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Holidays to Switzerland Travel Podcast Episode 79 Transcript

May 18, 2024 Last Updated on May 18, 2024

Visiting Switzerland in Fall (Everything you need to know)

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

Hello, Simon. Welcome to the podcast. It’s a great pleasure to have you joining us today.

Great pleasure for me. Hello, everybody.

Would you like to start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your role with Switzerland Tourism?

With pleasure. My name is Simon Bosshart. I’m with the Swiss National Tourism Board, Switzerland Tourism, since well, over 17 years. Started my career in the markets in China, actually. I was then, since far more than 10 years, in charge of the whole Asia Pacific group of markets, including Australia and New Zealand. Since quite a time, also very familiar with the market.

Now, since a bit more than one and a half years, I’m Head of Markets East, as we call it, and part of the management of Switzerland Tourism. Together with my colleague of the West, the Western counterpart, we are steering what happens in the world wide markets or what we do in the world wide markets.

Okay, fantastic.

Still as motivated as on the first day.

How could you not be when you’re promoting such a beautiful country?

I couldn’t agree more.

Are you Swiss born and bred?

I think I’m pretty 100 % Swiss, actually. Yes, I’ve been in Switzerland. Well, my family, my parents, I think it’s probably somewhere in the Middle Ages where people have been moving more, but I’m really Swiss, yeah, 100 %. My wife is from China, though, so my kids are not. But very happy to be here.

Okay. So today we’re going to talk about a season or visiting Switzerland in a season that is probably not the first season that people think about visiting Switzerland. So for many people, Switzerland is a winter destination because they go for skiing or the other snow sports or even the Christmas markets. Or perhaps they tend to go in summer because they want to do hiking and mountain excursions and enjoy the warmer temperatures. Before we get into the why, I guess, what can people expect when they visit in autumn or in fall, as our North American listeners refer to it, in terms of temperature wise?

Well, it is probably as in all countries with seasons, it’s each other between the summer and the winter. So it can actually have quite big differences. The average temperature in the fall season, that means really from September to November, is somewhere around 8 to 15 degrees Celsius. Although there is obviously a huge difference between September when temperatures are somewhere still around 20, 25 degrees, very stable weather, conditions, often sunny, dry, very nice, down to then really November when it can even start to snow already, depending where you are. Well, definitely in the mountains, but also in the lowlands with lower temperatures.

But I would say if you put it into one sentence, it’s actually in terms of travel weather, it’s quite ideal because probably, especially in this summer, everybody would agree, if it’s too hot, that’s not the time to travel. Then you’re lying around or stay inside. It’s just too hot. In winter, it’s often too cold, then you’re either skiing or then you really try to stay indoor. While the autumn, the fall season is really the season where actually it’s ideal to be outside. You can wear a bit more if it’s more chilly, you will wear less if it’s nicer, but you can definitely be very active. That’s why actually for traveling, it’s the ideal season.

Sounds it sounds perfect. Is there anything that we should be aware of in terms of closures or do places have shorter opening hours, for instance, during the fall?

Well, fall can be… Well, first of all, if you start with the cities, no. All is open, all is running, 365 days a year. So if you go to a city, it’s not an issue. If you go to the mountains, though, and this is what I would strongly recommend still also to do in the fall season, you have to be a bit more attentive. Makes definitely sense to do a bit of a research where you go to.

Like spring and autumn for the mountain destinations, it’s the time when they can, how do you say, recover or get refreshed for the upcoming high season, same for summer as well as for winter. So it is a bit when we talk about fall or autumn, it’s a bit more challenging, let’s say, towards the end of autumn. November, normally in the mountain destinations, it’s challenging because cableways might be really out of maintenance closure. Hotels might take some final holidays before the big winter season starts again. And honestly, November also, probably to go to the mountains, it’s not the ideal season. Also, the colors are not so nice. There is not really snow yet and it’s not so nice anymore in terms of colors.

I mean, all the leaves are down. So it’s not the best season. But I think September, October is pretty safe. But still, wherever you go, it makes always sense to look ahead because if you go to… There were some mountain resorts where really a lot of restaurants closed, hotels are closed, and then you feel a bit in a dead place. So it makes that definitely sense to check it out. But normally, all in all, I think, and especially since September, the earlier you go, it’s very safe to travel. I mean, in terms of closure.

