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Doing what we do in Switzerland and Northern Italy

Doing what we do in Switzerland and Northern Italy

Old Nov 2nd, 2023, 02:44 PM
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Doing what we do in Switzerland and Northern Italy

Flights

Outgoing - COS-ORD-LHR-ZRH

Return - ZRH-ORD-COS

We researched Premium Plus/Premium Economy seating, and decided to give it a go, hoping for a nice compromise between Economy (pretty expensive since COVID) and Business class.

Our closest international airport is Denver, but getting there is a hassle – things tend to go wrong on the short hop from COS to DIA - flights are often delayed or cancelled – most are on SkyWest puddle jumpers and we haven’t had good luck with them in the past. We could drive the two hours, but prefer not to, as it means expensive airport parking (or one day car rental on each end) and often a hotel stay on departure and return. There just aren’t a lot of choices from COS, a municipal airport.

So, we chose to fly COS to ORD on the big plane - an Airbus. As much as we dislike ORD, past experience has shown these flights are less likely to be cancelled or delayed – barring weather issues. We usually arrive in Zurich in the morning, but this time we arrived at 2:45 pm. Quite doable with only a short train ride to our first destination.

Our chosen flights would also give us the chance to try both UA and Swiss Int’l Premium seats. Cost of flights, $1,700 each.

Itinerary and thought process

This year’s goal was to reduce the amount of on-the-ground travel, while including some new areas as well as some familiar favorites. Last year’s itinerary had us zig-zagging all over Switzerland; not very efficient. The drawback of shorter travel days is having to check out at 10 am in most places and not being able to check in until 3 pm, but it all worked out.

Our original plan changed a few times, due in part to accommodation issues in Glarus and Andermatt. So, we looked at several surrounding towns and found an apartment in Sedrun instead.

We’d spent a week in Blankenburg near Gstaad the week between Christmas and New Year in 2014 when visiting from Australia, but felt we missed more than we saw, so we wanted to give it another go.

But, Gstaad is expensive - even by Swiss standards - and the limited apartment options we found were small, unappealing or had issues with location. So, we opted for Zweisimmen, the gateway to the Gstaad-Sannenland region, about 30 minutes from Gstaad and better situated for the Rinderberg cable car. This turned out to be an excellent choice.

We’d planned to visit Grimentz before Gstaad, but then discovered that most cable cars in Gstaad stopped operating Oct 15, whereas they operated until late Oct/early Nov in Grimentz, so we switched the order, which didn’t make much of a difference in logistics and travel time.

There are challenges when planning a trip late in the season; we always have to take operating schedules into account.

We wanted to put Italy later in the itinerary to avoid the heat, but to do so didn’t make logistic sense. So, we decided to buy the 365 day Half Fare Card instead of the 30 day Half Fare Card that we usually buy for Switzerland transport. The cost difference was 65 chf each; it allowed us to put Italy wherever made the most sense; and we sought out apartments in Italy with air conditioning (a godsend as it turned out). The 365 day HFC will also come in handy should we decide on another Swiss visit, which we’re considering for March.

For those unfamiliar with the Swiss Half Fare Card, it covers just about everything that moves in Switzerland at half fare. Yes, there are some exceptions. It makes the most sense for our particular trips, which are often a month or longer.

So, the final 35 night itinerary:

Burglen, Uri – five nights – Burglen is situated in the canton of Uri in Central Switzerland.. The canton's territory covers the valley of the Reuss between the St. Gotthard Pass and Lake Lucerne. Air BNB $501

Tujetsch, Sedrun – five nights - Sedrun is situated in the uppermost section of the Surselva Valley below the Oberalppass on the border between the cantons of Graubunden and Uri. Air BNB - $779.84

Thusis – five nights – Thusis is municipality in the Viamala Region in the Swiss canton of Graubunden. Same apartment we booked last year, Booking.com, 580 chf

Chiavenna, Italy – four nights – Chiavenna is located in the Province of Sondrio in the northern Italian region of Lombardy. This is the eating portion of the itinerary! Air BNB - $599.29

Domodossola, Italy – five nights - Domodossola is a city in the Province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, in the region of Piedmont, Northern Italy. More eating! Air BNB $533

Zweissimmen – five nights – Zweissimmen is situated in the Gstaad-Sannenland region in the Canton of Bern in southwestern Switzerland. Air BNB $755.42

Grimentz – five nights - Grimentz is a village in the district of Sierre in the Swiss canton of Valais – Air BNB $628

Kloten – one night – Kloten is a stone’s throw from the Zürich airport – Allegra Lodge - booked on Hotels.com $167.26

After the itinerary was set, I researched the many things to see and do in each town/village and Bill worked out the bus/train logistics for our travel days. I typed and printed the details, so when we arrived we’d have what we needed at our fingertips and could put together a plan for each day of our stay without having to spend precious holiday time researching. Anal? Definitely, but that’s just how I roll, and it’s proven very efficient.

