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15 day Switzerland Itinerary - all advice welcome.

15 day Switzerland Itinerary - all advice welcome.

Old Apr 3rd, 2014, 08:46 PM
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15 day Switzerland Itinerary - all advice welcome.

After much helpful advice from kja and others in my first post, my wife and I decided to devote the full two weeks to Switzerland. We’re looking for mild summer weather, beautiful scenery, and some casual hiking so Switzerland really seems to fit the bill. Based on my research so far, we've come up with the following rough itinerary. Within each region, we’d like to base in one hotel/B&B for 2-3 nights; it would be nice to stay in some smaller villages, but hopefully not sacrifice too much proximity to public transit for activities during the day.

Day 1: Arrive Zurich in the evening. Take train to Lucerne area for three nights. No specific plans for Lucerne yet besides the Tellskapelle.

Day 4: Train to Ticino for two nights. Is it worth taking the Wilhelm Tell Express? We’ll probably have spent some time on the lake cruises already, and I’ve read that the panorama cars can be very hot in the summer. I’m leaning towards staying in Locarno or Ascona rather than Bellinzona or Lugano.

Day 6: Bernina Express to Graubunden for two nights. This is the area where I am most lost about where to stay. It seems like there are several areas that all have a good amount of hiking and other activities.

Day 8: Train (Glacier Express?) to Zermatt (or somewhere else in Valais?) for two nights. If it looks like the weather will be uncooperative, we may try to cancel and head directly to Montreux area

Day 10: Train to Montreax/Vevey/Lausanne for two nights. We plan on a day trip to Gruyeres or Fribourg and a day sightseeing around Lake Geneva. This will be a few days before the Montreux Jazz festival.

Day 12: Train (Golden Pass?) to Berner Oberland for three nights. Is it better to stay in the Lauterbrunnen valley or in Murren/Wengen/Grindelwald? It seems more convenient for day trips to be on the valley floor, but the car-free villages sound like cute places to stay.

Day 15: Train to ZRH for afternoon flight back to U.S.

One question I have is whether it’s worth taking the named scenic trains, or just take regular trains along the same route? I read elsewhere that the windows on most panorama cars don’t open and they can become quite hot. It would also be nice to have windows that open for photos as they obviously won’t turn out through a plexiglass bubble.

Another question is whether we should cut one location and use those two days elsewhere. My first thought is to skip Graubunden, particularly since the Bernina Express is such a long trip. On the other hand, I’ve read that it’s the best scenic train ride.

Beyond that, I welcome all comments and criticisms as well as recommendations for things we should be sure to see in each region. Thanks in advance!
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Old Apr 3rd, 2014, 09:00 PM
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Hi billdozer78,

I have to admit that I don't like so much moving around so much. You have four destinations with only two nights at each of them -- two nights gives you only one full day, and that's barely enough time to see the highlights. It looks like you've arranged this itinerary to see all the scenic trains in the country without spending time in the actual countryside to see anything.

Also remember that every time you move bases, you lose about half a day of "outside" time because of the chores of packing up & checking out, then checking in & unpacking. So, with six moves, you are losing about three full days of exploring, leaving you with nothing but a string of train rides.

I would suggest that you cut out three of your destinations and spend more time in the others. There's plenty to do at each of your stops that you won't get bored, and you can still build in plenty of diversity.

Have fun as you plan!

s
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Old Apr 3rd, 2014, 10:12 PM
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I'm glad you found my comments useful! I think you will find Switzerland a very interesting destination.

Although I fully appreciate the temptation to visit a bit of each of Switzerland's major regions, I fear that your plan gives you too little time in any of them. As swandav notes, you'll lose a lot of time moving around. I travel at a far faster pace than many people prefer, and managed to see many of the places you mention, but in about twice the time. I seriously think you will have a more enjoyable experience if you limit the number of places you try to visit.

I think it would be very helpful to you to pull out a calendar and mark on it the times for your trains, blocking out some time before and after for getting to each new location. I think you'll see that you are greatly over-estimating the time you actually have to see anything.

Here are some examples:
Depending on the timing of your trains, 2 nights in the Ticino really means just one day -- so you would be spending a LOT of time in transit for very little time in that area. I spent only 3.5 days in the area (i.e., NOT counting the time it took me to get there or to move on), and I had to skip a lot that I'm sure I would have enjoyed.

Graubunden is a very large area. I spent about 6 days there -- 1 in Mustair, 2 in the lower Engadine, and 3 in the upper Engadine. I barely skimmed the surface and would have dearly welcomed additional time in the area.

