Day?

Well, we always… I think that’s still the case. Every council has their bonfires somewhere along the lake or in a farm area. We’ve got the fireworks. We have our beautiful Swiss traditional food. We bake our first of August buns. There’s a lot of traditional customs that comes with first of August. Because it’s summer, we normally just have the Swiss barbecues outdoors and celebrate.

Yeah, the great outdoors. It’s great that, as we mentioned before, with the longer days and the warmer weather, it’s just the perfect time to get out and enjoy the beauty of Switzerland. After summer, we move into autumn or fall as our North American listeners know the season. This is a particularly colorful time of year to visit Switzerland. Again, good old Instagram. My feed is always full of beautiful autumn colors in Switzerland. What are your favorite things about autumn in Switzerland?

Look, as I said, I love the spectacular autumn colors. It’s just when you’re up in the mountains, you’ve got the snowcapped mountains in the back and you’ve got the yellow orange green trees at the front and then you’ve got the glacier lake or rivers at the bottom. It’s amazing. It’s so beautiful. I like the warm, balmy evenings still in September, October you get.

And it’s the perfect season to go hiking. And of course, there’s fewer people than you have in summer. The lakes, the lakes are still warm enough to swim, and you can get the occasional first snow in October on the highest mountains. So for me, it’s the perfect combination.

Yeah. Okay, sounds lovely. So I’m guessing there’s, as always, every season, there’s some festivals in autumn, and I know there’s one that everyone wants to see at some point, and that’s when the cattle get brought back down from the mountains. So can you tell our listeners who maybe don’t know about that, tell them a little bit more about that and some of the other festivals that are celebrated during the summer?

Absolutely. So the Alpine Descent always beautiful to watch. The dairy farmers will bring their beautifully decorated herds down from the mountains where they stayed all summer. They take them through the villages where the locals and visitors, of course, greet them and they celebrate normally with farmers markets, with local produce, musical entertainment, and all the culinary delights.

I always get asked about the exact date, which is always hard to tell because that’s up to the farmers and the condition of their up in the mountains. We’ve got a homepage as well on myswitzland.com, or maybe, Carolyn, you’ve got something on your homepage. Just check the dates closer in the season. They’re going to they’re going to put it online. But for us, it’s hard to tell in advance when they actually bring the cattle down.

That’s right. It’s a beautiful tradition. Absolutely beautiful.

That’s right. And often the dates are only announced a week or so in advance.

Don’t they? Yeah, exactly. So it’s normally in September, around there, but check online for the exact date. And of course, we’ve got so many other festivals, but one big one is, of course, the wine festival around the whole country. We’ve got some bigger wine regions like the Lake Geneva region, the Valais and Ticino. But even around Zurich or Bern, we’ve got local wineries that they all have wine festivals in late September, October as well.

Okay, so that definitely sounds like a beautiful time of year to visit. Is there anything that we need to keep in mind before booking an autumn or fall visit to Switzerland?

Yeah. Daylight savings ends the last Sunday in October, and some of the cable cars and mountain railways and the hotels in the mountains close down in November for maintenance. So that’s the between season after… Well, normally it’s May after the ski season and November before the ski season. And one particular scenic train, the Glacier Express, stops running from mid October until the second week of December, which we always get asked why they can’t book the Glacier Express during this period. That’s why – they have maintenance for that period.

Yeah, good. So obviously, before the super busy winter season starts.

Exactly.

Yes, exactly. Okay. And there is an article on holidaystoswitzland.com that I keep as up to date as possible, which has the closure dates of the most popular cable cars and mountain railways. So people can have a look at that too.

So speaking of winter, for ski enthusiasts and snow bunnies, it’s the perfect time to go to Switzerland. I guess for a lot of people, that’s how they imagine Switzerland, as a ski destination. So are the months of December, January and February a good time to visit Switzerland if you’re not into skiing or snow sports?

Absolutely, of course. Again, the customs and traditions don’t stop just because it gets colder. At the end of November, as you said, our famous Christmas markets are back with many festive celebrations during the month of December. So we’ve got every weekend and during the week, we’ve got customs and celebrations in December in particular. Switzerland has a lots of museums as well. So if you travel on a Swiss Travel Pass, for example, in Switzerland, you have more than 500 museums included in that pass. It’s also the perfect time to visit the many thermal spas around the country, eat fondue, drink hot chocolate.

Of course.

Yeah. But when it comes to eating cheese and chocolate, we do that pretty much all year round.

Well, I can’t blame you.

Well, aside from the Christmas markets, really, there’s a very big, we’ve got so many events in January as well. We have the top World Cup Ski Classics in Switzerland, which is in Adelboden, Crans Montana, St. Moritz, and Wengen, which probably most of the listeners would know is the Lauberhorn Ski World Cup, which is normally held mid of January.