Sure. And yes, as you say, do the research because it would be very disappointing to get to a town or a village and find that there’s nothing really open and you’ve got to travel out of there to find something for dinner

Or perhaps to add one point, traveling in autumn is some bit of an adventure, or you’re really looking to explore new things. So research is anyway the topic for autumn. It’s a lot about festivals. We’re going to talk probably later on. It’s a lot about some very special places. So you need to do your research. Probably makes more sense than if you go on a highlight tour just to see the biggest places. You don’t need that much research. But for autumn, this makes definitely sense. So also look at this.

Great advice. Autumn is the only season that I haven’t visited Switzerland in and don’t worry, I’m working on that. I guess probably the four main reasons that I’m really keen to visit in autumn and particularly in September and October is firstly, because there’ll be fewer crowds. Secondly, to see those magnificent autumn colors that I’ve seen so many beautiful photos of. To experience an Alpine descent and also to attend a wine festival. They’re probably the four reasons that got me thinking about a fall trip.

I’ll get you to tell our listeners a bit more about those last three in a moment. But before you do that, can you tell us how much of a difference is there in tourist numbers between summer and, say, autumn fall?

Well, your perception is absolutely right. Obviously, summer and I think this year probably shows this in a more extreme than ever before. Summer is quite packed. In Switzerland, in Europe, like in many places, it’s the time of big holidays. So obviously people travel a lot. While autumn is not really a big holiday season and probably especially for people being more independent when to travel, perhaps not with kids, just being flexible when to take holiday. It’s the ideal season.

It’s roughly, if you look at the whole season that I compare here to figures of 2019, which is by today the last year where we had some normal figures, 23 will be the next one. So it’s roughly half, I would say, of just in terms of absolute figures. But also considering that June, July, August, it’s basically three months which are working pretty well into summer already. While probably November is, especially if you say leisure travel, November is probably not really a big moment.

What happens happens really in September and October, you can expect really there is more space. Obviously, as always, it depends where you go to. Certain places might be more crowded or over specific dates, especially with festivals that might happen but it’s definitely not a big travel season of internationally.

If people are… If they prefer to travel where there’s less crowds, autumn is definitely a good season to visit.

Absolutely. And together with the weather, actually, probably the more stable season than, for example, spring. If you are a seasons person, if you like to experience more different seasons, every season has its tremendous beauty. But definitely September probably is… If you don’t want to be inside or just in bad weather, rain all the time, then it’s probably the safe season to travel.

Yeah, okay. So talking about September, anyone who follows the Switzerland Tourism Instagram page would have seen the most amazing photos of the autumn colors and the leaves changing from yellow, red, orange, and so forth. Where are the best places to see those displays of color on the trees?

I always hate this question. Then you could talk for hours and then you don’t help anybody with it. No, I really tried. I tried hard. First of all, the autumn foliage you see everywhere, including the cities, including the mountains. I would say there is a beauty into every place with this. And so you can’t go wrong, basically. But if I have to pick three places, very different in experience, I would say, first of all, in the very Eastern part of Switzerland, in the canton of Grisons, in the Engadino Valley. They have the large trees, very like, really, a lot of forests with large, they change the color to yellow.

I still remember I was once in Italy and coming back then into the Upper Engadine of the by car. I mean, you start to cry. This is so beautiful. It’s amazing. I mean, just all the mountains around. It’s still like it’s this crystal clear air, plus then the larch trees. That’s just so stunning. Well, nothing to say more about that.

A second very unique experience that goes probably to another topic you’re talking about, that’s the Lavaux, let’s say the wine regions.

So in the Lavaux, in the Lake Geneva region, around Lake Geneva, Lausanne, to Montreux in this area, or then up into the Valais in direction, well, the mountains of Valais towards Zermatt, where you have a lot of vineyards. The vineyards, of course, all the vines, they changed their color to red, to yellow. To experience this and to have a hike in the Lavaux, it’s as stunning and beautiful as that. Having then a hike and combine it, of course, with some wine tastings, there is not much better than that.

The third, perhaps also in a city. Again, here I’m a bit, how to say, obviously, I live in Zurich, so I know Zurich best. But you could experience that in other places. In Zurich, we have the house mountain of Zurich, we call, as we call it, it’s the Ueliberg, which is just behind Zurich. And you have a stunning view over the Lake of Zurich, over the city, and then the mountain range in front of you, which is basically just forest. And you see in a clear day, you see as far as really to the mountain range of the Eastern Alps from there.