Two nights in Montreax/Vevey/Lausanne really means one day there. Sorry, but I honestly don't think it is possible to visit all the things you list in a single day or even two. I spent close to 6 days seeing the places you mention in this area, and again, I skipped a LOT of what this region has to offer.

And for the Lauterbrunnen Valley, you really only have something a bit over two days. That leaves you with very little time to see this region's treasures, and a real chance of missing its highlights if clouds move in and shroud the peaks.

So do give some thought to drastically cutting the number of places you hope to visit! They are all wonderful, and it would be a shame to find that you don't have time to enjoy any of them.

BTW, despite my admiration for the Swiss rail system, I personally prefer to be in/near my departure city on the night before a flight. The cost of a missed flight is simply too high for me personally to consider anything else.

My understanding about the named scenic trains is that as a rule, they have panoramic windows (which can't be opened) and require advance reservations; the regional trains on the same lines may be less crowded with tourists. BUT I believe the specifics vary from line to line, so I could be wrong about the lines you are considering. Before deciding, you might want to check the timing to see if that matters in light of your travel plans.

The good news is that you will see some wonderful things no matter what you choose!

Hope this helps!
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Old Apr 4th, 2014, 09:42 AM
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The common phrase heard is 'to see/do as much as possible'. The problem with that is confusing the word 'much' with the word 'many'. They are not synonymous.

The way to see/do as 'much' as possible is to spend time IN places, not in BETWEEN places. If you are a train buff then taking scenic train journeys can be the purpose of the trip but that isn't what you say you want to do.

So I would suggest concentrating less on the trains and more on what you want to see and do in places. For example, if you go to the Bernese Oberland there are 3 major things I would suggest. A ride up to Jungfraujoch, a visit to Ballenberg and a hike somewhere. Each of those in fact means you need a day there to do it.

You cannot plan on what day you will be able to go up to Jungfraujoch, that depends on cloud cover. In the morning you check and if there is no clouds, up you go. If there are clouds, you do one of the other things you want to do and check again tomorrow on the cloud cover.

Ballenberg can easily take up a half day or more of your time. A hike to say Faulhorn will more or less take up a day. Not all day but the day is in reality gone.

Each time you move, as noted, you lose at least half a day that could have been spent IN a place seeing/doing something. In travel as in many things, less is more. Move less, see/do more.

If you visit Ascona (one of my favourite places to visit) you want to stay on the lakefront. A big part of staying there for my wife and I is simply wandering the little back streets for an afternoon, then sitting at a lakefront table and watching the people go by as we have a glass of wine. It's a lay back and relax kind of place.

Your plan calls for spending a day getting there, having one day in Ascona and then leaving the next day. That to me is like saying, 'hurry up and relax, OK that's done, let's go.'

If you go to Montreux, you will probably want to visit Chateau Chilon. You walk there from Montreux and spend several hours visiting. That's half a day gone. Back to Montreux for a leisurely late lunch and some people watching and a day is gone already. It's a vacation, not a race.

For initial planning I think the 'Rule of 3s' is a good rule of thumb to use. That says, 'never spend less than 3 full days/4 nights in a place unless it is just an overnight stop between A and B.

The 3/4 allows for a travel day between places which people usually don't count. Also note the 'less than', it is a minimum. It depends on what you want to see/do in a place and allowing enough time to do it properly.

The two commonest mistakes that tourists make are packing too much and trying to see/do too much in too little time. I've spent a total of a year at least visiting Switzerland over multiple trips of varying durations. I still haven't seen and done everything I want to see and do there. You can't do it all in 2 weeks.
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Old Apr 4th, 2014, 10:03 AM
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Here is a hotel I would suggest in Ascona.
http://www.hoteltamaroascona.com/de/galerie

Rent a car and take a drive up Valle Versasca. Visit the Roman arch bridge. Stroll around, have a swim if you want. Eat some lunch, take some photos.
https://www.google.ca/search?q=valle...w=1280&bih=687

Stroll the back streets of Ascona and look for an Antiquarian. Buy a print, find a cashmere sweater, eat an ice cream, return to the waterfront for a glass of wine. Up to the room for a short nap before getting ready for dinner. Dinner at a table outside on the front. Great food and then a stroll along the promenade seeing and listening to the street musicians, mimes, etc. that perform there daily. Stop somewhere for a cognac and coffee before strolling back to your hotel.
https://www.google.ca/search?q=ascon...w=1280&bih=687

After a leisurely late breakfast take the ferry from in front of the hotel to Isole di Brissago. Stroll in the gardens, lots of great pictures, lunch and the ferry back to Ascona. Time for a glass of wine or some window shopping for Swiss watches. https://www.google.ca/search?q=isole...w=1280&bih=687

Three full days and you'll still be leaving before you want to.
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Old Apr 4th, 2014, 10:16 AM
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Lauterbrunnen is in a deep gorge thus has more limited views of the majestic glacier-bound Jungfru Massif such as you would get from Wengen or Grindelwald or Murren.