Last minute details

Three weeks before departure we consulted SBB for ticket options on our engraved-in-stone routes (travel days) to see if any Super Saver tickets were available. In some cases the discount wasn’t worth having to commit to a particular train at a particular time, but we did secure the following:

Super Saver ticket for travel day from Thusis to Chiavenna – paid 11.40 chf each, saved 7 chf each

Saver Day Pass for travel from Chiavenna to Domodossola – paid 44 chf each, saved 17.50 chf each over point-to-point tickets. Also made mandatory reservations for the Palm Express bus (which runs from St Moritz to Lugano, we’d only take it from Chiavenna to Lugano).

Super Saver ticket for travel day from Zweissimmen to Grimentz – paid 26.60 chf each, saved 12.10 chf each

Saver Day Pass for travel from Grimentz to Kloten – paid 39 chf each, including 6.8 chf each additional to cover full day of transport within Zurich, saved 24 chf each over point-to-point tickets (ended up not using any transport within Zurich, so could have saved that additional 6.8 chf each, but so it goes).

In early September I contacted Casa Caminada in Furstenau (near Thusis) to make a lunch booking. We missed out last year as we failed to book after being told they had tables set aside for walk-ins.

I also made a lunch booking at Crotto Ombra in Chiavenna, as we’d missed eating in a crotto last year.

Insurance -

We don’t usually buy trip insurance, as we opt to book places with lenient cancellation polices instead, but…we paid more for flights, we’re getting old, and finding lenient cancellation policies is getting harder and harder.

So, after comparing several policies we purchased insurance through Seven Corners - $277 for both of us – coverage of 2K each for trip costs plus pretty good medical coverage. We also had $1,500 coverage each through our credit card company for flights and trains. Bill is now on Medicare and while he has some international coverage, it’s far from comprehensive. My health insurance covers me internationally. So, we were pretty well covered.

Vaccinations

In late August we both got our flu jabs and I got an RSV jab. The latest and greatest COVID vax wasn’t yet available, so we both got boosters of the previous vax, hoping we could get the latest and greatest before heading out again in late November.

To be continued...

Last edited by Melnq8; Nov 2nd, 2023 at 02:50 PM.
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Old Nov 2nd, 2023, 03:51 PM
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I’m on for the ride!
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Old Nov 2nd, 2023, 09:23 PM
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You know I’m in!
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Old Nov 3rd, 2023, 01:47 AM
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Nice to read you again, Mel! It looks a quite promising trip and I'm eager to read of it.

Just a couple observations to help eventual other travelers:
- The chosen bases are not always touristic places, even for the locals. Especially villages/towns that are on the valley bottoms, a bit "in a hole", like Bürglen, Thusis, Chiavenna, Domodossola.
- The Saver Day Pass covers as well the transports in the city of Zurich, you don't have to spend any additional money for it. Thus, I think the 6.80 CHF were not added to the SDP price (SDP prices with Half fare card goes dynamic up after the demand from 29.- in steps of 5.- each).
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Old Nov 3rd, 2023, 01:55 AM
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I live close to Altdorf. Looking forward to your experiences and insights.

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Old Nov 3rd, 2023, 03:39 AM
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Hi Mel! Good to hear from you. Sounds very promising. Count me in for the journey.
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Old Nov 3rd, 2023, 05:26 AM
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Looking forward to reading your adventure, and hoping to finally convince my husband to go back to Switzerland. 🤞🏻🤞🏻🙏🏻
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Old Nov 3rd, 2023, 06:21 AM
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Hi gang - good to see you here.

Finsteraarhorn - I'm confused now, as I know that the Saver Day Pass is good in the city as well. I just looked at my receipt and it just says 39 chf. I'd put the 6.80 in my notes when we booked it, but you're right, it would have been covered anyway, so I'm not sure what I was referring to. Just disregard that little error...I'm sure there will be more.

