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Trip Report Switzerland and Italy - 3 unbelievable weeks condensed into a trip report

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Here is my contribution (and payback) for the loads of advice, reports and opinions I have gleaned from the Fodors community in planning this recent trip to Switzerland and Italy. I’ll be honest, it is LONG, and perhaps only entertaining to me as I relive a truly memorable 3 week vacation, but I’m throwing it out there. For those not able to hang on till the end, here’s the short and sweet version:

M and I (30’s couple from Halifax, NS Canada) spent 23 days in Sept/Oct 2012 doing the following:
2 nights Luzern (Hotel Baseltor/Guest House Rosli) http://www.baslertor.ch/seiten/de/startseite.php
3 nights Montreux (Hotel Bon Port) http://www.hotelbonport.ch/
4 nights Wengen Hotel Berhaus http://www.berghaus-wengen.ch/
3 nights Zermatt Hotel Alfa http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Hotel_Review-g188098-d282581-Reviews-Hotel_Alfa-Zermatt_Valais_Swiss_Alps.html (Couldn’t find a direct website) but is owned by Metropol Hotel and Spa
4 nights Lugano Guesthouse Castagnola http://www.gh-castagnola.com/
4 nights Venice Hotel Doni http://www.albergodoni.it/
2 nights Florence Hotel Casci http://www.hotelcasci.com/

Overall Observations/Comments:

Hotels
Hotels we picked were all good to amazing, and this was the first trip of 6 prior visits to Europe where we did all hotels and no apartments. The benefit of the hotel is that there is no worry arriving in a new city and trying to find phone we can use (we don’t travel with any tech gadgets) to arrange a meet up to get keys etc. We wished a few more of the hotels had a mini fridge, but we made do. We realized that a shared bathroom is not what we want going forward for vacations...it just wasn’t worth the “budget” price (this was in Venice, where we tried to keep the price low). We had tried to stay at La Rosa di Venezia, but our dates weren’t compatible. I’ve stayed at this apartment before and it is beautiful . Hotel Casci , Guesthouse Castagnola, and Hotel Berghaus stand out as our best accommodations for value, quality and that feeling that you are truly welcome.

Transportation
After much research and reading of opinions, as well as calculating (you can’t avoid it if you are wanting at all to see what saves you money) we went with a 15 day Swiss Saver Pass. This was 790 CHF and we purchased it when we arrived in Zurich. It covered us for all but one day in Switzerland, and I feel allowed us such flexibility and convenience that without doing all the final calculations was a smart investment. Trust the opinions on this site that say “do the math” – and add or subtract your own estimation of the time and added stress in purchasing individual tickets and using the half fare card. If you know exactly where you are going and calculate that the half fare card is less expensive, then I would recommend getting it. The Swiss Pass allows for spontaneity, and changes of plan. I loved every time I was asked for my ticket on a train, boat or bus – I showed the Swiss Pass and that was it!

Language
We had no problem with language at all – our seriously limited German, Italian, and passable French, was sometimes appreciated, sometimes laughed at (in a nice way!), and we always got what we wanted/needed without issue. The Swiss who work in the tourism trade are so talented – multilingual and fonts of information and sound advice. The Italians just seem to love life in general, and nothing is an issue- they were helpful and kind and patient ...which we truly appreciated coming at the tail end of a busy tourist season.

Food and Costs in General
So in case you haven’t heard, Switzerland is expensive. Really expensive. It is such a beautiful country; it is like everywhere has a cover charge which no one has a problem paying because you are smitten with the never-ending jaw-dropping scenery. We ate in some restaurants, and had some grocery store (aka COOP or Migros) meals. It was a great way of keeping costs reasonable for food, and had the added benefit of not getting sick to death of yet another restaurant meal. Whenever we couldn’t stand another “picnic” meal of bread, cheese, meat, fruits/veggies and wine, we ate out for a great hot meal.
Water is cheaper in the grocery stores...we paid more for water in Switzerland than Italy, but the highest was 5 CHF for a 330 ml bottle of water in Murren...at a corner store – we were very thirsty.

We ended up with a reasonable cost for the trip because we didn’t automatically eat out every single meal. Some places had breakfasts that were included, but especially in Switzerland we chose to eat fruit and granola bars when we were hungry during the day and occasionally had a picnic meal in our room or on a picturesque bench which was really enjoyed. This method allowed us to “do” any of the excursions we wanted, without guilt or worry about the cost. The result was a stress –free vacation with a lower than expected cost!

