As the old adage goes: anything men can do, women can do in heels. While the sentiment stands, stilettos probably won’t be your footwear of choice for the “100% Women” programme launched by Switzerland Tourism; instead, lace up your walking boots or running trainers to take part in a huge range of thrilling outdoor experiences, all of which have been created by women, for women.
It has mostly been men who have shaped the history of alpinism, but women have been literally rising to the challenges posed by the Alps since the 19th century. One of the stars of the 100% Women initiative is the Peak Challenge, which encourages female mountaineers to follow in the footsteps of Victorian powerhouses like Lucy Walker, who, on 22 July 1871, became the first woman to climb the Matterhorn – while wearing a white dress and on a diet of champagne and sponge cake. The Challenge, which began on 8 March 2021 in honour of International Women’s Day, runs until 8 October and aims to inspire women-only teams to tackle all 48 of the 13,000ft peaks in Switzerland between them in six months.
At the time of writing, 27 of the 48 peaks have already been conquered, which means that there are 21 still to go; the only requirement to take part is that you are a woman brave and fit enough to make it all the way to the top, and a selfie at the summit is enough evidence to tick another peak off the list! The smattering of smiling selfies on the Peak Challenge website pays tribute to the teams’ amazing work; you can also get inspired by the women’s progress at the hashtag #Ineedswitzerland on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
The emphasis of the Challenge is not on competition, but rather on creating a community of women from all over the world, professional mountaineers and new climbers alike, and helping the teams to share an incredible experience; to this end, there is a Facebook group dedicated to the Challenge, where women can find inspiration (and maybe even a rope partner!). The Swiss Alpine Club (SAC), the Swiss Mountain Guide Association and Swiss outdoor brand Mammut are also partnering with the Challenge, meaning finishers will be rewarded with a top-notch carabiner and a 100% Women Peak Challenge t-shirt. Swish!
It goes without saying that in a country with highlands as beautiful as Switzerland’s, there are plenty of opportunities to scale some truly magnificent mountains. Alongside a wealth of single- and multiple-day climbing courses for all levels, you will find some fun and quirky activities offered by the programme; the experience named ‘Climbing and fondue as the sun goes down’, for example, tells you everything you need to know! Your guide will lead you as you hike and climb to the summit of secluded Pierre Avoi, where you will enjoy fondue on the mountaintop at sunset; an almost impossibly idyllic experience.
The 100% Women initiative aims to help women realise their potential, whether it be in the mountains, in sport or in life; as such, there are several hiking and climbing courses that are interwoven with personal development workshops. Where better to learn how to cope with uncertainty than in the mountains? This is exactly what Maya Lalive and Rosaria Heeb aim to do in their two-day mental training and hiking workshop, ‘Strength in mountains, strength in life’, where they equip women with techniques and tools that they can take with them when they head home.
Trail running in Switzerland offers an unparalleled opportunity to run through awesome scenery and on every conceivable type of terrain. With courses held in the gorgeous greenery of Arosa, the stunning Pizol mountain, idyllic Saas-Fee, the famous mountain resort of Zermatt and beautiful Nendaz, trail runners (and those who aspire to be!) are spoilt for choice.
Aside from letting yourself be distracted by the incredible views and meeting like-minded people, runners will learn to listen to their bodies, improve running technique and pick up tips on nutrition. Courses range from a couple of hours to a couple of days and there are workshops tailored to different levels; some courses will work for everyone regardless of experience, while others are geared more towards beginners. Surely there can be no more iconic way to begin your running career than in the Swiss Alps with a group empowering female friends?
With all running experiences offered by 100% Women, the focus is on having fun, building a community and empowering yourself and other women. As Natascha Baer, enthusiastic trail runner and a course coach, likes to say: “If you run with joy, you can move mountains.”
If you’re up for a similar experience at a (slightly!) more relaxed pace, hiking could be for you. The Swiss love hiking, and with over 65,000km of marked trails, most of them revealing stunning Alpine vistas, it’s not hard to see why.
100% Women offers numerous hiking experiences for a range of abilities, and whatever you want from your hike, you can bet that 100% Women have created the trail for you. Amongst more regular hikes (as much as the spectacular scenery in Switzerland can ever be called ‘regular’) you will find wellness-themed hikes that weave together any combination of walking, yoga, qigong, meditation, mindfulness and breathing exercises, all against the most exquisite backdrops of mountains, forests, hills and lakes. There are also ‘offline’ hikes where phones are banned for the duration (anywhere from a few hours to a few days), thus providing a much-needed digital detox.
There is a hike in the Binn Valley that incorporates learning about and hunting for precious gems that participants will later turn into jewellery or small works of art, a hike for early risers in the mountains of Liechtenstein that begins in darkness and allows you to greet the dawn on the summit of a mountain, and an out-of-the-ordinary hike in Ferpècle where walkers go ‘in search of sound’, tuning into the natural sounds of the mountains before experimenting with their own voices, all led by an experimental rock singer. There is even a hike named ‘A culinary discovery tour with donkeys’, which does exactly what it says on the tin; over the course of five days, walkers hike and ride through the Blenio Valley, learning all about Ticino’s culinary history and collecting herbs.
If there is anything the Swiss love even more than hiking, it’s cycling; red signs around the country mark the nationwide cycling network. Bikes and cycling accessories can be rented from main stations, and in summer the largest cities also have free bike schemes – but if you’re ready to get out into nature on two wheels, 100% Women has you covered. There are cycling experiences on offer all over Switzerland to suit all abilities and any timeframe.