We try to avoid the most toursity places, so I guess we end up in 'holes' lol.
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Old Nov 3rd, 2023, 06:39 AM
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On to the trip

September 18 & 19-

The flight to ORD was packed, but left on time and was fairly smooth. We spent a little time in the very busy UA Red Carpet Club at the C gates – we had just enough time for some tasty tomato basil soup and chocolate chip cookies; I was surprised at how good both were. It seems UA has upped its food game in the lounges.

The UA flight to LHR was just under seven hours. We were in a small Premium Plus cabin on a 767-300, the seating configuration was 2-2-2.

Dinner was decent, with real cutlery, and wine glasses actually made of glass (!). We enjoyed it, although they ran out of pasta before they got to our row, which seemed odd as we were so close to the front. But this is nothing new for United.

The entertainment screen was large and we had plenty of leg room. Our cabin shared the bathroom with economy, so it was a long trek to the back, but our first experience with UA Premium Plus was a positive one, and we’d do it again. Overall it was a good flight, although neither of us got any sleep. Par for the course. I was surprised to see so many empty seats in coach; several passengers had entire rows to themselves.

We arrived 30 minutes early at Heathrow. We spent about four hours in the Lufthansa Senator Lounge (flight to Zurich delayed) which was a lot quieter and calmer than ORD. We found some chaises to stretch out on, and wished we’d found them earlier, we were tired.

The flight to Zurich (Swiss International) was packed and bumpy. Zurich Airport was also very busy.

After collecting our luggage we went to the SBB office in the attached rail station and were eventually assisted by a very friendly counter agent. We purchased the 365 day Half Fare Card (185 chf each), which required a photo. We’d taken some passport photos with us, but the counter agent talked us into letting him take digital photos, and they were even worse than I expected after three flights and a sleepless night. Ah, vanity.

As visitors, we had no address in Switzerland to send the cards to once available, so the clerk used the Zurich airport address, and gave us a three month temporary HFC. We were told we could collect the cards in two weeks, so we planned to pick them up prior to our departure from Zurich five weeks later. (Bill’s HFC showed up in our SBB account two days later, but mine didn’t – turns out we each need a separate account).

We also purchased a train/bus ticket to Burglen via Zurich main station, Zug and Altdorf, UR (17 chf each).

Note: All train/bus prices given in this report are half fare, including the Super Saver tickets and the Saver Day Passes purchased before our trip.

We popped into the rail station COOP to pick up milk and cream for our morning coffee and two slices of pizza for our dinner (5.95 & 5.20 chf), found our train, changed at the Hauptbahnhof, arrived in Altdorf and then took Bus 408 to the stop closest to our apartment (a journey of about 10 minutes). Love, love, love the SBB app.

It was 7:30 pm, near dark and we were exhausted, which made the apartment search somewhat confusing. Is it just us, or are others confused when you fire up Google maps on your phone and it tells you to head ‘southwest’ in a place you’ve never been before? As far as I can tell, the app doesn’t have a compass, and I don’t carry one.

Once found, we went to bed almost immediately.

Our Air BNB was a spacious studio on the lower floor of a dual-family chalet, very nice, but too warm. The windows didn’t have screens so we slept with the mozzies. We woke up at 2 am, but managed to go back to sleep until seven. Happy we thought to pick up milk and cream for coffee.

To be continued...
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Old Nov 3rd, 2023, 12:12 PM
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Sept 20 –

We walked to the Coop in Altdorf for provisions and to get our bearings. The apartment is situated between Burglen (population 3,900) - 10 minutes up the hill to the left - and Altdorf (population 8,600), 15 minutes to the right, which turned out to be a perfect location.

We had breakfast in the Coop cafeteria – ham on rolls, one pretty awful coffee (16 chf), and then sought out the tourist office for guidance and to review our options for the day.

We decided to check out the local cable car, as we were told it would be closed tomorrow due to high winds (Föhn – adry, warm, downslope wind that occurs in the lee side of a mountain range) and that tomorrow was expected to be 27c. Ick.

We bought a combo ticket from the counter agent which included bus fare and two cable cars (28 chf each – I’m not sure if this was the half fare price, or if it was already discounted), planning to take the two stage Ruogig cable car and then walk to the Eggberge cable car station.