Sept 13/14 – Halifax to Luzern
We had a non-eventful flight with Condor direct from Halifax to Frankfurt, then a connecting flight to Zurich. We immediately found our way to the rail station in Zurich and bought our Swiss Pass – very easy purchase, then easily found our correct train to Luzern. Luzern was sunny and bustling when we arrived. Although we were tired we chose to stay up and explore after we located our hotel (it was easy to find). We did the walking tour found in the Rick Steves guide. This took us thought the covered bridges and into the Jesuit church, and several other stops, and ended up having a drink and a rest at the top balcony of Manor department store – it has an incredible view, and the Luzerner beer was tasty too! The sun was starting to set, and we had a light supper before bed.

Sept 15 – Luzern
As it was our first (and only) full day in Luzern we had lots we wanted to do and see. We got up early and enjoyed walking through the market on our way to the boat dock. We chose to do a longer steamer-boat tour (the William Tell route) of Lake Luzern, and we had a lovely few hours boating through the lake; the scenery was stunning (and this will not be the only time I say this, sorry to be repetitive) and we got off in Fluelen to walk around and explore, with the expectation to take the train back to Luzern. We did this (got on the train) but decided it was too nice out and got off in Brunnen, where we walked around some more, found a spot for lunch, and then took the boat back to Luzern. Wanting to stretch our legs, we walked to the Lion monument and loved this tranquil, beautiful spot. We walked around Luzern some more, as it was a very easy city to walk, then had a light supper and drinks along the water. We took a long final walk across both bridges and the long route to our hotel before finally calling it a night.

About Hotel Basletor – while this hotel is very clean and the bathroom is a good size, we were a little disappointed that use of the patio area (which was empty all the time we were there) was only if you purchased something from the bar/restaurant (which was closed while we were there as well), and there was no “picnic-ing” allowed in the rooms. There were free computers and internet, which was nice, and breakfast available (at a pretty steep price considering what was offered). The location was great, and we were a few minutes away from the train station, as well as the lovely waterfront and the bridges.

Sept 16 Luzern to Montreux
Checked out of Hotel Baseltor (and got 10% off our bill by showing our Rick Steves guide), then hopped on the train to Montreux. Montreux was warm and sunny, and the waterfront was busy with loads of people walking, eating, or otherwise just soaking up the jaw-dropping scenery of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva). We got a good map at the TI and made our way to Hotel Bon Port to check in. We had lunch sitting on a bench, and felt vacation-mode really kick in. After walking along the waterfront some more, we walked back up to the train station – heading to Lutry for the LaVaux Express tour. The short train ride was very scenic – vineyards with grapes just ready to be picked on one side, and Lake Geneva and the French Alps on the other...

The signage from the train station to the waterfront area (and our departure point) was poor, but we found our way and walked up to the ticket booth. We sadly realized the tour was fully booked, and we hadn’t booked a head of time. I was really disappointed at this – I really had my heart set on the tour, and with all my pre-planning and reading failed to book ahead! M was determined, though and after some more questioning to the very patient, French-only lady at the ticket booth, he found out there was an extra train leaving just 10 minutes after the first, scheduled one – yea!

As fate would have it, we were seatmates with a lovely woman from Lausanne visiting Lutry for the afternoon. She was German-born and fluent in both German and French, but no English. Somehow we managed a great conversation and learned a lot from her about the surrounding areas. My speaking French is passable, but I understand much more that I can speak, and I translated for M. Between the gorgeous views and the great company, we had a truly enjoyable afternoon , and topped it off with tasting some great Montreux wine (and picked up a bottle for later). We had wanted to spend some time hiking through the area, but given our wish list for everything we wanted to do and see, we realized we might not be able to fit it in – this was the next best thing. Heading back to this area for some hiking is now on my bucket list. After hugs farewell to our improvised tour guide, we headed back to Montreux, picked up some supplies from the COOP at the train station for dinner, as well as breakfast and lunch for the next day. We ended the day with a bench, the pinot noir from earlier, and a view that wouldn’t quit. We lingered til the stars came out...what a great day!

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    Also looking forward to more! We visited some of the same places in Switzerland (Montreux and Wengen) at the end of September (and like you, we also ate a lot of meals from grocery stores to keep costs down - it is indeed an expensive country). We were also supposed to go to Luzern, but we were enjoying the mountains and Wengen and the Bernese Oberland so much, even though we were having some crap weather, that we decided to ditch our planned nights in Luzern in favour of staying for 2 more nights in Wengen before flying home. When we got back home, several people who'd been to Luzern told me they absolutely loved Luzern and that we'd made a mistake in ditching it at the last minute, so I'm interested to hear your thoughts. Looking forward to reading more of your trip report ... I'm no good at writing them myself, but I really enjoy reading other people's reports.

