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Trip Report Live trip report - 8 days of family fun in Berner Oberland and Vevey

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Hi all
After so much help from other fodorites, wanted to pay back with a trip report and decided to do it live as we travel or it would never happen!

Who we are:
We are a family of four - DH, DD(5), DS(3.5), and me (DH and I are low 40's) and my DM ("Gramma"). We are expats in living in the UK and every summer I need my mountain "fix" (native Montanan) so we head to various locations in the Alps.

Basic Itinerary:
Fly into Zurich, train to Wengen for 4 nights staying at Hotel Schonegg.
Train from Wengen to Vevey for 4 nights staying at Hotel des Trois Couronnes.
Train to Geneva and fly home to London.

Our mission:
Turn off our blackberry's (huge challenge for DH), enjoy two beautiful locations with our kids and Grandma, and spend as much time as possible outdoors. Oh yes, and finding the best playgrounds ever (added to the mission by my 5 year old who still remembers the last trip to Switzerland).

Disclaimers:
1) I am typing this on my ipad which I am rubbish at so please ignore grammar and spelling especially bizarre ones that you may see caused by auto-correct.
2) I will also be doing this report either during naps or late at night after kids asleep (will likely involve wine which will not help with item 1).
3) I am new at trip reporting although a frequent viewer of others hence my guilty conscience telling me I owe one!

Ok, on I go...

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    Day 1- Travel London to Wengen. BA flight from LHR to Zurich, lunch at high priced but convenient food court in Zurich train station across from arrivals terminal and purchase our train tix.

    Note on Train passes -I did the train fare suduko before we left and after loading in all the expected trains, lifts etc etc into my spreadsheet I still ended up with the half fare cards being the best deal followed by the BO plus half fare card in second place and flexi pass in third. This was partly caused I think by the fact that we depart from Geneva which is a cheap ticket from Vevey and therefore the flexi pass didnt give us a big lift on that last travel day plus the Swiss pass was 8 days and we needed the 9th day to travel to Geneva anyway. So, HF cards it was plus the free family card for the kids to go free everywhere (the agent said we didn't need on the main railways as they are under 6 but might need for BO lifts etc).

    Hopped on train at Zurich, VERY quick change at Bern, and off again at Interlaken Ost. Tip for families with luggage and little ones. The changeover at Bern was only about 6 minutes and we had to go down a ramp and up another for the correct train. So, I recommend you get your luggage and selves right by the train door so you can quickly get off and find the next train so you don't feel panicked trying to herd your pokey 3 year old along to the next train while your 5 year old worrier yells the whole way "they are leaving without us, they are leaving without us!" Not that this happened to us..... ;). Speaking of luggage, we considered the fast baggage service but the timing didn't work that great so just hauled with us. We travel by trains a lot in Europe and find that for our family, two medium size rolling duffels and we all carry day packs works pretty well. That way I can grab both kids to chuck them on a train while my DH handles the two duffels. Back in the stroller days it was more interesting but we still managed!


    At interlaken Ost a comfortable 12 min to get on train to Lauterbrunnen. Easy switch at Lauterbrunnen to train to Wengen. Here we had our first drama of the trip (other than the mini annoyance of DH that he forgot his raincoat at the house in London). We were safely on the train to Wengen when DH looked at me and said "did you grab my backpack from the other train"?
    Me: "Uh, no, I grabbed mine and the two kids but assumed you got your own".
    DH: "oh sh_t".
    Me "ok- and you had all our passports in it?"
    DH " yes and your mom's passport and all the iPads". (At which point the look on DM's face was classic)

    So, in a very rare and unusual moment of calmness for me (type A at work and home), I said "ok this is not a disaster as I'm sure someone will turn it in". At which point DD (aka little miss worrier) starts picking up on the talk track and panics "daddy you lost our iPads!?" It's always good to have priorities isn't it?

    Long story short, we reported to the train office the moment we reached Wengen which carriage we were in and the train agent said they would call Interlaken as the train was already en route back. We left our hotel phone number and went ahead to the hotel as the agent said it would be no use for DH to go back down. We were mid dinner at Hotel Schonegg when Philippe (GM of the hotel) came walking up to our dinner table with backpack in hand! So there went my dream of staying in Switzerland another week to tour the US and UK embassies to get our passports/visas sorted. :) Now our holiday could officially begin for DH!

    Hotel Schonegg - beyond the fact that Philippe went above and beyond to even go pick up our stray backpack the minute it arrived at the train station so not to bother our dinner, this is a wonderful hotel!
    The rooms have all been refurbished and are really nice and the views are incredible as the hotel sits at the end of the Main Street up a small rise so you have a view of the town but also a perfect view of Jungfrau. We did splurge and rented the "Jungfrau Suite" rather than get the family room plus another room for Gramma. If you have a chance/budget for this, DO IT! My DH and I agreed that we could not think of another single place we have stayed in the world that is better than this Suite and we have stayed at a lot of 5 star luxury hotels across Europe, US, and Asia so this is saying a lot. Why? Well first, anyone who has been to Wengen can attest to the view towards Jungfrau. It is beyond beautiful. Second, this suite takes up the entire top floor of the hotel so you have a long balcony with sliding glass doors ensuring that you have this view from both the master bedroom and the entire living/dining space. Third, the suite itself is gorgeous and has a small but awesome kitchen with every item you could ever need. There are a few pics on the hotel website (www.hotel-Schoenegg.ch). It has 2 double bedrooms and one kids bunk room so was perfect for our family of 4 plus Gramma. We also opted for the dinners to be included which turned out great.

