Switzerland is a melting pot of language and culture, rich, indulgent food, medieval cities and monumental mountains.
And after spending some time there, there’s no doubt you’ll want to bring home something special to remind you of your trip. Don’t settle for printed t-shirts or fridge magnets though – pin your heart on a memento that’s authentically Swiss.
Switzerland is particularly renowned for its milk chocolate and has been producing this favourite sweet treat since the 17th century. Some of the most famous chocolatiers are based in the country, from Lindt and Sprüngli to Tobler, the company behind Toblerone. You’ll also find many boutique shops manufacturing their own handmade chocolates too. One Swiss exclusive is the chocolate ladybird – meant to bring the recipient good luck, they’re typically given as gifts to students with upcoming exams or for birthdays.
Hot, bubbling fondue is normally made with Swiss cheeses like Gruyère and Emmental, mixed in a heated pot with wine, garlic and a bit of kirsch. Almost every family in Switzerland owns a fondue set – consisting of hand-painted ceramic pots and matching prongs – which makes for a homely, hearty one-pot meal for any time of year.
Swiss Army Knives
Despite its original name, ‘Offiziersmesser’, which translates as ‘officer’s knife’, this gadget is better known as a ‘Swiss Army Knife’, coined by American soldiers during WWII after they found the German name too difficult to pronounce. A cultural icon of Switzerland, this handy little pocket tool is known worldwide for its unique design and versatility. As well as a blade, it usually comes with a screwdriver, can opener, scissors, nail file and even a corkscrew.
These pendulum-regulated clocks – where each hour is signified by a cuckoo’s call – actually originate from the Black Forest in Germany. However, through intricate chalet designs, the Swiss managed to make them their own. Featuring St Bernard dogs, colourful flowers, dancing people in traditional clothing and animatronic beer drinkers, the Swiss versions are sought after for their craftsmanship, music and charm. Interlaken, which claims to be the home of the ‘only genuine Swiss cuckoo clock in the world’, is the best place to pick up one of these authentic timepieces.
Made from a special pressed sheet metal called Trychel – used to create a more distinct sound – Swiss cowbells are known as the ‘Music of the Alps’. For years these bells have been used by farmers to keep track of their livestock in the hills and, after Alpabzug – an end-of-summer festival where cows are paraded into valley towns to take refuge for the winter – are then sold as decorative keepsakes. They come in a range of sizes with beautiful, colourful designs on the collar.
If you’re buying for the kiddies, these high-quality toys and figurines are bound to get a smile. From classic wooden tops and yo-yos to planes, trains and cows with bells, all toys are handmade from local beech, maple, lime and birch trees in family workshops around the Alpine region.
In production since the early 19th century, the music-box industry once surpassed that of watchmaking. Intricately made, these hand-painted wooden chalets include detailed carvings and scenes depicting Swiss life. They tend to play songs like Edelweiss and The Happy Wanderer using metal cylinders and pins, but you may also come across music boxes that play more than one song.