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If you’ve never visited Europe in winter, you may be wondering if there are
any special air travel concerns. With the efficient Swiss transportation
system, including Zurich’s newly renovated airport, travel during winter
months is not a problem.
There are several easy ports of entry into
Switzerland. We chose
Zurich because it’s a major hub and there are lots of
convenient flights available. For example, Swiss, the country’s major
airline has many
direct flights from the US.
easy to book tickets
Our first stop is
Bremgarten, a little town straight out of the middle ages and
just 10 miles from Zurich airport. Since it’s off the tourist track, is
Bremgarten is unfamiliar to most visitors, but it’s popular among the Swiss
for its wonderful
Christmas market. No cars are allowed in Bremgarten’s
beautifully preserved old town. This has been a lively trading center since
a Habsburg emperor granted it city status nearly 800 years ago.
You’ll find Christmas markets
throughout Europe. In Switzerland, they’re as much a part of
the holiday tradition as Christmas trees, chocolates and St. Nicholas. They
come in all shapes and sizes, from the month-long affairs in big cities, to
smaller weekend events in towns like this one. While there’s a certain
similarity to these markets, each offers its own special touches. My friend
Ana and I quickly discovered that hot spiced wine or “gluhwein” is a staple
of every Christmas market. You’ll also find Bratwurst and bakery items,
as well as plenty of music and entertainment – some traditional, and some,
well perhaps a bit unexpected…
the Swiss celebrate Christmas? Click
Zurich's Christmas Spirit
As we head back to downtown Zurich we see that the city is alive
Christmas spirit. Sophisticated Zurich is the country’s
capital and its largest city. This is Switzerland’s banking and financial
center, as well as a shoppers dream.
shopping street is decked out in all its seasonal finery. December 6th
is the actual feast day for the historic St. Nicholas, and here it’s
cause for some serious celebration.
In Zurich, St. Nick heads through town on a Christmas
streetcar. Several Swiss cities feature the “Märlitram"
or "fairy tale street car" that runs only during the month before
Christmas. St. Nicholas is at the wheel, while an angel tells fairy tales
to the kids. Only children are allowed on the ride; parents are given a
specific time and place to meet their children at the end of the line.
Like most places in the world, Christmas here is truly
a magical time for children. Little ones can find all sorts of special
activities throughout the season. And it’s fun to see how Swiss kids
celebrate the holidays.
customs of Switzerland's different linguistic regions tend to resemble
those of their immediate neighbors: Germany, Austria, France, and Italy.
Christmas Markets, Candles, & Trees
One of Zurich’s beloved traditions is the “Singing
Christmas Tree”. Children from both the city and outlying
areas come here to climb up on a platform built in the shape of a tree, and
sing traditional carols. The Singing Christmas Tree puts in an appearance
in Zurich’s old town several times during the weeks leading up to the big
holiday. And, as the gathering crowds will attest, it’s a smash hit with
Another activity that Swiss kids love is making
hand-dipped candles. Vendors set up little stands at various locations in
the city where people can come to dip string into hot wax, building enough
layers to form a candle. The melted beeswax is just as delicious smelling
as it is fun to shape, and the kids come up with some pretty interesting
creations. The tradition here is that children surprise their parents with
their wax masterpieces on Christmas eve.
Train station Christmas market In Zurich, we find the
biggest Christmas market in the country, an indoor
extravaganza located in the central train station. The normally
businesslike station exudes holiday cheer when more than 140 decorated
market stands spill over with both contemporary fare and traditional gifts.
Crystal lovers may think they’re hallucinating when they see the market
centerpiece: a 50-foot tall Christmas tree glittering with more than 5000
Swarovski crystal ornaments. The effect is nothing short of
Christmas nears, check
here for detailed up-to-date information about Christmas activities in
A short stroll from the train station will get you out of your
shoes and into a pair of skates. During the holiday season, the castle-like
courtyard of the National Museum becomes a winter wonderland when it’s
transformed into an ice rink. With its alpine climate, Switzerland is
legendary for winter sports. Skating,skiing, snowshoeing, sledding – you
name it, this country’s got it. The Swiss enthusiastically embrace the
exhilaration of winter sports. In fact Lausanne, is the proud home of the
International Olympic committee.
find the address at the National Museum
Baur au Lac Hotel, Zurich
An elegant place to warm up icy toes is the Baur au Lac Hotel. This is one
of Zurich’s most charming accommodations and it’s been owned by the same
family since it opened in 1844. The grand interiors and excellent
restaurants make this a true indulgence. Through the years, many prominent
guests have enjoyed the hotel’s impeccable service.
