Switzerland is such an amazing place for the students at Leysin American School to live and learn. Switzerland offers a safe space for students to grow and explore, all the while learning about its unique culture. We are lucky to have many opportunities to expose our students to some of these wonderful aspects of Swiss culture. There are so many great things to choose from, but here are just a few of our favourites:
1. Winter Markets
With the holidays quickly approaching, it doesn't come as a surprise that Swiss holiday markets have made the top of our list. Come the early winter months, many Swiss villages and cities transform into dazzling holiday markets. Whether you’re looking to buy some handcrafted gifts for loved ones (and support small businesses at the same time!), enjoy delicious comfort food by a toasty fire (fondue anyone?), or just take in the general cozy holiday splendour, you won’t want to miss these markets! Our personal favourite is the Montreux market (just a short drive or train ride away from the Leysin American School campus) where you can visit the lit-up Chillon Castle and take part in craft workshops. Be sure to also check out the Basel market—the biggest and oldest holiday market in Switzerland!
2. Mountain Huts
Scattered throughout the Swiss Alps you will find a number of mountain huts. These beautiful, rustic buildings are typically built from wood or stone, and many of them offer a glance back in time, having been constructed in the early 1900s. These huts offer a place to rest after a day of skiing or an evening shelter where you can find good company and a home-cooked meal after a long day of hiking, climbing, or ski touring. While the accommodations are usually quite simple, should you find yourself staying at one of these huts, know you are participating in an authentic Swiss experience: truly nothing beats sipping hot tea and filling up on some warm comfort food by the fire, resting and swapping stories from the day.
If you go on a hike in the Swiss countryside, chances are you won’t make it very far without running into a cow. As the producers of Swiss milk, chocolate, and cheese, cows have cemented their place as one of Switzerland’s most iconic creatures. In fact, cows are so revered in Switzerland that an annual tradition called Alpabzug exists so farmers can show off their prized livestock. Each year during the early months of fall, farmers will adorn their cows with beautiful crowns and bells, and march them down the mountain, where they will stay to keep warm during the cold winter months. Watching this procession truly is such a fun—and very Swiss—way to appreciate these awesome animals.
4. Small Towns
Geneva, Zurich, and many other large cities may get a lot of recognition in Switzerland, but some of the most Swiss experiences can be had in the smallest of mountain villages. Walking or hiking through remote towns and trails will open you to some of the most stunning vistas you have ever laid eyes on, as well as some of the kindest and most hospitable people you will meet on your trip. It is very common to say hello to the people you pass on Swiss hiking trails, so be sure to brush up on some simple phrases before you go! If you are in the French-speaking region, you can offer a simple “bonjour,” in the German-speaking region you can opt for “grüezi,” and if you are in the Italian-speaking region, “buongiorno” is the way to go.
As one of Switzerland’s favourite winter pastimes, skiing is built into the very fabric of Swiss culture. Swiss children start learning this sport from a young age and are often extremely skilled at it by the time they reach young adulthood.
At Leysin American School, our students go skiing every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon throughout the winter semester. While many of our students haven’t had the chance to ski from a young age, each student is matched up with an instructor who meets them where they are at—whether they are a complete beginner or a seasoned pro—and helps them improve on their abilities. Connecting our students with this sport is a great way for them to participate in the culture of our country and our mountain home. While the winter season is our favorite time of year to go skiing, our students can actually enjoy the sport 365 days a year. Each of our students receives a Magic Pass at the beginning of the year that gives them access to some of the places that national teams from around the world practice on in the off season! Check out this blog post for some of our favourite ski destinations in Switzerland!
The essence of Swiss culture all comes down to this. Whether you’re craving fondue, raclette, or croute, Switzerland does it all, and it does it all well. There’s nothing quite like ending a long ski day in the Alps by meeting up with friends at the nearest mountain hut for some core-warming melted cheese. You’ll be pressed to find a place in the world that makes it better; after all, Swiss cheeses are made and aged in Switzerland, undergoing rigorous quality control checks throughout production.
Remember, if you do decide to go for the fondue, take a minute to look up how to eat this delectable dish like a Swiss. Fondue consumption comes with some fun rituals (and hygienic practices)—so no double-dipping allowed!