    End of day 1 (I am playing catch up as it is now nap time on day 3 but nap time is up and i am off to be beaten at mini golf by DD so will post again later)

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    Day 2 - Wengen - Mannlichen- KS loop - watch the sun on the left!

    We got up early thanks to 2 little faces staring at us at 6 am but it was worth it to watch the sunlight coming over the mountains. I took approximately 50 pictures in the first hour - I just got my first DSLR (canon 60D) so spent the plane ride to Zurich poring over aperture settings, shutter speeds, and "creative modes" on my camera. Love my new camera!

    The hotel has a simple but nice breakfast buffet so we had a leisurely breakfast, packed up our day packs with essentials and walked the 3 minutes to the Mannlichen lift. 15 min later we were staring down at Wengen on one side and the Grindelwald valley on the other. So gorgeous! So, about 50 pictures and a slightly annoyed DH (I made him jump in the air with the kids in the field so I could catch them airborne with Lauterbrunnen valley in the backdrop) we were heading down the trail towards Kleine Scheidegg (KS). It is clearly a popular walk and lots of people but it wasn't too bad as the trail is wide and the scenery is just breathtaking. This was a perfect walk for our young kids as was a net 500' drop and 3.5 miles so with some breaks and lots of "off-roading" to keep the attention span engaged, the kids did great. Funny enough, DS would begin to say he wanted a shoulder ride but if I let him scramble on one of the little side trails which were more work incidentally he did fine! The sign said 1.5 hrs for the walk but it took us 2.5 hours with the kids and a photo crazy mom.

    We ate lunch at the little restaurant with a nice terrace about 10 min before KS (about CHF 100 for 5 of us with drinks) and were glad we did because upon reaching KS it was packed with people and tour
    groups. We had considered going on to Grindelwald or even Jungfrau but the trains to Jungfrau were packed and it wasn't a priority to us this trip. The kids were pretty worn out from the walk so we hopped on the train back to Wengen and they had a swim in the huge oval bathtub in our suite before dinner.

    We also discovered that despite good application of sunscreen both my DH and I had lovely pink sunburns on our left sides only so keep this in mind if you walk that trail! There is really no shade on the entire trail as you are on the ridge so be prepared with a hat/sunscreen/water on a nice day.

    Dinner at the Schonegg was really good once again. If you go for their half board deal, you get a 4 course dinner each night. The chef is excellent and one of my favorite courses every night was the soup as they were just delicious every night. They were also very good about accommodating our kids and working to time the kids meals with our courses.

    Back up to our suite for bedtime and a nightcap for the adults. We sat on the balcony and suddenly my DH says "hey a firefly!" DM chimes in and sees a few more and comments that it must be but are they usually such bright green? I've never seen a firefly so I start looking and sure enough they are glowing bright green but I'm surprised as they look like moths and i had thought fireflies were supposed to be more like beetles. So I start to get closer to investigate and suddenly I look up and see the green neon sign of the hotel right above me but that wasn't visible on our balcony other than the reflection on the otherwise normal moths. Ha ha mystery solved and good thing we didn't go around telling hotel guests about the crazy neon green fireflies of Wengen!

    Tomorrow - Murren and the adventure trail...

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    Great stuff NorCal_Jo! Glad you made it and are enjoying yourself. Sounds like the hotel is working out well for you.

    Glad the back issue worked out well too. My DS actually left his iPod on one of the trains on our return day and someone turned that in as well. A friend is picking it up for us next week (to save the postage & handling charges).

    Looking forward to more. Good luck en route to Murren!

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    O What a nightmare!

    No Herr Renee and Sina at the Schoenegg!!!

    Who is this Philip person?

    Is Pizza Sina still open next door?

    I hope you met Chef Hubert Mayer. His food is superb.

    Did you walk up the hill to see the cows?

    I miss Wengen.


    Thin

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    "We were mid dinner at Hotel Schonegg when Philippe (GM of the hotel) came walking up to our dinner table with backpack in hand!"

    Welcome to Switzerland :-)

    A few years ago I was sitting on my usual tram in Basel when a woman got off, leaving a Hermes bag behind. Two teenagers grabbed it and immediately ran up to tram drive and handed it to him.

    I wish there were fireflies here...we do miss them. I can't wait to hear what you did during the downpours and thunderstorms we had over the week-end!

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    Hello again- sorry for delay as have been on the go!

    Ok - to Pepper_von_snoot - Philippe Allenspach is the general manager and has been there there about a year he said. Philippe is a Wengan native. I guess the owners retired and new owners are based in South Africa. Chef Hubert is still there cooking wonderful meals and was so nice! We did see the sign for the pizza place but didn't have a chance to check it out. Philippe was really service oriented and you could tell he was working really hard the whole time - I think this might be his first GM position.

