Switzerland Hiking Adventure Lake

June 16, 2023

Prepping for Switzerland: A Guide to Everything You Didn’t Know from Tina Turner to Toblerone!

- By Jules Torti

Continue reading Prepping for Switzerland: A Guide to Everything You Didn’t Know from Tina Turner to Toblerone!

Switzerland makes for an easy and endless word association game–it’s synonymous with fondue pots and Lindt chocolate. Let’s not forget the worlds’ love-love affair with Roger Federer! From Einstein to Edelweiss to Tina Turner and St. Bernard alpine rescue dogs, this country has some impressive and surprising claims to fame. I’m already hiking boot-deep into research as Kim (my wife) and I will be on the Wild Women Expeditions’ first Switzerland Hiking Adventure in August. While I picked up some surreptitious education during Saturday morning cartoon-watching as a kid, I’ve learned A LOT more in the last few weeks about this punctual, progressive, innovative and natural supernova that tempts fresh powder-lovin’ skiers, fearless climbers, alpine hikers, foodies and thinkers alike.

Here’s a steep dive (it’s steep, not deep!) guide to everything you didn’t know about Switzerland from its square flag to Frankenstein!

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Tina Turner actually renounced her US citizenship to become a citizen of Switzerland in 2013. Her home sweet home was a 10 building, 240,000 square-foot waterfront estate (complete with a 2-legged horse sculpture suspended from the ceiling) on Lake Zurich that was purchased for $76M.

Shania Twain found her sanctuary on Lake Geneva and Einstein developed his famous formula and Theory of Relativity in Bern. He married the only female student in his physics class. The list of notables is long and colourful–from Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung to Herman Hesse (the author of Siddartha) to Henri Nestle (yes, that Nestle) to Anna Göldi, the last woman in Europe to be executed for witchcraft in the 18th century (she was exonerated in 2008). Charlie Chaplin also lived in Corsier-sur-Vevey until his death in 1977.

Bearded Vulture

Frankenstein, Monster Milk Chocolate and Bearded Vultures

The birthplace of milk chocolate was also the birthplace of the Swatch, Swiss Army knife, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (she wrote it while staying on Lake Geneva in 1816). JRR Tolkein was inspired by the grottos, sheer cliffs and dense forest of the Bernese Oberland at 19–they allegedly became his Middle Earth. Bond girls will already know that On Her Majesty’s Service (1969) was filmed at Piz Gloria, home to the world’s first revolving restaurant and martinis shaken, stirred and revolved. The Bond production actually financed completion of the solar-powered resto in exchange for filming rights.

Talk about movers, shakers and chocolate makers! The trivia junkie in me has already filled a dozen sheets of scrap paper with notes about the longest toboggan run in Europe (15km/9miles from the top of Faulhorn to the village of Grindelwald). I’ve created a short list of edibles, cocktails and birds, of course. In that particular order the to-do’s include: Basel-style roasted flour soup (traditionally every good bride-to-be would have to master this basic soup of butter, flour, onion, beef stock and gruyere). Bern-style lekerlis (sticky, spicy, sweet gingerbread-like biscuits with hazelnuts) and tartiflette, a ski resort staple of rib-hugging thinly sliced potatoes, smoky bacon bits, caramelized onion and oozy Reblocohon cheese. To drink? A Hugo, bitte. Prosecco, mint leaves and seltzer are sweetened with a swirl of elderflower liqueur. And perhaps a glass of oeil de perdrix (“eye of the partridge”) rosé. And when in Switzerland, Einstein beer, of course, out of respect for anyone who can do math without a calculator!

As for the birds, the fantasy list starts with the intimidating bearded vulture. Other dashing birds I’d love to see include the barnacle goose, long-tailed tit, the handsome black woodpecker and black headed bunting.

The Matterhorn and Toblerone Connection

When my wife and I said “yes” to WWE’s Switzerland Hiking Adventure it was the pull of the mighty giants. Eiger! The Matterhorn! In my youth, the Matterhorn was the first ride that we’d want to blow all our tickets on at the fall fair. It was also the ride we hoped we didn’t lose our just-eaten pogo stick on. You had to be 48” tall, so it was a ride that involved great anticipation between siblings and growth spurts. The actual Matterhorn is an almost perfect pyramid shape–yes, think of the Toblerone bar! It’s a chocolatey likeness of the 4.478m peak. (Fun fact: The Matterhorn also appeared on Alpine lager beer labels in Canada back in 1937.)

