Though relatively small in size—roughly equal to New Hampshire and Vermont combined—Switzerland packs a big punch. It’s home to a dozen UNESCO sites, a topographic diversity that includes palm trees and glaciers (not to mention four languages to call them by), and some of Europe’s most modern cities contrasted with tiny Alpine villages.
Fuel up with snack boxes, available for purchase along the route, that contain regional specialties. And keep an eye out for the large red frames marking especially photogenic scenes. In 2017 the Grand Tour was fitted with electric car—charging stations, letting visitors explore one of the world’s greenest nations with a minuscule carbon footprint.
Explore some of the best stops, driving clockwise from Zurich.
1. IN THE SPIRIT: ZURICH
Zurich’s Romanesque Grossmünster church, dubbed Salt and Pepper for its twin spires, is said to have been commissioned by Charlemagne, but the current structure was not completed until around 1230, long after his death. As a reminder of his influence, figurative jambs of his likeness protrude from the spires, while the crypt displays a stone statue of him. Stained glass windows by Swiss artist Augusto Giacometti were added in 1933 and a set by German artist Sigmar Polke in 2009.
2. PEAK PERFORMANCE: CHÄSERRUGG
In 2015 Basel-based architects Herzog & de Meuron planted their signature style on the Chäserrugg, a mountain rising 7,421 feet in eastern Switzerland’s Toggenburg region. The large Alpine hiking and skiing area is now home to dazzling mile-high modernism in the form of an elongated structure that serves as a gondola station and restaurant, offering cozy interiors and soaring sight lines to neighboring countries.
3. FLORA AND FAUNA: ZERNEZ
With 42,000-plus acres, the Swiss National Park is home to Alpine animals like ibex, chamois, and marmots, as well as endangered wildflowers. Another rare treasure found here? The sounds of Romansh, one of Switzerland’s four official languages, still spoken in these valleys.
4. JUMPING FOR JOY: LAVERTEZZO
Take a short detour to hike along the unfathomably turquoise Verzasca River, which weaves like a noodle through Italian-speaking Canton Ticino. If you dare, join locals for a bracing plunge into the chilly water from the ancient Roman bridge Ponte dei Salti.
5. LOCAL SIPS: EPESSES
In the Lavaux region of French-speaking Canton Vaud, terraced vineyards line the hills above Lake Geneva. One of the standout villages, Epesses offers spectacular views of the lake and the French Alps. Be sure to sample regional wine varietals like Doral, Gamay, and Plant Robert.
6. ON THE RHINE: BASEL
At the borders with France and Germany, Basel features a well-preserved old town, where walking tours explore sites like the bustling Marktplatz. Don’t forget to catch a ride on one of the Rhine River ferries, which are propelled solely by the current.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
7. CLOCK WISE: BERN
Keeping time since the 16th century, Bern’s ornate Zytglogge is an astronomical clock said to have inspired one-time resident Albert Einstein to develop his theory of relativity. To learn more about the famed physicist’s life in Bern, head to the city’s Einstein Museum.
8. SURPRISING SIGHTS: ENTLEBUCH BIOSPHERE RESERVE
A lesser-known landscape of moors, peat bogs, and karst ridges makes up this UNESCO-designated area in Canton Lucerne. Along with nature’s bounty, find fairytale themed hiking trails and the pilgrimage site of Heiligkreuz.