    I do wonder - there was an elderly lady often sitting in the restaurant/bar area. She was so sweet and friendly and walked up and gave me and the children hugs and kisses when we said Guten Morgen on our way to breakfast. She then proceeded to tell me many many things in German all the way gesturing around the hotel. She was clearly telling me about the hotel but sadly I really didn't understand as I know only tourist German. So I smiled and hugged her and wished i had been a better language student in school! I wonder if she knew or was associated with former owners?

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    LOL - sorry that was a bit of a tease wasn't it? Ok, here really is Day 3. I almost finished it but then the kids woke up so was called into duty and didn't get it posted. . Will try to catch up a bit now......


    Day 3- Murren, Allmendhubel and the "CAT"

    Another gorgeous and sunny morning overlooking Wengen! Today we are excited to hit the "other side". So breakfast at our usual table, "guten morgen" to the resident granny and Philippe and off we go.

    We purchase return tickets to Murren via Grutschalp and shortly are on the tram and then train from Grutschalp to Murren. We toyed with the idea of walking part way but the kids are looking a little weary from yesterday so we decide to just ride the train, Once in Murren we walk towards the funicular to Allmendhubel and the kids spot a playground at the top of the small hill into town. As it is sacrilegious to bypass a perfectly good playground in our family, we had to test it out. As an aside, I am contemplating writing a guidebook called "Playgrounds of Europe" as I think I have seen 100's in our time living in the UK!

    Anyway, this particular playground is deemed "pretty fun because of the twirly bits" and we move on to the funicular. At the top of Allmendhubel we are surprised to see some extra tents and lots of Swiss in traditional garb. We think it is perhaps a warm up for Swiss Day but find out it is some other local festivity so we buy a little woodcarving to pin on our shirts and enjoy the singing and music.

    The kids go crazy over the super long slide built into the hill in the small playground and I go crazy taking a million bazillion photos of the 3 mountains, the valley, and the kids framed by the mountains, etc etc. I love this place! From a photo perspective, it just happens to be the right height to get a photo of your loved ones with Eiger, Monch, or Jungfrau perfectly and grandly rising behind them. Of all the wonderful photos on our trip, the ones from here are my favorite so far.

    While they run up and down the hill with DH, DM and I decide to go grab a table at the restaurant overlooking the playground and views. Good thing since as soon as we ordered lunch there was a run on the bank with people trying to find a table. The service at this restaurant is a bit brusque but the food is fine - nothing special but the views are worth it! We had the local meat/cheese platter and DM a "cheese crust". And of course the local Ruganbrau is cold and tasty.

    After lunch, we start looking for the signs to the "children's adventure trail" that we read about and find the sign below the restaurant so start to follow the trail. At first, we are unsure we are on the right trail as it just seems to be a regular trail or almost a road starting down to Murren. But we walk along and after about 10 minutes and lots of "mommy is this the right trail? And "where is the adventure part" we come to a trail sign that points out a number of trails including that the one we are on is also the children's adventure trail (the "CAT"). So we continue on and although it is a nice enough trail, we see it descends down through a pretty valley in a horseshoe and I don't see anything that makes it a CAT. Meanwhile, Little Miss Worry and Mr. 3 So I Have No Attention Span can clearly see the entire section of trail down to the valley and are convinced that Mommy is wrong and this is not the CAT as advertised. When suddenly, DS spots "baby strawberries Mommy!" Excellent, a diversion and we promote this as the first surprise and we all eat one little tiny and sweet wild strawberry selected by a proud DS. 2 minutes later, the whining starts again. So, I notice a tiny trail going straight down the side and cutting across the horseshoe so I tell the kids "it IS an Adventure as we are taking a shortcut!" DH is skeptical having been on a few too many of my hiking shortcuts but he gamely follows behind and prepares to pluck kids out of any stinging nettle we may encounter. I notice two other families follow us as perhaps they are in the same pickle with their kids. We make short work of the hill and cut 15 minutes of whining out of the walk so all is well other than I'm wondering if the CAT is a bust.

    We find another sign assuring us we are still on the CAT and we plod along when suddenly the CAT take a turn through the grass and some little hills. This looks promising and we arrive at a gate and a beautiful little stream. Hooray the kids are back in the game and we wet our hats and we happily move along. Now the trail starts to head downhill more into the woods and we come across a few adventures such as some logs to walk across and a few gates. It is really pretty and we are all enjoying the walk when we hit the CAT jackpot - a small little gate leading into the trees and a hidden little zip line and watchtower. The zip line is small but good and perfect for ages 3-10 or so. The kids are in heaven and DD proclaims "Best Zip Line Ever!" We fear them away after a while and continue walking down a lovely trail along a rushing mountain stream. We are basically descending down below the tram that goes up to Schilthorn so we see a tram go by above our heads once in while. The trail ends just above the schilthorn tram station and a great little playground which of course we hit hard and hear more Best.Day.Ever! commentary from the kids.

    You then have a choice to go down to the tram or to take a trail back to Murren that drops down in the back part of the village which is really pretty and we enjoy guessing all the vegetable varieties growing in people's gardens. We find a nice little restaurant serving ice cream and have an ice cream and prosecco break.

