Road trip Switzerland: the Grand Tour of Switzerland

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Mountain passes, luxury hotels, glittering lakes: Switzerland is practically a road trip paradise. The diverse landscapes that the country offers are best appreciated while doing the Grand Tour of Switzerland. Here are 3 sections of the tour that we tailored to fit any schedule.

25 July 2019

So what exactly makes a perfect road trip? You need mountains, passes, lakes and a healthy dose of winding roads. Add to this a number of sights to see, a few places to get out and hike, plenty of fine dining and lastly, a refined selection of luxury hotels. Switzerland can offer you all of this in a single route. And if you don’t have time to drive the whole thing, you can easily just explore a part of it.

Road trip – hit all the high points

The Grand Tour of Switzerland spans almost 1,000 miles and takes you around 22 lakes and over five alpine passes, each of which is more than 6,500 feet above sea level. This scenic route includes glaciers, famous mountain roads, palm-lined lakes, rustic mountain villages and luxury hotels.

Ideally, you should plan in nine days to see the entire route, which runs the length and breadth of Switzerland. But in case that would be too much, we’ve put together two other itineraries which take only five days or just a long weekend. To make your tour as grand as possible, we suggest the BMW 8 Series Coupe.

Grand Tour of Switzerland: the classic route

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If road trips are your idea of a dream vacation, this 1,000-mile route through Switzerland is hard to beat. Travel along winding mountain roads to reach famous alpine passes like the Gotthard Pass and marvel at the 22 lakes and 12 UNESCO World Heritage Sites along the way.

Day 1: Zurich to St. Gallen (approx. 90 miles)
Highlights: Take in Europe’s largest waterfall and the picturesque town of Stein am Rhein as you make your way to St. Gallen. You won’t need a map because all the roads are marked with official signposts. Once you reach your destination, you can explore the charming, car-free old town on foot. For the perfect end to your day, head to the two-star Michelin restaurant Einstein Gourmet.
Spend the night in a luxury hotel: the Militärkantine. Built in 1911 and renovated in 2014, this hotel offers 21 rooms from which you can enjoy a view of the city, Kreuzbleiche park and the surrounding hills.

Day 2: St. Gallen to Davos (approx. 100 miles)
Highlights: Wind your way through the canton of Appenzell, heading first to Marienfeld and then on to Davos in the canton of Graubünden. When you need a break, stop and take a hike through the hilly landscape. We suggest the famous Aescher-Wildkirchli hut or the Tectonic Arena Sardona. After you’ve worked up an appetite, spend a delicious evening at the one-star Michelin restaurant Glow by Armin Amrein.
Spend the night in a luxury hotel: Tonight, you can enjoy a view of the Alps when you stay at the Ameron Swiss Mountain Resort. This luxury hotel boasts its own art collection (➜ How to become an art collector) with almost 1,000 works on display. Afterwards, you can spend some time in the 9,000-square foot spa to relax and recharge.

The classic route of the Grand Tour of Switzerland covers almost 1,000 miles and 5 alpine passes. One of them is the Furka Pass with the iconic Hotel Belvédère directly next to the road.

Day 3: Davos to Lugano (approx. 180 miles)
Highlights: The drive through the Engadin to the Swiss city of palm trees on Lake Lugano is one of the most glorious sections of the tour. Explore the fairytale village of Guarda, spend some time at the Swiss National Park in Zernez, hike Muottas Muragl, and dine in style in one of St. Moritz’s four Michelin-starred restaurants. You should still have time for a dip in the mineral springs at Andeer before coming to the San Bernadino Pass. End your day with an exquisite meal and lake-view dining at Galleria Arté al Lago.
Spend the night in a luxury hotel: Villa Principe Leopoldo on the Collina d’Oro (Golden Hill). This former manor house with its breathtaking views of the lake is now part of the Relais & Chateaux collection of luxury hotels.

Day 4: Lugano to Zermatt (approx. 135 miles)
Highlights: This stretch of road is perfect for driving enthusiasts. (➜ something else you might like: Culinary road trip through California). Following a leisurely stroll along the promenade on Lago Maggiore in Ascona, you can then have lunch at the Michelin-starred Locanda Orico  in Bellinzona. After your meal, you can visit the city’s three castles, which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The highlight of today – both literally and figuratively – is the Tremola, a marvel of old road engineering (with cobblestones!). From Airolo, this historic pass snakes its way up the Gotthard Pass to the Furka Pass. By the way, the Stockalper Palace in Brig or the Ice Pavilion in Saas Fee, which takes you inside the glacier of the same name, is also worth a visit.
Spend the night in a luxury hotel: Cervo Mountain Boutique Hotel. Sip a cocktail on the sundeck as you gaze out onto the Matterhorn at the sustainably designed resort made up of six chalets. Keep in mind that no vehicles are permitted in Zermatt, so you will have to park in the nearby town of Täsch and catch a shuttle train.

