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Trip Report N Italy/ Switzerland/ S Germany

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We enjoyed a fabulous 17 night trip to Northern Italy, Switzerland, Southern Germany in late September 2012.
We flew into Milan and returned from Frankfurt.
There really is nothing we wish we had done differently and we cannot pick our
favorite spot - they were all wonderful!
And the trip would not have been possible if not for the excellent info and help on both Trip Advisor and Fodor's forums.

Hotels: All hotels were booked based on Trip Advisor reviews. We are not super picky but do always look for a good location. And we never took a taxi. Able to walk from the train station to the hotel in every city. I have reviewed all of the hotels, except Des Alpes in Luzern, on Trip Advisor.

Trains: We traveled by train in second class. Total cost for all rail for 2 people was $908.00 plus substantial discounts on special cable cars and such in Switzerland. Included in the $908 was 2nd class Swiss Saver Flexipass, fall promo 2 for 1, 4 days within 1 month, $280 plus shipping $298.00 total. For the most part we bought the train tickets as we went along and it was helpful that I had printed out train schedules at home to show to the ticket window. And we always used a ticket window (real live person!) rather than a ticket machine because we were chicken!

We arrived Milan Malpensa airport (MXP) at 8:45am. Bought train tickets to Milan Centrale 10 euro pp. Should have validated the ticket before boarding and was reminded by conductor on board. One hour train. At Milan Centrale bought rail tickets for 12:05p Eurocity to Verona. 42 euros for 2 of us. Train was jam packed with people and luggage probably because final destination was Venice and it was a Friday. Arrived Verona 1:30pm and walked to our hotel.

VERONA, 3nights
Hotel Giulietta e Romeo, Room #210
Hotel is an easy 20 minute walk from the train station and perfectly located near the arena and the center of everything. Comfortable room and great breakfast.
Enjoyed delicious meals at
Osteria Verona, Piazza Erbe 
Ristorante Pizzeria Impero on Piazza dei Signori
Osteria Sottoriva
La Taverna di via Stella

Took day trips via train to Vicenza and Padua.

Train Verona to S. Margherita Ligure-Portofino
Departed 10:02am, arrived 2:20pm, changed train in Milan Centrale
Cost: E82.00 = USD106.00 for 2 pax

SANTA MARGHERITA LIGURE, 3 nights
Hotel Metropole, Room #107
The hotel is located literally 2 minutes from the train station (exit the station, walk down the tiny hill on the left and the hotel is across the street). Helpful staff, and excellent breakfast that is served on their terrace in good weather.

We had dinner 2 nights at Trattoria da Pezzi  - it is sort of a "hole in the wall" place filled with locals
and offering very reasonable and delicious local specialties. 

The last night had a very good dinner at Trattoria Baicin.

Our first free day we walked to Portofino. Took about 90 minutes because we stopped for lots of pictures. Once in Portofino walked all the way out to the lighthouse. We were planning to take 2pm ferry back to SML but found all afternoon ferries had been cancelled. Checked into bus but didn't want to wait so we ended up walking back- briskly in 50 minutes. A great day!

Second free day we went to Cinque Terra : train to Vernazza via Monterosso E21.60 roundtrip=$28USD for 2 pax
Due to inclement weather and landslides we were not able to hike Cinque Terre but took train to Monterosso and Vernazza for the day. Surprised by the huge crowds on a very rainy Wednesday in late September.

Train S. Margherita Ligure-Portofino to Varenna, Lake Como
Departed 11:22am, arrived 3:23pm, changed in Camogli and Milan Cost 56.00E = $72.00USD for 2 pax

VARENNA, LAKE COMO, 3 nights
Hotel Olivedo,  Room#12
Easy walk from train station, and we really liked our room with balcony overlooking the ferry and spectacular Lake Como. It is a funky old hotel and owner Laura gets mixed reviews. After visiting both Bellagio and Menaggio we were very happy with our decision to stay in Varenna.

