Family Vacations to Lake Geneva, Swiss Alps

Lake Geneva’s famed Chillon Castle
Lake Geneva's famed Chillon Castle, now fabulously restored to its 12th-century gothic glory (courtesy, Switzerland Tourism Board)

The Lake Geneva Region, or Canton Vaud, wraps around Lake Geneva and includes two mountain ranges. The Jura, separating the Rhine and Rhone rivers, straddles Switzerland's border with France. To the south, the Vaud Alps are home to four of Switzerland's Families Welcome resorts, meaning they have a wealth of programs, activities, and special offers for parents and kids.

Summer or winter, Villars-Gryon, Les Diablerets, Leysin, and Chateau-d'Oex are resorts geared for active families.

Villars-Gryon, high above the Rhone Valley, has hiking, biking, golf, and traditional alpine farms to visit in summer; ages eight and younger ride the mountain transport system for free. The resort has its own skiing and ski schools but is also linked with Les Diablerets; together they have 77 lifts and 137 miles of runs.

Among Villar's family attractions is the Path of Stones, an easy 3.2-mile, 4.5-hour walk past intriguing geological formations that tell the story of how the Alps were formed. Pick up a brochure about the path at local tourism offices.

In nearby Bex (pronounced "bay") families can visit an open working salt mine. Take a train into the heart of the Bex Salt Mine then walk for an hour for an up-close look at salt mining, its history, and techniques—some used since the mine was excavated in 1684. Wear walking shoes and dress in layers; open April to October.

On Les Diablerets' Glacier 3000 families can play in snow all summer—cross-country skiers typically hit the trails from June to December. More traditional summer pursuits include hiking, mountain biking, and visiting a cheese dairy or beekeeper. The monster Alpine Coaster (toboggan run on tracks) satisfies those seeking vertical thrills.

In winter families zip over the snow on skis, snowboards, dog sled, or a 4.5-mile toboggan run. The resort also has a ski school, and there's ice climbing for the adventurous.

Children eight and younger visiting Chateau-d'Oex-Rougemont in winter ski and stay free. The resort's ski area may be small, but a cableway connects Rougemont to the world-famous slopes of Gstaad. Chateau-d'Oex (pronounced "day") is a mecca for hot-air ballooning. Families can soar year-round, or just watch at the colorful international hot-air balloon competition each January. For everything you ever wanted to know about the history of ballooning, there's Espace Ballon, a museum.

Love river rafting? Canyoning? Canoeing or kayaking? The Saane River has it all. Love cheese? This area is renowned for the cheese of Etivaz. At Chalet Fromagerie you can sample it in fondue, watch it made (except on Monday or Tuesday), and check out displays of cheese-making tools—should you want to try at home.

Leysin is a ski resort and a center for international schools and camps. The Swiss Language Club offers summer courses in French for ages ten and up, and a variety of sports. At Village Camps kids age seven to 18 can learn French or focus on a sport.

For younger children the Tobogganing Park has mini tracks just for ages six and younger, and families can follow the nature trail of Little Trapper to help him find his way back to his friends. Complete the route for an official Trapper's certificate from Leysin Tourism.

Leysin has its own cheese museum (part of its Fromagerie Restaurant), but the activity guaranteed to thrill teens is Ice Go-Karting at the village sports center. It's just what it sounds like—go-karting on ice.

In Aigle, 35 minutes by train, there's a beautiful medieval castle to explore. The region's greatest castle is Castle Chillon on Lake Geneva, restored from the 12th century, from its dungeons to its impressive tower. Many literary greats wrote of it, but Lord Byron made it world-famous in his poem, The Prisoner of Chillon. Today, you can see the dungeon where that prisoner was chained to a pillar from 1530 to 1536.

Tips: Need a babysitter in Villars-Gryon? Check villarsgryon.ch for a list of approved local sitters. In Les Diablerets get a list from Diablerets Tourism.

Ask about the Villars-Gryon Freedom Pass, which provides free access to the gondolas, cog train, sports center, miniature steam train, village ice rink, and more.

Baby equipment is available for rent at many family resorts, including Diablerets and Villars-Gryon. Check the websites and reserve before your visit.

The speedy TGV connects directly to Paris through Lausanne in under four hours.

Recommended Side Trips: Geneva, Grindelwald; Dijon, France (mustard museum and medieval buildings) is just over two hours via TGV.


Published: 18 Apr 2008 | Last Updated: 17 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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