I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Switzerland!
Rather than offering a blow-by-blow account of my trip, I’ll note my final itinerary, review what I liked least and most, and then offer some observations to thank those who so generously offered their advice as I planned this trip. I’ll be happy to answer questions at any point.
• This was a 30-day trip during which I used a Swiss Pass.
• I’m a solo independent female traveler.
• I planned this trip with an eye to maximizing the diversity of my experiences in Switzerland.
• I would not recommend my itinerary to anyone else: This was a plan very specifically tailored to my interests and travel style. It was certainly not an itinerary geared toward relaxation or leisurely exploration!
The itinerary I actually followed was:
Day 1: Arrive in and begin exploring Geneva (night in Geneva)
Day 2: Explore Geneva a bit further, visit Lutry and walk through some of the Lavaux vineyard terraces (night in Lausanne)
Day 3: Explore Lausanne; move on to Montreux (1st of 2 nights in Montreux)
Day 4: Visit Rochers-de-Naye, Glion, and the Chateau Chillon; take a boat to Lausanne; dinner in Vevey (night in Montreux)
Day 5: Take the train to Gstaad (just to see the scenery en route), spend a very brief time in Gstaad (since I was there), move on to and explore Gruyeres, visit the chocolate factory in Broc, walk from Broc to Gruyeres (night in Gruyeres)
Day 6: Move on to and visit Fribourg (night in Fribourg)
Day 7: Visit the Latenium (outside of Neuchatel) and Solothurn on my way to Basel (1st of 2 nights in Basel)
Day 8: Explore Basel (night in Basel)
Day 9: Finish my visit to Basel then move on to Lucerne—the only place in Switzerland that I had already visited (night in Lucerne)
Day 10: Leave for Ascona, stopping in Bellinzona on the way (1st of 2 nights in Ascona)
Day 11: Enjoy the views from Cimetta, hike from Lavertezzo to Brione in the Valle Verzasca; take the train through the Centovalli as far as Verdasio and roam around Rasa; return to Ascona (night in Ascona)
Day 12: Visit the Isole di Brissago, Ascona, and Locarno; move on to Lugano (1st of 2 nights in Lugano)
Day 13: Hike down Monte San Salvatore to Mercote; visit Lugano and Gandria; walk the Sentiero dell’Olivo (night in Lugano)
Day 14: Take the Bernina Express as far as Pontresina and then go to Mustair (night in Mustair)
Day 15: Visit the Convent of St. John, move on to the Lower Engadine and visit Schloss Tarasp, walk from the castle to Tarasp-Vulpera, move on to Guarda (1st of 2 nights in Guarda)
Day 16: Explore the Lower Engadine: Walk from Guarda to Ardez, visit Lavin, Scuol, and Sent (night in Guarda)
Day 17: Move to the Upper Engadine; visit Diavolezza; night in Pontresina (1st of 3 nights in Pontresina).
Day 18: Visit the Val Bregaglia: Take the bus to Soglio, walk to Castasegna and then through Bondo to Promontogno; return to Pontresina (night in Pontresina)
Day 19: Walk from Muottas Muralg to Alp Languard; explore Pontresina (night in Pontresina)
Day 20: Go to Bern, taking a train through the Albula Pass (1st of 2 nights in Bern).
Day 21: Explore Bern (night in Bern)
Day 22: Go to Thun, visit Thun and the castles in Hilterfingen and Oberhofen, return to Thun by boat and then go to Wengen (night in Wengen)
Days 23: Paraglide (tandem) from Grutschalp; then, because the trail from Kleine Scheidegg to Mannlichen was closed, I went to Mannlichen, walked to Gipfel and back, took the cable car to Holenstein, walked to Brandegg, visited Grindelwald briefly, and then went to Lauterbrunnen (1st of 3 nights in Lauterbrunnen)
Days 24: Walk from Grutschalp to Murren, visit Schilthorn, take cable cars through Gimmelwald and Stechleberg and then go to Trummelbach Falls; walk to Lauterbrunnen (night in Lauterbrunnen)
Day 25: Take a boat to Brienz with a stop at Giessbach Falls; visit the Ballenberg Open Air Musuem, shop for wood carvings in Brienz, return to Lauterbrunnen (night in Latuerbrunnen)
Day 26: Visit the Alpine Garden on Schynige Platte and then move on to Stein-am-Rhein (night in Stein-am-Rhein)
Day 27: Visit Winterthur and, after dinner, move on to Zurich (1st of 3 nights in Zurich)
Days 28-29: Explore Zurich (nights in Zurich)
Day 30: Flight to the US
As I said, not a plan for someone who wants a leisurely experience! But it sure did give me a nice sample of some of Switzerland’s diverse gems.
