Look up in Interlaken and you are likely to spot a bunch of paragliders, specks of colour arcing gracefully across a clear blue sky.
I join them on a cloudless morning, running off a hill with a tandem pilot, picking up speed until our legs are no longer touching the ground.
We soar over trees, houses and fields that resemble a diorama. The cerulean waters of lakes Thun and Brienz gleam in the afternoon sun. In the distance, snow-covered peaks of the Swiss Alps beckon.
We fly for about 15 minutes, but it feels more like five. As we descend, pilot Krischa Berlinger has me slide forward in my harness so we hit the ground running on a field in the heart of town.
Around me, horse-drawn carriages trundle down the pavement, a street performer twirls stands of rope to create massive soap bubbles and picnicking tourists wave.
Interlaken, which means “between lakes” in German, is one of my stops on a week-long journey around Switzerland.
The Swiss Travel Pass, which can be purchased from online travel agency Klook, lets me hop on and off a host of public transport including inter-city trains, boats and buses, and cable cars that whisk me up mountains in minutes.
With journeys as scenic as their destinations, the hours on a train fly by. There is no need for an iPad when nature is so lovely.
Wide train windows reveal wooden farmhouses and herds of grazing cows; funicular railways defy gravity on steep climbs to scenic viewpoints. And none is as impressive as the ride up to Jungfraujoch, a saddle between two mountains in the Swiss Alps.
Jungfraujoch is 3,454m high, but getting up is a breeze.
I take a series of train rides, lasting a total of about 21/2 hours, that starts in Interlaken and ends with a train ride through a mountain tunnel. (In comparison, Japan’s Mount Fuji is about 3,700m high and requires a two-day climb from sea level.)
These mountains are full of superlatives. I alight at Europe’s highest railway station and step outside to a view of Aletsch glacier, the continent’s longest.
The Monch and Jungfrau peaks, both over 4,000m high, tower impressively. Up close, I can make out craggy rock faces, snow-covered slopes and intrepid trekkers on winding footpaths.
A sledge park beckons thrill-seekers, who zip down slopes on inflated tubes. Others swig beer from deck chairs, basking in the alpine sun while Top 40s tunes play in the background. It is campy, relaxing fun – like a beach holiday, except in the snow.
With hundreds of peaks and more than 60 per cent of the country covered in mountainous territory, Swiss summits must do what they can to stand out.
The 2,970m Schilthorn, near Interlaken, plays up its claim to fame as one of the filming locations in 1969 James Bond movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
The journey takes 90 minutes and at least three cable car rides each way. But commuting is no chore when you are climbing above green pastures and dramatic mountain roads.
At the peak, a walk of fame features quotes and hand prints from the cast and crew, against a dramatic view of the alps. Indoors, an interactive gallery offers context for non-Bond fans like me, as well as film trivia for 007 lovers.
But the best part of Schilthorn is living your own daredevil adventure on the thrill walk located at Birg, one cable car station away from the peak.
A 200m steel mesh path, which hugs the side of the mountain, reveals a steep drop to the valley below.
It is punctuated by sections where you can traverse a steel rope, walk on a transparent glass floor, or my personal favourite – crawl through a tunnel made from steel net, trying not to look down.
Other mountains, such as Mount Pilatus near Lucerne in central Switzerland, are more family-friendly.
Stop at Frakmuntegg station, on the way to the peak, to clamber through a series of nets built among the trees and zip through the forest on the dragon glider, an aerial cableway that opened in May this year.
I also whizz down a long, winding toboggan run, passing herds of placid cows and tiny white alpine poppies in bloom.
The return journey, known as the golden round trip, involves ascending the mountain via cable car and gondola, then descending on the world’s steepest cogwheel railway, still running on the original tracks that opened in 1889.
And while the incline resembles a roller coaster drop, the ride itself is calm and stable.
With my eyes closed, it feels no different from a regular train. The last leg is a boat ride back to town, across scenic Lake Lucerne.
Then there is the iconic Matterhorn, which requires no such gimmicks. Its distinctive pyramid shape and imposing slopes have long attracted climbers; its pointed tip immortalised on Toblerone boxes.
I take the first train up to Gornergrat ridge to watch the mountain glow orange in the first rays of sunlight and the skies around it morph from pastel pink into a brilliant blue.
Most passengers alight at the top of the ridge, but I hop off one stop earlier, at Rotenboden station, for a more tranquil view.
A five-minute trek leads to Riffelsee, a lake that reflects the Matterhorn’s sharp tip and steep rock faces shrouded in snow.
There are only a handful of other travellers wandering the banks of Riffelsee, a far cry from the other tourist attractions I visit.
A couple unleash their dogs, which yelp, run, splash and play in the lake. A photographer waits by his tripod for a long exposure of the mountains. A group of hikers treks past the lake and disappears into the distance. The landscape is silent, peaceful, otherworldly.
In contrast, the top of Gornergrat ridge buzzes with activity. Tour groups line up at photo spots trying to snap the perfect mountain selfie. The weather is good on the day I visit – a smattering of clouds dots the sky but none obscures the mountain.
But artist Matthew Fletcher has seen better days, glorious ones, when the skies are vast, blue and infinite; the Matterhorn cloaked in princely white. Those days, he takes to his easel and paints the view, selling his work to holidaymakers.
Enthralled by the Matterhorn, the 53-year-old moved from his home near York in Britain to Zermatt 28 years ago. He has seen mountains in Patagonia, Nepal and Tahiti, but none can compare with the Matterhorn.
“Its shape is ominous and scary but beautiful at the same time. It gives me a special feeling inside,” he says.