Grindelwald is my favorite base for its wide amphitheatre with 360 degree stimulating views and only 20 minutes from Interlaken (as is Lauterbrunnen about) - cars must be parked on the edge of Grindelwald so it really is a car-free carefree village too.

Be sure to take a boat ride on Lake Thun or Lake Brienz, the two lakes bookending Interlaken - if you have a Swiss Pass, which your wide-ranging travels would indicate that a 15-consecutive-day pass might fit well and be a boon as you are traveling by public transit most days in seems.

For tons of great info on Swiss trains I always spotlight these IMO fine sources: www.swisstravelsystem.com; www.budgeteuropetravel.com and http://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tip...rtation/trains. Swiss passes when I quickly checked last week were slightly cheaper in the U.S. for the same pass than in Switzerland, especially if you bank credit card charges 3% as mine and many do so check the exact same pass price here and there IMO.

From Locarno you can take the special scenic Centovalli train - "100 valleys" through a part of Italy to Domodossola, Italy to transfer to trains to Brig, changing there for Zermatt or keep going up to Spiez where you'd change for Interlaken if you want to forego the Bernina as it is so far out of the way - it is to me the most scenic rail line in Europe but in the Interlaken and Zermatt areas there are many that are also awesomely scenic.

a Swiss Pass would cover the Centovalli the whole way - even the Italian section and also from Domodossola to Brig/Zermatt or anywhere in Switzerland.
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Old Apr 4th, 2014, 11:17 AM
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Count AT LEAST 2 weeks for Graubuenden and Ticino together and combine them with either Zermatt - Montreux or Interlaken - Lucerne (both via Centovalli).
You could also easily spend a whole week in only one of the mentioned 6 areas.
The areas of Bernina, Zermatt and Jungfrau have all glaciers, more than 14000ft high mountains and trains resp gondolas going up to at least 10000ft high viewpoints.
Montreux is farther away from the high mountains: the train and gondola ride to either Mont Fort (11000ft) or Plaine Morte Glacier (10000ft) takes 2 hrs.
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Old Apr 4th, 2014, 01:35 PM
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If taking the Golden Pass try to get their totally unique for Swiss trains I believe, VIP seats! Must book weeks/months early as are only a handful on each train - seat besides the driver's compartment so you can make believe you are driving the train!

Some VIP seats I believe are at the back of the track, with tracks receding. You you seem to be the caboose!
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Old Apr 4th, 2014, 02:28 PM
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I should have mentioned that we are more tolerant than most when it comes to time spent traveling while on vacation. Our last two trips of this length were a road trip in New Zealand (2500km, 11 hotels in 14 nights) and a safari/beach trip to Tanzania/Zanaibar (9 hotels in 14 nights, two of which were in transit). At the end of each trip, we agreed that we would probably do 1 or 2 fewer moves if we had it to do over again, but it didn't ruin our experience. I suppose this is because we're in our 30s with no kids, so we don't expect a vacation to be relaxing. I don't mind feeling a bit tired at the end of two weeks and feeling ready to come home.

That being said, your concerns are very valid, and I hadn't fully accounted for the extra time and effort involved in taking public transit rather than driving ourselves as we have done in the past. If we have to choose only 3-4 of the locations I mentioned, which do you recommend? My first instinct is to cut it down to Lucerne, Ticino, Montreux, and Berner Oberland. From what I've read, these four seem more different from one another than our other choices. Does anyone recommend a different combination?

Thanks again to everyone for the guidance.
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Old Apr 4th, 2014, 04:12 PM
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"My first instinct is to cut it down to Lucerne, Ticino, Montreux, and Berner Oberland"

Much better!

BTW, you can get to the Valle Versasca from Ascona without a car.

