Big, bustling cities teeming with life and bright lights are great places to visit, but small, lesser-known villages often make for more memorable holidays. This holds especially true for Switzerland, where most tourists stop at Bern, Geneva, Interlaken, Luzern, or Zermatt. Of course, these places dazzle. But the little hidden gems are almost too peaceful and picturesque to describe. It's about that inimitable blend of scenic landscapes, striking architecture, and a wonderfully unhurried pace that makes them unmissable.
Here are some unsung villages in Switzerland that look like they've been plucked from the pages of a fairy tale storybook and are worth including on your Switzerland tour:
If you were tasked with drawing a picture-perfect lakeside village, it would probably look like Steckborn. This medieval village oozes coastal flair and centuries-old half-timbered houses. The proximity to Lake Constance automatically gives it an extra layer of sparkle. Arenenberg Castle is one of the most magical places to visit. Here, Napoleon Bonaparte spent his childhood and part of his adolescence before taking the imperial throne in France. The Napoleon Museum here is full of period rooms that give a sense of how the family lived and entertained when they were out of power and in exile. Lake Constance is where Steckborn truly exhibits its most beautiful side. Hop on a URh boat cruise from Kreuzlingen to Diessenhofen and float along the emerald green waters, zig-zagging between the Swiss and German banks along impossibly picturesque villages. It's undoubtedly one of the most beautiful river cruises in Europe. Steckborn is packed with sights, and the easiest way to explore this charming village on your Switzerland tour is to hike through the village and the lush apple and pear orchards. But nothing beats a picnic lunch on a bench overlooking the lake.
How To Get There: There are regular trains from Zurich to Steckborn, which take around 1 hour and 30 minutes
Stay Here: The See und Park Hotel Feldbach has a dreamy location next to Lake Constance
With its storybook setting of rolling hills, pretty meadows, and grazing cows, Appenzell is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful villages in the world. The intricately painted shops and homes add timeless appeal and authentic Swiss vibes. Life in this canton is mainly traditional and slow-paced. The 6,000-odd inhabitants still vote with a show of hands. The Appenzell Museum, which shows the culture and history of the region, is worth spending a few hours at. Stroll along cobblestone streets with small bakeries and cheese shops, explore winding lanes, and soak in the stunning panoramic view of the Alpstein mountains. Then take the cable car to Aescher for rosti (a regional speciality of shredded, fried potatoes) with the stellar local beer. The only thing upstaging the glorious meal is the unobstructed mountain views. Aescher, a 175 years old guesthouse built into the side of the mountain, is one of those places that romance you at first sight. Appenzell is a hiker's paradise, but for those not keen to hike up a mountain just yet, cable cars will bring you to the summit and down again without breaking a sweat. The true hero of this village is its spicy and pungent cheese made using a secret recipe locked away in a vault at the Appenzeller Kantonalbank.
How To Get There: Appenzell can be reached by train from Zurich in around 90 minutes. Trains depart every 30 minutes or so.
Stay Here: The Romantik Hotel Santis is centrally situated with a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains.
Time stands still at this idyllic village perched above the Fiesch Valley. A stunning baroque church with an elegant wooden spire dominates the village, dotted with pretty chalets and fields carpeted with poppies. The best thing to do in Ernen is to wander around the village, admiring the centuries-old architecture and enjoying the scents and colours of the lush gardens. The village square is charming with prominent buildings, including the Tellenhaus, home to one of the country's oldest depictions of Swiss national hero William Tell. Or better yet, head to the beautiful Goms Bridge suspended 92 metres above the rushing Rhone river. In the evening, return to the village for a classical music concert in the church. When the sun goes down, make yourself comfortable in one of the charming cafes and enjoy the beautiful alpine world. Ernen has gained international fame as a musical village. Every summer, it hosts a small yet prominent classical music festival. But there's much more to Ernen than music and beautiful gardens&mdashlike excellent local cuisine, boutique hotels, and a burgeoning wine scene.
How To Get There: The train journey from Zürich to Ernen is around 3 hours and 7 minutes.
Stay Here: The Hotel Alpenblick is a 5-minute walk from the train station and has the best Alps views.