Growing up in Texas, I always looked forward to the cool, crisp air of fall after the scorching summer months. It meant cozy meals like stews and chili. Switzerland may not have the same long, sultry summers, but its autumn is invigorating, and the season’s flavors are pronounced. For many people, including me, fall in Switzerland is the best time for food travel, a true feast for the senses. Autumn is the perfect time to embark on a delicious journey filled with picturesque traditions.
The Zurich Film Festival and other cultural events kick off the fall season in the Zurich region. Baseler Herbstmesse (Basel’s Autumn Fair) celebrates the season with one of Europe’s oldest autumn festivals. Herbstmesse in Lucerne provides one more reason to visit this beautiful city. In the countryside, cows wear flower bonnets to parade down from summer pastures. Festivals are decorated with seasonal bunting and come alive with local traditions and games.
Savoring a Swiss autumn
September and October are splendid months in Switzerland. The cities bask in the gentle autumn sun, and restaurants showcase regional treats like wine, cheese, and game dishes. To me, the real charm of Switzerland combines the joy of harvest celebrations with breathtaking views. Here are some delightful ways to immerse yourself in Switzerland’s autumnal spirit, all centered around its delicious food.
Swiss autumn fairs: a time for gathering
La désalpe, or Alpabzug as it’s called in German, is the name given to the return of Swiss cows from high pastures to their valley homes. Although the weather may turn dreary, Swiss cows arrive in the valleys with fanfare, and the occasion is a happy one. Autumn fairs offer simple, tasty meals and for visitors, a chance to join the locals for food, wine and music.
Switzerland is a marvelous year-round destination, but for many, autumn is THE season. Over the space of a few weeks, lush green hillsides gradually turn into vibrant tapestries of yellow, russet, and scarlet. Chestnut roasters replace gelato stalls on city corners. Everywhere, the aroma of grilled sausages signals the arrival of sweater weather.
It’s harvest season!
Switzerland celebrates all kinds of harvests, from truffles to walnuts, to chestnuts to pumpkins. You can find these festivals not only in Switzerland but also in neighboring Italy, France, Germany, and Austria. From mid-September through November, there are numerous opportunities to try local foods with a taste of autumn.
The Swiss cantons sponsor a variety of autumn programs. For example, The Valais of the Senses centers around local specialties. The Foire de Valais in Martigny has been showcasing food, wine and agriculture (and cow fights in the Roman amphitheater) for more than half a century. Severy in French-speaking Switzerland salutes the walnut, and Castagnatas, or chestnut festivals, are held throughout Ticino in October. The Chestnut Festival in Ascona is one of the most popular events, and a personal favorite.
Wine country adventures
Every corner of Switzerland boasts its own vineyards and wine regions, celebrated with tastings, vineyard walks and delicious regional menus. The grape harvest season is a time of bustling activity as vineyards prepare to harvest at the peak of grape sugar ripeness. Steep alpine valleys beckon, creating dreamlike landscapes during early twilight.
Spectacular color comes to the lower reaches of Swiss mountains, in a season spanning several weeks. Days or weekends center around wine, with food on the side, and some events pairing wine and food in equal measure. Many places host artistic and musical events, from Alphorn concerts to sculpture classes.
Ascona’s Chestnut Festival is a great time to savor Ticino’s great Merlot (have you tried white Merlot?). On the northern side of the Alps, “At the heart of the harvest” invites wine lovers to experience the thrill of the season and sample the best wines from diverse Swiss regions.
Fall menus in Switzerland: “Wild” and seasonal
Game (Wild in German) is on menus all over the country in autumn. Chase down your inner hunter-gatherer with rabbit, venison and boar, or partridge and quail. Alternatively, enjoy comforting risotto in Ticino, and cheesy raclette and fondue just about everywhere. Side dishes and vegetarian menus include fresh chanterelles, poached apples and pears, caramelized chestnuts and often, fresh spaetzle.
Desserts are gloriously seasonal with berries and walnuts. After dinner, Swiss digestives, produced from a range of stone fruits and nuts, come out. Abricotine from French-speaking Valais also is just right for a cool-weather Raclette evening and Nocino is a great after-dinner choice in Italian-speaking Ticino.
Cheese festivals, known as Chästelets mark the time for farmers to distribute the cheese from the past year, and take orders for the next season. For visitors, the festivals provide a unique opportunity to breath in the crisp mountain air, taste amazing cheeses, and watch local farmers ring in the season with their giant cow bells.
If you go
If you are planning to experience Switzerland in the fall, here are a few hints to enhance your trip:
- Looking for a sunny place to spend an autumn weekend, or want to find the event with the best weather? Make sure to check the dates and times for seasonal events on MySwitzerland.com.
- Stay in a Swiss Historic Hotel, known for their atmospheric charm and seasonal menus featuring local specialties and regional wines (Tom and I have enjoyed our stays at several of these atmospheric hotels).
- Don’t forget to pack your camera, to capture the stunning beauty of Switzerland in the fall!
In Switzerland, autumn is a season of culinary and cultural delights that will leave you with unforgettable memories. Whether exploring harvest festivals, indulging in Swiss wines, or savoring autumn hearty dishes, fall in Switzerland is a feast for the senses that every well-traveled food enthusiast should experience.
Do you know Switzerland in autumn?
Note: Fall in Switzerland, the best time for food travel? originally appeared on Anita’s Feast on 7 September, 2015, updated 12 September, 2023.