    On our way to the train we observe that Murren is a nice little village but a bit quieter than Wengen. It feels more like how often ski towns feel in the summer months - just a little sleepy. DH notices a little sports shop with a 50% off sale rack outside and finds a great North Face lightweight gortex raincoat his size. Jackpot as he had forgotten his raincoat at home. I'm jealous as I don't really love my jacket and yippee there is another North Face that fits me perfectly and also half price! The weather forecast had been promising rain so now we felt prepared...

    So, happy as clams we head back to Wengen for a rest and followed by another delicious dinner at the Schoenegg. Chef Hubert serves lamb that night which is great. DM does not eat lamb so he makes beef for her which is excellent. The weather is already starting to turn so we eat inside for the first time as the other nights we were served outside on the beautiful terrace.

    Sigh, another day in paradise!

    Tomorrow - water water everywhere.....

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    Excellent -- glad it was the best day ever!

    We had a couple of instances on the North Face Trail where the signage was a touch confusing as well but I think we managed "correctly" in the end.

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    Day 4 - Aye Aye Captain! Rainy day in Wengen.

    We wake today and as promised, it is as socked in this morning as it was blue skies the day before. Reminds me of growing up in the Montana Rockies where the mountain thunderstorms can come in out of nowhere. Rather than take a train down to Interlaken (we had considered the big Jungfrau activity park right outside Interlaken as a rainy day excursion) we decided the kids could actually use a nice low key day to recharge their batteries as we had been on the go nonstop and Mr. 3 was in big need of a nap day...

    So, we had a nice long breakfast and then put the kids in their rain pants and raincoats ( we've learned living in England that you just have to get on the rain gear and go or we would never go outside) and our new bargain price North Face jackets from Murren (yea!) and trooped down to the playground in the pouring rain. Tour groups and families were hustling by with their umbrellas while we had the playground to ourselves. All is going swimmingly when DD decides to try out the slide. I turn my head just as she heads down the slide and suddenly it feels like it goes slow-mo as I watch her shoot off the end of the slide and fly completely over the 3 foot landing pad to instead land on her bum in a huge puddle of water. Oops, not a Mother of the Year moment to forget about the combination of water running down a slide and slick rainpants. She is so shocked about being airborne that she doesn't even cry as I scoop her out of the water and check for broken tailbone! Luckily, she bounces right back after that quick moment kids have of deciding whether to cry AND the water didn't even get into her rainpants! After that, we opt to catch them at the bottom of the slide. 15 minutes and bruised shins for me later, we are ready to get out of the rain which was still steadily coming down.

    So, we went shopping in some of the nice little shops and bought lunch supplies plus a few souvenirs. I decided a fondue was in order for a rainy day so we got all the cheese fixings and some wine plus some sausages for the kids and headed back to the hotel. We stopped at the little bakery on the Main Street for a fresh crusty loaf of bread.

    Did I mention I love the Jungfrau Suite? In the small but amazingly equipped kitchen there is a really nice fondue set so we get that out and prepare our cheese fondue and sauté the sausages for the kids. Some fruit and veggies and we have a feast at our table while watching the rain pour down over Wengen. Then we all have a rest after all the cheese....

    By late afternoon the rain is breaking up and the sky is starting to peek through the clouds. I get some great shots of the sun breaking thru the clouds and over the mountains. The kids wake up from their naps and we leave DM to relax while we head down to try the mini-golf course we have been looking down at for the last few days. The kids have never mini-golfed before and absolutely love it so I guess we will be looking for mini-golf courses near our house at home now :) Little miss 5 manages to get a "goal in one" to our utter shock and insists that DH is wrong to call it a "hole" vs "goal".

    Back up to the hotel for our last dinner at the Schoenegg - delicious yet again. The only downside we found was that the children's menu was a bit limited - at least what our kids liked and so they ended up with meatballs several nights which was fine but after 4 nights, we were all ready for a change.

    Tomorrow - our last day in Wengen and down to Lake Geneva!

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    Day 5 - Mannichen to Grindelwald and the GoldenPass

    Today we wake up and the last few rainclouds are breaking up in promise of a sunny day. This is our last day in Wengen. DH still really wants to see the Grindelwald valley so we decide to take the tram back up to Mannlichen and ride the gondola down to Grund. DH purchases return tickets from Wengen to Grindelwald via Mannlichen but then we end up getting a much later start than expected due to the packing up and pokey kids. So, by the time we are on the tram to Mannlichen it is 10:45am. We head straight to the gondola going down Gund and little Miss Worry is convinced we cannot get all 5 of us safely on the gondola "while it is moving Mommy!!" We do manage however given it is moving at the speed of a slug. This is a kid who always reads the airplane safety cards from front to back and then plans our escape route.

    The gondola ride down to Grund is peaceful and so enjoyable. We can hear the cowbells as we float over the green mountain slopes with bright yellow wildflowers and clusters of cows. You can tell this must be an awesome place to ski in the winter and we put this on our bucket list. 100 photos, several rounds of songs, and 30 minutes later we are arriving in Grund.