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    Sept 17 – Montreux
    It was an early start and a great walk to Chateau de Chillon; although we were the first ones in we stayed for over 3 hours. The Swiss Pass got us in for free and we got the audio guide to help us. The castle exceeded our expectations and the views and pictures from the tower were spectacular.
    After a picnic on the grounds outside the castle we caught the paddleboat steamer headed for Lausanne and back. This was a relaxing way to see Lake Geneva and the small towns along the shore. Back in Montreux, we rested for a short while in the hotel and were ready for a meal out.

    The hotel recommended La Rouvenaz, which was a short walk away, and was perfect for us – casual, good food and reasonable prices . We enjoyed some local wine with dinner, and took the long way back to the hotel to enjoy the great weather and beautiful evening.

    Sept 18 – Montreux
    After a short stop at COOP near the train station for breakfast and lunch supplies (FYI – the cappuccino in the grocery store vending machine is surprisingly not bad for the price and added convenience) we were on our way to Lausanne. We followed the Rick Steves self-guided walk, and were already panting at the beginning as we had to go from the train station to the steep uphill climb to the start of the tour.

    Lausanne was very busy with locals (it was early morning and people were busy heading to work and school. The walk took about 2 hours, and the highlight, apart from seeing a great part of Lausanne, was to come across a stop in the church on the Camino de Santiago. We were in awe of those who start their Camino in Switzerland and go all the way to Santiago, Spain. We are hoping some day to to the St. Francis part of the pilgrimage.

    We took the long, uneventful walk from the upper part of Lausanne to Ouchy, and had our lunch along the waterfront. We watched a chess game in progress, then took the Metro back up to the train station, and headed to Vevey. We walked around the old town section, which was very quaint, and decided to take the boat back to Montreux. We chose not to visit the many museums in Lausanne and thought that a full day was a bit too much, which is why we added in Vevey at the last minute.

    After all the walking, we had an early night at the hotel.

    About Hotel Bon Port – this hotel was nice as it was located away from the bustle of the waterfront. We did not choose the breakfast, and there was no computer/internet available. Good sized rooms, and the bathroom was great and very modern.

    Sept 18 – Montreux to Wengen
    We took the scenic Golden Pass for part of the trip from Montreux to Wengen and although it was overcast we loved the incredible scenery in the panoramic train. We felt the change in temperature once we arrived in Interlaken, and then hopped on the next train to take us to Wengen.

    Car-free and picturesque, Wengen was more beautiful than we expected, and we couldn’t believe we were finally there! It was still overcast, so the views of the mountains, which were so close we could almost taste them, would have to wait. We oriented ourselves quickly to the town, and stocked up on a few necessities in the very well equipped COOP. It had such great variety and fresh produce that I almost wished we had rented an apartment instead of the Hotel Berhaus (but just wait...we soon realized Berghaus was way better than any apartment).

    As I was feeling the effects of the start of a full-blown cold, we took it easy for the afternoon, and got ready to enjoy our first meal at Bergaus. We opted for the half-board plan. Breakfast is already included, but you have the option of choosing to eat each evening at the hotel for a fixed price of 25CHF each. It was one of our best decisions on the trip and we spent the next four days hiking and exploring, knowing we would have a beautiful and thoughtfully prepared home-cooked meal each evening. The wine list was extensive, although we stuck pretty much to the local wines as we couldn’t get them anywhere outside of Switzerland.

    The meal our first night was delish – cream of asparagus soup, papardelle with lemon and gorgonzola, pork loin, and hazelnut “vermicelli” with cream and merengues.

    Sept 19 – Wengen
    Today we hiked the Kleine Scheidegg and were well prepared for it with the great breakfast at Hotel Berghaus. They had local eggs, jams, homemade breads, as well as muesli, juice, fresh croissant and other rolls, meats and cheese. We realized quickly that our version of hard-boiled eggs was quite different from the Swiss version, so the next day set our eggs on the cooker for a longer time.

    We were so excited to head out today – the weather was clear and we took this first opportunity to head all the way to Jungfrau. We would hear later stories in our trip where sad tourists either only planned one day in this area, or stuck to their pre-planned itinerary and missed out on great weather days to visit the “top of Europe”. The Kl. Scheidegg was an easy, mostly flat hike which we started after taking the first lift up at the Mannlichen cable car station, just a few minutes’ walk from our hotel.

    There was a little frost on the puddles on the path toward Kl. Scheidegg, but honestly we could hardly care about the slight chill compared to the north-face Eiger, Monch, and Jungrfrau views we were feasting on - this was such a beautiful hike I had tears in my eyes as the sunrise appeared and warmed us up. A word to the wise – once you arrive at Kleine Scheidegg don’t be so giddy with the views and the excitement of heading to Jungfraujoch to get so disoriented that you get on the train heading back down to Wengen/Lauterbrunnen...you might have to rely on the kindness of a train attendant and wait a few minutes at a sparsely populated train stop to get on the right train back up...just sayin’.