Bar Il Molo : outdoor cafe overlooking Lake Como. We ate two dinners here. Also a great place for drinks. They have free wifi too.
1 dinner at Del Sole Ristorante Pizzeria - excellent seafood pasta

First free day we had beautiful clear weather. Hiked up to Castello di Vezio for spectacular lake views.Took different path down to town which landed us at the Villa Monastero where we visited the gardens. Then ferried over to Bellagio for lunch at
Ristoro Forma & Gusto

Our second free day it was pouring rain but we took the ferry over to Menaggio and had a fun day exploring, and enjoyed a great lunch at La Trattoria di Nogara - (fabulous osso bucco with polenta)

Train Varenna, Lake Como, Italy to Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland
4 trains (changed in Milan, Spiez, Interlaken) departed 8:37am arrived 3:25p
Bought  rail ticket at travel agency in Varenna - evidently ticket window is never open in Varenna rail station
Varenna-Milan E12.90, Milan-Spiez E31.80, total for 2 USD58.12 plus Day One Swiss Rail pass

LAUTERBRUNNEN, SWITZERLAND, 3 nights
Hotel Staubbach, Room #18
Double with balcony overlooking beautiful valley and Staubbach Falls.
Really loved this hotel. Room was small but our view was huge! Staff was so friendly and helpful. Great breakfast. 

Dinner all 3 nights at Weidstubli in the Camping Jungfrau. To keep cost down we shared a main dish and 2 beers, for a very reasonable $36 per night. A fun place with a diverse group of travelers and lots of locals too.
Horner Pub near our hotel was a fun place for beers. 

First free day: Schilthorn - used one day of Swiss pass today
Cable car Lauterbrunnen to Grutschalp - covered on Swiss rail pass
change to train to Murren - covered on Swiss pass
Murren was socked in with fog so decided to keep heading up the mountain
Caught 11:40am Murren-Schilthorn cable car - 1/2 off with Swiss pass so 37CHF pp rt 
total for 2 USD 79.00
Had a brief break in the clouds that afforded spectacular views but mostly cloudy.
Had 2 beers and one salad bar at the rotating Piz Gloria restaurant hoping weather would clear but it did not.
Cable car back down to Murren and then walked 30 minutes all downhill on paved road to Gimmelwald. Weather still socked in. Gimmelwald is really tiny!
Cable car Gimmelwald to Stechelberg - covered on Swiss pass-
Very dramatic passing through fog and descending into Lauterbrunnen valley. 
Took bus to Trummelbach Falls - covered on Swiss rail pass!
Trummelbach Falls E10 pp (hotel gave us discount card - saved E1.00 pp)
Nicci at our Staubbach hotel recommended the falls and it was fantastic! 
Walked back (about 30 minutes) to Lauterbrunnen.
A great day even through the weather was not ideal.

Second free day - Jungfrau
We did not get an early start. Left about 10am and returned by 5pm
We did not use a day on our Swiss Rail pass today but used it for discounts on the fares.
Train Lauterbrunnen up mountain to Wengen, 15 minutes, 50% off with pass, CHF 3.20 pp/ USD7.00 for 2.
Walked through Wengen to cable car station - nice town - larger than we thought-lots of fancy hotels ( we still like Lauterbrunnen).
Wengen-Mannlichen cable car - 50% off with Swiss pass - CHF 12 pp / USD26.00 for 2
Did the walk Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg - about an hour - very easy - first part was really socked in with clouds but by the end the cloud "curtain" lifted and the gorgeous mountains opened up!!!
Caught noon train to Jungfrau - 25% off fare with Swiss Rail pass - CHF87 pp/ USD188.00 for 2
Takes one hour and most of the journey is in a tunnel. We lucked out and had blue skies at the top but were disappointed by how "Disneylandish" the whole thing is. Now we understand why people prefer Schilthorn. We grabbed the 2pm train back down.
We had a wonderful lunch on the terrace of the Grindelwaldblick (less than 10 min walk up from 
Kleine Scheidegg train station). Views were really spectacular.
Train Kleine Scheidegg to Lauterbrunnen - we were surprised when they only gave us 25% off on this fare - assumed it would be 50% off - expensive at CHF 21.20 pp/ USD $46.00
When we returned to Lauterbrunnen at 5pm we finally saw the gorgeous snow capped mountains that had been hidden since our arrival.
Loved sitting on our balcony at Staubbach Hotel with the most incredible view and even had a herd of goats with bells parade by in front of us. Truly a beautiful day in Switzerland!