And this is as well a very beautiful experience. And it’s cool because it’s easy to be done out of Zurich. You have a little train going up to the Uetliberg that takes you 20 minutes from main station. And you’re in absolute nature. You can have a little hike. There is a hike actually on the creek of this mountain range. If you want to go a bit longer, it takes you one and a half hours, really through forests, over meadows. And you’re always in this autumn atmosphere. As a family, we do this we do this every season. It’s every time nice. But specifically nice in autumn, also experience it out of a city. That’s the beauty in Switzerland. You can go to a city and you’re still in nature.

Perfect. As you said, just 20 minutes by train from the main station.

That’s cool, right?

That’s so convenient.

We’ll talk more about the wine festivals in a moment, but before we do, I’d like to ask you more about the Alpine Descent because I know that’s something that people have seen photos of. I often get questions, where can I see these? But for the people who perhaps aren’t familiar with what an Alpine Descent is, can you first explain what it is and where can we see them?

To be very honest, I’m not a specialist on Alpine Descent, but of course, I know the principles. The point is in Switzerland with the mountains in the center that the farmers during summertime and autumn time… No, over summertime, I have to start like this. The cattle, the cows, sheep, goats, they go up on the mountain because there is a lot of fresh grass up in the mountains in the higher altitude. Basically, they stay over the summertime, they stay on the Alps. The animals are up. There are a lot of people actually, well, the farmers’ families but more and more people also from the cities actually, which take off some a couple of weeks and just stay in the Alps with the animals.

And obviously, like in winter times, they have to come down because the Alps then in winter it’s really cold and snow, several meters of snow, so they have to go down. Well, they go up in spring and they come down in autumn. That’s the alpine descent. And this Alpine descent and the ascent that’s in, let’s say in the farmer’s life, it’s quite an important moment. When you do something very important, you do it in a festive way.

You clean yourself out, you wear nice dresses. They go with all these traditional dressings. Plus, of course, as well the cows, which in the valley, they’re called the Queen. They’re really the queens of the mountains. They are dressed up. They get nice decorations with flowers on their heads. And like this, well, in spring they go up. In autumn, they come down to celebrate that they are back home in the lowlands or in the farms. That’s what an alpine descent basically is all about.

Great. And are they held all around the country?

They’re in very different… Well, very strongly, of course, in the Alpine region, but the Alps take approximately 60 % of the area of Switzerland. So it’s a lot. It’s a lot. It’s a big area. So you can see them pretty much in every region, especially in the Alps and the Prealps. So you can choose from a variety of events taking place somewhere in September, October. Then September, probably more likely.

And correct me if I’m wrong, but I think some places have a set date when the parade happens, whereas others, it’s very weather dependent and it can change every year. Is that right?

Right. This is now really where research has to start. If you want to see it, and I have to be very honest, it’s a shame. I live in Switzerland so long, I haven’t been really exploring the Alpine descents. It’s probably always the same dilemma. If you live in a place, you always think you do it at once, but you never do it.

When I finally get to see this, I might beat you too.

You’ll probably beat me. No, but here you really have to go online and to check it out with the dates. That’s probably a bit of a challenge. If you really want to hit a specific date, really to find the right date, it needs also a bit of luck probably to find the right event. Here on our website, on myswitzerland.com, the official website, we have an event calendar which is directly fed by all the destination partners and the regional partners.

Here you find quite a decent number of events. I was just checking before we started to talk. Currently, it’s around 26, 25 to 30 events roughly where you can see it. And again, we’re changing dates, obviously. Once it’s set, probably there are some alternative dates. If the weather is bad, probably they might shift by a week. So that’s the risk you take. But that’s probably makes sense as part of the art of the research, really to look out where you might go.

Great. I’ll include a link to that events page in the show notes for this episode so people can have a look and perhaps plan their itinerary around one of the Alpine Descent.

Hopefully, yes.

All right. Let’s talk about wine and some of the other harvest festivals that happen because I think this might be one of your favorite topics. Is it? I kind of got that feeling.

Absolutely. How did you know?

I thought you were just talking about that feeling.

What’s going to happen in these Harvest festivals and what are some of the favorite or the most popular ones?

