An ‘I Y NewYork’ shirt from the States, a miniature miniature Taj Mahal from India, a Carnival mask from Venice… Souvenirs are a great way to remember that special trip to a country you’ve been longing to visit, and a visit to Switzerland wouldn’t be complete without bringing back at least one of the following souvenirs!
# 5: Cuckoo Clocks
This particular souvenir takes fifth place because even though most people associate it with Switzerland, it isn’t really Swiss at all. The cuckoo clock actually originated in the Black Forest area of Southern Germany, when a clockmaker named Franz Ketterer made the first one.
The reason the Swiss are associated with it is because after the bombings of the world wars, many of the German workshops were destroyed and Swiss clockmakers began making the cuckoo clock, a tradition they’ve carried on to this day. You can also blame Orson Wells: In 1949 he wrote in his spy novel “The Third Man: “In Switzerland, they had brotherly love and five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock.” Ever since, readers have been talking about the ‘Swiss cuckoo clock’. Be that as it may, cuckoo clocks are a popular Swiss souvenir and you’ll find them in most souvenir shops. Just make sure to shop around, as a little bit of hunting can turn up a real bargain of a cuckoo!
# 4: Swiss Army Knife
For a lot of people, the Swiss Army Knife is a lot like Switzerland itself: small, ingenious and easy to fall in love with. With enough tools to do everything short of mopping the kitchen floor, the Swiss Army Knife has become one of the country’s best known and most popular products.
These handy gadgets were once issued only to Swiss Army recruits as part of their gear; there was a Officer’s model, and a normal soldier’s model. Though restricted at first, high popular demand soon prompted Victorinox, the company which came up with the Knife, to produce commercial models, with the now-familiar red casing.
These pocket tools can be found in many souvenir stores throughout the country, in particular the Bucherer chain of stores which sells most models of the Swiss Army Knife. True lovers however make the pilgrimage to Ibach, an serene, picture perfect village (complete with a nearby snow-covered glacier) that has been home to the Victorinox company since its foundation.
One caution however: many unhappy people at the Zurich and Geneva Airports have ‘donated’ their Swiss Army Knife to airport security when they tried to go through the airport security checks with their newly purchased souvenir. Since 9/11, many airports have tightened their safety regulations and banned the Swiss Army Knife from hand-held luggage; to avoid this issue, visitors can either ship the Swiss Army knife home through mail or keep it in their checked-in luggage.
The other gadget commonly associated with Switzerland is watches, and out of all the souvenirs most people will by, this is definitely the most expensive. Swiss watchmakers don’t make just any old timepiece; they are best known for creating swanky, gold plated, diamond encrusted works of art. Most of the watch-making industry is based around Geneva and the Jura mountains, as well as branches in Bienne and Valee de Joux.
There are numerous museums dedicated to the art and science of watch making, with a number of them focusing on specific brands, such as the Omega Museum in Bienne and the Patek Phillippe Museum in Geneva. For those who want to get the real thing however, one of the easiest places to begin is the Bucherer chain, which has top-notch watch shops throughout Switzerland. Here, all the major brand of watches are on sale and though not all the pieces come cheaply, you can be sure they come with a guarantee of Swiss precision engineering and quality.
There are about 450 types of cheese available in Switzerland, though the most commonly eaten ones are Mozzarella, Gruyere and Emmental. The latter is particularly famed for its holes, which has become practically synonymous with the phrase ‘Swiss cheese’ – even though most cheeses made in Switzerland don’t have holes! Though there may not be as wide a variety of cheese on offer in Switzerland as in France, the Swiss beat the French hands down in cheese consumption: a whopping 2.1 kilograms per head every year!
One of the most popular places to see where Swiss cheese is made is the Maison du Gruyeres, a modern factory which allows visitors an intimate look at how this delectable cheese is made. Visitors can watch as master cheese-makers go about making huge 35 kilogram wheels of cheese, or peek into the cellar, where endless racks hold thousands of cheese wheels, slowly aging before they are packed up and shipped off to the markets. Of course, visitors can bring back their own wheel of cheese, as well as fondue pots and other cheese-related knick knacks from the souvenir shop!
Almost every visitor to Switzerland will try a piece of Swiss chocolate, at the very least to see what all the fuss is about — and after the first taste, most will agree that the Swiss make some of the best chocolates in the world! Some of the most well known brands are Toblerone, Cailler, and Lindt.
In no other country is chocolate as highly regarded as it is in Switzerland. The Swiss eat an amazing 11 kilograms of chocolate per head every year; army recruits are issued chocolates as part of their diet; and for each season or festival, there is sure to be a chocolate delight made especially for the occasion (chocolate flowers in spring and mushrooms in fall, yum!). Each city also has a commemorative chocolate: Bern makes charming chocolate bears, while in Jura, you get chocolates in the shape of watches!
There are any number of ways you can get chocolate in Switzerland. Every department store will have a large section on chocolates (for example, there’s the Manor if you’re in Geneva) and almost every shopping thoroughfare will have a shop dedicated only to gourmet chocolates. In many of the more remote towns and villages, there will even be delivery vans which home-deliver chocolates, so that distant homesteads are never without their chocolate fix. There is also the famous Chocolate Train Tour, which takes visitors on a panoramic tour of the Gruyere countryside, with stops for wine tasting and cheese sampling at the Gruyere cheese factory. Then, its onwards to the famous Nestle factory, where visitors can watch a film on how the chocolate is made — and more importantly, buy the finished product at factory prices!