Photo: St Ursanne (JU), 2015-August-02.
I wouldn’t take this as a definitive “must-visit” guide, but rather a source of ideas for places that you might pass right by without noticing, or help setting a goal for a hiking/biking trip.
I have tried to keep this to small places which really are villages, so whilst Murten for example is pretty I am going to say it is too big. For more pretty places on a slightly larger scale I also have a page on pretty but lesser known old towns.
These are my curated suggestions based on my experiences and where I think looks good.
Sources for more ideas.
This is partly based on my own travels, but also with suggestions from:
- The Most Beautiful Villages in Switzerland. An association selecting and promoting villages. They are working towards selecting 50 from around the country. Their (very slow) website lists their selections. I mostly agree with their choices; though there are a few that I have been to which I thought were nice, but they didn’t stand out to me that much (Luthern, Gersau, Torgen). Their Wikipedia page is somewhat faster (but only in French).
- The Most Beautiful Village in Switzerland was an annual competition run by the magazine Swiss Illustrated. Despite having an almost identical name the two have produced different results. In this case it is a public vote. Based on some unknown input process 50 villages are selected by a Jury (generally of course trying to spread them over the whole country), then these are knocked down to 12 finalists by the public, and a winner selected by public popularity contest (a great way to fill a few months worth of magazines). Generally the finalists tend to be in the mountains (mostly in Graubünden). If you want to read more it is only in German/French/Italian.
– Noticeably not many of the super famous international tourist favourite villages show up in the finalists (I think it is fair to say that only Istwelt is going to see high numbers of international tourists). This may be that arguably places like Wengen and Engelberg are not overly special and tend to be fairly overly developed with infrastructure, but it could also be that the initial jury selection is biased against them.
- MySwitzerland has a 50 most beautiful places. Most of which are villages. There are some great examples in here, but because they have to include a mix from around the country there are also some questionable choices. Anyone who thinks La Chaux-de-Fonds is a a contender for most beautiful needs their head checking.
- Bergsteigerdörfer. An association of villages promoting sustainable tourism. At the time of writing these are almost all in Austria, but the number of Swiss entries are growing.
- Wakker Prize. A Swiss award development and preservation of architectural heritage. Some places that win it are lovely and super beautiful (Stein am Rhein, Ernen, Porrentruy among many others), but others win it for more cultural reasons and are not worth trying to visit (eg: Grenchen).
- There also more local competitions, like The Most Beautiful Villages of the Canton of Vaud.
- Englishforum.ch always has a few good threads on any Swiss topic, and this is no different.
- St Ursanne (JU).
- S-chanf (GR). The Engadine is full of beautiful villages, but this one is the only example where it is all beautiful village with no modern parts.
- Jaun (FR). I passed through here after 6 years exploring of the country, and it still got a ‘wow’ out of me.
- Foroglio (TI). There are endless beautiful villages composed of stone Rusticos, but the waterfall sitting by this one makes it stand out.
Not in line for the most beautiful award, but are worth a visit for other reasons.
- Altreu (SO). The village itself is pleasant enough, sitting on the river with some old farmhouses. But what really makes it interesting is the stork colony which was installed there so every building is covered in stork nests. Best seen in late spring/early summer when the
- Juf (GR). Sitting at 2126m this is the highest year round village in Switzerland (and possibly Europe). The village itself isn’t anything special, but the bus ride up the long and lonely valley to reach it (including passing within a few meters of the only part of Italy to drain into the North Sea) is an experience. It also makes a good starting point for hikes over various passes.
- Laufenburg (AG). It is a bit too big to count as a village, but it is pretty and is rather special because it is split between Switzerland and Germany by the Rhine which flows through the middle. You can walk across the border on a lovely stone bridge.