Let me perhaps start first with talking about wine in Switzerland, because especially talking to people in Australia, which is a huge wine nation, of course, and also in the United States, there is a lot of wine culture.  Switzerland as a wine destination might not be very well known. This is something we hear often. Switzerland is known for the Alps, for the mountains, for skiing, as you said, and so on. Not really for wines. Although wine culture, I personally believe, is one of the really hidden gems of Switzerland or hidden aspects of Switzerland which really are worthwhile to explore.

Switzerland, even being a small country, it’s known from Switzerland that we produce so few wines in Switzerland that you cannot buy it on the whole world. But this is really a reason to travel to Switzerland because you just get it in Switzerland. And you can really drink it at the source or, let’s say, really go to explore. I find personally, because I’m a wine lover, but from a culture side as well, I find it one of the most beautiful agricultural stories. I have grapes on my own at home. Just just in the garden.

And it’s such a fascinating plant actually to see it grow over the time, really from winter then into summer and then into autumn. And you can experience this. You see it because it forms the landscapes like the Lavaux, which goes back to the Middle Ages, where wines have been growing for the past six, seven hundred years. But it also has a lot of unique flavors, a lot of unique grapes. So if you’re really deep into wines, it makes very much sense to really explore Switzerland in-depth because you will find grapes which you never heard of before.

They are just existing in Switzerland. So all these variety, of course, you can experience the wines all throughout the year. You can visit the wineries, you can go wherever you want. Obviously, harvest time is a special moment. Me personally, I have to be very straightforward. I’m not really a festival person. I’m not really going. I haven’t been really much to wine festivals. I personally, I prefer to, as you say, enjoy the environment, go for a hike, go for some a visit of a winery. But there are quite some festivals in the big regions. For example, like in the Lavaux, in a place called Lutry, that’s a little village very close to Lausanne, so it’s actually very easy to reach.

There is the Fete des Venduers, as it’s called the vintage festival, which is a festival over several days where people are getting dressed up. It’s this celebration where people really, I have to say, celebrate what they deserved or what they created over the summer season. So they take out all their costumes. There are parades done on the streets. And then, of course, wine cellars are open and you’re invited to drink and to taste wines. And probably if you travel from far, it’s a very nice experience to be done.

Yeah, absolutely. And what other areas will we find those wine, those harvest for wine festivals?

Well, you basically find them everywhere where wine is produced. And wine is produced in Switzerland, really in every region. I think in every canton of Switzerland, you find wines. The big ones, though, are definitely in the Lake Geneva region. So the Lavaux, as I was mentioning several times, and I think if you come for the first time and just visit one area, Lavaux is the place you have to go. These are so great white wines.

By the way, Switzerland has very nice Pinot Noirs as well, which is obviously the most famous grape at all coming from Burgundy. But the Swiss beignets are not to underestimate it. They are not known, but very special in taste. But besides that, white wines a lot. Then you have the Lavaux area, as I said, then in the Valais, of course, very steep vineyards, very nice, very special settings. Then in the area of Zurich, which is not very well known, honestly, also due to quality reasons in the past. It was probably mass production for the local consumption, so it’s not really a highlight. But that’s very interesting. In these years, there is now a generation change of the wine makers.

So there is a young group of wine makers coming in in the 30s, 40s, super creative people doing new blends, very eager to test out new things. And you get some really fantastic wines along Lake Zurich. And also staying in Zurich, basically the whole how to say, the whole northern shore of Lake Zurich is vineyard. Unfortunately, because it is such a sunny place, it was, how to say, then the territory often was sold and very nice houses were built. So the vineyards were reduced, but still there is a lot to see and also in terms of festivals.

Then Eastern Switzerland has a huge wine culture in the area of Schaffhausen, the city of Schaffhausen. Very surprising. Also for Switzerland, we always think that’s the place where you can… These wines are so sour, you can’t drink them. That’s a bit the perception they have. But I have to say this is so stunning what they produce there. Also with a lot of creativity, very nice wines. And then Graubunden Grisons, which is probably the highest area, but due to weather conditions, very sunny. Often when it’s in the lowlands, it’s some foggy in autumn, they have super nice weather.