    But, once you get to the top...Jungfraujoch on a clear, crisp late September day does not disappoint 
    We took the time to visit all the areas we could – we couldn’t understand the groups of tourists who rushed through the observatory and were already headed back down in less than half an hour. The observatory was nice, and offered up some nice indoor and up-close views. We went through the glacier palace and loved the feeling of walking through a real glacier – lots of great photo ops too! The highlight, for a couple of reasons was the “fun in the snow” section. While we are no strangers to snow, being outside in the cold, with nothing between you and a big, beautiful mountain is a wonderful feeling. We were dressed well for the temperatures (hoodies, long pants), but there were some for whom I seriously worried about how much luggage they were carrying around – full on snow jackets and suits , along with snow boots were really unnecessary unless you were spending a lot of time there skiing and hiking.

    The other highlight of the “fun in the snow” section was to witness people who were experiencing snow for the first time – what a feeling that must have been! I could not suppress a few quiet (I hope!) giggles as we watched navigation around the icy sections of the well-travelled path in and out to the snow section – let’s just say there more than a few tumbles on the bum as some newbies over-estimated their “snow legs’ . We navigated the little bits of snow and ice and thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the views.

    This had already been an adventure-filled day, but we quickly learned that this area of Switzerland almost demanded all the energy and enthusiasm you could muster. We hopped on the (correct) train back to Wengen, however after a few short minutes got” itchy legs” and instead at the next possible stop decided to walk the rest of the way down to Wengen. And when I say down, I mean down. We got off on the very first stop after getting on the train from Kl. Scheidegg, and walked the hour and a half way down to Wengen. A little hard on the knees without any poles, but a really lovely walk to see parts of the forested area as well as the Lauterbrunen valley.

    Once we made our wobbly-legged way to our hotel, we quickly cleaned up and headed downstairs for a 4 course meal that was well-deserved. My cold was in full force, so I appreciated the relatively early night.

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    Sept 21 – Wengen
    The little hikes we had planned were perfect for the gorgeous weather we were experiencing. Today’s adventures included a train down to Lauterbrunnen, a lift to Grutschalp, and then an easy hike from Grutschalp to Gimmelwald.

    We stopped in Murren for a little break – the weather was clear and the views of the mountains were even better than the day before. After the hike we decided to go to Schilthorn. We had a coffee at the Piz Gloria restaurant and relaxed and enjoyed the views! It was an easy way back via lift and train, and then another great meal at Hotel Berghaus!

    Sept 22 – Wengen
    Today we decided to take it easy and walked along the Lauterbrunnen Valley from Lauterbrunnen to Trummelback Falls. It was a slow easy walk, and as we walked we saw lots of cows, and sheep and BASE jumpers ! We enjoyed the visit to the falls, the power of the water was amazing. We made our way slowly back to Wengen, sadly realizing that this was our last night here.

    Sept 23 – Zermatt
    We said our goodbyes to Wengen and caught the early train to Zermatt. When we arrived the weather was perfect and we got some great views of the Matterhorn. We walked around the town and went into the Matterhorn Museum (free with our Swiss Pass) and made use of the free ipads available at the Tourist office.

    Our hotel was clean and the room and balcony had a fantastic view of the Matterhorn. After a quick bite we walked around some more (it’s small and so the whole walk around town didn’t take very long) and had an early night.

    Sept 24 - Zermatt
    The next day was pretty cloudy, but our time was limited to we went up to Gornergrat. It was pricier than we thought it warranted, but I bet we would have a different opinion if the weather had been clearer - not only was it foggy and cold and windy, but it started to snow!

    We made our way down to Findelbach by train and walked into Zermatt this way. It was pouring rain (at least not snow) so we decided on a warm drink and some reading at our hotel.

    Sept 25 - Zermatt
    The next morning was much clearer and our view right from bed was unobstructed Matterhorn. We had a quick breakfast (complimentary at the hotel Metropol next door, and it was a large buffet). We went to the Rothorn cablecar and caught the first lift up at 8:30am. We took the lifts all the way up and spent some time soaking in the sun and the mountains.

    We then took the lift down to Blauherd where we started out 5 lakes hike (we found a great guide at the tourist office that gave lots of good information about various hikes. This was a great hike for us, and the only difficult part was the last 20 minutes or so. We didn’t bring any food or water for the hike (it was only about 2 hours) but we still immediately got water once we arrived back in Zermatt. We checked out the train schedules for the next morning, and picked up lunch at the Wilde Hilde – great chicken sandwiches at reasonable prices. They were so good we decided to come back the next morning when she opened and picked up two more for lunch on the train the next day.

    We took an evening walk around Zermatt and picked up a T shirt (our first souvenir shopping of the trip!)

