There is a lot more to Switzerland’s great outdoors than Alpine peaks and lush meadows.
The wealth of attractions includes everything from quirky and colorful Swiss festivals, the Swiss wine festival, famous music festivals and everything in between, all with the backdrop of the charming Swiss scenery.
The festival can be one day, a weekend festival, a week, or longer. Most festivals in Switzerland coincide with Switzerland holidays.
For those who have a taste for the performing arts, an eye for film, or an ear for Swiss music festivals, then these 5 festivals in Switzerland should not be missed.
The International Hot-Air Balloon Festival in Château-d’Oex is held every year in the second half of January and lasts for nine days.
The festival takes place in Châteaux d’Oex, which is a small town in the canton of Vaud, in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. The 42nd edition of the festival will be held from 25 January to 2 February 2020.
The festival began in 1979 and has gained quite a reputation among hot air balloon enthusiasts. The unique climate in Châteaux d’Oex makes it ideal for ballooning, and it has even been dubbed the “hot air balloon capital of the world”.
Each year, as many as 100 balloonists gather here and take off from a field at the entrance to the village. Visitors are able to walk around the field and watch the preparations. In 1999, a hot air balloon called Breitling Orbiter 3 took off from Châteaux d’Oex and became the first balloon to circumnavigate the earth in a non-stop flight.
Remember to dress warmly, as Château d’Oex is usually covered in snow at this time of year.
When you’ve had enough of the cold, you can duck into one of the local restaurants for a glass of vin chaud (mulled wine) and some local Swiss specialties.
If you can’t time your visit to coincide with the festival, you can always visit the hot air balloon museum called Balloon Space, which is housed in the former Town Hall and is open year-round. And you can even take a ride in a balloon and enjoy the spectacular views over the pre-Alp mountains.
Recommended by Wendy Werneth of The Nomadic Vegan.
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Cows Coming Home in Albeuve, Switzerland
After a summer of munching on alpine meadows, the cows of Switzerland make their way down to their barns to wait out the harsh winter. During the first week of October, the town of Albeuve comes alive.
Welcoming the cows home is a huge affair. Called by many, the Switzerland cow festival is an annual event. Everyone gets out their Sunday best to bring the cows, along with some goats, back home.
The cows are taken up the mountains in May, where they graze on the sweetest grass for three months. They are accompanied by a small group of men who care for them and milk them twice a day.
The milk is immediately taken down the mountain to make the freshest Gruyere cheese. When the summer days get shorter, and the shadows get longer, it’s time to come back down the mountain where it’s safe for the winter.
The entire town is part of the festivities. Villagers are cooking, serving, making handicrafts, tooling leather, baking bread in the shape of cows heads, part of the Swiss horn entertainment, or just part of the crew who dress the cows in plenty of flowers; everyone is busy.
On Sunday, there is a parade with livestock and plenty of colorfully dressed villagers. The party goes on well into the night, and everyone is happy that the cows are safe for another year.
Recommended by Corinne Vail of Reflections Enroute.
Raisinée Festival, Ogens – Cantons of Vaud, Switzerland
We were staying in Switzerland this season. Within minutes of touching down in Geneva, at the Switzerland airport, we were very confused when our host explained he was taking us to a Raisinée Festival.
It was nearly 11 pm, what sort of festival would be taking place in the middle of the night?
hour later we arrive in the village of Ogens where our Workaway host lived and found a group of men gathered around a giant smoking cauldron with drinks in hand and music playing.
We were informed they were making Raisinée, sometimes referred to as “vin cuit” (cooked wine.) Although it is not fermented and there are no grapes involved, so it isn’t actually a wine at all.
It is a syrup molasses created from the pears and apples that cannot be sold or eaten raw. They are mashed and juice extracted with approximately 10 kilos of juice creating 1 kilo of Raisinée. The final product is then traditionally used in tarts and cakes and reminded us of the taste and texture of treacle.
The festival was organized by local firemen who stay up through the night in shifts to complete the Raisinee boiling process which can take 17-36 hours to complete. If the boiling pot is left unattended the syrup will turn bitter and spoil. They decant the Raisinée and sell it in the local area to raise funds for the fire brigade among other local causes.
This traditional festival is particularly common in Cantons of Vaud where Ogens is situated as well as Fribourgh and Neuchâtel however Raisinée itself is used as a sweetener in many regions of Europe and the traditional festival dates as far back as the 17th century. We were told it traditionally takes place around harvest time in Autumn and our visit was at the start of October.