Note: After briefly seeing Murren and Wengen we were so happy with our decision to base 3 nights in Lauterbrunnen at the Staubbach Hotel. And I had read forum posts about Jungfrau vs Schilthorn and we definitely liked Schilthorn better even though the weather was not nearly as good. Jungfrau transport cost us $267 even with Swiss rail discounts!

Train Lauterbrunnen to Luzern
Departed 9:33am, changed in Interlaken to Golden Panorama train,
arriving Luzern at 12:04pm.
Used Day 3 of Swiss Pass.

LUZERN, one night
Hotel des Alpes, Room #458
You can actually see the hotel when you walk out of the train station. Great location. 
Our room had a balcony overlooking the old Chapel bridge.
This was our most expensive room of the trip and the room was really really small.

Lunch: Rathaus Braurei for pretzel sandwiches and beer
Dinner: Da Ernesto: very unfriendly service

Train Luzern to Fussen:  
3 trains, departed 8:10am arrived 1:57p (changed Zurich and Buchloe)
Used final day of Swiss pass to St Margrethen
purchased St Margrethen to Fussen CHF 57 pp/ USD$122.00 for 2 pax

FUSSEN, 2 nights
Hotel Hirsch, Room #212
The nicest room of our whole trip. Large and beautifully decorated in German motif. Excellent breakfast . Easy walk to train station.

Enjoyed meals at
Aquila
Gasthof Woaze
Gasthaus zum Schwanen
Gasthof Krone

Visiting The King's Castles
From the train station caught the #73 bus at 8:30am for 4euro roundtrip, per person for the short trip to Hohenschwangau. From the states we had reserved ahead for the 10:25am tour but they were able to rebook us to earlier tours which was great. We did
Hohenschwangau at 9:20am - excellent 35 minute tour. Took the shuttle bus up to Mary's bridge (1.80 euro pp one way). The view from Mary's bridge is great and most of the scaffolding is on the other side. We got to Neuschwanstein in plenty of time for the 11:25am tour. Walked back down afterward and caught 12:40p bus back to Fussen where we enjoyed the afternoon. Tip I had read on a forum: free toilets available at both castles, down at visitor center they charge for the toilets.

Train Fussen to Rothenberg  
Departed 11:05am, arrived 3:49pm
4 trains, changed in Augsburg, Treuchtlingen, Steinach
Bayern rail ticket 28E = $36.00USD for 2 pax

ROTHENBERG, 2 nights
Hotel Restaurant Kloster-Stüble Room #17
One of our favorite hotels of the trip. Owner Erika is great. Dinner in the restaurant was wonderful and breakfast in their lovely breakfast room is excellent.

Our free day we awoke to pouring rain and wind but as the day progressed the weather improved and we enjoyed the town very much.
Started with Rick Steves' walking tour including St Jakob Church and the gorgeous 
500 year old 35 ft high "Alter of the Holy Blood" by Tilman Riemenschneider
Lunch: Zum Schwan
Then we walked the whole wall surrounding the town and down to the valley as well.
Dinner: Zum Pulverer (near our hotel)
Took Nightwatchman tour at 8pm - no reservations - just show up - pay at the end 7.00Euro pp - one hour - entertaining.

Train Rothenberg to Frankfurt airport
The only ticket I bought ahead of time from home, on DB Bahn website – e-ticket
29E plus 8E seat res TL 37E= USD$48.00 for 2 pax
Departed Rothenberg at 6:57am, with changes in Steinach and Wurzburg.
Ironically the only train delay of our whole trip was in Frankfurt for the final leg between
main station and airport. One hour delay. Arrived airport at 11am and found all of the United
computers were down and they had to manually check in our 747 flight to San Francisco. It was a miracle
we took off, with only a two hour delay. The only hitch of the whole trip. Not bad!

2 ‪Tips‬
1) If you rely on a hairdryer every morning take your own dual voltage dryer.
2) None of our hotel rooms had clocks. Take a glow in the dark travel alarm

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