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Trip Report "Too Much Cows"

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In late May we spent 10 days in Iceland and then flew from Reykjavik to Zurich to spend 10 days in Switzerland, a country we’ve visited many times, but can’t seem to get enough of.

The Iceland Trip Report is here if anyone is interested:

We’ve visited the Berner Oberland, Zermatt and the more ‘touristy’ bits of Switzerland several times over the years, but these days we much prefer quiet, off-the-beaten-path locations. Our primary interests are hiking, beautiful alpine scenery and good food/wine.

Enter Ilanz and Kandersteg.

We discovered the canton of Graubunden in eastern Switzerland a few years ago, and have made repeat trips to the Engadine Valley (based in Samaden and Scuol) several times since. This time we wanted something new, so we picked the brain of Fodorite Ingo, who suggested the Vorderrhein valley in the Surselva district. He also suggested the town of Ilanz as a base, and went so far as to find what turned out to be the perfect apartment.

We learned long ago that an expensive Switzerland can be made more attractive by booking apartments instead of hotels, especially in the low season. We prefer the extra space anyway, and having a fully equipped kitchen to whip up breakfast is a bonus, so it’s win-win.

We’d stayed in Kandersteg once before, years ago around Easter. We’d talked about going back to see what the Oeschinesee looked like in the summer months and to walk the entire Gemmi Pass route (we’d just walked a section previously). This seemed as good a time as any.

Day 1 -

Our early morning flight from Reykjavik to Zurich on Iceland Air left 30 minutes late, but was a good one – smooth. Flight time was 3:30. It was 28C when we arrived, much hotter than we expected and a bit of a shock after chilly Iceland. The first thing Bill said when we landed was “trees”!

Upon arrival in Zurich we cashed up at the ATM, bought Half Fare Cards for the next 10 days of train travel (120 CHF each – 30 day), bought ½ fare tickets to our first destination, Ilanz (30 CHF each) and made a run to Migros for train food; 18 CHF bought us salami, paper thin Le Gruyere cheese (a personal favorite), two rolls, two small tubs of Icelandic Skyr (happy to see it had followed us to Zurich!), and a 375 ml bottle of red wine.

Switzerland gets a bad rap for being expensive, and it is, but after 10 days in Iceland, it felt downright reasonable, and better yet, good VALUE.

Our journey to Ilanz via the Zurich Hauptbahnhof and an ICE train to Chur took just under 2.5 hours. The ride was typically Swiss gorgeous, vibrant green pastures dotted with cows, snow covered mountains, heavy sigh...

In Chur we boarded our connecting train to Ilanz; an indecipherable announcement was made, and everyone got up and left the train. Hmmmm. We frantically sought out the conductor, asked if she spoke English, and were told that there was an electrical problem on the train and a bus would be provided to take us to Ilanz. A bit of chaos followed - one bus arrived, filled and left. Then a double-decker bus arrived – it wasn’t clear where we should put our luggage, so we sought out the driver who opened a high door on the side of the bus and even lifted it for us, bless him. We boarded, another indecipherable announcement was made, and we set out on the incredibly pretty and winding drive to Ilanz via various alpine villages. We arrived 45 minutes later than planned, but we considered the detour a bonus and a taste of what was to come.

Upon arrival in Ilanz (which was bigger than we expected), we sought out assistance from a lovely young man in the train station information office who steered us in the right direction to our apartment. We didn’t know it at the time, but he would be our savior over the coming days.

As so often happens, our apartment was situated at the top of a rather steep hill, about a 15 minute walk from the train station, so we rumbled up with our luggage, stopping occasionally to check our map.

The apartment is within the owner’s home, yet completely private. It consists of a compact living room, breakfast nook, and an exceptionally well equipped kitchen (although we could have used a skillet), a separate bedroom and bathroom. It was spotless and comfortable and worked a treat.
We really appreciated the shutters on the windows, which kept our room cool during the heat of the day, and added a bit of privacy. There was light traffic in the mornings, but we could hear more birds than cars, which is always a plus in my book.

There was a small sitting area in the yard for our use; we spent several evenings out there admiring the impressive flower garden. We’d booked directly, and paid cash upon arrival. Our five nights came to 415 CHF, inclusive of linens, internet, final cleaning and tourist tax.

The owner, Mrs. Heiligensetzer, relied on her high school English to communicate with us, and we on our pitiful 50 word German vocabulary, yet somehow it worked.

We’d done laundry in Reykjavik before leaving for Switzerland, thinking we’d be set for the balance of our trip, but we’d not expected to be hiking in an early June heat wave and smelling like goats. There was no Laundromat in town, but Mrs. Heiligensetzer offered to let us wash a load of laundry and use her outdoor clothes line, which was a godsend.

After getting settled, we made a food run to the nearby COOP - four tubs of Skyr, walnut bread, two types of cheese, milk, Rosti, two types of salami, a bottle of wine, three large bottles of beer, a box of Caotina hot cocoa packets, fresh strawberries, and the obligatory Swiss chocolate and gummy bears – 63 CHF. I only provide my grocery list as a comparison between what things cost in Iceland and what they cost in Switzerland. We thought we’d died and gone to heaven.

We then backtracked to Old Town, settling onto the patio of Hotel Obertor for drinks, surprised at how warm it was so late in the evening. It was here we discovered we might have more trouble than usual communicating in this part of Switzerland. Fortunately, Weißbier and Trockener Weißwein are part of our limited German vocabulary.

Then it was back to the apartment, where it felt really good to put the one night stands of Iceland behind us and settle in for a few days.

It got dark around 9:30 pm, which felt strange, but somehow refreshing, after 10 nights in the land of the midnight sun. Perhaps we could catch up on our sleep.

To be continued...

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