Day 5: Zermatt to Montreux (approx. 95 miles)
Highlights: From Täsch you will follow the Rhône through the canton of Valais as it flows past Sion, Martigny and finally to Montreux. Take your time to fully appreciate the imposing mountainscape surrounding Zermatt, Leuk Castle, Gornergrat, the hot springs at the Leukerbad thermal spa, Lac Souterrain (Europe’s largest subterranean lake) or panoramic views from the Kuklos viewing point.
Spend the night in a luxury hotel: Relais et Château Grand Hôtel du Lac. On the shores of Lake Geneva, the five-star superior hotel done in the art nouveau style. If you’re hungry, there are four one-star Michelin restaurants nearby.

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One of the highlights of the leg between St. Gallen and Davos is the Aescher-Wildkirchli mountain guesthouse in Appenzell. This mountain inn, precariously perched at 4,770 feet above sea level, has graced the cover of National Geographic. It can only be reached by taking a cable car and then a short walk.
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As soon as you arrive in Lugano, head over to the Galleria Arté al Lago for dinner. This elegant Michelin-starred restaurant serves works of art made of seafood.
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The Relais & Chateau-Hotel Villa Principe Leopoldo perched on a hill overlooking Lake Lugano once served as the private residence of a prince. After a royally relaxing swim in the pool, you can set off on the next leg of your trip to Zermatt.
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Make sure to stop in Ascona to stroll down the enchanting café-lined promenade along the lake.
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The Grand Tour of Switzerland takes you on the famous switchbacks and mountain roads of the Furka Pass…
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…towards Zermatt. The Cervo Mountain Boutique Hotel offers you the quintessential Swiss experience – a room with a view of the Matterhorn.
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No tour of Switzerland would be complete without seeing the almost 2,000 acres of terraced vineyards of Lavaux – Switzerland’s largest contiguous wine-growing area, which has just been designated a UNESCO cultural landscape.
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The picturesque roads that run alongside Lake Geneva are the perfect road trip experience.
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Welcome back to Zurich! The city on the Limmat River is both our starting point and final destination for the Grand Tour of Switzerland.

Day 6: Montreux to Geneva (approx. 60 miles)
As you leave Montreaux, you will drive through the Lavaux vineyard terraces on your way to Geneva via Lausanne. Take a quick tour to get to know the area a little better. We recommend visiting the vineyard terraces at the top of broad Lake Geneva – they are part of the UNESCO cultural landscape. Gourmets will enjoy a delightful meal at theAuberge du Lion d’Or in Cologny.
Spend the night in a luxury hotel: at the 100-acre Jiva Hill Resort. Strictly speaking, the resort is just on the other side of the French border – but we’re in road trip mode, after all.

Day 7: Geneva to Gstaad (approx. 100 miles)
Stop in Fribourg with its lovely bridges for a culinary adventure at Des Trois Tours and then continue through the land of Gruyères on towards Gstaad. Don’t miss the picturesque city of Neuchâtel, Lake Bienne, St. Peter’s Island, the Cailler chocolate factory, Le Moléson overlook point and Lake Lauenen. For dinner, you can’t go wrong with the Michelin-starred restaurant Sommet.
Spend the night in a luxury hotel: at The Cambrian Hotel in Adelboden. This sleek and stylish hotel featuring an infinity pool looking out onto the alps is a real jewel.

Quick break at the Gotthard Pass. Could there be a more beautiful parking spot?

Day 8: Gstaad to Lucerne (approx. 195 miles)
 To travel to Lucerne, you will go through Interlaken, Berne, the Emmental, Entlebuch and around Lake Lucerne. Along the way you will encounter Lake Brienz, Lake Thun, get a view of Eiger, Mönch und Jungfrau, visit old town Berne and the Marzilibad swimming pool or Hallwyl Castle.
Spend the night in a luxury hotel: The Bürgenstock Resort is just a short drive away from the city. Your reward at the end of the day is lounging around one of the most impressive pools in Switzerland with a view of Lake Lucerne.

Day 9: Lucerne to Zurich (approx. 90 miles)
After driving along Lake Lucerne, past Altdorf and Schwyz, you will start heading back to Zurich. End your trip with one last memorable meal at the Prisma restaurant in the dreamy Park Hotel Vitznau, which of course has breathtaking views of the lake.
Spend the night in a luxury hotel: at the foot of the Uetliberg in Zurich at Atlantis by Giardino. You can spend the last evening of your road trip luxuriating in this green oasis before making your way back home.

