It’s not your fault that you’re naturally curious. Curiosity is a characteristic that distinguishes us as a species from other animals, a tendency from childhood not just to poke and prod our surroundings but to also ask “why” as we search for knowledge. This inner drive to explore has taken us to both the dark side of the moon and the depths of the subatomic world, but to truly understand our place on the planet, it’s important to return to nature—a place where we can nurture our primordial curiosities.
One land where an appreciation of nature runs deep in the national consciousness is Switzerland. This landlocked central European country is dominated by the Alps, peppered with thousands of small villages, and home to a handful of cities. Although most of the population lives in urban areas, the country’s small size and excellent highways and byways means that wherever you are, you are never far from the natural world.
When you look out across the Alpine landscape, you technically don’t see much mountain—you see forests. Many Swiss literally owe their lives to these forests, as they protect from avalanches, rock-falls, and mudslides. Moreover, the health benefits of spending time in the woods are well documented and act as an antidote to the sensory overload of modern life, with The New York Department of Environmental Conservation noting reductions in stress, boosts to the immune system, acceleration in recovery time from illness or surgery, increase in energy levels, and improved sleep among those who spend time in forests. The Japanese even coined a term for it—shinrin-yoku—meaning “to take in the forest atmosphere”. Many also believe there are spiritual advantages to be had when “grounding” oneself to the Earth’s electrical charge by traversing wooded worlds while barefoot—quite literally in our most natural state.
The country therefore has a number of laws in place to protect forests, including one that ensures they are preserved and distributed regionally, and one that ensures they are allowed to regenerate without fertilizers and pesticides. Together, this means the country is covered in healthy woodland conducive to high living standards for animals, plants, and humans.
Switzerland is home to hundreds of species of medicinal plants that are used both professionally and as a primary tenet of healthcare. Before the era of industrialization, the specific powers and health benefits of individual species was common knowledge, but medicinal plants today have mostly taken a backseat to bottled-up products straight from the lab and more conventional medicine. Which is why Switzerland is so special. To take a hike here is to literally stroll through a natural pharmacy, although many species are endangered so it’s best to book yourself onto an herbal tour or workshop with a local expert, such as chemist Peter Brechbühl in the town of Sigriswil just outside Thun or Martin Koradi in Basel.
A number of farms and educational centers across the country offer workshops and seminars on the medicinal uses of native plants—with one standout being the “Kräuterwerk im Strohturm” in Densbüren just 40 minutes west of Zurich—and many organizations give would-be botanists a chance to educate themselves on the subject, such as The European Gentian Association in Lausanne. The yellow flower pictured below is the Great Yellow Gentian, used for lowering blood pressure, soothing upset stomachs, and Gentian schnapps.
What better time to sink a schnapps than after a pampering at one of the many natural hot springs around the country. Wherever you are, there’s bound to be one around: any place with “bad” (meaning “bath”) in the name should do the trick. In addition to alleviating a number of maladies associated with arthritis, paralysis, headaches, depression, and stress, therapeutic mineral pools and thermal baths in Switzerland come with impressive mountain views and are best enjoyed après-ski or on a long road trip across the country, with Leukerbad, Brigerbad, and Bad Alvaneu on the must list.
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