    We still want to get to Grindelwald just to check it out. However, once we walk over the big parking lot towards the train station in Grund, we realize we have missed the train and will have to wait 30 minutes for the next one or take the shuttle bus. Reality starts to set in that we have to catch our GoldenPass train in Interlaken at 5pm and we are going to be cutting the time really close if we go to Grindelwald and want to spend any time there looking around. We also realize that taking a train vs the gondola back to Wengen might have been faster. Oh well - we decide to play it safe and after a lovely tour of the Grund train station and car park, we jump back on the gondola towards Mannlichen and decide it was worth it just to have the nice scenic gondola ride.... We now had time to eat lunch on top of Mannlichen (the pomme frites are especially good) and the kids, guess what, played on the playground.

    The weather is gorgeous with puffy white clouds and blue sky. We ride back down to Wengen and sadly say goodbye to the Schoenegg. Erika and Philippe give us 2 jars of homemade jam and the kids give them a hug as they drop our luggage at the train station.

    We hop on the train and head towards Interlaken. It's a bit crowded so DH stands by the door with the luggage. Suddenly it occurs to me that I didn't double check that DH got the train tickets as he is the keeper of half fare cards. I gesture over to him and get a blank stare -oops. So when the ticket taker comes by me first, I merely say " my husband has the tickets" and point over to DH- ha! Fortunately, DH gets reminded about the possible penalty fare but is able to buy the tickets to Interlaken on the spot.

    We get to Interlaken ahead of schedule and have over an hour until our 5pm train so we find the luggage lockers. For CHF 5 you get a large locker that fit even our huge rolling duffle so we shoved the bags in 2 lockers and walked the 10 minutes down the road to the park where all the para gliders land as the kids love watching them. After that, we grabbed some food at the big grocery (CO-OP) straight across from the station to have a picnic dinner on the train.

    We had reserved 1st class seats online for the GoldenPass leg between Interlaken and Zweisimmen as it showed on the Internet that there were only a few seats left. For the second leg into Montreux, it showed no seats available to reserve. Well, I'm not really sure what the deal was but we found our carriage and although all the seats had the little reserved signs on them, there was no one else on our carriage! It was boiling hot in the carriage so we opened all the windows to get some airflow. Once we got going, the conductor came along to check the tickets and promptly closed all the windows but ours with a stern request for us to close ours at Zweisimmen.

    We changed trains at Zweisimmen and as we didn't have reserved seats we just got on the first 1 class carriage we came to which turned out to be one of the panoramic carriages with the "VIP" stadium seats that I had read about. Because we were on a late train and also sitting in the last carriage, once again there were no other people in our entire carriage all the way to Montreux! The conductor came on and told us we were welcome to sit anywhere including in the VIP seats as no one had booked them. So we sat there for a while and I can see why those seats are popular. Even though we were in them with a view out the back of train ( i,e. the caboose view), we got a sense of the great views. It was a bit odd but nice being on an empty train so if you want a train with few people i recommend the 5pm train out of Interlaken as we were told it is never very busy as most people travel earlier. The kids played hide and seek while we hopped from seat to seat admiring the scenery. Also, for those of you looking at reserving seats for the panoramic carriages, it seems the website cannot really be trusted and seats may be available even if the website says no ( at least with the 1st class seats).

    Once we reached Lake Geneva the train spent some time switch-backing down the hill into Montreux so lots of time to see the lake views. It was beautiful at sunset!

    We reached the Montreux station, made the quick connection to a train to Vevey and 10 min later were in Vevey. I had a vague recollection that our hotel was close so we didn't bother calling for a ride and just walked. We found the hotel after a few wrong turns and checked in. This was a change of pace from the Schoenegg! We had reserved a Jr suite plus a deluxe room for DM at the Hotel des Trois Couronnes. The hotel is lovely - clearly a "grand dame" of the Swiss Riviera and was opened around 1842. They situated us in two rooms next door to each other ( not adjoining as I didn't get the sense that was an option). Both rooms were lovely with stunning views looking straight onto the lake and a balcony. The jr suite had a sitting area with couch and chairs and space where they set up a separate twin bed for one of the kids.

    We had planned that DD might sleep in grandmas room but she wanted to sleep with us so DM got some well deserved privacy and DS slept in our large king bed and DD on the extra bed which worked fine. I think a family of 4 could easily fit in the jr suite as a second twin bed could fit and there are two separate bathrooms one with a shower and one with a shower/bath. Of course, after the gigantic suite at the Schoenegg this felt more cozy!

    As it was getting late for dinner, we went down to the terrace/bar and sat outside and ate from the bar menu. The food was good but a bit of sticker shock after being in Wengen and having the half board dinner option! Cocktails were about CHF 24 and a cheeseburger for the kids to split was CHF 34 and other options around that price or higher. But we knew that we were in for inflated prices when staying at this type of hotel so we just enjoyed the beautiful terrace and first night on Lake Geneva!

    Upon return to the room the kids were delighted to have chocolates, mini bathrobes, and slippers laid out for them so we got a small modelling show before we wrangled them into bed.

    Tomorrow - the castle and Montreux....

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    Looking forward to hearing about your stay on the Swiss Riviera, one of my favorite places!

    Just fyi, yes the Trois Couronnes *is* a Grand Dame type of hotel. In fact, Henry James set his 1878 novel "Daisy Miller" there.

    s

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    Day 6 (july 31) Castle and fireworks for DH birthday!


    So, today we wake up for our first day in Vevey. The view out our windows is gorgeous - completely different from Wengen but beautiful with crisp lake scented air, early sailboats heading out on the lake, birds singing, and the Alps in the background.