And in the so called… Oh, no, I forgot the I forgot the name. In German, it’s called the Bündner Herrschaft. So it’s like the Grisons territory. These wines are super expensive, super high level. It’s a lot of Pinot Noir, again, in this area, very special, very small production. So this is really an experience and you can also do a lot of hiking and wine trips out of this region. So you see, you can go everywhere. Oh, sorry. And politically absolutely incorrect. I forgot the Ticino, the Italian part of Switzerland, of course, with all the Merlot vines. Which is not just politically incorrect, it is absolutely incorrect also in terms of wine quality they produce. This is also stunning and everywhere. I mean, if you go again on our website, you will find all the festivals that are held in these regions, pretty much in every region you will find some nice festivals.

Right. And I think in Ticino, they have a white Merlot, don’t they? Which is quite unique.

Yes, white Merlot as well. Well, basically the Merlot grape is the main grape in Ticino. So they do it in white wines and in red wine. Well, predominantly obviously with red wines. But again, very stunning. I think Merlot is as well produced in Australia to a certain extent, probably. I think a while over, we must just try it out. That’s where we think Merlot is coming from.

Yeah, absolutely. So why not enjoy a taste at one of the autumn wine festivals? Now, all those things that we’ve talked about today are reason enough to visit Switzerland in autumn or fall. Absolutely. But is there anything else that we haven’t talked about that you’d like to mention?

Well, we haven’t been really talking much about outdoors and especially hiking. I think autumn, personally, I believe autumn is one the most beautiful seasons for hiking. Again, the weather condition wise, it’s good weather. Nature experience wise, it’s very special. We call it really that’s the season of the senses. I mean, where the smells are so special, where the colors are so beautiful. Often also a bit misty, like with this morning mist, I mean, where I live, close to Zurich, we have a little lake close by. So in September mornings, I sit in the train and then there is this very, very beautiful thick fog in the morning and then sunshine comes in and you feel like it starts to glimmer and colors are coming out. It’s so beautiful.

And this is the atmosphere of hiking in autumn. And again, especially the temperature not being too hot. If it’s too hot, hiking can become really a pain. So it’s a bit chilly. You really have to move to keep yourself warm. But then this is really the best experience. And this you can, again, in September and October, do very extensively. We have 70,000 kilometers of hiking trails in Switzerland, very well mapped out and assigned with sign boards.

If you are eager to hike and you eat, there is nothing better than this. And you can ideally combine it with the wine, obviously. Of course. And the cheeses and all the other specialities. And the chocolate, of course. And the chocolate, of course.

The ideal visit to Switzerland.

And perhaps one more thing, obviously, that’s a no brainer that works throughout the year. But you can also, in city visits, you can ideally combine it with museums, especially because the weather might not be so stable. Sometimes it’s a rainy day. You have great museums, art museums, history museums in Switzerland and other cities, which are quite not to be underestimated, especially in terms of arts. Arts that you see in Switzerland, there are some of the most important collections of, for example, Picasso in Switzerland, of impressionism, of other artists, also very famous, also Swiss local art. There are some some new stunning museums in Zurich and Lausanne. I think this is also worthwhile, especially as a good bad weather alternative. If one day it’s really not the weather to hike, to be outside. You have to expect a bad day here or there, weather wise.

Absolutely. Well, always, it’s better to expect it anytime.

Absolutely. Well, there’s plenty of reasons there that we shouldn’t discount visiting Switzerland in autumn. That’s for sure. Before I let you go, I have to ask you, what are your favorite things to do in Switzerland in autumn? If you could have the perfect autumn day, how would you fill it?

Well, I think I pretty much mentioned it already. For me, it’s two things. Again, first, first of all, hiking. I think this is really like, how do you say, that’s medicine, psychological medicine for every day. Having a good hike and combining this with really some taste of local flavors, we’re going to a little restaurant, have a bottle of wine, some cheese, some bread. There’s nothing more beautiful than that. And that’s what I do whenever I can in autumn.

The simple things are so often the best, aren’t they?

Absolutely.

Thank you very much, Simon, for joining us today. I’m sure that lots of our listeners now will be thinking about a fall visit instead of perhaps summer or winter.

That’s great to hear.

It’s good to hear and we can spread the love and get perhaps a few less tourists visiting in those really busy months and spread it out and we’ll all have a great time.

Absolutely. I guarantee nobody will regret this.

Wonderful. Thank you so much.

Thank you very much, Carolyn.

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