Five-day trip: start and end in Lucerne

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Maximum sightseeing in a minimal amount of days: This Grand Tour of Switzerland road trip (➜ The 70 best drivetunes for your ride) lets you experience the country’s highlights in just five days – clear mountain lakes set among vast mountainscapes, alpine roads, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, beautiful shoreline drives and gourmet dining.

Day 1: Lucerne to Andermatt (approx. 95 miles)
Drive along the shore and through alpine passes along Lake Lucerne on your way to the mountain village of Andermatt – just follow the official Grand Tour signs. The peak of your day will be the trio of passes with their hairpin bends being a particular attraction – Furka Pass, Susten Pass and Grimsel Pass. For some fine dining options, try Michelin-starred Focus in Vitznau or RICO’S in Küssnacht.
Spend the night in a luxury hotel: The Chedi Andermatt at 4,747 feet above sea level. This five-star hotel combines alpine chic with Asian flair – and for a true luxury getaway, the hotel can provide you with your own personal ski butler.

Luxury means making time for special moments. We’ll be making a quick stop at he five star hotel The Chedi Andermatt to recharge for the next leg of our Grand Tour of Switzerland.

Day 2: Andermatt to Montreux (approx. 115 miles)
Today, you will be driving through the wine country of the Rhône Valley through Sion and Martigny to Montreux. Take some time to explore Leuk Castle, the hot springs at Leukerbad, Lac Souterrain (Europe’s largest underground lake) or the Trient Gorge.
Spend the night in a luxury hotel: at the Fairmont Le Montreux Palace. One of the best features of this jewel of the Belle Époque is the view of Lake Geneva.

Day 3: Montreux to Neuchâtel (approx. 95 miles)
Travel on to Lausanne and then to Col du Marchairuz, passing by the terraced vineyards of Lavaux on Lake Neuchâtel. Take the time to explore some amazing timepieces in La Chaux-de-Fonds, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is famous for watchmaking. Visit the watch museum, Musée International de l'Horlogerie, which is home to over 4,500 time-keeping devices, 2,700 of which are on display.
Spend the night in a luxury hotel: The Beau Rivage Hotel is located on the Esplanade du Mont-Blanc lake promenade. You can sit back and talk about your favorite parts of the day while gazing out at the lake and the Bernese Alps.

An impressive view: the BMW 8 Series Coupe at the Susten Pass (above) and at the Grimsel Pass with a view of the Grimsel lake.

Day 4: Neuchatel to Gstaad/Saanen (approx. 125 miles)
Start driving up into the Jura mountains, passing through Broc and Gruyère to Gstaad Saanen. Stop in Fribourg with its lovely bridges for a culinary adventure at Des Trois Tours. Other places worth seeing include Lake Bienne, St. Peter’s Island, Le Moléson overlook point and Lake Lauenen. For dinner, you can’t go wrong with Michelin-starred MEGU or Chesery.
Spend the night in a luxury hotel: Stay at the mountain hideaway The Alpina Gstaad to recharge for your drive back to Lucerne at the luxurious Six Senses Spa.

Day 5: Gstaad/Saanen to Lucerne (approx. 150 miles)
Interlaken, Berne and the Emmental all beckon to you for a visit on your trip back to Lake Lucerne. We would also recommend you visit Lake Brienz, Lake Thun, the old town of Berne or Castle Hallwyl (and maybe take a dip in the cool Aare River).
Spend the night in a luxury hotel: at the Bürgenstock Resort with a view of Lake Lucerne. Located a little outside of the city, this luxury hotel offers you one of Switzerland’s most beautiful pools to relax in on your last night.

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Lucerne on Lake Lucerne is the starting and the finishing point for the Grand Tour of Switzerland car trip. On your way to Andermatt, you should definitely leave enough time to have a scrumptious meal in Vitznau.
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When you’re driving through Switzerland, you need to try the local cuisine. One option would be the chic Michelin-starred restaurant Focus in the picturesque Park Hotel Vitznau.
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One of the highlights of the Switzerland road trip is driving through all three passes – Furka, Susten and Grimsel (picture).
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Park your car and get on the boat: between Sion and Sierre lies Lac Souterrain, Europe’s largest navigable underground lake.
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On this leg you should take some time to check out some of the timepieces: The watchmaking city of La Chaux-de-Fonds is on the UNESCO List of Cultural Heritage. Make sure to visit the Musée International de l’Horlogerie watch museum.
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The old town of Berne is also worth a stopover. Take a break and cool off in the refreshing waters of the Aare River.
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What a view! Finish your five-day Grand Tour of Switzerland with a luxurious swim in the beautiful Bürgenstock Resort pool.