    Today is DH's birthday so we have a little celebration and the kids bring forth the special cards and little gifts we made at home and carefully hid in the luggage. We also discover a nespresso machine in our room and enjoy a cup of coffee while braiding DD hair and getting ready. None of us have been to Lake Geneva before so we decide to hit the highly recommended Chateau de Chillon first.

    The breakfast buffet at the hotel is very nice - a similar but more posh version of the Schoenegg with lots of fruit, cereals, breads, and some hot food choices.

    We use our Riviera passes ( which I understand is typical for hotels here to give) to hop on the convenient 201 bus that goes back and forth between Montreux and Vevey. This is super easy and we are dropped right in front of the Chateau de Chillon.

    Walking down to the castle, mini disaster strikes! My poor favorite flip flips finally give out and the toe strap breaks rendering them impossible to walk in. I fear I may be hopping thru the castle but ah ha! I find two band aids in my backpack and do a Macgyver repair to hold my strap together. With a much less aggressive walk style, I am back in action and we proceed to the castle.

    This is a really nice pint size castle so by the time the attention spans are running low for the kids, we are through. Basically took about 90 minutes for us to stroll through. I do enjoy castles but by now have been through so many in England that my appetite is probably lower than it used to be.... We planned to walk back towards Montreux along the lake but I fear my flip flop repair is tenuous so we get back on the bus and hop off near the Montreux old Market square. The family orders pizza at an Italian restaurant on the promenade while I run into a store and grab the first pair of decent flip flops I find. Good thing as 10 minutes later the Macgyver fix fails and I don my new shoes.

    After lunch we wander around the Montreux promenade and find a little "train" that gives rides along the promenade. DS and DD beg for this so we enjoy a little ride and views along the shore while people are strolling, sunbathing, and swimming in the lake. It is a very festive and classic summertime environment!

    Then we find a playground right next to the old market square and relax while the kids run around. We see they are beet red and decide it is time for a rest and water so we get on the next bus and go back to the hotel.

    I had researched before this trip and found out that Le Bouveret, the town across the lake from Vevey, celebrates Swiss National Day a day early (on July 31) with music, fireworks, etc. So, I had hoped we would be able to see them from our hotel and sure enough, the concierge said many people watch them from Vevey and other towns do some fireworks on July 31 as well. In fact, the whole promenade in Vevey was set up with food and drink stalls and we could tell a party was about to begin!

    The kids go for a late nap from 5-7pm to give them a chance of making it until the 10pm fireworks. Our hotel is just about 5-10 minute stroll along the lakefront to the Vevey market square so we walk there past the famous fork stuck in the lake ( this is a huge mystery to the kids) and the Charlie Chaplin Statue. We take a picture of the kids next to Charlie as do several members of a Japanese tour group passing by!

    So far, we are really happy with our choice to stay in Vevey. It is smaller than Montreux and the promenade is beautiful and more manageable for our kids. By now, it is after 8pm so we turn attention to the various food stalls and find a saucisse de veau and pomme frites for the kids and some sort of gyros's type of thing (delicious) for the adults and sit at a picnic bench right along the rock wall of the promenade. I also discover a Brazilian stall that offers caipirinha's which I have loved ever since a trip to São Paulo. Some friendly young women serve me 3 of the best caipirinha's I've ever had and my DH sucks his down in minutes while my DM and I sip ours. Back to the bar for a refill for DH and the girls say "anglais?" I reply yes and they laugh and my nickname becomes anglais for the rest of the night and they always say "cheers!" When they handed me my subsequent refills (I won't say how many but it was DH birthday after all)!

    Shortly after 10pm the fireworks begin and are just beautiful and the atmosphere is perfect with the music, happy families, and warm summer air and lake breezes. I could stay here forever! The kids think I did this special for Daddy's birthday and I just say "yep!"

    Tomorrow - le bouveret and Swiss vapour parc.

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    Really enjoying your trip report and taking notes.
    We will be in Switzerland in September staying in Wengen and Montreux. We are also taking the Golden Pass route to Montreux. We will be on a morning train to Montreux and have not booked seats yet, wondering whether we should. We will have 1st class tickets.
    We thought to purchase an 8 day pass, had thought about the flexi pass, but didn't really want the inconvenience of purchasing tickets every time we decided to go somewhere. What was our experience?

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    aussie -- buying tickets, at least for our week around Wengen, was a piece of cake. No hassle at all. We could usually walk right up to the window and purchase them. Sometimes, we'd have to wait for 1 person. The only queuing we did was at the Zurich airport and even that was only a few minutes.

    So, our experience was no hassle at all. I wouldn't buy a pass just for that reason (obviously that's not the only reason, but you get what I mean).

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    Thin - are Swiss not big on giving hugs I take it? The "Grandma" was indeed the first and only person in Switzerland to do so! And Philippe I think was almost as surprised as I was when my normally reserved kids(at least with people they don't know well)ran and hugged him when we left Wengen.

    Indy_Dad - we are living near Ascot outside of London (commute into London for work) and are 4.5 years into a 3 year assignment :) We will probably go back to the US sometime next year which will be a shock to our kids who really don't know anything but here! I think I recall from one of your posts you are up further north?