    Sept 26 – Zermatt to Lugano
    We enjoyed our last breakfast in Zermatt sitting with a fellow we met from Winnepeg. He had travelled many times to Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe and we had a leisurely breakfast discussing life and travels. We soon had to check out and make our way to the train station. The train to Lugano was going to take a good portion of the day, but we enjoyed the scenery.

    Arrival in Lugano was easy and soon navigated to the right side of the street for our bus to Castagnola, where our guesthouse was located. It was a short trip and we loved being a little bit outside the city of Lugano – especially in this lovely guesthouse. After checking in and getting situated, we walked down into Lugano and picked up a few supplies, and called it a night.

    Sept 27 – Lugano
    We had a great sleep in the most comfortable bed of our trip, and woke refreshed. We planned today to do one of the free walking tours put on by Lugano Tourism. We arrived with some time to spare, and enjoyed the 2 hour architecture and overall history guide as we walked throughout Lugano’s downtown area.

    After a quick banana and water we got on the boat and took a tour of Lake Lugano. The boat went to Gandria, and then as far as Marcote before dropping us back – it was a great way to spend the afternoon, and the weather cooperated. We walked back up to our guesthouse and were surprised at our suite with a kind note and a bottle of wine! We went to dinner at Tango, and it was quite good, but pricy when we also included a bottle of Ticino merlot. We walked along the water and then hopped on the bus back “home”.

    Sept 28 – Lugano
    We made coffee in our room and then walked down to the centre of town to start the RS self-guided walk. This took us around a lot of the different areas than the walking tour from yesterday and we also walked around the park (it had been closed the day prior due to some fallen trees) and it was absolutely beautiful.

    We spent some time on the waterfront and waited for our next adventure. We were taking the Lugano Tourism free walking tour of Mont Bre. This was a great deal, as everything was free, including the boat and funicular up to Mont Bre. The best part though was our guide – she was lovely and was a resident of Bre, so she knew so much and gave lots of local insight in additional to the history – she seemed to really love her job!

    After another great dinner (Argentino) we made our way back up to the guesthouse.

    Sept 29 – Lugano
    Today was a mixture of cloud and sun and we had a few more things we wanted to do still in Lugano. We walked down town centre (which was becoming very familiar to us) then wandered to a little cafe for cappuccino and croissant. We then walked a crazy amount of steps up to the train station (we wanted to get times and tickets for the train the next morning (and our Swiss Pass was now expired!) and wandered down again (lots of nice little shops).

    We had seen a little tourist train by the water and thought it might be fun...we hopped on and soon realized it wasn’t all that great. We finished most of the “tour” and got off near the Mont Bre funicular stop (which was also close to our guesthouse. We then decided to walk to Gandria – and this did not disappoint.

    The Sentiere di Gandria was a beautiful walk with incredible scenery and only took about an hour. We found a restaurant called Locanda Gandriese and stopped for lunch. We got the last small table on the terrace and settled in for a delicious meal (and a small bit of wine). Mitch had hare ragout and I had mushroom ravioli – so good! It was a great to sit and enjoy such a meal with such amazing views – it was one of the highlight meals of the trip. We walked back, almost all the way back to Lugano centre as we needed a bank machine for the final payment of our guesthouse (and it was good to walk off lunch and the wine!).

    We thanked our host (as we would be leaving too early the next day). Soon time to pack up and head to Venice!

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    Sept 30 Travel Day (Lugano to Venice)

    We woke early to the sounds of church bells, which was lovely and a nice way to awake we thought. Funnily, our host wondered if we were concerned or upset about the bells – it seems that some visitors would prefer if the bells didn’t go off, or at least didn’t go off every hour, especially at night, and there were rumblings of some petitions. We had no problem the 4 nights we were there with the bells keeping us awake or waking us up...but we were so tired at the end of each day it was impossible for anything to keep us awake! It would be too bad for the town to change this solely for visitors, as the locals don’t seem to have an issue with their church bells...it will be interesting to see what happens.

    We left the cash payment for our place and headed out for a final walk down towards Lugano. I picked up a few train supplies at the Piccabello at the train station – a surprisingly well stocked little grocery store, and then we ate our breakfast outside the train station on a bench. The train to Milan was jam-packed; our reserved window seats were taken by another couple, but as the train ride was so short (1 hour) it wasn’t an issue – after a quick switch in Milan we were on our way to Venice.

    Venice was thriving and certainly still in high tourist season. We ended up on the wrong boat and entered from the “other end” but we still managed to find our correct stop and our hotel.

    The hotel (a one star) was booked during a budget-anxious moment and was the cheapest by far of the trip at 100 euro per night. It was basically clean, and small, and the best feature was the windows overlooked a canal with regular gondola traffic. Next time (and there will be a next time for Venice for sure!) we’ll perhaps splurge a bit more, but the location was great for us (2 mins from San Marco) and the owners were very helpful and courteous.