What I liked least:
• The costs (even though expected)!
• The lack of options to buy wine outside my hotel or a restaurant after 18:00 or 19:00 in many places I visited (or at least an inability to do so at a location near my hotel), so I ended up paying way too much--but at least I could buy it, so I won’t complain too loudly.
• Being unable to get an "ear" for the language, because there isn't just one language and because I could hear people from many, many countries almost anywhere I went. In many places, there were speakers of so many different language groups – and not just European languages, but Asian and Indian and Arabic languages – that I felt a bit like I was in some kind of Tower of Babel. (The ability of the many Swiss people who interact with tourists to not only speak multiple languages, but moreover to speak them well and to switch with apparent ease from one to the other, is truly awesome.)
• The extremes of the weather I experienced, from the unseasonably cold weather that greeted my arrival in Geneva to the insufferably hot foehn that joined me on my visit to Ballenberg. (But OMG I was fortunate – my time in the Ticino was glorious, as was the vast majority of my time in Graubunden and in the Bernese Oberland!)
• Hotel maids who took away the extra towel that I had specifically requested.
• The seeming impossibility of finding platform 4 at the Zurich train station.
• Hotel rooms in which the electrical outlets were not readily accessible.
• Getting unexpectedly drenched as I walked from Gandria to Castagnola, falling in a mucky pasture during a rain-drenched walk near Gruyeres, and sinking hip deep into a snow field before I found the right path to the dry part of the Panaramaweg from Muottas Muralg. Definitely not among my favorite moments!
• The stampeding cows that “welcomed” me to their hillside on a cold, wet day when all that separated them from me was what seemed like a very, very thin piece of twine tied to insubstantial bits of widely spaced wooden stakes. I have no idea what made them decide to stop, but I sure am glad they did!
• Poorly marked trails. Seriously! Almost without exception, the trails I walked were so well marked that even the angle of the sign was precisely aligned with the path. So the two exceptions I encountered—places where I came to an unmarked intersection—were decidedly unsettling. Of course, it only took a few steps in each case to realize that what had seemed like an alternate path wasn’t really a path at all….
• The effort and energy it took to run from side to side of the many trains I took through breathtaking scenery. I swear I walked more on some of those trains just going from window to window than I do on some whole days in my normal work-a-day world!
• Unforgivably good chocolate. Really, it should be a crime.
If it isn’t immediately obvious, I’m having difficulty coming up with things to put in my “least-liked” category.
What I liked most:
OMG, where do I start?!?
• The wildflowers that seemed to adorn every field in every place I visited, from the just-emerging alpine flowers in the Upper Engadine to the full glory of wildflowers abloom in the Lower Engadine, so thick the fields seemed to glitter with color….
• And planted flowers, too, and the scents of lilac and honeysuckle and rose that beckoned from parks and yards throughout the country….
• Panoramic scenes of snow-capped mountains barely kissed by high, white clouds floating against brilliant blue skies, with forests and flower-bedecked fields layered below, and maybe a rushing river or a stunningly still lake in the valley floor, all with the sounds of a waterfall or cows and cowbells and birds, even a cuckoo here and there, and the freshness of the air…. And even if this description could apply to any number of places I saw, each was distinct, and each held its own special features, and even if I can't articulate the differences, I treasure my memories of each of the different awesome and breathtaking vistas I was fortunate enough to see.
• Waterfalls large and small, in the open or in the caves/slot canyon of Trummelbach Falls, permanent and ephemeral (as the spring thaw allowed meltwater on what I believe was the Eiger -- toward which I was walking -- to burst through whatever had been blocking it; I occasionally heard a resounding, echoing explosion and then saw a waterfall begin high on a rock wall, followed soon by a series of cascades below, all growing and then thinning, and then ceasing within the mere space of 15 minutes or so), and paragliding (in tandem) first above and then to and fro in front of the magnificent Staubbach Falls and watching the ever-changing Staubbach Falls while sipping wine as dusk settled over the Lauterbrunnen Valley.