    Aussie - you will have a great time in September and the combination of the mountains and lakeside was really good for us! I don't really think you need to book seats ahead for 1st class based on our experience unless maybe you have a large group? We never found 1st class to be full on any train and as Indy_dad commented, we also found with the HF card it was really easy to buy tickets on each day (just make sure you do remember to buy them and not jump on the train without like we did!). There would certainly be a convenience of a Swiss pass to not have to buy tickets each time but for us, the buying was easy and the price comparison with our facts made the Swiss pass quite a bit more expensive.

    Ok, I am slowly catching up on my report although not "live" anymore due to my slowness in writing...

    Day 7 - August 1 - Swiss National Day and Le Bouveret

    Happy Swiss National Day today! The kids wake up surprisingly early given the late night before so we are at breakfast by 8:30 am and enjoy the crisp morning air out on the hotel terrace with our coffee.

    Today we are going to take the CGN boat cruise from Vevey to Le Bouveret and visit the Swiss Vapeur Parc which is a miniature steam railway park that I had read about. We use our Riviera cards (could have also used our Half Fare cards) to buy boat tickets for 50% discount and we go for 1st class so we can sit on the upper deck of the boat.

    The boat ride is calm and peaceful and I get some great shots of Vevey and the countryside as we cruise to Montreux, by the Chateau de Chillon, and so on around the lake until we reach Le Bouveret. It takes a little over an hour from Vevey to Le Bouveret. I was kind of hoping we might have some festive Swiss National Day music on our boat similar to what we had when we took a boat cruise on Lake Thun two years before on Swiss National Day but no luck. I suppose these boats are a bit more “business like” in ferrying passengers back and forth versus the more scenic cruise we took on Lake Thun. Anyway, the ride is still very nice and we arrive at Le Bouveret and leaving the dock immediately see the sign for Swiss Vapeur Park only 500m to the left.

    Le Bouveret looks like a nice small town and we see some picturesque buildings but don’t stop as Mr. 3 is so excited to see the trains he can barely contain himself. We’ve visited several miniature railways or similar in the UK so not really sure what to expect. We paid around CHF 8 per adult (at 50% using the Riveria cards) and CHF 6 for my DD (age 5). Mr 3 was free but the woman could barely believe he was 3 years old as he is really tall and many people throughout our trip thought they were twins (by the comments I would over-hear). As an aside, this is a funny thing I’ve noticed traveling in Europe. We will be standing in a tram or somewhere and I will hear people next to us commenting to each other in English things like “oh - do you think they are twins? How old do you think he is, etc. etc” as if they assume we don’t speak English or can’t hear them. Kind of awkward - do you respond, ignore them? I’ve done both but is funny sometimes when I answer and watch the startled look on their faces.

    Anyway, we walk into the parc which is not huge but a nice size and are immediately at a small railway station where a miniature green “subway” train pulls in with lots of happy people sitting in the wee carriages. The trains are just big enough to sit in, usually straddling a little bench and I had to laugh a bit at all the adults sitting on the trains with their knees sticking up over the tops of the carriages. We get on the “subway” and off we go through a miniature Switzerland filled with Swiss landmarks, tunnels, bridges, ponds, and beautiful flowers. They even have a miniature gondola going up the side of a little mountain. The kids were ecstatic but all of us enjoyed it so much. My DM and I started laughing at ourselves and our ridiculous overuse of the word “cute” as every corner we turned one of us would say “oooh, see the ____, how cute!!” The tracks wind all over the little landscape and there are a few different rail stations where you can get on and off various trains. They put several trains into operation depending on how many people are in the park and there are different varieties including a Matterhorn train, a “city train”, an old fashioned steam train, etc etc. It was hilarious to watch the train engineer take a tiny little shovel and scoop coal into a 5 inch steam engine firebox. This is a place for both kids and any train enthusiast!

    You can also just walk through the park and watch happy families ride by on the little trains. There was a a few nice places to have lunch including the restaurant we went to by the “prairie” and they served a beef steak and some pork that was surprisingly good along with the typical bratwurst. The parc has several really nice areas with picnic tables or benches as well and many people brought their own picnic baskets for lunch. We saw families with children from infants up to teenagers and everyone seemed to be having a great time. I sat at the “prairie station” by two young British boys (aged 10 and 12) who were so nice and friendly (although the younger boy had to first ask his older brother if it was ok to tell me his name which I thought was sweet and wise). They were telling me that they had been on many holidays in Europe but this holiday in Switzerland was by far their favourite.

    We spent about 3.5 hours at the park in total including a 1 hour lunch break and that gave us time to ride 4 different trains before we had to go catch our boat back to Vevey. We selected a boat that was completing the same loop we had started in Vevey so the ride back was only 30 minutes or so as we merely stopped at St. Gingolph and then went straight across to the lake to Vevey arriving around 4pm.

    Right near the boat dock in Vevey there is a grand old carousel so we stopped to let the kids have a few rides before heading back to the hotel for a late afternoon nap to be prepared for another late night of fireworks. Things were already lively on the waterfront in preparation for the evening festivities and lots of people were already camped out in their firework viewing spots.