    We unpacked and cleaned up briefly, and then hit the crowded streets. We found a spot near Rialto for a much needed vino break, and were giddy with the prices for wine compared to Switzerland. We wandered around some more and found a spot called Osteria Al Diavolo E L'acquasanta, on calle della maddona. We sat outside as it was warm, but also humid and enjoyed seafood pasta and “fried fish of the sea”. M was a bit disappointed in his fried fish, only because it was fried as opposed to grilled, but that’s just reading the menu incorrectly – it did say fried however!...the food was good, and fresh and reasonably priced, as was the wine. Service was good, and there was a mix of tourists and locals. The bad news was the mosquitoes (not the restaurant’s fault of course)....perhaps a combination of the street (small and close) and the weather, but we both got eaten alive. A little more drama on the mosquito incident later...

    After dinner, a gelato and walk was the plan, but a huge thunder and lightning storm with serious heavy rain(the humidity certainly cleared after this!) made it a running adventure to get back to our hotel (but we did manage to find and eat our gelato – priorities!)

    Oct 1 – Venice
    Today we had a walking tour booked for 11am so we got up extra early so we could walk through the Jewish quarter. M was in control of the (still wet) map so we initially got lost on our walk ...eventually we found the wooden bridge leading into the Jewish ghetto. J had been here before on a previous visit 2 years ago, but still felt the mixed emotions and the somehow peaceful, calm vibe of this small piece of Venice. We took some time to contemplate the Holocaust memorial art and the sobering remains of the barbed wire fencing.

    It was time to quickly make our way to the meeting point of
    the walking tour. This was booked with Original Walking tours of Venice and it was a 2 hour (+) walking tour and a 30 min gondola ride (shared with another couple) and was 40 euro each. We think it was a great deal for the value we got. The guide first took us into San Marco Basilica – it was super crowded as usual and the entrance was flooded due to aqua alta. We wondered if limiting the number of visitors to a particular number at a time might reduce the significant congestion that takes away from being able to admire the basilica. Perhaps, but would increase the lines outside significantly...

    After the basilica we were off to explore less busy parts. The guide was knowledgeable and very engaging...her last story about Marco Polo was quite sad!

    We had lunch after the tour at a restaurant close to Marco Polo’s old house, then set off to explore another area and spent a few hours around Dorsoduro. It was lovely to discover the city on uncrowded streets. We then met up again at the same meeting point for the gondola ride. The sun was shining and it was a great way to see Venice – gondola rides are a definite for some, and a waste of money for others...perhaps not needed on every visit, but we really enjoyed ours. After a short rest, we got ready for dinner at the former Osteria Alle Botte, now called Trattoria Antico Calice on Calle degli Stagneri. It was bigger than the old place, and perhaps a little less charm, but our server was fantastic and we enjoyed wine, a cod appetizer, a whole oven-baked sea bass with potatoes, olives and tomatoes (YUM), more wine and lemoncello, all for a little over 100 euros – and it was worth it! Gelato and a walk around piazza San Marco capped off a great long day.

    Oct 2 – Venice
    This morning was spent taking in the sights and sounds of the market – the variety of fresh seafood was great, and there were still a couple squiggly things we couldn’t identify. The market was slowly getting busier so we decided it was a good time to take the lift up to the bell tower. There was no line up, so we paid and went to the top –great views as the weather was clear and sunny. We bumped into our tour guide from the previous day and had a little chat – she was giving a private tour for a couple.

    It was soon cappuccino time; we decided to splurge and ended up in San Marco square (across from Florian’s). It was pricy, but we expected that and enjoyed relaxing and people watching. After that we split up and went shopping (me) and visited Doge’s palace (M). Lunch was on Fondamenta de L’osmarin and was very good pizza. As lunch also consisted of a couple beers, we decided to head back to our hotel for a short nap. The evening was spent watching Venezia, a play which told the story of Venice’s history. The play itself was fine, but the story itself made us fall even more in love with Venice. We weren’t hungry after the play, so instead we had gelato (there’s always room for gelato) and again wandered around the S. Marco square – it was our favorite time as the crowds were thinned out and the lights and stars made everything magical.

    Oct 3 – Venice
    Today was a visit to each of Murano, Burano and Torcello. We had bought our tickets the day prior (20 euro each) and went to the boarding location shortly before 9:30 am. It was a beautiful day and the ride to Murano (our first stop) was very enjoyable. The tour included a 45 minute stop on each of the islands, and a multi-lingual guide during the boat ride portion. The guide was very difficult to hear, and no one paid attention it seemed to what she was saying.

