If you’ve been road-tripping around Switzerland this summer, you may have happened upon that charming, picture-postcard town or village exclaiming, “Wow! How gorgeous is this?” You may then proceed to take photos/selfies of the old wooden barns or chalets spilling over with flowers, Medieval churches, cobbled alleys, babbling fountains or streams, all set against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains or rolling green pastures, complete with belled cows grazing nearby. If you haven’t then don’t despair. There is an association called “Les Plus Beaux Villages de Suisse” and it will point you in the right direction. They list the prettiest (and more importantly) the most authentic villages in the country. https://www.borghisvizzera.ch/fr/ and you’ll be happy to know you don’t even have to venture too far from Geneva to find one.
The association was in fact founded quite recently—in 2015— and became a member of “Les Plus Beaux Villages de la Terre” in 2019. Even Les Plus Beaux Villages de la Terre is a fairly recent entity, founded in 2012 by a group of countries that were already taking serious steps to preserve the history and architecture, while helping to sustain the economy, culture and community of small-town life and its importance to our human existence by encouraging travel to these areas (The Federation – Les plus beaux villages de la terre ). The oldest of these “beaux villages” associations is in France formed in the 1980s.
So what does a village have to do or be to be on the list? There are a lot of criteria, but in its simplest form, the village has to attain high level of excellence in the preservation and on-going sustainability of its physical environment and its historical and cultural activity. Some of these villages have excellent museums and/or live demonstrations dedicated to the history of the region such as the award-winning museum situated in a 14th century village house in Bosco Gurin, or the museum and historic Bruzella mill that still produces cornmeal for the Muggio valley and beyond.
Many of us may have been to Gruyères or St. Saphorin, but as I travel around the country this summer, I’ve been blown away by the beauty of lesser-known towns and their cultural uniqueness, and now plan detours or special trips just to see them—Évolène, Grimentz, Ernen, Morcote, Soglio, Bergün, Tschlin to name a few.
So, if you want that amazing selfie, or you just want to enjoy a few days or hours in the slow lane, take the next exit and visit one of the “plus beaux villages” here in Switzerland or in any of the countries listed in the association. Every visit helps to preserve the town as well as that part of our selves wanting to linger a bit longer in a simpler time.