Switzerland: breathtaking vineyards, wonderful wines
With some of the most dramatic and beautiful vineyard scenery in the world to explore, and some distinctively delicious under-the-radar wines to taste, Europe’s hidden vinous gem awaits.
For most people, Swiss wine remains one of the world’s best-kept secrets. Unlike its neighbors in Austria, France, Italy, and Germany—the wines of which all have a strong presence overseas— Switzerland exports a mere 2 percent of its annual vinous production. Any visitors planning a visit to the country will more likely have Alpine hiking and skiing, raclette and fondue, or chocolate and watches on their mind than vineyard visits.
But the fact is, wine is deeply important to the Swiss. In each of its 26 cantons there is a pride in the local wines, many of which are produced from grape varieties that are rarely if ever encountered elsewhere. For the world’s wine lovers, it’s a wine culture just waiting to be discovered.
It also happens to be among the most beautiful and spectacular wine-producing countries in the world. With many of the vineyards planted on precipitous rocky slopes—the most efficient way for some producers to transport their harvest is via helicopter—this is winemaking at its most dramatic and difficult. But it can also be homely, and intimate—producers here tend to be small, and if you make it to a cellar you’re likely to meet the vignerons themselves rather than a guide.
And there are rather a lot of cellars to visit. Wine production spreads to all parts of the country, from the German-speaking east to the Italian south of Ticino, although by far the largest area given over to vine is in the French-speaking west. It’s in the latter, in southwestern Switzerland, where you’ll find the regions that are best set up for tourism. Principal among them is the Valais, Switzerland’s largest wine region (it accounts for between a third and a half of the harvest each year), which, with its patchwork of small vineyards on stone terraces with dry stone walls cut into vertiginous south-facing slopes, is a magical spot to spend a few days walking, tasting, and eating. There are many thousands of smallholder-growers here, but a growing band of vignerons-récoltants, too. The excellent free Swiss Wine app from Vinea (available from iTunes) or the website www.swisswinedirectory.ch, both feature large, A to Z directories of producers to visit.
Pinot Noir, Gamay and Chasselas are the main grape varieties planted in the no less beautiful Vaud region, which, in the three regions of La Côte, Lavaux, and Chablais in the stretch between Lausanne and Montreux around the northern side of Lake Geneva, again features swooping terraces and a picture postcard cluster of medieval villages. The extensive, well-signposted walking trails are the best way to navigate the collection of hundreds of small producers here. One highlight might be to enjoy a tasting (leaving your payment in a box) in a vineyard hut, or capite: some are even set up for visitors to spend the night, although you can also enjoy a quite different experience of hospitality amid the UNESCO-listed vines of Lavaux, overlooking Lake Geneva in the luxurious, five-star Le Mirador Resort & Spa (www.mirador.ch).
In the middle of the vines in the Muggio Valley in Italian-speaking Switzerland, a converted birdhouse has become a charming holiday house ideally suited for touring the vineyards and nature trails.
Via Valle di Muggio 2, 6834 Morbio Inferiore | +41 91 684 15 79
Located on the shores of Lake Maggiore, this luxury hotel boasts its own private beach and a well-regarded restaurant with dishes based on natural products from the local farmland.
Via Muraccio 142, 6612 Ascona | +41 91 791 02 02 | www.castellodelsole.com
100 years of hotel experience and a prime location and building make one of Lucerne’s finest. The restaurant offers delicious Mediterranean-style cuisine and views over the lake and Alpine panorama. Set to re-open in 2019 after extensive renovation.
Haldenstrasse 10, 6002 Lucerne | +41 41 220 22 12 | www.palace-luzern.ch/de
Fusing the old with the new, this hotel offers immaculate attention to detail and attentive care to guests’ needs, with a 500m_ relaxation area, a sky terrace offering amazing views of the old town, and a restaurant with an eclectic range of cuisines.
Bahnhofplatz 11, 3001 Bern | +41 31 326 80 80 | www.schweizerhof-bern.ch
A 16th-century château in the heart of Valais wine country in the village of Sierre, Château de Villa takes in a fine traditional restaurant and a vinothèque with an extensive range by the bottle and glass.
Rue de Ste-Catherine 4, 3960 Sierre | +41 27 455 18 96 | www.chateaudevilla.ch
For more restaurants with award-winning wine lists click here.
Visitors will meet a sixth-generation winemaking family who draw on their wealth of experience to talk you through their range of superb Chasselas in an intimate and personable atmosphere.
Grand’Rue 33, 2012 Auvernier | +41 32 731 21 06 | www.lamaisoncarree.ch
Known for producing fantastic Gamaret, this winery offers tastings in a room dug into the limestone bedrock and also boasts fantastic views over the village of Cressier.
Troub 4, 2088 Cressier | +41 32 757 11 51 | www.ruedinvins.ch
The old mansion here is surrounded by tightly stepped vines in a 10ha (25 acre) plot . As a visitor, you’ll be guided to a carnotzet, to taste some of the old vintages, with old barrels used as tables.
1185 Mont-sur-Rolle, 1185 Vaud | +41 79 308 33 45 | www.chateaudemont.ch
In the village of Barbengo, south of Lugano, one of the best producers in Italian-speaking Switzerland offers tastings and tours of its charming, small, 7ha (17 acre) domaine and cellars.
Via Noga 2, 6917 Barbengo | +41 91 682 96 16 | www.cantinabarbengo.ch
A fifth-generation family estate in the German-speaking Bündner Herrschaft making top-flight Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and welcoming visitors to its cosy wood-paneled wine tavern.
Sternengasse 6, 7208 Malans | +41 81 322 11 17 | www.donatsch-malans.ch