    Murano included a short glass blowing demonstration (we felt no pressure to make any purchases) and we took about a half hour to wander around the streets. It was early so there were few people around. It was quiet and there were tons of glass shops.

    Torcello was beautiful, with an old church and tower which was closed for renovations so we couldn’t climb it. It was really relaxing just to walk around the island.

    Burano, which is very close to Torcello, was colourful and very delightful. We skipped the lace-making demonstration (although I can appreciate the significant time and effort that goes into each piece of lace) and instead wandered into some back streets, took lots of photos and stopped for a much needed drink (coke zero for M and a very yummy pear juice for me).

    Once back in Venice, I had to stop at the pharmacy for antibiotic cream – the mosquito bites from the first evening were seriously infected – not attractive at all. The horrified look on the pharmacist’s face confirmed suspicions that there was a really bad reaction to the bites...

    The afternoon was spent checking out the two oldest churches in Venice, and was a nice way to wrap up our last day. Dinner was again at Trattoria Antico Calice and it did not disappoint. Prosecco, seafood pasta for 2, and wine – sigh. We took care of our hotel bill that evening as well, so that we could leave quickly the next morning.

    Oct 4 – Venice to Florence
    The time on the train from Venice to Florence flew by, and we easily made our way fromt he train station to Hotel Casci. This was the second visit to Hotel Casci for me and in all honesty the place seemed even better that before.

    For the price, the quality of the rooms and the breakfast was unbelievable, and what made it even better was the service from the family (mother and 2 sons) who own and run it. The coffee machine had just been turned off as breakfast was long since over, but we were still offered a coffee, which M took advantage of, and was served a delicious cappuccino. The “mother” also happened to note the massive swelling of my mosquito bites and immediately offered to set up a mosquito repellant in our room.

    The afternoon consisted of lunch, refamiliarizing ourselves with the lovely Florence, tracking down the Hard Rock Cafe for a shot glass, and a climb up the Dumo for some photo ops for M, and a successful shopping walk down San Lorenzo for me...there’s something about the smell of a gorgeous leather handbag from Florence. It’s intoxicating, and you really can’t stop at one.

    Dinner was a recommendation from the hotel, a place called Accademia (http://www.ristoranteaccademia.it/en) and it was delicious and a short five minute walk from our hotel. I had the whole wheat pasta and lamb ragu, and M had yet another seafood pasta - it was delicious but even he was getting tired of seafood!

    We wandered around Florence after dark and got a gelato to enjoy along the Arno. We stopped in Piazza della Signoria and listened to an amazing classical guitarist – a very memorable evening!

    Oct 5 – Florence
    Today was a big day, with lots of walking and climbing! We set ourselves up with a great breakfast and then headed toward Ponte Vecchio. We went into Pitti Palace and eyed all the treasures the Medici had accumulated. Fresh air was enjoyed in Boboli Gardens - it was nice to enjoy with so few tourists. Walking up to Piazzale Michelangelo (with all the steps) was a sure way to work up an appetite, but before lunch we still walked back down and stopped at Santa Croce to visit the church and the final resting places of Michelangelo and Galileo.

    Lunch was basic (but good) spaghetti with tomato sauce, and then we went into Palazzo Vecchio. We bought tickets for the museum and the tower, which we of course had to climb to the top. Not quite as high as the Duomo or Campanile, but still offered up some amazing views of Florence. We were pretty tired at this point so went back to the hotel for a rest (I may have made a pit stop to San Lorenzo market again on the way). Yet another perk of Hotel Casci is the proximity to San Lorenzo market.

    Dinner was another hotel recommendation called ZaZa’s. At first we were a bit sceptical as the place was a zoo it was so busy (thankfully the hotel made us reservations)but we found ourselves at a cozy table downstairs where we enjoyed an antipastio platter, I had carbonara with truffles, and M loved the Florentine beef with oven potatoes. We were full, but couldn’t resist a gelato to share, sitting and admiring the Duomo. It was our last night in Florence, and the last night of vacation – tomorrow was full of travel. After three weeks we were tired, and while not loving the idea of returning home, we could handle it. I was really getting tired of looking at the same clothes (the one con of doing carry-on only luggage).

    Oct 6 – Florence to home (ha!)
    Today’s plan was supposed to go something like this:

    Taxi to Florence airport
    Flight from Florence to Frankfurt
    Flight from Frankfurt to Halifax – and we’re home!

    Instead, the sequence of events went exactly like this:

    Taxi to Florence airport
    Cancelled flight from Florence to Frankfurt
    Bus from Florence to Bologna airport
    Flight from Bologna to Frankfurt
    Missed flight from Frankfurt to Halifax (due to delay in getting to Bologna)

    Overnight in Frankfurt with new boarding passes for a flight from Frankfurt to London Heathrow, then a flight from London Heathrow to Halifax. Side note, the hotel we were put up in was the most “fancy” and huge of the entire trip.
    Early morning at Frankfurt waiting to a flight to London, only to realize it was cancelled.