    Around 8pm we headed down to the waterfront to find some more good street food at the venders and it was a bit more challenging this night to find a place to sit but we did find a nice spot along the rock wall overlooking the lake and had a little picnic. I found my Brazilian friends who greeted me with “Hey Anglais!” and hooked me up with a round of delicious caipirinha’s.

    Around 10pm they lit a huge bonfire on the lake (which my DH first thought was a boat on fire - ha ha) and once that died down, the real fireworks began. They were done from a barge just off the shore by the Vevey main boat dock and our view from the lake promenade in front of our hotel (close by where the giant fork is in the lake) was perfect!

    The only downside of the evening was that the lead singer of a band that was playing live music (piped along our section) was truly awful and her singing was not appreciated by many patrons by the looks I saw on faces around! After the fireworks, DH went to return our caipirinha glasses (you put down a CHF 2 deposit per glass) and watched a woman walk up to the owner of the Brazilian stand and start scolding him for the “bad music” as she mistakenly thought the horrible singing was coming from his speakers - she was speaking French but this is what he got out of the conversation. Hoo boy - did that ever make the Brazilian mad so it took a while to return the glasses as he had to correct the woman of her mistake and then he also assured DH he had nothing to do with the out of tune band....

    Another perfect (if slightly out of tune) day in Switzerland! Happy Swiss Day!

    Tomorrow - our last full day in Switzerland - relaxation on the agenda.

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    Day 8 - Relaxation in Vevey and Montreux

    Today is our last full day in Vevey - sniff. We try to sleep in but this is not possible with children sitting on your chest staring at you so we get up and head down to breakfast to plan our day which (shock!) to DH, I have not set any agenda.

    We take a family vote and both 3 footers immediately yell out "Golf!!" which they have been talking about since we played it in Wengen and were upset with us for not going back there to play again. So, we suggest some other things like the funicular, boat rental, etc but they stick to their guns and mini-golf it is. We found a mini-golf place right in Montreux on the lake promenade near the Montreux Palace hotel which was easy to reach via the 201 busline. It was a simple but nice mini-golf course and we got there before its official opening time but the man running the place saw us loitering around and took pity and let us in early. Beyond all belief, DD who refuses to listen to any coaching (such as not holding the club backwards), manages to get another "goal in one" (she also got one in Wengen). There is strange karma at work here...

    Mini-golf mission accomplished we wander Montreux a bit before taking the bus back to Vevey for a play at the playground near the boat dock and to have lunch. I read about a good sushi restaurant on tripadvisor so we look it up on our BB's and walk over. Ugh - sign on the door that says the owners on are vacation for 3 weeks. We can't decide on anything else so we go back and eat on the hotel terrace. The food is fine but I'm not too impressed by the service - it was really slow and the waitstaff were not in synch and keeping forgetting to bring things. If I wasn't staying at the hotel, I would not choose to eat there again.

    After lunch the adults relax while the kids have a short nap and then I take them swimming in the hotel indoor pool while DH gets a massage at the Puressens Spa in the hotel which he says is very nice. The spa and pool facilities are quite nice at the Trois Couronnes. It is an indoor pool vs outdoor pool which can be good or bad depending on the weather situation. During this great weather, an outdoor pool would have been nice.

    DS is ready for fireworks for the 3rd night and is quite miffed when we explain there were no fireworks to be had this evening. However, all the vendors and tents are still up and so we go down to the lakeside and have our final picnic in Vevey while a much nicer musical group than the previous night plays some classical music and we enjoy the relative peacefulness of the lakeside - it is busy enough to feel like a holiday but not so busy that we feel crowded.


    Day 9

    Saturday Market in Vevey and home to England

    Today we have to go home so we sadly pack up our duffels and have a nice breakfast. We have until noon until our train leaves Vevey for the Geneva airport so we walk over to the Marche and see the Saturday market. It is a nice market with mostly food and some clothing and other goods. DM and I browse around while DH takes the kids to the playground by the dock and to see the swans. I find a nice straw market bag and lots of great food I would like to buy but don't since we are leaving. It would be a great place to get a fabulous picnic - sigh. next time.

    We finish up and go to the playground to see DH and the kids only to find them stripped down to their undies (the kids that is) and swimming in the fountain near the playground along with a few other children. It is a perfect fountain for kids to swim/play in and we had noticed it became quite busy with children on other days as well. The outer part is very shallow (about 8 inches for younger children) and the middle section is probably about 2.5 feet deep.

    Time to catch a train so we go check out of the hotel and walk to the train station (we missed the bus and in the 10 minutes we would have waited for the the next one, we walked the distance easily). No excitement on our way from Vevey to Geneva airport and we catch the short flight from Geneva to Heathrow and home by 5pm UK time. Gotta love short flights!

    DH says this is our Best Holiday Ever and is already trying to figure out when we can go back. For me, it is a huge testament to a good holiday that DH and I barely touched our blackberrys. It is hard for us to feel unplugged from work but Switzerland is a great cure. Thanks for reading and I hope that this report helps those as much as other reports helped me in planning our trip!

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    Great trip and report. Sounds fantastic. Ours is also in the ranking for "best trip ever" and was just the relaxation we needed.

    (Yes, we are "up north" in Derby; nearing the end of our 3 yr gig)

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