What? Switzerland and dark tourism? The same Switzerland as in the little Alpine country mostly associated with neutrality, peace, prosperity and democracy?!?
Yes, even clichéd Switzerland is not as pure as it may seem. For instance, democracy may have enjoyed a longer tradition here than in most other countries, but then again: was it really full democracy? Consider this: Switzerland only gave women the right to vote as late as 1971 – many decades after it had become perfectly normal in virtually any other developed country – and in one of its cantons (regions constituting the federation) it took until 1990 for this to be actually implemented. And the prosperity? That too has its darker sides, as we know – in the case of Switzerland the worst dark association being that with Nazi gold in WWII
And what about peacefulness? Yes, the country hasn't been (militarily) involved in any war in centuries. However, it is nonetheless a surprisingly military-intense country, with compulsory military service for all male citizens and the (controversial) requirement that as reservists they must keep their army-issued guns at home. Furthermore, large fortresses were dug into the mountains for defensive purposes. Some of these subterranean cavern systems now function as conference centres or for storage of data … or in one case cheese!
And then there's the nuclear bunkers. Between 1963 and the end of the Cold War, every newly built house had to have one in the basement (today this applies only for large buildings with over 38 apartments). All in all, Switzerland is unique in having more places in its private and communal bunkers/fallout shelters than its population needs (a 114% capacity – according to swissinfo.ch, "Bunkers for all", 7/2009). And while the Big Powers excelled at stocking overkill nuclear arsenals, the Swiss over-excelled at over-protection. This includes the world’s once largest fallout shelter (in Lucerne
There are at least a couple of former bunkers that have been redeveloped as hotels … One of them, marketed as a "zero star" hotel, has recently had to close again, however, but is to function as a museum in the future.
The Alps of Switzerland also have their own dark elements, especially a few particularly difficult and hence dangerous to climb mountains that have claimed many lives, such as the Matterhorn and the Eiger.
These are the places in Switzerland that have their own separate chapters on this website:
Another darkish pilgrimage site of sorts is the HR Giger Museum in the small town of Gruyère in the region of Gruyère (also known for its cheese of the same name) in the French-speaking canton of Fribourg. The Swiss artist, painter and sculptor, Hans Ruedi Giger, usually spelled with initials, either HR or H.R., rose to international fame in particular through his design of the extraterrestrial monster in the 1979 Sci-Fi horror movie “Alien” directed by Ridley Scott. His “biomechanical” style blending machines with (often erotic) human elements is still influential. The museum has many works by the artist. Photography inside is forbidden, but as a patron in the adjacent HR Giger Bar you are free to take pictures of the Giger-style interior design (see in the photo gallery below).
On my summer 2020 Switzerland trip I also stumbled upon some surprise dark elements on my excursion to Lucerne, e.g. the skulls on display outside the Lucerne History Museum and the “Danse Macabre” paintings inside the city’s iconic Chapel Bridge, the southern end of which still shows charred parts from a fire in 1993.
Other than to Lucerne, Gruyères, Zürich
, that trip also took me to Interlaken
, whose central location makes it a good base for various excursions to the Berner Oberland … and of course the fabled Jungfraubahn
As a travel destination in general, Switzerland is one of the best developed countries you could possibly imagine. Public transport is formidable – even up into the high Alps, namely by means of an efficient, clean railway network. It's also multilingual – and even train staff do not only speak the country's four languages (German, French, Italian, Romansh), but English on top. If you are using trains a lot, it’s worth considering a Swiss Travel Pass, which allows unlimited travel on all standard trains and overland buses as well as varying reductions (usually between 25% and 50%) on many private mountain railways, cable cars and even boats on various lakes, as well as free public transport in most towns and cities, plus free entry to hundreds of museums. These passes are available for 3, 4, 6, 8, or 15 consecutive days and cost between ca. 250 to a bit over 400 CHF (2nd class; 1st costs around 40% more).
Being so centrally located in Europe also makes the country as such easily reachable, by all modes of transport – surprisingly, for a landlocked country, this even includes waterways with boats providing a means of transport, namely on Lake Geneva and Lake Constance (from France
, respectively). The main international airport of Switzerland is Zürich
Being an affluent country, however, price levels
are predictably high
, not only for transport but also for accommodation and food & drink
, though with a bit of preplanning and/or looking around it needn't be crippling.
-wise, Switzerland is rightly famous for its cheese and chocolate, both amongst the best in the world. And both find their way into the national cuisine, with raclette and fondue being the best-known. Another famous staple, rösti, is also both well known and widely available. Thanks to these specialities, vegetarians also fare a lot better here than in neighbouring France
(though it's still hardly health food). Regional specialities go beyond the expected and are well worth exploring too.
And then there's the wine – not much of it sees export, so it's not that well known. But it can be superb – and since most of it is consumed within the country, enjoy it while you're there. In the supermarkets it’s not even so much more expensive than in neighbouring countries, though in restaurants the markup can be painfully high.
The craft beer revolution has also arrived in Switzerland, but again expect to pay steep prices for this pleasure.