As always, the activities are designed especially for women and are always led by an experienced female guide. Many include a culinary aspect or yoga, as well as repair workshops to teach cyclists to patch up their bikes themselves should they need to – which could not only help save you money, but is also essential for safety if you’d like to take on any of the trails on your own at a later date!
It goes without saying that there are abundant opportunities to learn or practice winter sports in the Swiss Alps, but we’ll go ahead and say it anyway: for skiers and snowboarders, the vast choice offered by 100% Women and Switzerland at large is overwhelming. Verbier and Zermatt are especially renowned for their challenging on- and off-piste skiing, while the resorts of the Jungfrau region – Grindelwald, Mürren and Wengen – cater better to intermediates, and glaciers at Saas Fee and Zermatt allow summer skiing.
The myriad experiences offered by 100% Women place an emphasis on bonding, learning and building confidence; as such, many of the activities combine skiing, snowboarding or snowshoeing with yoga, personal development and tasty snacks (flame-grilled salmon up a mountain, anyone?). There’s also much hiking and cross-country skiing through fairytale landscapes to be had, as well as courses in avalanche safety and self-care which help to further the initiative’s aim of helping women to reach their full potential.
Other than mountains and fresh air, something else the Swiss have in great supply is water and ways to get onto or into it. Several hiking, cycling and climbing experiences offer the opportunity to go wild swimming in lakes should you come across one, but for specifically water-based experiences, 100% Women have still got you covered.
You might think that surfing opportunities in land-locked Switzerland would be hard to come by, but think again! 100% Women’s wakesurfing course is for all levels; total beginners who have never so much as stood on a surfboard before will learn to catch waves on the beautiful waters of Lake Murten, and advanced surfers can brush up on some new tricks.
There are also several kayaking experiences available; a course for beginners where you can get to grips with the basics in a safe and stunningly beautiful environment or a weekend course that includes three hours of kayaking on the crystal clear waters of Lake Lugano and a massage, followed by your choice of kicking back by the pool, exploring the villages or heading off on a shopping trip. You can also explore Switzerland by kayak on a multi-day adventure that takes you around the country with your team, setting out onto some of the most dazzling freshwater lakes in the world.
Finally, a great way to build community spirit and meet inspiring women is to try the yoga and sailing experience; after a one-hour yoga class every morning in the zen-like calm emanating from Lake Constance, the team will learn to sail a yacht together. You might not know it yet, but there’s nothing like sailing to help bond a group!
The 100% Women initiative is committed to putting women at the forefront of all that they do, and this includes paying credit to the women of the past. As such, the scheme runs a wealth of cultural and historical tours all over Switzerland that focus on women’s contributions to the (often-male focussed) historical narrative. Whether it’s power-dressing through the ages at St Gallen, sculpture and painting at the Basel Art Museum, women’s history in Zurich city centre, books in Solothurn (the tour is archly named ‘Sentimental, trivial literature’) or even a tour of Wilchingen, led by actors playing 1767 “Wöschwiiber” (washerwomen), who welcome you to the tour with with bread and wine and then beguile you with all sorts of funny stories and important facts about the village – there is every chance that a tour exists that will both entertain and educate you, wherever in Switzerland you find yourself!
Alongside all these outdoor activities, there are plenty that don’t fit neatly into one category; they either combine several types of experience or they defy definition completely! How about activities that focus on chowing down on delicious Swiss delicacies, like learning to brew beer in Rheinfelden, or wine tasting and a picnic in the women-run vineyard in Gentilino, or even a cooking course with a herbalist, using herbs you have foraged yourself? There’s archey, paragliding, triathlon training, moped tours, survival skills and even a half-day experience called ‘Fun with diggers’ – which is exactly what you imagine it would be!
With the 100% Women initiative, Switzerland Tourism hopes to attract more women to Switzerland not only to experience a landscape like nowhere else, but also to inspire them to get out of their comfort zones and try something they otherwise might not have dared try. With so many activities available to all levels and with such an inspiring and supportive ethos, it’s not surprising that the initiative has so far seen such amazing success.
The best way to travel sustainably in Switzerland
Switzerland is a public transport paradise. Hydroelectric rail travel forms the backbone of sustainable mobility, and you can glide over lakes by solar-powered boat or float up mountains in a cable car. In partnership with the climate protection organisation ‘myclimate’, Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS) customers can offset their CO₂ emissions by donating to climate protection projects and purchasing alternative fuels. SWISS has frequent, direct flights from London and other major UK & Ireland cities to Zürich and Geneva. Zürich, Basel and Geneva are well connected by train from London.
The Switzerland Travel Centre can create individualised trips using their expertise and unrivalled experience of this beautiful country. Discover legendary train journeys, nature tours, culinary expeditions, ski, bike or hiking holidays and a wide range of city and culture trips. Alternatively, choose the Swiss Travel Pass, which allows you to discover Switzerland on a single ticket! The Swiss Travel Pass allows you unlimited train, bus and boat travel to Switzerland’s most scenic regions and is one of the most flexible ways to get around the country.
Travel possibilities from the UK to Switzerland are beginning to look brighter for the summer and autumn; now is the time to start booking your trip! Find out more about this stunning country and Covid-19 restrictions as well as your chance to win a trip to Switzerland at www.myswitzerland.com.
Top image © Switzerland Tourism/Florence Gross
This article was written in partnership with Switzerland Tourism.
Annie Warren is a Midlands-based writer, translator and editor at Rough Guides. Other than the UK, she specialises in writing about France, Italy and Austria. You can find her on Twitter as