Switzerland

With A Twist

Slick museums and world-class attractions abound in Switzerland, yet the country’s more unusual experiences are not to be missed. Some are hidden in plain sight, while others require you to delve deeper into the heart of the country to discover the quirkier side of the Swiss.

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t The Sechseläuten festival in Zürich, with the flaming Böögg as the centrepiece

Burning of the Böögg

A tradition since the 16th century, Zürich’s Sechseläuten festival takes place on the third Monday in April and heralds the beginning of spring. Its centrepiece is the burning of the Böögg, a snowman effigy packed with fire crackers, put atop a bonfire and set alight at 6pm on the dot. Supposedly, the quicker the Böögg’s head explodes, the nicer the summer will be. It’s a hit-and-miss method of weather forecasting, but the poor Böögg did predict the very hot summer of 2003 when his head exploded after just 5 minutes and 42 seconds. In comparison, the longest recorded time was in 2016, when the head took 43 minutes and 34 seconds to explode. Afterwards, festival-goers hang around to enjoy barbecuing sausages in the bonfire’s embers.

Velogemel

Invented in 1911 by a local businessman and woodcarver with mobility problems, the velogemel is a wooden snow-bike unique to the mountain village of Grindelwald. The vehicle allows users to push off using their feet and steer with two handlebars. It’s still made in Grindelwald, and can be hired for use on the area’s sledge runs. Put your skills to the test in the annual Velogemel World Championships in February, or use it to get from A to B like a local.

Unusual Museums

Dare to dive into Switzerland’s subversive side? Stop by the Frog Museum in Estavayer-le-Lac, with its fascinating collection of taxidermied frogs. In Gränichen, you can learn about the Swiss witch trials and superstitions at the Witch Museum.

Bunking Down

Switzerland’s Cold War policy of providing a nuclear bunker for every resident led to the construction of the vast Sonnenberg Bunker in the town of Lucerne to accommodate 20,000 people. A tour of the now downsized facility (Apr—Sep monthly in English, book in advance) is a fascinating experience.

Did You Know?

The word “Böögg” is probably related to the English word “bogeyman”.

Switzerland With A Twist

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Quirky Hotels

La Claustra

This former army fort built under the Gotthard pass is now a restaurant-with-rooms (via San Gottardo, Airolo).

Igloo Village

Wrap up for a night in an igloo in locations all around Switzerland (www.iglu-dorf.com).

Whitepod

Stay in converted oak wine barrels; other barrels have been converted into hot tubs (www.fasshotel.ch).

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