Here’s a pairing we didn’t see coming: Robert DeNiro and Roger Federer. Ask the Swiss tennis star, recently named the new brand ambassador for Switzerland Tourism, and he’d say the same. ‘I am a huge fan of his so I couldn’t believe he said yes to the campaign,’ says Federer, who calls up the Hollywood actor in a new commercial spotlighting Switzerland’s spectacular beauty.
The short film, which premieres exclusively across editions of Condé Nast Traveller worldwide today, features the unlikely duo, split between New York City and Zermatt, with a guest appearance from the towering Matterhorn.
To Federer, who has long been an outspoken advocate for his home country, Switzerland is an obvious choice for post-pandemic trips. For one, you can enjoy most of the country in a week or so. ‘Usually when you go to Australia or America, you need at least a few weeks to visit, and you always have to go back many, many times,’ he says. ‘Give it a good week or two here, and you’re gonna get a really good idea about Switzerland as a whole. You get to see the four different languages, the four different cultures, and how different every place varies from the other – and you’re only driving maybe an hour between [each place].’
And the outdoors are where Switzerland shines, Federer says, reminiscing on summer hikes near his home in Graubünden and beyond. We caught up with him to hear all about his Swiss must-sees, the villages he wants families to visit with their kids, and the incredible view from the Zermatt villa featured in his commercial with DeNiro.
The EU recently announced it’ll likely be opening up to Americans this summer, Switzerland included. What are your favourite underrated summer spots?
I think a lot of people underestimate the mountains as a good place to go [in the summer]. I live in the mountains so I love the summer as much as I love the winters, because we have [something like] 65,000 kilometres of hiking trails in Switzerland and it’s also amazing for biking.
We’re also very proud of our lakes and rivers. I think Ticino, the Italian-speaking part, lends itself very well for a beautiful summer trip. A lot of people from the Swiss-German part travel down to the Italian-speaking part because it’s really a hidden gem. People know about it here in Switzerland, but not on a worldwide level.
I once heard a rumour – I don’t know if it’s true – that wherever you stand in Switzerland, you’re within 10 minutes of a lake, so there is always a place where you can cool off or take a dip. Lake Lucerne is beautiful, and it’s probably overall my favourite bigger lake in Switzerland. And Bodensee, which is Lake Constance, in the north, where my wife actually grew up, has some beautiful spots. And then of course, some of my favourites are mountain lakes, which are obviously very cold but they are so beautiful to look at. Those are the ones that get put on postcards. I could rave about hiking and mountains a lot, but I really think our little cities are incredibly cute. People underestimate how easy and accessible they all are. Visiting Swiss cities is always a joy as well.
Are there family-friendly Swiss cities you like to visit with your kids?
The good thing about traveling to Switzerland with children [is that] it won’t get boring. You have a bit of everything. I live outside of Zurich, which is the biggest city in Switzerland, and if you need to get away from the hustle and bustle, you can drive 15 minutes and you’re in the countryside. We have great museums and we have great food as well, and our big cities are not that big, so walking around doesn’t destroy you by the end of the day.
If I was a tourist coming to Switzerland with kids, I also would want to experience the villages, which are incredibly cute. You have the fountain here, the one little bakery there, the church here, and then you have a couple of farmhouses here and there, and you can just walk through it all in five minutes. In the summer, you should really go to the Bernese villages like Gstaad or Appenzell, which is in the north near Liechtenstein and Austria. It seems like the clock has stood still.
You just mentioned food – what is one Swiss dish that you think people are missing out on?
I always love coming back to Switzerland because I miss its food. Of course I love the Italian and the Mexican and the Peruvian foods. You name it, I love it. But there’s nothing like Swiss food. For me, it’s all about the fondue and the raclette. I also love basler läckerli, from Basel, my hometown, and rösti with cordon bleu. Oh, and the dried meat is also very iconic – the bündnerfleisch is so great.
As the new ambassador for Switzerland Tourism, you filmed a short ad and called Robert DeNiro from a stunning villa with a view of the Matterhorn – can you spill on where that was?
That was in Zermatt. I actually had not been to Zermatt since I was 16 or 17, when I played a tennis tournament there in the summer. I’ve always wanted to go back. Swiss Tourism reached out to me about the film and said, We would like to shoot in Zermatt. So I brought my kids and took two days off with my family [after the shoot]. We had the best weather, as you can see in the commercial, and we did all of the trains and took the gondolas to top of the mountains, and did [dog sledding] with huskies. It’s so iconic. You just keep on looking up at the Matterhorn, going, ah, this is just so good.
You’re making a pretty good case for Switzerland, but in your own travels, is there anywhere – particularly in the UK – that you’re hoping to check off your bucket list soon?
Everybody knows London is the go-to place, but across the UK, I would love to go to Scotland. Not because of Andy Murray, per se – but, of course, if he’s around, I’ll go and say hi. With all its castles and the Highlands and that vast nature, it’s a place I would love to visit. It’s a bit wet, but that’s fine with me.
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