    Mad scramble with any Lufthansa agent willing to help us, and rebooked on a flight from Frankfurt to Toronto, with connecting flight to Halifax.

    Long flight from Frankfurt to Toronto
    Missed connecting flight from Toronto to Halifax due to delay leaving Frankfurt.

    Arrive in Toronto, clear customs and pick up luggage and recheck to Halifax. (We check luggage on the way home because it’s much more difficult to keep the weight within the restrictions; recall the San Lorenzo market visits – enough said. )

    Rebooked on later Toronto to Halifax flight.

    Arrive in Halifax, wait for luggage but it’s nowhere to be found. Somehow it followed us all the way to Toronto after being re-directed several times, but Air Canada got their hands on it and poof – missing! It showed up the next morning though, so no worries. I did carry on my goodies purchased in Florence – I was willing to lose my dirty laundry forever but kept my lovely handbags close the two days of travelling home!

    Overall a magical adventure of a trip – and Switzerland now joins the list of our best countries to visit!

    Yes this was a long post, and I apologize to those who may have fallen asleep, but I personally get so much enjoyment and pleasure reading other trip reports found here on Fodors that I always try to repay the favor.

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    Thank you so much for posting this very informative and helpful trip report! I'm in the very earliest stages of planning a possible trip to Switzerland, and found lots of valuable details (especially about how long you spent doing various things).

    I hope you don't mind a few questions:

    The information I've seen so far about the LaVaux Express tour from Lausanne to Lutry is for a 1-hour trip. Is that the one you took? Did it include any stops for wine-tasting? Any further information you can provide would be appreciated.

    Do you remember how long it took you to walk from Lautenbrunnen to Trummelback Falls and back?

    And as for hard-boiled eggs (LOL), what did you learn about how the Swiss prepare them?

    Thanks so much!

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    kja - sorry for the late response...I didn't check back here for the past few weeks. I'm happy to answer your questions (and to daydream a bit with you while you plan your trip!)

    The Laveaux Express tour we took was about 1.5 hours, and we did stop for a tasting at a small vineyard (there was a wooden booth set up with a woman pouring tasting glasses of a couple different wines...you could purchase the wines available) for about 15 mins or so. The Lavaux Express website was OK, but we eneded up on a tour that was not onthe schedule. If your French is passable you will get answers to your questions right at the booth by the waterfront in Lutry. You could also try emailing questions as well. This is probably the website you've already been looking at http://www.lavauxexpress.ch/?lan=en


    The Trummelbach "hike" from Lauterbrunnen took no longer than 1 hour one way (probably closer to 45, but we were walking slow, taking photos fromthe valley, as well as watching the crazy BASE jumpers :)

    As for those hardboiled eggs - the ones we had were cooked in a little electric device with small compartments for the eggs, and a timer setting...but the hardboiled setting still resulted in a rather runny yolk - still good but not what we had in mind.
    Good luck in your trip planning!

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    Thanks so much for getting back to me, Jenn_Mitch! I've been having a lot of fun planning my trip, and this information is definitely helpful. And I'm glad for the warning about the eggs!

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    Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a thorough and enjoyable report.I am planning a European trip for 2014 (see someone else is planning for 2016!), including Switzerland and I wil be printing your findings to use for future reference. I am planning to go to many of the place you visited so am finding the firsthand information very interesting reading.Can't be long enough!!

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    Hi Jenn_Mitch - Thank you for the wonderful trip report! My husband and I are planning a trip right now for Switzerland, Italy and France, and the information you've shared here will be extremely helpful. Firstly, you gave great, detailed suggestions (thank you SO much for the details!), and secondly, you really helped me picture the day-by-day experience, which makes me even more excited to go!

    Sorry to hear your return travels were a little more adventurous than you'd anticipated - but I always figure that's better on the way home than on the way there!

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    Thanks for a great trip report! We are headed to Lugano and then on to Florence, and Rome, with a quick stop over in Milan and back to Zurich to fly home! Our trip will be at the end of May and we are very excited!
    We are spending our first three nights in Lugano at a hotel parco paradiso. Did you see this hotel by chance? We are arriving by train from Zurich. Did you think the town of Lugano was easy to navigate? We will probably be exhausted flying from the east coast of the US.

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    Hi grilonthego - sounds like a fun trip you have planned! I do not recall the Parco Paradiso, but Lugano is very easy to navigate. Because we were staying a little further out we walk and took the bus a couple of times. The train station is at the "top" and you can take a funicular, bus or walk down to the main town centre. Have fun!

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