Famed for its snow-capped mountain peaks and controversial chocolate, discover a different side of Switzerland this 1st August and join in the annual celebrations of the Swiss National Day.
The Switzerland we know today was first formed back in 1291 as an allegiance between three cantons (or provinces), holding fort against the power of the Habsburgs. Determined to resist the influential royal family, the cantons came together on a meadow near Lake Lucerne, in central Switzerland, and signed a pact that would later come to represent the founding of a nation.
Today the country is made up of 26 cantons. This makes Switzerland a fantastic place to visit for its variety of cultures, landscapes and languages, with a total of four national languages spoken across the country as well as many local dialects.
Since the Pacte du Grutli was signed one day in August all those years ago, the Swiss have since voted for a day to celebrate the union and, in 1994, the first day of August was named a national holiday to celebrate the founding of the country. The official celebration is held in Rütli meadow, with a re-enactment in the place of the original signing of the pact, and parades and festivals can be found all over Switzerland. Some of the most spectacular events can be seen along the Rhine river, with firework displays near Bern and illuminations of the great 23 metre waterfalls near Schaffhausen.
Although the day draws international interest with some of its large-scale events, for the perfect picture-postcard experience of Switzerland head into the mountains and a more rural location where you can experience first-hand some of the traditions and history of the place. Being a small country it is easy to travel around, so whether you are staying in the city or heading straight for a chalet in the alps it’s easy to get a glimpse of the local festivities.
Perfectly placed between two lakes, the mountain town of Interlaken is an ideal location to get a snapshot view of all that rural Switzerland has to offer, as well as experiencing some of the country’s traditions and customs. Nestled among the Bernese Highland peaks in the Swiss Alps, the town is a well-known tourist destination for its spectacularly scenic views and historic buildings.
This hiker’s paradise is characterised by mountain farming, which dates back to 4,000 BC, with cheese production meaning plenty of cows, complete with cowbells, for which the country is famous. If you’re visiting during the national holiday, you’ll find them on parade along red and white bunting-decked streets, along with alpine horns, folk music, yodelling and plenty of lederhosen.
Spot the Saint Bernards with their little barrels of warming alcohol, ready to rescue stranded mountaineers with a swig of numbing brandy. Another lovely sight is the paper lanterns which are lit and carried through the streets at night.
If you’ve missed this year’s celebrations there’s still plenty to discover in the area. Take a train to the top of nearby Jungfrau to visit the ice palaces and snowy mountain tops (even in August). Or visit the Fondu Igloo in Adelboden to sample some traditional Swiss food in an unusual setting. The region is full of every kind of activity, from tin tobogganing to zip wires and white water rafting.