Three-day trip: from Zurich to Lugano and back

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See all the best places to visit in Switzerland – mountain lakes, shoreline drives, alpine passes and Michelin-starred restaurants – over a long weekend doing the Grand Tour of Switzerland. It’s the ideal trip for driving aficionados and lovers of winding roads.

Day 1: Zurich to St. Moritz (approx. 170 miles)
After having lunch at The Restaurant in the Dolder Grand (this luxury castle hotel alone is worth the trip up the Zurich Adlisberg), head towards Appenzell, Bad Ragaz, Davos and the Fluela Pass into the Engadin. There’s no need to worry about maps here either – the entire route is marked with official signs.
Your Switzerland itinerary includes the Ebenalp and the famous Aescher-Wildkirchli mountain guesthouse, the seven Churfirsten, Werdenberg Castle, Heidi’s house in Maienfeld, the Tectonic Arena Sardona and the Ruinaulta (Rhine Gorge), Salginatobel Bridge, Tarasp Castle in the Lower Engadin and the Bogn Engiadina mineral springs.
Spend the night in a luxury hotel: at Badrutt’s Palace. For over a century, this iconic luxury hotel has stood majestically on Lake St. Moritz. Michelin-starred IGNIV by Andreas Caminada (➜ ECKART Award winner) combines the concept of sharing small plates with fine dining.

If you love casually navigating bridges and serpentines, then the Grand Tour of Switzerland was practically made for you. You’ll experience the famous Tremola street (above) and you’ll feel like Sean Connery in the James Bond movie “Goldfinger” in the Furka Pass (below).

Day 2: St. Moritz to Lugano (approx. 120 miles)
This Switzerland tour will take you from the mountain lakes of the Engadin over the San Bernadino Pass to the palm-tree-lined lake of Lugano. One of the most beautiful stopovers is on the Montebello curve. The Rhaetian Railway crosses the street here, as you gaze out over Piz Bernina (13,284 feet), Piz Palü (12,798 feet) and Piz Roseg (12,916 feet). Other things to experience along the way are the Viamala Gorge, a quick dip in the Andeer mineral springs, the three castles in Bellinzona, the sumptuous Parco Botanico del Gambarogno garden and an evening meal at Galleria Arté al Lago on Lake Lugano.
Spend the night in a luxury hotel: at the Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola. Have drinks on the terrace overlooking the lake and reminisce about your day.

Day 3: Lugano to Zurich (approx. 185 miles)
After a quick stop in Ascona, wind your way up the road to the Tremola Pass, Gotthard Pass and Furka Pass, and go through Lucerne on your way to Zurich. After a full day of mountain passes, sit down to a delicious dinner at Restaurant Prisma in the stately Park Hotel Vitznau.
Spend the night in a luxury hotel: at the Dolder Grand high on Adlisberg. Bring your road trip to a delightful conclusion by spending a night in the luxurious castle overlooking Lake Zurich. Enjoy the hotel’s art collection, relaxing spa and Michelin-starred restaurant.

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After spending a night at the Dolder Grand, head out on your three-day Grand Tour of Switzerland. You will also end your Switzerland vacation at the luxury castle hotel high up on Adlisberg.
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Speaking of castles: On the drive from Zurich to St. Moritz, you’ll be able to explore the sights like the idyllic Werdenberg Castle.
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This evening, you can dine in St. Moritz at IGNIV im Badrutt’s Palace Hotel. The Michelin-starred restaurant by Andreas Caminada has combined fine dining with the concept of sharing small plates, with award-winning results.
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Zig-zagging on the way down to Lugano. On your drive through Switzerland, you’ll go over the San Bernadino pass on your way to the city where palm trees sway in mountain breezes.
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At the end of the bay on the northern shore of Lake Lugano surrounded by scenic mountains lies the city of Lugano. The two mountains encircling Lugano, Monte San Salvatore and Monte Brè, offer a lovely vantage point from which to view the city, the lake and the alpine scenery.
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For the perfect end to a perfect drive, stop off on your way to Zurich at Restaurant Prisma in the grand Park Hotel Vitznau to enjoy a lovely evening meal on the shores of Lake Lucerne.

Travel information

You can drive the Grand Tour of Switzerland in either direction, but the Swiss Tourism Federation recommends that you drive it going clockwise. Highways are avoided whenever possible on the Grand Tour, but are sometimes included when it makes sense to do so. The route is marked with official signs.

Photos: Benjamin A. Monn