Imagine driving over a high mountain pass, the snow-capped Alps slowly appearing in your rear view mirror. You wind down the window and inhale the piny freshness, the clang of cowbells accompanying your cruise down to the lovely medieval Old Town below.

That’s what the new E-Grand Tour of Switzerland offers: an environmentally-conscious circuit of this dazzling alpine nation, dotted with enough charging stations en route to get your electronic vehicle from Appenzell to Zermatt—and over any ear-popping mountain passes in-between.

Switzerland's famed hairpin turns twist and turn up a mountain at sunset
Switzerland's famed hairpin turns and alpine passes are now all accessible by e-car © Switzerland Tourism

The ultimate road trip

On the tarmac, it's the ultimate road trip. The well-signposted route pulls together Switzerland's greatest hits—from glaciers to culture-loaded cities, villages to hillside vineyards—in one epic 1600km loop.

Zigzagging up and over five Alpine passes (we’re talking 2000m plus), skirting the shores of 22 lakes and ticking off 12 Unesco World Heritage sites, you’ll need to set several weeks aside to do the entire route justice. But unless you want to be constantly behind the wheel, choose a starting point and break the tour down into manageable bite-size chunks—there's more than enough to keep you occupied, whether you've got a long weekend or a fortnight on your hands. Thanks to the Alpine passes, the recommended travel period is April to October, though winter is fine at lower elevations too.

If you are pushed for time, work out what you want from your trip. Love phenomenal mountain scenery? Opt to drive the elevated Alpine route from Italian-speaking Lugano to Matterhorn-topped Zermatt, which corkscrews up and over the tour’s highest point, the 2431m Furka Pass.

If art and heritage are more your bag, begin with a couple of gallery-crammed days in Zürich, edging your way east to Stein am Rhein’s lavishly frescoed Rathausplatz, before dropping in on the Unesco-listed abbey district in St Gallen en route to folksy Appenzell.

A car driving through a vineyard in Switzerland with views across a lake
The Grand Tour pulls together all of Switzerland's best bits © Switzerland Tourism

Force of nature

Let’s face it: Switzerland’s greatest works of art are of the natural variety—and the tour’s noble aim is to keep it that way, with drivers leaving minimal impact on its pristine environment.

Of course, you’ll find views that will have you screeching to a halt at almost every corner, but arguably the finest are in the southern half of the country, where the Alps roll over into France, Italy and Austria. Around 60% of Switzerland is mountainous, so expect some head-spinning, mind-the-edge moments as you drive the southern sections of the tour.

Choosing the most beautiful bits of Switzerland is highly subjective, but if you love nothing more than a big snowy mountain, head to Zermatt in Valais to hike or glacier ski in the shadow of the Matterhorn (4478m). The whopping pyramid of a peak has provided inspiration to everyone from tough-as-nails mountaineers to Toblerone.

While you’re in this neck of the woods, trek along the mighty Aletsch Glacier above Bettmeralp. At 23km, the glacier is Europe’s longest and it powers through the Alps like a frozen three-lane superhighway. Swinging east of here brings you to the hairpin-riddled Furka Pass, immortalised in the car chase scene in the 1964 James Bond movie Goldfinger.

More, you say? Take the central route from Bern to Interlaken, which takes you deep into the Jungfrau region, with its sky-scraping peaks, inky blue lakes and waterfall-laced valleys, all presided over by the ‘Big Three’: Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. Over in the east, the route between Appenzell and St Moritz stops off in Zernez, the jumping-off point for some fabulous off-the-radar hiking in the Swiss National Park.

Colourful higgledy-piggledy houses in Switzerland
Sometimes it's the destination as well as the drive and Switzerland isn't short of a cultural hotspot or four © Kerry Christiani / Lonely Planet

Cultural highs

Beyond its evident outdoor appeal, the E-Grand Tour is replete with cultured villages, storybook towns and sophisticated cities. Top billing in the south goes to Bellinzona, capital of Ticino, with three hulking medieval fortresses crowning its hillsides that have earned it Unesco World Heritage status.

Its neighbours—Locarno and Lugano—have Italianate flair, piazzas, streets, gelato (and driving). Lugano recently got its cultural mojo back with the opening of the LAC arts centre, bringing together contemporary art, music and theatre.

For a pre-drive museum or gallery fix, it goes without saying that lakeside Zürich and Geneva are both great starting points—as is capital Bern, with its attractively arcaded Old Town. For something more cutting edge, make for northern powerhouse Basel, astride the Rhine, where galleries designed by starchitects like Renzo Piano and Mario Botta display works that move with the zeitgeist.

Or opt instead to explore one of Switzerland’s abbeys. St Gallen’s Carolingian convent and rococo library are splendid. Benedictine Einsiedeln abbey, where pilgrims still flock today, is lesser known but equally magnificent.

If you can tag an extra few days on to your tour, other worthy culture stops include Lucerne on the shores of its mythical namesake lake, and Montreux overlooking Lake Geneva, which has attracted Romantics from Lord Byron to the Shelleys over the years. Its biggest draws now are dreamily poised, 13th-century Château de Chillon and its two-week Jazz Festival in July, when the town is chock-a-block.

An e-car recharging its batteries outside a Swiss hotel
There are plenty of sustainable spots to recharge your batteries - and those of the car © Switzerland Tourism

A sustainable slumber

The tourist board lists all the sustainable hotels en route with charging stations—from family-friendly, mid-range chalets to luxe lakeside spa resorts and peaceful mountain hotels.

However, one of the most visionary corners of the country to stay is the Engadine Valley, where you’ll find shining examples of eco-friendly stays like the solar-panelled St. Moritz Youth Hostel and Romantik Hotel Muottas Muragl, the first plus-energy hotel in the Alps.

Make it happen

As soon as you’ve arranged your point of arrival, you’ll need to organise some wheels. Major car hire companies including Sixt and Europcar rent out electric vehicles, including the latest Tesla models. To find charging stations en route, check out the Alpiq clickable map.

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Cize, France - July 9, 2015: French high speed train TGV operated by SNCF, national rail operator on Cize-Bolozon viaduct bridge in Ain, Rhone-Alpes region in France. This train was developed during the 1970s by GEC-Alsthom and SNCF. A TGV test train set the record for the fastest wheeled train, reaching 574.8 km/h (357.2 mph) on 3 April 2007. Viaduct of Cize-Bolozon in summer season in Bugey along Ain river. This viaduct is a combination rail and vehicular viaduct crossing the Ain gorge. An original span built in the same location in 1875 was destroyed in World War II. Reconstructed as an urgent post-war project due to its position on a main line to Paris, the new viaduct reopened in May 1950. It carries road and rail traffic at different levels.
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