Depending on your priorities, visitors can enjoy different corners of Switzerland at almost any time of year. Summer boasts Switzerland’s nicest weather, yet it’s also when the country is packed with tourists. Meanwhile, winter sports enthusiasts should head to Switzerland during colder months, and people looking for one-of-a-kind Swiss celebrations can choose among festivities throughout the year.
Hemmed in by the Alps and Jura mountains, Switzerland is full of regional micro-climates. Weather in the sub-Jura valleys is the coldest in Switzerland, while the southernmost canton of Ticino boasts warm, Mediterranean-like weather. For the most part, the country’s climate is typical of central Europe, with cool daytime temperatures and sometimes frosty nights. Summers in Switzerland usually boast plenty of sun, though rain is just as common. Switzerland’s springtime and autumn weather is generally agreeable, if slightly chilly, with the exception of a stiflingly hot winds that occasionally blow through low-lying valleys.
Switzerland’s tourist season peaks during the months of July and August, when the weather is most pleasant. Travelers planning to visit during this period should book accommodations well in advance, as Switzerland’s youth hostels, hotels and inns fill up quickly in the summer. For those preferring to explore the alpine nation with less shoulder-rubbing, April, May, September and October are all ideal, since it’s less crowded, yet weather remains agreeable.
Travel in Switzerland is pricier when tourists abound, so it follows that the best times to save cash are outside the summer months. During the country’s low season from November through March, it’s easier to find deals on airfare and accommodations, while prices begin to rise again in April. Visitors opting to spend their Swiss vacation on the slopes should remember that the country’s ski resorts are most expensive in winter, with a slight drop in prices in autumn and spring. Switzerland’s largest cities–including Zurich, Geneva and Bern–are notoriously expensive throughout the year, since they rely less on tourism as a revenue source.
For the many tourists hoping to take advantage of Switzerland’s striking natural beauty during outdoor activities, it’s important to visit at the right time. Skiers and snowboarders would do well to visit from December through March, as the snow starts to melt around mid-April. Those in search of sunnier outdoor pursuits should avoid the winter months and opt to visit from late June through September, when conditions are ideal for hiking, kayaking, canyoning or other alpine offerings.
In addition to religious holidays, Switzerland boasts numerous festivals throughout the year. During Switzerland’s National Day (Bundesfeier) on August 1st, towns countrywide celebrate with fireworks and concerts. The most famous Bundesfeier celebrations are at Rhine Falls, which are specially lit for the occasion.
In Geneva, visitors can enjoy the city’s annual “L’Escalade” December 11 to 13 festival commemorating Genevans’ holdout in 1602 against invading soldiers with modern-day re-creations featuring period costumes and parades. A month later, the Swiss celebrate Vogel Gryff Volksfest, a centuries-old tradition, wherein a wild masked man flanked by men bearing large flags and canons float down the river on a raft, meeting a lion and griffin on the Middle Bridge at noon. Onlookers celebrate this whimsical ritual with parades, traditional music and dances.
Les Diablerets in Switzerland (in the Lake Geneva region) is a large resort with 23 lifts (4 chair lifts, 17 surface lifts) that offers skiers an incredible 1800 metres (5905 feet) of vertical descent. Les Diablerets has 25 pistes. Les Diablerets is best suited to beginner skiers and snowboarders but there is some terrain for intermediates but little of interest for expert skiers. There are 25 kilometers (16 miles) of cross country ski trails at Les Diablerets. For snowboarders, there is a terrain park and 2 half pipes. The closest airport is at Geneva but the transfer time is 1.5 hours. The nearest train station to Les Diablerets is at Aigle
Mont Blanc (French) and Monte Bianco (Italian) means “White Mountain” for its perpetual snowfields and glaciers.
Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in the Alps and in western Europe. The highest mountain in Europe is considered by most geographers to be 18,510-foot (5,642 meter) Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus Mountains in Russia near the Georgian border. Some consider it, however, to be in Asia rather than Europe.