I preferred staying in Lauterbrunnen to staying in Wengen, but I think I am unusual in that choice.
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Old Apr 4th, 2014, 09:17 PM
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Hi again,

Yes, those are four excellent locations where you can see a great diversity and experience some beautiful spots. The itinerary I personally suggest the most is Montreux-Jungfrau-Luzern becauuse it covers French & German influences and mountains & lakes scenery.

I think I would head to the Jungfrau area first -- that's a travel day, so just keep moving. You'll be quite happy to wake up the next day in the middle of the mountains. After your time there, move on to Montreux via the Golden Pass route, and stop in Gstaad or Gruyeres and Broc enroute. Then move on to the Ticino. It's a quick hop up to Luzern from there, and you'll be in a good position for your last few nights before departure.

Have fun!

s
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Old Apr 4th, 2014, 09:40 PM
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Interesting -- of these locations, I would put the Bernese Oberland last because to me, that would be the "dessert course" of this particular itinerary. I'd fly into Geneva and head immediately to Montreux, or perhaps fly into Milan and go from there to Locarno/Ascona. BUT I haven't checked out the times, connections, or prices, so I freely admit that those options might not make sense!
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Old Apr 4th, 2014, 10:20 PM
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We're using award tickets, so it doesn't matter much where we fly to and from. Our time frame in country is 6/21-7/6; I was considering ZRH to Lucerne for 3 nights, then Ticino, Montreux, and Berner Oberland for 4 nights each before returning to ZRH. I was thinking along the same lines as kja that Berner Oberland should be the last stop. Unfortunately, I learned that the Ascona jazz festival runs from 6/20-6/28 this year, so we'll need to shuffle the schedule to avoid that. Perhaps our best option is flying into GVA, then 4 nights in Montreux, 3 in Lucerne, 4 in Ticino, then 4 in Berner Oberland before leaving via ZRH. This would get us to Ticino on the last day of the festival (a Saturday) rather than overlapping for four days.
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Old Apr 4th, 2014, 10:37 PM
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Hi again,

The reason to push on to your first destination on arrival day is to avoid repeating a destination/area like Luzern/Zürich. It wastes too much time, imo, with the chores of packing and unpacking. Since the travel day is a wash anyway, I say to suck it up and keep going.

I would also ensure that Montreux and the Jungfrau area are linked, either going or coming -- that Golden Pass route is really special.

So, you could go Ticino-Montreux-Jungfrau-Luzern/Zürich easily.

One of my pet peeves is to have an extra 6 or 10 hours of flight time just to arrive at my "chosen" airport, so I try to fly into a big airport to avoid transfers. Geneva is a small airport, and you would likely have to transfer in London or Paris, adding too much time. Yes, I would rather land somewhere and travel by train, enjoying the scenery and the languages and the food, than making an air transfer. So, if you can get into Milan quickly and easily, that would work.

I really don't like Montreux-Luzern-Ticino-Oberland because you'll be zigging and zagging across the country from south to north to south to center to north. In addition, you *could* use the Golden Pass route from Montreux to Luzern, but that is a loooong trip, and you may not have the time to stop off and enjoy some intermediate stops like Gstaad or Gruyeres.

I really like the Ticino-Montreux-Oberland-Luzern route for simplicity. Just see if the flight into Milan works best or flying into Zürich and taking the train to the Ticino. For reference, it takes about 3h to train from the Zurich airport to Locarno.

Also, for reference, the huge Montreux Jazz Fest starts on 4 July.

s
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Old Apr 4th, 2014, 10:42 PM
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Ok, sorry, didn't note the days of the Ticino fest.

So, I'm back to my original route as my favorite.

Jungfrau (start the trip with a BANG) 22-26 June
Montreux 26-30 June
Ticino 30 June - 4 July
Luzern/Zürich 4-6 July

s
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Old Apr 5th, 2014, 02:45 AM
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" From what I've read, Lucerne, Ticino, Montreux, and Berner Oberland four seem more different from one another than our other choices.
Not really: language, culture, architecture (houses)and the (mountain lake) landscape of Engiadina (Graubuenden) is compldetely different from the 3 other areas. Only the fact that there are big glaciers, more than 14000ft high mountain peaks and trains resp gondolas going up to at least 10000ft high viewpoints is common to Engiadina, Zermatt and Jungfrau area.

But you have to make a choice and your choice isn't a bad one.