• The ghostly snow fields of the Jungfrau seen by moonlight from Wengen and the Milky Way and brilliant clarity of so many stars in the night skies that I glimpsed in so many parts of the country.
• Charming towns with painted or sgrafittoed houses, or intricately carved wooden gables and balconies, or oriels and windows with painted shutters, or ancient stone and wood hay lofts; each town complete with flower-boxes and churches with incredibly tall, slim bell towers and fountains (whether simple or ornate) offering indescribably tasty potable water….
• And the fountains in cities, too, whether medieval or modern, and the cobbled streets and squares with their markets and city gates and walls and bridges and terraces and churches and so many different ways in which the history of each town and city revealed itself through its layout and architecture….
• Covered wooden bridges with flower boxes and lake- or river-front promenades and the swans and ducks and coots swimming nearby….
• Museums and castles that document the lives of their former residents at various points in time, or how those lives changed over time. Special kudos to the awesome Latenium, which not only has an outstanding display of the prehistory of the area, but moreover does so in a building that brings the carefully landscaped exterior into the museum itself....
• Some incredible collections of art, including any number of small museums that each held more than a few outstanding pieces, and the chance to see masterpieces by everyone from Holbein to Hodler, and being able to visit many museums without crowds ….
• The pride that museum staff took in their collections, whether devoted to art or history or marionettes or whatever and the labors of love that were evident in the placement of every object in the Toy Museum in Riehan and the attention given to children at the paper mill museum in Basel….
• Magnificent frescos, from the incomparable series at the Convent of St. John in Mustair through the recently restored brilliance of those at Santa Maria delle Grazie in Bellinzona to the cubist-like depiction of God in the parish church of Lavin and so many more….
• The stained glass, from medieval masterpieces through the Chagall and Giacometti windows of Zurich’s Fraumunster….
• Public art -- sculptures dotting city corners or waterfronts and Tinguely’s Fasnacht fountain in Basel and the fountain of the woman with her umbrella and water-filled shopping bag in Fribourg and the modern art installations along the trail in the Valle Verzasca and the many ways in which the Swiss have made art a part of their environment…
• The diversity of what I experienced – different landscapes and different styles of art and architecture and differences in the ambience from region to region and different flowers and birds and so much more….
• Including diverse animals: Not just cows and goats, but also ibex grazing on the edges of the Panoramaweg and horses with their foals and so many different kinds of chickens….
• The cheeses and breads and wines and fresh fruits and vegetables and the markets in which both flowers and produce were so beautifully displayed and OMG I ate well on this trip!
• The incredible ease of transportion, and the opportunity to ride just about every manner of public transportion that exists. SBB’s web-site provides an astonishing amount of helpful information, allowing me to plan effectively well in advance. (I really like to plan my trips!) I loved the day-after-next luggage forwarding option, and I also took advantage of locker options at many stops. My kudos to people associated with public transportation in Switzerland – I was treated with courtesy and patience by every one of them.
• The many small details at hotels that can make a bit difference when traveling: sinks with drains that could be stopped; wash cloths; fluffy and incredibly comfortable comforters, huge pillows, and (of course) absolute spotlessness….
• And last, but certainly not least, the kindness of so many people I encountered along the way! The woman who chased me through a train station to give me a scarf I had unknowingly dropped. The staff of the tourist information office in Lucerne who laughingly worked together to figure out that the bird I was trying to identify was a taucherli (coot). The bus driver in the Val Mustair who, noticing that I was taking a million pictures, stopped at a lookout point and told me I could have a minute to get off and take pictures. The woman at a museum in Winterthur who called every other museum in that city to alert them to be on the lookout for me after I inadvertently left my driver’s license there, and the staff of all the other museums who followed through with me as soon as they saw me. So many others….
I came home exhausted, but also energized and enlivened and enriched by my experiences. It was, indeed, a trip to remember!
Still to come: Some comments on the ways that each of you who contributed to my planning made this trip even more special than it would otherwise have been.
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My delightful sampling of Switzerland’s gems, with many thanks
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Switzerland!