There is a hidden secret in Switzerland--around 20,000 secrets actually. Throughout the country, hidden below ground and within the mountainside, lies a network of military fortifications. Since the early 20th century these secret Swiss bunkers have helped defend the country from potential invaders – and there are some that are open to the public to visit. So, get your James Bond alter-egos ready for a historically enriching and entertaining adventure.
The need for strong protection before, during, and after the World Wars was clear; with strong armies on all sides of this small country, the threat of invasion was real. The Swiss creatively took advantage of their unique geography and engineering skills and built on the natural alpine fortresses that cover a large part of the country. The Réduit National Suisse is the name of this strategy that spanned for a century and ended only recently.
The Swiss took the challenge as seriously as everything else they do and accomplished something truly impressive. Also, in the true Swiss style of being overly cautious, they stuck to the strategy for longer than most would think necessary. For example, bridges connecting Germany were equipped with explosives to be triggered in the event of war and these explosives were only removed in 2015.
Curious to explore this chapter of history and visit some of the thousands of fortifications around the country? Several are still in military use and not accessible to the public; some have new tenants hosting computer servers or valuable art; others can only be admired from outside but not entered–so keep your eyes open for any remote cable car cables seemingly disappearing into a blank rock face and camouflaged gun doors on strategically important spots.
However, there are still plenty to visit, so we’ve picked four unique and exciting Swiss bunkers that are accessible from Lausanne.
Fort de Chillon
This fortification protected the road between Montreux and Villeneuve, which was the main road around the lake before the motorway viaduct was built in 1969. Now the fort contains interactive exhibitions making history come alive. Combine the visit with the Chillon castle, as the entrance to the fort is across the road to the castle entrance.
Driving south from Lac Léman passing St Maurice, if you are very attentive, you can spot the artillery doors embedded in the mountainside to the west. There is the Grottes aux Fées, a natural cave with a beautiful underground waterfall that is well worth the visit, as a contrast to the military settings of the bunker. When entering the cave, a discreet steel door leads to the bunker, reminiscent of a sealed-off pyramid à la Tomb Raider. Both are reopening on the 15th of March and a reservation is required.
Protecting Val d´Entremont and Val Ferret entrance from invaders from the south, the Fort de Champex was a military secret until 1999. Now open to the public, it’s a splendid example of alpine warfare. At 1450m altitude this fortress contained the command post for all the regional fortresses that were interconnected and formed an impenetrable defense. It’s open on selected days in the summer and year-round for groups of more than 10 people. Gather your friends and make it a day trip
We’re not talking about chocolate here – though once you visit this bunker you’ll understand the famous candy a bit more. This defense line towards France consisted of 10 kilometers of anti-tank barriers called ”Dragons Teeth” and camouflaged artillery posts. One of these artillery posts is Villa Rosa, a seemingly suburban pink single-family house that hides heavy artillery inside. Only on close inspection, you will see that the windows and doors are dummies hiding the real purpose inside. Bordering the golf course in Gland there is a pleasant walk starting at the villa and then following the line of Toblerones dotted with smaller redoubts.
Interested in learning a bit more about Swiss bunkers and the rich history behind them? In this article by Smithsonian Magazine, you’ll read about how the Swiss are repurposing the bunkers and using them to house everything from museums to cheese factories to upscale restaurants. To look at both eerie and beautiful photographs of bunkers throughout Switzerland, check out this photo project entitled ‘A room without a view’ by photographer