(Soundbite: Rudy -Who are some of the famous men and
women of history who have stayed here?
Andre The empress of Austria, called SiSi..
Rudy, voice only, “Some musicians stayed here as
about guest accommodations and fine dining at
For a trip back in time, we’re visiting medieval
about 22 miles south of Zurich. Switzerland’s most important place of
pilgrimage, Einsiedeln has been drawing believers for centuries thanks to
beautiful baroque abbey, and a pious hermit named
When the hermit was killed by robbers, the story of his
murder spread throughout Europe. Before long, religious
pilgrims began traveling here to show respect for the slain
Later a community of monks founded a Benedictine
monastery on this site. And what was once a humble hermitage in the middle
of the forest grew into a baroque explosion of religious fervor. Every
afternoon at 4:30, the monks of the abbey gather to sing Latin vespers.
St. Meinrad was especially devoted to the Blessed
Virgin and the abbey became famous as the home to a
statue of the Black Madonna.
abbey information and services, go to
One of Einsiedeln’s special traditions is gingerbread, made here at the
“Goldapfel” Bakery. This has been a thriving business since the late 19th
century. While most of the pastries look quite delicate, the bakery’s
original bread has a real stick-to-your-ribs quality. Pilgrims visiting the
town’s abbey relied on it to sustain them on their journey home. This is
actually a museum as well as a working bakery, and the kitchen is loaded
with old wooden molds,... unusual cooking implements,… and heavenly aromas.
address and phone number, go to
Glacier 3000 & Dog Sledding
Switzerland has been dubbed “Europe’s winter playground” thanks to
the country’s more than 200 first-class ski areas. Several are easily
accessible from the
Lake Geneva area,
including the famous resorts at
Glacier 3000, near the town of
Les Diablerets, offers spectacular alpine scenery and
reliable snow cover. What self-respecting skier hasn’t dreamed of schussing
down Swiss slopes under clear alpine skies? Although the ski season doesn’t
usually get into full swing until after Christmas, in December you can still
satisfy your craving for some snowy fun.
And if skiing is too much exertion, or you just want a novel holiday
experience, try dog sledding! The flat countryside near Glacier 3000 offers
ideal conditions for dog sledding. Here you can hop on a sled pulled by 25
huskies ready and rarin’ to go. While the Swiss Alps have traditionally
been associated with the rescue work of St. Bernard dogs, today teams of
huskies are right at home in these snowy mountains. And the chance to
interact with these animals is a special treat for you dog lovers out
there. The energetic pups have a natural urge to run and it’s fascinating
to experience first-hand this relationship between animal and human.
find more information on skiing and dog sledding at
Montreux, Lake Geneva’s chief resort, sits like an
amphitheater on the shore. Though generally quiet during the winter, this
week Montreux is jammed with visitors here to enjoy the city’s famous
Montreux’s fair features more than 100 wooden
chalet-style stalls that line the city’s waterfront. These colorful crafts
have a more traditional, hand-made approach compared to the modern gifts you
see in Zurich. Among the thousands of treasures you’ll likely find lots of
carved wood…ceramics… and, of course, ornaments in all shapes and sizes.
And for the food lovers on your list, the Montreux fair is known for its
delicious baked goods…smoked meats…and some very generous helpings of local
dishes such as sausages, potatoes and sauerkraut.
www.montreuxnoel.com for fair details.
Chateau de Chillon, Montreux
The Château of Chillon is Montreux’s great landmark and tonight it’s all
decked out for the holidays. This grand castle was once the headquarters of
the French counts of Savoy, who controlled the area in the middle ages.