They allowed us a turn at mixing the pot and even sampling last year’s batch which was delicious with ice cream. It was a unique festival that is was incredibly interesting to witness, not to mention one of the best festivals in Switzerland for a delicious treat.
Written by Lauren Hay of Faramagan. Follow her on Instagram.
Fasnacht Basel in Switzerland
Basel is popular as Switzerland’s city of museums, but did you know that it is also equally popular for Basler Fasnacht, the biggest carnival in Switzerland! The carnival which lasts 72 hours is held annually in the months of February or March with a number of events being held before and after Fasnacht as well.
This Basel festival is vibrant, lively, and filled with music (Guggenmusik). When we visited the Fasnacht last year, we found it be a fun event with a great community spirit.
The participants of the parade, who are called ‘Fasnachtlers’, dress in traditional carnival costumes including face masks as it is important to remain fully concealed while participating in the carnival.
Those who are members of the music bands wear themed dresses as they take part in the festivities.
The Fasnacht begins on the Monday following the Ash Wednesday and lasts for 3 days. It is an early morning start, at exactly 4 am on Monday with the beginning referred to as the ‘Morgenstreich’.
This is followed by ‘Gugge music’ (brass and percussion band and music concerts) on Tuesday.
The celebrations end on Wednesday with the ‘Endstreich’ – a big procession that is somewhat similar to the one on the first day and again ends at 4 am.
The carnival is rooted in local traditions and is unlike any other that we have been to.
We spent three days taking in the festive spirit and enjoying the parade and the elaborate costumes of the participants. If you are planning to head to Basel for the Fasnacht, do note that unlike other carnivals, the Fasnacht has a distinction between the participants and the spectators.
You should not dress up in costumes or paint your face unless you are a participant. There is no fee to enjoy the event, but you can support the festival by purchasing a ‘Plakette’, which is the official carnival badge.
Basel Fasnacht is an amazing and fascinating experience; one that we would recommend experiencing if you are planning a trip to Switzerland in February/March.
Written by Deeptha Doshi of The Globe Trotter. Follow her on Twitter.
Montreux Jazz Festival
Montreux Jazz Festival is one of the most prestigious festivals in the world for Jazz although in recent years its line up has included artists from other genres. It’s held annually in Montreux on the edge of Lake Geneva over the first two weeks of July.
The festival takes over the town and attracts around a quarter of a million people. If you’re planning on attending, make sure you book your accommodation and tickets well in advance.
Despite such large visitor numbers what’s unique about this festival is that it still has an intimate feel particularly in the concert auditoriums. All venues are along the waterfront, and there’s also a jazz boat and pool party which you can attend.
I’ve performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival on several occasions and can say the atmosphere is electric.
The town is heaving with enthusiastic music fans of all ages, and the line up of artists always includes some big names. In the past, the likes of Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Carlos Santana, Jamie Cullum, and Paloma Faith have all graced the stage.
Behind the scenes, the festival is run with ease and precision. The sound engineers and in-house teams are incredibly laid back but super-efficient ensuring that musicians feel relaxed and at ease.
Artists have to use the festival’s equipment to keep the change over between bands swift, but the teams are so accommodating with your requests.
Every performance is recorded, and you’re always given a copy of the recording, a festival T-Shirt with the words performer on the back, and one of the highly sought after posters. It’s a lovely touch that is so much more personal than most gigs.
If you’re visiting the festival and want to catch the stars, my top tip would be to head to the main festival shop in the early afternoon.
Press interviews are usually held on a small platform next door, and artists are generally up for a quick chat and a few autographs before they get ushered away.
Being Switzerland, it’s an expensive festival to visit especially if you purchase festival tickets to any of the main events.
However, there’s free live music acts for 11 hours throughout the day at the Music in the Park.
Trains are frequent to the area and run with Swiss efficiency so you can visit for the day and enjoy the music without paying a penny.
Along with the music, there’s also some great street food and pop up restaurants along the stretch in front of the Lake.
There’s nothing better than sitting in one of the cocktail bars watching the sunset while listening to the fantastic music in the background. Just don’t forget to bring your wallet.
Upcoming Festivals in Switzerland
There are several places to visit in Switzerland and the best time to visit Switzerland depends on the activities you want to do.
From skiing in Switzerland to enjoying the famous Lake Geneva, you will always be able to attend winter festivals or summer festivals throughout the country. For a list of festivals in Switzerland contact the Switzerland tourism board.
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