With its abundance of natural landscapes and snow-capped mountains mingling with advanced cities like Geneva, Zürich, and Basel, Switzerland draws visitors like no other country. What if we told you that there’s more to Switzerland than Toblerone, expensive watches, and the Matterhorn?
Plenty of amazing places are often overlooked, especially in the southwestern region, and we’re about to uncover some of the best! Venture outside of the comforts of Geneva for a delightful journey that explores the hidden gems of Switzerland, from the little village of Gruyères to the history-rich Sion.
Don’t sweat the small stuff — getting around Switzerland is easy, thanks to its world-class train system! We’ve created the perfect itinerary with the most direct train routes to help you plot your excursion. Also, while the country’s borders are open to several European countries, remember to keep safe. For a convenient way to keep an eye on the ever-changing travel restrictions in Switzerland due to COVID-19, check out our free guide, updated regularly to keep you in the loop!
The journey to Lausanne
Geneva to Lausanne by train: You’ll have no trouble getting from Geneva to Lausanne with direct trains leaving approximately every 20 minutes from Geneva Station. You don’t need to stop anywhere to make a transfer, and the journey straight to Lausanne Station will take just under an hour.
Lausanne is a jewel that sits on the bank of the massive Lake Geneva, meaning you’ll be treated to postcard-perfect backdrops. Admire the panoramic view in all its glory by exploring the Ouchy Promenade, which offers beautiful vistas of the mountains sitting across the lake’s gleaming waters. Nearby, the Olympic Museum will grab your attention, housing precious Greek Olympic relics amidst ultra-modern technology. Admire the splendid view of Lake Geneva from the top of the Parc Olympique, just outside the museum.
Take a quick 10-minute walk from the Olympic Museum to Jordils Station and catch the m2 metro to Lausanne-Flon Station. Here, wander the winding streets and alleys towards Place de la Palud. This bustling square sits at the junction of several pedestrian shopping streets. Among the many cafes and boutiques here, you’ll also come across the 17th-century Town Hall and the oldest fountain in Lausanne. Pick your way through the community market, which sets up every Wednesday and Saturday, and purchase some local beers, organic products, and seasonal vegetables.
Walk a few minutes from the square to the Lausanne Cathedral via the charming wooden walkway. Constructed during the 12th and 13th centuries, the large cathedral sits at the heart of the city’s Old Town. Take note of its magnificent Gothic architecture and pay close attention to the beautiful rose window when you step inside. If you are up for a bit of learning, cross the street and make your way to Palais de Rumine. Once a university, the Florentine Renaissance-style palace now houses several museums featuring the geology, zoology, history, and archaeology of the region. We guarantee you’ll spend hours here.
Tired? Stay the night at the lovely Lausanne Palace. Located in the city center, this incredible hotel combines opulent luxury with up-market trendiness, offering generous views of the Old Town and Lake Geneva depending on your choice of room. The price tag is steep, but nothing compares to a night of splendor in the heart of a dynamic city.
From Lausanne to Montreux
Lausanne to Montreux by train: At Lausanne Station, get on the train heading towards Villeneuve. You’ll be stopping at Veytaux-Chillon Station. This journey will only take you 30 minutes on the S3 line.
A quick walk south from the train station will land you in the presence of Château de Chillon. You might have seen pictures of this stunning castle, sitting on the gentle shores of Lake Geneva. In real life, it is just as grand and imposing. Don’t shy away from exploring this fortress and its many courtyards and towers! Impressive artwork and original artifacts dating back to the 13th century are scattered throughout its stone halls.
Make the most of the breathtaking scenery and walk north along the lakeside path into the town of Montreux. Eventually, you will come to the commemorative bronze statue of Freddie Mercury by the waterfront at the end of Place du Marché. Fun fact: the rock legend lived and recorded his last Queen album in Montreux.
Take a break from history and give yourself a chance to breathe in the fresh air of a nearby forested gorge. The backyard of Montreux offers this truly hidden gem that visitors might overlook. Gorges du Chauderon is a large natural park filled to the brim with waterfalls, lush greenery, and marked trails, perfect for a relaxing outdoor adventure.
From Montreux to Gruyères
Montreux to Gruyères by train: It’s time to make the easy journey from Montreux to Gruyères. From Montreux Station, make a stop at Montbovon Station and catch the train towards Gruyères Station. The full trip will take you around 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Interested in cheese? It’s a good thing we’ve entered the municipality of Gruyères! The region is the birthplace of the world-renown Gruyère cheese. This semi-hard, aromatic cheese has a complex savory flavor and a good melting texture, which is no wonder why it’s an essential ingredient in fondue! Pop into La Maison du Gruyère, the cheese factory located near the train station. Here, you can watch live cheese-making, catch a glimpse of the 7,000 cheese wheels displayed in the cheese cellar, and even taste the goods that they produce on-site at their restaurant!
Just 15 minutes away, you will find the charming historical village of Gruyères — yes, it shares the municipality’s name! Essentially a single main street on a once-fortified hill, the whimsical village is something straight out of a medieval fairytale. It rises from the midst of the green, pre-alpine foothills of Fribourg, but don’t be fooled by its modest size! This traffic-free settlement is packed full of history and treasure. Shops, restaurants, and little hotels take residence along the peaceful cobblestone streets, and right at the end is where the imposing fortress of Château de Gruyères stands tall. It is certainly worth entering the sprawling castle to admire the heraldic stained glass windows, preserved tapestries, Gothic furnishings, and the truly impressive Knights’ Hall.
Stay the night at the Hotel de Ville to recharge. The hotel has a restaurant that faces the street, so you’ll have the perfect view of the medieval village at its calmest during your early morning breakfast.
From Gruyères to Sion
Gruyères to Sion by train: From Gruyères, backtrack to Montreux via Montbovon once more. It will take you approximately 20 minutes by train to reach Montbovon Station and an additional 50 minutes to Montreux Station. From Montreux Station, it’s another 35 minutes to Sion Station. Make sure to account for waiting times between train transfers!
Sion is the capital of the Canton of Valais. Its 7,000-year history makes it one of the oldest cities in Switzerland. In fact, archaeological discoveries have unearthed a mindblowing fact: the earliest traces of human settlement in this region stretches back to the truly ancient Mesolithic Period! Today, the region is famous for its wine, particularly of the Fendant variety, the name given to wines made from specific Chasselas Blanc grapes that grow in Valais.
The well-preserved Old Town of Sion is situated between the sloping hills of Valère and Tourbillon. Perched atop each hill are two glorious castle structures that face each other like larger-than-life chess pieces.
Both structures date back to the Middle Ages and draw plenty of visitors each year. Château de Tourbillon may be a ruin today, but you are still able to admire the castle’s interior stone walls, pentagonal fortification, chapel, and slender watchtower. On the other hill sits the Valère Basilica — not technically a castle, but rather an impressive fortified church that houses the oldest functioning pipe organ in the world within its strong walls. Embark on day tours to each structure, or enjoy their presence from the base of the hills among the walkways and paved streets of Sion.
Have some extra time? Duck into one of the town’s Cantonal Museums to learn more about Sion’s history, nature, and art.
Back to Geneva
Sion to Geneva by train: The journey back to Geneva is a direct route from Sion Station to Geneva Station that will take approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes. Easy!
We hope we’ve ignited your passion to explore the beautiful hidden gems of Switzerland in your future travels. If you’re planning to go elsewhere, remember to bookmark our handy resource, The Ultimate Guide to COVID-19 Travel Restrictions, to remain up-to-date with regulations across the globe!