Water, water, everywhere… Switzerland is definitely a country where you won‘t die of thirst. Although its land mass is only 0.4% of Europe, Switzerland is the source of 6% of the continent‘s fresh water reserve. Some of this water comes from rivers but most of it is concentrated in the lakes. And there are nearly 1500 of them!
The majority of Swiss lakes were once glaciers and formed during the last ice age. 40% of water originates from snow melt and some 2 percent from the melting of glaciers.
Nearly every canton (21 out of 26) has lakes, so wherever you have „hizüglet“ (en: moved to) in Switzerland there will be a lake nearby (Don‘t worry if you live in Basel, the city has the Rhine for water fun and there are lakes just an hour‘s drive away)
The largest lakes
Lake Geneva, which is shared by France and Switzerland, is the largest freshwater lake in central Europe and offers magnificient views of the Alps. Some must visit towns along its shores are Geneva, the cosmopolitan head of the United Nations, Lausanne, Vevey and Montreux. Stop off at the Charlie Chaplin museum in Vevey before taking „es Bädli“ (en: a little swim) in the lake (and definitely before sampling some of the delicious white wines that grow in the vinyards along the lake).
Another vast lake is Lake Constance, which shares its borders with Germany and Austria. Looking out from its shores, you might even imagine that you are at the sea. „D‘Sunneuffgäng“ (en: the sunrises) from the Swiss shores are simply out of this world!
As its name implies, Lake Maggiore, partly in Switzerland and partly in Italy, is a huge lake as well with a particular Mediterranean atmosphere. Palm trees and flowers grace its shores and the pretty towns of Ascona and Locarno are perfect for enjoying a bit of dolce far niente whilst sipping an espresso and indulging in a gelato. Its neighbouring lake, Lake Lugano, whilst not as large is not to be sneezed at either. Ticino‘s most happening city is Lugano. Visit the lake in July during the Longlake Festival to enter into a world of non stop music, street art and other performances.
Lake Lucerne lies in the heartland of Switzerland. This is where it all began… Surrounded by snow capped mountains, there are plenty of gorgeous hikes, boat trips and swimming spots all around the lake.
The largest lake which lies wholly on Swiss territory is the 218km2 Lake Neuchâtel. It is also the lake with the most sandy beaches. Located in the French speaking part of Western Switzerland with views of the Jura mountain range, its southern shore is surrounded by the largest marshland and bird paradise in Switzerland.
Switzerland is known for its mountains. And in this country, where there are mountains there are lakes. These small mountain lakes are usually stunning with crystal clear turquoise water and jaw dropping backdrops. Most of them are swimmable, although some might be only for the hardy. Temperatures are usually colder than lakes at lower altitudes, but the water temperature in some lakes such as Lake Cauma that are fed by an underground warm spring can reach 23 degrees in the summer.
Lake Cauma and neighbouring Lake Cresta as well others such as Lake Lungern, Lake Englsen and the „Seeli“ (en: small lake) at Seelisberg can be reached by car. To get to some of the other mountain lakes such as Lake Oeschinen, Lake Klöntal or Lake Seeapl, you might have to take a cable car or hike to the lake. At least you will be able to cool off in the clear water after walking yourself into a sweat!
Power from the lakes
Most lakes in Switzerland are natural, but there are also some artificial dams and reservoirs. These can usually be swum in but are also used extentensively to generate electricity. Hydropower accounts for around 56% of electricity generated in Switzerland. In the early 1970s, almost 90% of domestic electricity production was from hydropower, but since then nuclear power plants have taken over some of the power production. Hydropower, however, remains Switzerland’s most important domestic source of renewable energy.
Recently, several exciting new projects have been developed by the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology to use lakes in Switzerland for heating or cooling purposes.
Recreation around the lakes
A favourite pasttime for many Swiss is to „go wandere“ (en: go hiking). The lake areas offer wonderful opportunities for hiking, both around the shorelines and on well signposted nature paths above with spectular views of the lakes. One such hike is The Swiss Path around Lake Lucerne. This is a gorgeous hike which takes you to all the important places that are part of Switzerland‘s early history as a country. If the whole 35 km is too much to walk, you can hike parts of the trail and do the rest by boat. For a completely different and somewhat mystical atmosphere, go for a walk around Lake Tailliere in the Jura. It‘s set in the magical valley of La Brevine. Just avoid it in winter unless you like ice skating in the freezing cold; this is the coldest area in Switzerland and is known as the Siberia of Switzerland.
Many of the lakes in Switzerland are heaven for water sports enthusiasts. Hire a pedalo or stand up paddling board SUP) from one of the many lidos or watersports centres that you can find dotted all around the lakes. For the more lazily inclined, many lake towns offer the opportunity of renting a small motorboat (without a license) for an hour or so. More active people might want to row, sail or dive. The even more adventurous can try their hand at wakeboarding or kite surfing.
For those who don‘t feel like exerting themselves at all and just want to sit back and enjoy the view surrounded by a gentle breeze, there are boat trips on most of the larger lakes. Lake Lucerne, Lake Zug and even the smaller Lake Hallwyl are just some of the lakes that offer boat trips. Whether purely scenic boat trips or a lunch or sunset cruise, it is always fun to spend a few hours on a boat.
Some very hardy people like those who join in the Geneva Christmas Cup might enjoy swimming in the lake in the midst of winter. Those who do not want to risk hypothermia can enjoy swimming in the lakes in the summertime. Lakes typically reach temperatures of 20-25 degrees, so taking a dip in the heat of summer is a great way to cool down. Many lakes (even the smaller ones) have „Seebadis“ (en: lidos) which are usually well equipped with a kiosk or restaurant, showers and changing rooms and even occasionally with diving boards into the lake. Of course, you‘re not limited to these „official“ swimming points. You can explore the shores and find your own favourite spots. Many of the lidos as well as other spots along the lake have barbecue areas – some even provide wood. „Grilliere“ (en: barbecuing) is a favourite pasttime for the Swiss. Bring your own „Wurscht“ (en: sausage) or buy pre-marinated meat at any supermarket or convenience store. Don‘t forget to bring a packet of Zweifel Paprika chips with you; they are usually sold right next to the sausages and meat!
Even if you don‘t swim in the lakes in winter, many lakes freeze over and are opened for ice skating. Granted, it‘s not a traditionally Swiss thing to do, but nowadays you can even go ice fishing in some lakes. It may not be traditional, but the Swiss are always open to making new traditions!
And if you want to participate in these traditions new or old, it‘s useful to be able to speak Swiss German. Whether you‘re a beginner or already a bit further along, our course can help you to learn Swiss German so that you can get along more easily in Switzerland.