Now, Birgit, you spent quite a few weeks in Switzerland this winter just gone. I know you mentioned to me before that it was great to be able to just do a bit of slow travel and really get to know your home country again as a tourist. Do you have any tips for our listeners who might be planning to visit Switzerland during the winter?

Absolutely.

What should they pack in the way of clothing, and what can they expect in regards to things being open and so forth?

Well, first of all, just don’t over pack, even though it’s winter. The biggest mistake, just take one reasonable size suitcase and that’s it. You don’t need more. Just pack your layers, just pack clever layers. Outside it can be very cold, hence the beanie, mittens, and the scarf. It’s always a must. And indoors it can be very warm and we feel it is overheated as we are not used to the overheated houses during the winter month here in Australia. The layers are the solution.

So as we said, we did a bit of slow travel and based ourselves in the lower areas just outside of Zurich and traveled Switzerland with a flexible 15 days Swiss Travel Pass, which means you can choose 15 days within the period of a whole month. And as you don’t need reservations in Switzerland on the trains, you can pretty much decide what you’re going to do the next day. So that’s what we did. One day we did, one day we did a cruise on Lake of Thun, followed by a stroll through a capital city in Bern. Another day we went for lunch in Lugano, which is down south in the Ticino, in the Italian part of Switzerland.

As the weather in the north was a little grey and Lugano had blue sky all day. So we had our polenta fix and gelato fix that day, which was perfect. And it only takes two and a half hours to get down to Lugano with direct train from Zurich.

Another day, we visited friends up in Arosa, which is in the east, in the mountains, and we had a whole day of toboganning and came back in the evening in Zurich. So there’s so many options. You don’t need to plan ahead, really. You can go up to Mount Rigi.

If you decide to have a Swiss Travel Pass, it really gives you the freedom of slow travel if you have the time. We felt we traveled Switzerland in a sustainable way as well. Enjoyed nature up close, experienced the local culture, consumed the regional products and stayed for longer and delved deeper, which made it sustainable.

Yeah, absolutely. I think too, that’s perhaps something that most people are unsure of, that the train’s still run to normal even during the winter. So you can still have that flexibility and you can still travel sustainably and you’ve still got so many options. As you said, it’s only two and a half hours from Zurich to Lugano. So you can see what the weather is doing and make a late decision and go for it.

Absolutely. And you can even do a one day ski experience. If you really fancy a one day skiing, you just hop on the train, get to the ski slopes and rent your gear and off you go. It’s very accessible, very convenient.

Yeah, Okay, great. Having just recently done that winter trip, has that changed your opinion on when your favorite time to visit Switzerland is? Or are you still leaning to one of the other seasons?

Good question. Well, we normally go Christmas because, of course, we still got family in Switzerland. But I’m a keen skier, absolutely. Growing up on skis, I think skiing is the equivalent to swimming in Australia. But I think hiking and spending a longer period of time up in the mountains, that’s my passion. I would always go back for a three, four, five day hike or even a long distance hike during the autumn season in Switzerland, which, as I said, it’s the perfect combination. You’ve got the first snow on top, you’ve got the warm lakes in the evening, you can go for a swim, and you’ve got these beautiful colors during the day while hiking. I think that’s just…I can’t get better than that.

You’ve convinced me. That’s the only season I haven’t visited Switzerland.

Okay. We know what you’re doing next. Fantastic.

Well, thank you. That’s given us a great overview of the four seasons in Switzerland. So for those folks who aren’t tied to a particular month that they have to travel due to work commitments or whatever, and they’re still deciding what time of year they should go, well, hopefully now they’ve got a bit more clarity and know what they can expect in each of the seasons. Thank you very much for that.

I’ll include in the show notes for this episode links to some of those festivals and the places that we’ve mentioned so that if people want more information, they can click through to the Myswitzerland.com website and get more finer details about each of those things.

And we need to get you to one of the cattle descent, alpine descents in September one day.

You certainly do.

You certainly do. Yes, that’s one of my bucket list experiences. And in the Facebook group, the Switzerland Travel Planning Facebook group, it is such a common question, when can we see… where and when can we see the cattle descent? Like all those people, I want to see that too.

Fabulous.

Thank you so much, Birgit. It’s been wonderful chatting to you again. We better not leave it so long between episodes when we have you back again.

My pleasure. Thanks for having me on your podcast, Carolyn. As always, it’s great talking with you about everything Swiss.

Thanks, Birgit.

Thank you.

You can see the full show notes and listen to this episode > here.