Tonight a lighting artist has illuminated the normally grey fortress in the
colors of the Swiss flag.
The dramatic lighting really makes this 13th
century castle stand out against the night sky.
Discover more about the castle at
perched nimbly on the north shore of Lake Geneva, may be Switzerland’s most
For centuries, Lausanne has been a popular destination
for philosophers, expatriates and exiles. The city gained a brilliant
reputation during the
Age of Enlightenment, when many prominent 18th
century writers congregated here.
Lausanne’s social scene included such notables as
Rousseau and Voltaire. When Charles Dickens lived here in 1846, Thackeray
and Tennyson stopped in for a visit. And T.S.Eliot wrote “The Wasteland”
here in 1922. Home to a major university, Lausanne has plenty of
restaurants, hotels and shopping.
more on Lausanne's literary history, go to
International Herald Tribune and
Switzerland wouldn’t be Switzerland without chocolate, and
Dürig Chocolatier produces tempting handmade chocolates using the purest
At Christmas time you’ll find specialties like these
chocolate Santas and nativity scenes – always a hit with the chocoholic on
your list (like me...)
find their on-line store at
Cathedral of Notre Dame
Lausanne cathedral, night watchman The Cathedral of Notre Dame is
Switzerland’s largest church and some would say its grandest. Each evening,
from 10 pm to 2 am, the cathedral’s night watchman climbs to the top of the
bell tower. There he calls out the hour from all four sides of the church:
north, south east and west. He faithfully performs this task 365 days a
(Soundbite: The tradition
was to inform the people when a fire was started and ring the alarm bell…)
This special Lausanne
tradition has lasted for six hundred years.
find more on Lausanne's old town and the Cathedral of Notre Dame at
Beau Rivage Palace, Lausanne
Hotels in the Lake Geneva area tend to be on the pricey side, but you’ll
find plenty of selection. In Lausanne, a place to celebrate the holidays in
style is the Beau-Rivage Palace. The hotel’s been a hit with glamorous
types since the days when Gary Cooper and Noel Coward stayed here.
more about living in style at
Beau Rivage Palace On-line.
Hotel Edelweiss, Geneva
Now if you like the idea staying right the heart of downtown Geneva, you
might consider the Hotel Edelweiss. It’s a little less expensive, and the
chalet décor makes it a cozy choice for a winter holiday.
out more about this authentic Swiss chalet at
Geneva & Escalade
Geneva, Switzerland’s second-largest city has long been known
for its tolerance and progressive attitudes. The original home of the
League of Nations, Geneva is also the birthplace of the International Red
We’re just in time to learn about Geneva’s unique
winter celebration: Escalade. This festival occurs every December to
commemorate a historical event that happened here 400 years ago - the
victory of Geneva’s citizens over invading Savoyard soldiers.
Escalade means “scaling”. In 1602, the Duke of Savoy
hatched a plan to attack Geneva and return the Calvinist city to
Catholicism. When the Duke’s men attempted to scale the city walls using
ladders, the locals defended their city with whatever was on hand -
artillery, knives, and, in the case of one woman, a pot of boiling soup.
Yes, Madame Royaume drove off enemy soldiers by throwing hot vegetable soup
called “marmite” into the street beneath her window. Each year locals here
don 17th century clothing and sip cups of soup in honor of Mme
Royaume’s brazen broth.
Once a year, in honor of Escalade, city officials open
up a hidden passageway in Geneva’s medieval city walls.
breakdown of the event, visit
These days Mme. Royaume’s scalding soup is memorialized a more
tantalizing way with kettles made from chocolate and filled with marzipan.
Throughout the city, chocolatiers and bakeries create these chocolate soup
cauldrons, and fill them up with marzipan “vegetables”. And since tossing
cauldrons from windows is no longer encouraged, the locals have developed a
After a hearty dinner in a favorite restaurant, the
children of the family happily smash the chocolate pots on the table. Then
everyone joins in to eat the chocolate shards and candy vegetables.
Festival takes place on the weekend closest to December 11 each year.
If you'd like to expore more of the customs and traditions in Switzerland,