Toblerone (produced in Bern) was created in 1908 by Theodor Tobler and the bar’s name is derived from Tobler + “torrone” (the Italian word for honey and almond nougat). Did you know that there’s a bear on the side of the chocolate mountain? Toblerone has since moved mountains and shifted production to Slovakia which caused a bittersweet dispute and a violation of the “Swissness Act.” To meet the stiff Swiss-made criteria and use the Swiss cross or symbol, 80% of the raw materials must be Swiss and 100% of the milk and dairy must be done inside the country. The iconic Matterhorn has since been scrapped from the packaging but the famous not-so-hidden bear remains.

Swiss Family Robinson, Heidi and Barry the St. Bernard

For me, Switzerland was the homeland of the Swiss Family Robinson from the grainy short-lived TV series my siblings and I watched cross-legged with bowls of Froot Loops. It was actually filmed in Kleinberg, Ontario and Jamaica. I had to refresh my Swiss family intel though. I don’t remember the jackal they tamed and named Fangs. Apparently Nip, the orphan monkey, was adopted by the family to test potentially poisonous fruit. How thoughtful. The mother was an adventurous cook though creating inventive dishes like porcupine soup and roast penguin! The Swiss Family Robinson book was truly a family production–it was written by Johann Wyss, edited by his son and illustrated by his second son!

Those Saturday morning cartoons were enlightening–they were also my introduction to the St. Bernard mountain rescue dogs with the barrels of remedy around their necks. My aunt had a big dopey one named Brutus and I can see why monks relied on them since the 18th-century to plow through snow on the 78km (49 mile) Great St. Bernard Pass in the Western Alps. It was an Augustine monk named St. Bernard de Menthon who founded a hospice and monastery in 1050. The loyal dogs didn’t appear until after 1660 but their legacy remains. The dogs accompanied travellers to the hospice and were used in rescues as they had a heightened sense of smell and digging capabilities. The dogs would even lie on the survivors to keep them warm. Between 1790 and 1810, no lives were lost in the 250,000 who crossed the pass. Called hospice dogs or “Barry’s dogs” until 1880, there were still 18 dogs living at the hospice until 2004. Barry’s Foundation was formed in a tribute to Barry (a dog) who lived at the monastery from 1800-1812 and saved 40 people. 

Remember Heidi, Switzerland’s littlest mountain explorer? Johanna Spryri’s classic novel (published in 1880) has been translated into 50 languages. Did you know that Switzerland has FOUR official languages (German, Swiss, Italian and Romansh)? Be careful if you attempt to order eggs in German (ei) or you may end up with ice cream (eis).

Swiss Swatches, Knives and Band-Aids

I was already deeply connected to Switzerland by my beloved Swiss Swatch “Cosmic Encounter.” The 1986 Haley’s Comet edition now retails for $180US on Etsy. Wish I still had that one! Swatches were first released in 1983 as a “low cost, high tech, artistic, emotional second watch.” They were invented to survive foreign competition.

I also had a Swiss Army knife that involved immediate Band-aid treatment. Who knew the original “officer’s and sports  knife” was created for the Swiss Army. It never dawned on me but I felt super cool and at the height of my tomboy powers with my blades, screwdriver, awl, can opener and corkscrew at the ready! Karl Elsener’s design was the product of a cutlery workshop established to create jobs and hopefully stop the exodus of the population from the area. Now, his great-grandson is CEO and Swiss Army Victorinox sells everything from cologne to luggage.

Speaking of that famous Swiss cross. The Red Cross was founded in Geneva, Switzerland by Henry Dunant in 1863. He was the very first Nobel Prize winner. He went on to lobby political leaders to take more action to protect war victims. Switzerland has not been in any war in 500 years and in 1815 declared a state of neutrality (which I love to declare as well). The Swiss flag immediately became a symbol of peace, equality and security. Did you know that it’s one of just two square flags in the world? The other belongs to Vatican City.

From the 9m (29.5ft) tall chocolate fountain of 1,500 kilos (3,307 pounds) of Lindt chocolate at the biggest chocolate shop in the world in the Lindt Museum in Zurich to the annual Onion Fair in Bern where mass confetti-throwing signals the festival end, I’ll be reading about Switzerland until the cows come home. And there’s a festival for that too. Alpabzug is an autumn celebration signaling the return of the Swiss cows from mountain pasture. The alpine cow parade (with over 1,000 cows is a fairy-tale one as the cows are adorned with flowers and bells.

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