Mr Fletcher will never tire of the mountains, but if you do, there are other Swiss pleasures to indulge in.
Interlaken’s Funky Chocolate Club, which offers a chocolate making class, is a dessert lover’s dream come true.
Senior chocolate-maker Vladimir Pech leads the 75-minute session, explaining the origins of cocoa and the bean-to-bar process.
We also sample chocolate in various intensities – 100 per cent is too bitter for most, milk chocolate pastilles are agreeably sweet, double cream white chocolate is a saccharine treat.
I graze on these samples throughout the rest of the class. My favourite is the 70 per cent dark chocolate so I add a handful of pastilles to the molten chocolate that Mr Pech ladles into my mixing bowl.
Then it is a good few minutes of stirring in the pastilles while the molten chocolate cools, a tempering process that bonds the cocoa and cocoa butter. This will create chocolate bars that have a glossy sheen and snap cleanly when broken or bitten.
Once the mixture cools, it is time to pipe it into moulds and decorate the bars. Mr Pech demonstrates intricate white chocolate swirls, but my attempt turns out looking more like a kindergartener’s artwork.
Sprinkling toppings such as dried coconut, cranberries or almond slivers proves easier – I add chilli flakes and hope it makes my bar appear more grown-up.
Switzerland is not known for inventive cuisine but the food at Hotel Stern’s in-house restaurant in Lucerne bucks the trend.
Starters are the specialities, presented in small glass jars, each one bursting with flavour.
Slow-stewed veal is served on a bed of smoked Swiss trout mousse, frothy and flavourful. Beer-flavoured bread, dense and hearty, accompanies Swiss beef tartare.
And a savoury ice cream made from Swiss goat cheese is lifted by sweet balls of melon marinated in port wine.
The mains, too, hold their own. A dish simply named “Two kinds of Alpine lamb” turns out to be a stew and tenderloin, both clean-tasting and fork-tender.
And it would be remiss to visit Switzerland without trying cheese fondue.
Many restaurants serve this classic dish, but perhaps none with a view quite as lovely as the family-run Chez Vrony, whose version of the molten Swiss dish is made from gruyere, bergkase and vacherin fribourgeois cheeses, all locally made.
The restaurant, located near Zermatt and well-known for its view of the Matterhorn, is a 30-minute trek from the Sunnegga railway station on a scenic trail, which passes wooden Swiss cottages and goats lolling in an afternoon siesta.
Cowbells clink in unison as the animals graze, impervious to the clicking of my camera.
Portions of the trail are steep and gravelly, oxygen scant at over 2,000m, but the view is always magnificent.
A lone woman in her 70s, stoic and steady on two hiking poles, offers encouragement when I pause for a break.
I take another breath, the alpine air crisp and cleansing, and keep walking towards the mountains.
I flew to Zurich on a 13-hour direct flight on Singapore Airlines.
- If you are planning to trek, a pair of hiking poles and sturdy shoes will offer good support on Switzerland’s many unpaved trails.
- Sunlight is stronger at high altitudes, especially when reflected off the snow. Pack a pair of sunglasses and sunscreen if you are heading up the mountains.
- Ascending the mountains via a cable car or train means you gain elevation quickly, creating a higher risk of acute mountain sickness. Counter mild symptoms such as headaches or shortness of breath by staying hydrated and avoiding exertion.
- Food in Switzerland is notoriously expensive – a main dish costs about 25 Swiss franc (S$34.80) at a mid-range restaurant. Pack a picnic or takeaway meal instead from local supermarkets such as Coop and Migros, which are found in most cities and towns.
- Budget enough time for mountain excursions. Some, such as those going to Jungfrau and Schilthorn, require at least a half-day trip for full enjoyment. But if you are pressed for time, there are scenic viewpoints closer to town. In Interlaken, a funicular ride to Harder Kulm takes just eight minutes, where you can view the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountains as well as Lake Thun and Lake Brienz.
- Get online with a mobile WiFi device from Klook, which offers unlimited data and can connect up to five devices. Rental starts from $8 per day.
The Swiss Travel Pass
Transport costs add up quickly in Switzerland, a country known for its high cost of living. A 75-minute train journey from Zurich airport to Lucerne, for instance, costs about 30 Swiss franc (S$41.70).
The Swiss Travel Pass, which also offers free or discounted admission to many museums, is a cheaper alternative. During our week-long journey around Switzerland, The Sunday Times saved more than $500 a person with the pass.
It offers unlimited rides on most trains, trams, cable cars, funiculars and boats, although you may have to top up for certain journeys such as trains to the Jungfrau or Gornergrat mountains. Pass holders can get a discount, usually between 25 and 50 per cent, for these segments.
The Swiss Travel Pass is available in either three, four, eight or 15 consecutive days, or the same number of selected days within the month.
First-or second-class tickets are available. Both classes are clean and comfortable, although first class has wider seats and is usually less crowded. Some trains have electrical plugs and a quiet zone in the first-class section for those who wish to work or nap.
Scenic trains, such as the Glacier Express connecting Zermatt and Chur, require seat reservations, and you can do so on klook.com/en-SG/europe-rail.
Most other trains do not need reservations. You can also check public transport schedules and buy tickets on the SBB mobile app or website.
You do not have to show your travel pass at boarding, but have it ready in print or on your mobile phone when ticket conductors come around.
The Swiss Travel Pass costs $322 for a three-day pass and $578 for an eight-day pass, which will be delivered either by mail or as an e-ticket. Any number of children aged up to 15 travel for free if they are accompanied by one parent.
ST readers can get a $10 discount when they use the promo code KLOOKST. Terms and conditions here.
• This story was brought to you by travel activities and services booking platform Klook.