Christmas in Switzerland tips & links                                

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Zurich Airport Einsiedeln Durig Chocolate
Bremgarten Goldapfel Bakery Cathedral of Notre Dame
Zurich's Christmas Spirit Glacier 3000 & Dog Sledding Beau Rivage Palace, Lausanne
Christmas Markets, Candles, & Trees Montreux Hotel Edelweiss, Geneva
Ice Skating Chateau de Chillon Geneva & Escalade
Baur au Lac Hotel, Zurich Lausanne  


Interested in planning your vacation to Switzerland? Start your trip at Expedia.com/ Central Europe.
    


Zurich Airport

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. 

TIP It's easy to book tickets on-line.



Bremgarten
 
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…

TIP How do the Swiss celebrate Christmas?  Click here.



Zurich's Christmas Spirit
As we head back to downtown Zurich we see that the city is alive with 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. 

The famous Bahnofstrasse 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.

TIP The 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 passers-by.

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 dazzling!

TIP As Christmas nears, check here and here for detailed up-to-date information about Christmas activities in Zurich.



Ice Skating
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.

TIP You'll find the address at the National Museum website.



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 well”

TIP Learn about guest accommodations and fine dining at www.bauraulac.ch.



Einsiedeln
For a trip back in time, we’re visiting medieval Einsiedeln, about 22 miles south of Zurich.  Switzerland’s most important place of pilgrimage, Einsiedeln has been drawing believers for centuries thanks to this beautiful baroque abbey, and a pious hermit named St. Meinrad.

(Soundbite)

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 man.

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.

(Soundbite)

TIP For abbey information and services, go to  www.kloster-einseideln.com.



Goldapfel Bakery
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. 

TIP For the address and phone number, go to www.goldapfel.ch.



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 Villars and Gstaad 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.

TIP You'll find more information on skiing and dog sledding at www.goski.com and www.huskypower.ch.



Montreux
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 Christmas fair.

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.

TIP Visit 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.

TIP Discover more about the castle at  www.chillon.ch. 



Lausanne
Lausanne, perched nimbly on the north shore of Lake Geneva, may be Switzerland’s most photogenic city. 

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.

TIP For more on Lausanne's literary history, go to The International Herald Tribune and switzerland.isyours.com. 



Durig Chocolate
Switzerland wouldn’t be Switzerland without chocolate, and Dürig Chocolatier produces tempting handmade chocolates using the purest ingredients.

(Soundbite)

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...)

TIP You'll find their on-line store at www.durig.ch. 



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 year.

(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.

TIP You'll find more on Lausanne's old town and the Cathedral of Notre Dame at switzerland.isyours.com. 



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.

TIP Learn 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.

TIP Find out more about this authentic Swiss chalet at  www.manotel.com. 



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 Cross. 

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.

TIP For a breakdown of the event, visit www.geneve-tourisme.ch

(Soundbite)

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 new custom. 

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.

TIP The Escalade 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, go to www.swissworld.org.