Yourney times by public transport:
Milan airport - Locarno: 2 hrs 20 min, trains every 2 hrs, 1 train change
Milan airport - Lugano: 1 hr 10 min, 9 buses daily, direct
http://www.jetbus.ch/orarijetbus_01032014.pdf
Zurich airport - Lugano: 3 hrs, trains every hr, 1 change
Zurich airport - Lucerne: 1 hr, trains every 30 min, every second train direct, others with 1 change
Zurich airport - Wengen: 3 hrs 10 min, trains every 30 min, 3 to 4 changes
Zurich airport - Zermatt: 3 hrs 30 min, trains every hr, 1 change
Zurich airport - Montreux: 2 hrs 55 min, trains every 30 min, 1 change
Zurich airport - Engadin: 3 hrs 45 min, trains every hr, 2 changes
Milan airport - Engadin: 5 hrs 30 min, trains every 2 hrs
Lugano - Engadin: 3 hrs 45 min, trains-buses every hr, 2 changes
Geneva airport - Zermatt: 3 hrs 50 min, trains every 30 to 60 min, 1 change
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Old Apr 5th, 2014, 02:55 AM
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Direct flights from Geneva to New York (JFK and Newark), Washington, Montreal, Europe (all important hubs), China, the Gulf States, Egypt and North Africa.
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Old Apr 5th, 2014, 08:23 AM
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I'm coming from San Francisco using United miles, so the flights to Zurich, Geneva, and Milan are all one connection through Frankfurt with the second leg on Lufthansa.
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Old Apr 14th, 2014, 09:36 AM
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OK, here's our new tentative plan. We've made hotel reservations, but all are cancellable; the only thing that is fixed is our flight. Our primary goal is to see lots of good scenery and do light/moderate hikes. We will use the 15 day Swiss Pass to get around.

Day 1 (June 21): Arrive GVA 5:05pm, train to Montreux for four nights. During our time here, we plan to see Chateau de Chillon, do the Lutry-Saint Saphrin hike, and probably the Rochers de Naye train. We might also do a day trip to Gruyeres. Any other must-see things in the area?

Day 5 (June 25): Train to Luzern for three nights. We plan to do a lake cruise to Tellskapelle and Rutli Meadow on one of our full days, and Mt. Rigi the other. We'll see a bit of the city on our half day and/or in the evening after the other two days. I chose Mt Rigi over Mt Pilatus because it's covered by the Swiss Pass and seems to have some great hikes. Is this the right choice?

Day 8 (June 28): Train to Ascona for three nights. On one day, we'll do the Sonogno-Lavertezzo hike. We might also do the Isole di Brissago gardens. We also considered staying south of Lugano (Morcote/Melide) instead of Ascano. It looks like Monte San Salvatore has some nice hikes, but I was concerned that the public transit would be less convenient there. Any thoughts on this?

Day 11 (July 1): Train to Wengen for five nights. I'm sure one could spend the full two weeks hiking in this region, but we'll just have a few days. One day will be spent at Ballenberg via lake cruise. One or two days will be at Jungfraujoch/Schilthorn; is it worth doing both? Is Jungfraujoch enough better to warrant the extra cost (smaller discount w/Swiss Pass)? The remaining days will be spent on hikes in the area or relaxing a bit if we're tired. Is Wengen the best base for this type of plan?

Day 16 (July 6): Early train to ZRH for 2:45pm flight back to U.S.

I welcome any suggestions about things we should see that I didn't mention in those regions. I realize the geographic order of our stops isn't ideal, but we wanted to see Bernese Oberland last and want to avoid the Ascona jazz festival (ends June 28). My big picture questions are:

Is 4/3/3/5 the right breakdown for nights spent in Montreux/Luzern/Ascona/Wengen?

Given the constraint on dates in Ascona (June 28 or later), would it be better to choose another region (Graubunden, Appenzell) to cut down a bit on travel time?

Should we give up the idea of seeing Bernese Oberland last? No matter which other regions we pick, it makes the itinerary less than optimal to come back to the "middle" at the end of our time.

Thanks again for all the helpful advice. Many of the old threads on this board have been very useful!
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Old Apr 14th, 2014, 11:07 AM
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At this point I would say your plan is reasonable. Any changes to it would really just be individual preferences.

I would consider a day trip from Montreux to Gsstad on the Golden Panorama train.
I would do Rigi over Pilatus.
I would do Jungfraujoch over Schilthorn. But either only on a day with no clouds of course. Check in the morning with the tourist office. If the forecast is good go up. If not, go to Ballenberg that day or do a hike.

You could make changes to any of it to do a day more in one area vs. aother but really I think it is reasonable for a first visit to Switzerland.
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