Tips on how to do a Swiss holiday on a budget

Born in Mettmenstetten, a small town halfway between Zurich and Lucerne, Mark Wettstein is the outgoing director of Switzerland Tourism, Australia & New Zealand. An enthusiastic food and hotel lover, he returns home after five years in Australia. He looks forward being close the mountains again,

STEP ONE For budget accommodation, stay in one of the Swiss youth hostels' 50-odd properties, which include mountain chalets, Interlaken's super-fancy hostel and Mariastein's 13th-century castle. Otherwise, avoid the ski resorts over Christmas and in February – a city stay is much cheaper at this time, and Zurich is a business town, so its hotels' rates drop on weekends. Every Swiss hotel includes a hearty breakfast,

STEP TWO Once one of Europe's poorest countries, our traditional food is simple but filling, like rosti and fondue. We often fill a backpack with fresh food and a bratwust sausage to grill on a wood fire: we don't have fire restrictions like Australia, so you'll find fireplaces with wood on every hill. When in Gstaad, order the fondue backpack for an alpine picnic – it includes a fondue pot, warmer, crockery, bread and fondue from a local dairy, and costs CHF18 per person. Add a bottle of chasselas wine, produced in the Lavaux vineyards overlooking Lake Geneva, and never buy bottled water in Switzerland – you can drink fresh, healthy spring water from every fountain in the country. Zurich alone has 1200 fountains,

STEP THREE There are 62,000km of signposted hiking trails throughout Switzerland, almost the same distance as roads. Nobody goes on escorted hiking tours because you can't get lost in the Swiss mountains!

STEP FOUR We have 215 ski resorts in a country the size of Tasmania, where skiing is less a sport, more a lifestyle. Ski passes cost significantly less than elsewhere: many Swiss would never pay $120 for a day pass! In the small resorts with just a couple of lifts, a day pass is around CHF25. Most accommodation is in local villages: I suggest Engelberg or Meiringen (where meringues were invented) in the Bernese mountains. I also love Scuol, in the very remote border with Italy and Austria, famous for its mineral spa. Stay three nights and you'll get a lift pass and free access to the waters.

STEP FIVE You can go anywhere in Switzerland with public transport, which includes trains, buses and boats on the lakes. Every hotel in Lucerne, Montreux, Basel and Interlaken includes a free transport card with your stay. Add to it a flexible Swiss Travel pass for unlimited travel on all transport including the Glacier Express (just pay for seat reservations). The pass includes half-price fares on our mountain railways and cable cars including the Schilthorn gondola, where George Lazenby filmed On Her Majesty's Secret Service 50 years ago in 1969. Swiss Travel passes cost from CHF232 a person for three days,