The height of Mont Blanc varies from year to year depending on the depth of the summit’s snow cap, so no permanent elevation can be assigned to the mountain. The official elevation was once 15,770 feet (4,807 meters) but in 2002 it was resurveyed with modern technology at 15,782 feet (4,810 meters) or twelve feet higher. A 2005 survey measured it at 15,776 feet 9 inches (4,808.75 meters).
Mont Blanc’s rock summit, under snow and ice, is 15,720 feet (4,792 meters) and about 140 feet away from the snowcapped summit.
The first recorded climb of Mont Blanc was by Jacque Balmat and Michel Paccard on August 8, 1786. Climbing historians often consider this ascent the beginning of modern mountaineering.
In 1808 Marie Paradis became the first woman to reach the summit.
Over 20,000 climbers reach Mont Blanc’s summit every year.
The Voie des Cristalliers or Voie Royale is the most popular climbing route up Mont Blanc. To start, climbers take the Tramway du Mont Blanc to the Nid d’Aigle, then climb slopes to Goûter hut and spend the night. The next day they climb the Dôme du Goûter to L’arrête des Bosses and the summit. The route is somewhat perilous with danger from rockfall and avalanche. It is also very crowded in summit, particularly the summit ridge.
In 1990, Swiss climber Pierre-André Gobet climbed Mont Blanc round-trip from Chamonix in 5 hours, 10 minutes, and 14 seconds.
A scientific observatory was built atop Mont Blanc in 1892. It was used until 1909 when a crevasse opened under the building and it was abandoned.
In January 189, the observatory registered Mont Blanc’s lowest recorded temperature— -45.4°F or -43°C.
Two Air India planes, while approaching the Geneva airport, crashed on Mont Blanc. On November 3, 1950, the Malabar Princess plane began its descent to Geneva, but crashed into Rochers de la Tournette (4677 meters) on Mont Blanc, killing 48 passengers and crew. On January 24, 1966, the Kanchenjunga, a Boeing 707, also descending into Geneva, crashed on Mont Blanc’s southwest flank about 1,500 feet below the summit, killing 106 passengers and 11 crew members. Mountain guide Gerard Devoussoux, first on the scene, reported, “Another 15 meters and the plane would have missed the rock. It made a huge crater in the mountain. Everything was completely pulverized. Nothing was identifiable except for a few letters and packets.” Some monkeys, being transported in the cargo hold for medical experiments, survived the crash and were found wandering in the snow. Even today, bits of wire and metal from the planes are disgorged from Bossons Glacier below the wreckage sites.
In 1960, Henri Giraud landed an airplane on the 100-foot-long summit.
In 2007, two portable toilets were carried by helicopter and placed at 14,000 feet (4,260 meters) below Mont Blanc’s summit to serve climbers and skiers and keep human waste from polluting the mountain’s lower slopes.
On September 13, 2007 a Jacuzzi party was thrown atop Mont Blanc. The portable hot tub was carried by 20 people to the summit. Each person carried 45 pounds of custom-made equipment made to function in cold air and high altitude.
Seven French paragliders landed on Mont Blanc’s summit on August 13, 2003. The pilots, soaring on hot summer air currents, reached heights of 17,000 feet before landing.
The 11.6-kilometer-long (7.25-mile) Mont Blanc Tunnel travels beneath Mont Blanc, linking France and Italy. It was built between 1957 and 1965.
The famed British romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) visited Chamonix in July 1816 and was inspired by the great mountain looming above the town to write his meditative poem Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni. Calling the snowy peak “remote, serene, and inaccessible,” he ends the poem:
“And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea,
if to the human mind’s imaginings
Silence and solitude were vacancy?”
The Moléson (2,002 metres) is a mountain of the Swiss Prealps, overlooking the region of Gruyères in the canton of Fribourg. It lies at the northern end of the chain between Lake Geneva and the valley of the Sarine.
The summit of the mountain can be easily reached, a cable car station being located near the summit at 1,982 metres as well as a meteorological station. From the village of Moléson-sur-Gruyères a funicular leads to Plan Francey (1,517 m), from where the cable car starts.