So, we took the bus to Bürglen Brügg, located at the entrance to the Schächental (alpine valley). The bus was packed with school kids, three got off at our stop and were waiting for us on the four person Ruogig cable car (no worries, they were little). It’s common in Switzerland for kids to go home for lunch from school, and we suspect that’s what these littlies were doing. How nice to live in a place where youngsters can safely get around by themselves on public transport, and even cable cars.


Ruogig cable car

Ruogig cable car

Once at the top we set out on the 4.5 mile hike to Eggberge. The day was gorgeous and the views of the Urnersee fantastic. We passed the Fleschsee enroute, a lake with picnic area and fire pits overlooking it - there was also a food/drinks kiosk.


Trail marker

The trail was undulating at first, then steep downhill, giving our knees the first of many workouts; it took just over two hours.


Hike to Eggberge

Hike to Eggberge

Walking amongst the cows

Urnersee

Urnersee

Hike to Eggberge

Hike to Eggberge


We had a disappointing late lunch on the sunny terrace of the Eggberge Berggasthaus - tasteless älplermagronen for me (very little cheese, actually needed salt) and sausage, mash and veg for Bill (potatoes tasted like instant, ugh), we were not off to a good start food-wise (60 chf with one beer and one cider).

But it sure had been a beautiful first day.

Afterwards we took the Eggberge cable car down and caught three buses back to Burglen - which isn’t as bad as it sounds - it only took about 10 minutes. We got off one bus and then directly on to the connecting bus.

Then it was back to the apartment to rest.

We were surprised at how warm it was; we both got plenty of sun today.

To be continued...

Last edited by Melnq8; Nov 3rd, 2023 at 12:15 PM.
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Old Nov 3rd, 2023, 01:44 PM
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Perfect first day! Well, expect for that meal…
Blowing off the jet lag in crisp Swiss air 😍
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Old Nov 3rd, 2023, 02:24 PM
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Excellent first day, except, yes, sadly for that late lunch. Especially for CHF 60! Yikes!

A good Swiss friend of mine is going to move from Zurich to Altdorf in January, btw.

I try to avoid google maps whenever possible and use this instead: https://en.mapy.cz/turisticka?x=8.64...6.8881065&z=13
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Old Nov 3rd, 2023, 02:32 PM
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Thanks for that Ingo, I'll take a look.
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Old Nov 3rd, 2023, 03:22 PM
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Sept 21 –

We woke at 3:30 am and went back to sleep until 7 am. The apartment faces the Altdorf International School dorms, but was incredibly quiet nonetheless.

Uri was new area for us, so we walked back to the tourist office armed with a list of questions.

We’d already decided to take a bus some 25 minutes to Unterschächen - located in the upper Schächental, not far from the Klausen Pass - and walk to the Stäubifalls, but we wanted to see if we could walk to them from the top of the Ribi-Wannelen cable car.

With the help of a very patient young woman in the tourist office we determined it was possible, but would involve a 583 meter descent that we didn’t think we were up for. So, we opted to take bus 408 to Unterschächen (9 chf each, return), then walk from there to the Stäubifalls and back (six miles).

Note: I first heard about Uri and Unterschächen from stormbird on TA – I like how this woman thinks! We loved the area.

There were quite a few people on the trail and the weather was hot and sticky; not what we come to Switzerland for.

The hike was undulating and absolutely gorgeous.


Hike to Stäubifalls

Hike to Stäubifalls

Hike to Stäubifalls

Hike to Stäubifalls

Hike to Stäubifalls

Stäubifalls

Hike to Stäubifalls

We'd walked past the Rib-Wannelen cable car on our way to Stäubifalls, so on the return walk to Unterschächen we decided to take it up (14 chf each, no discount with HFC).


Ribi-Wannelen cable car

Note: Part of what attracted us to Uri is the ~36 small rustic cable cars, many of which are open to the elements and only accommodate four people per journey. Most of these were originally built to reach alpine farms and (I believe) are privately owned. As frequent visitors to Switzerland, I’m always looking for new areas to explore; Uri fit the bill nicely.

https://www.myswitzerland.com/en-us/...-a-difference/

Once at the top we walked for a bit and took in the beautiful panorama. We watched a helicopter make many trips back and forth depositing concrete from the valley up to the mountain. The Swiss face many challenges when it comes to building. I can’t imagine the costs involved.


Views from the top of Ribi-Wannelen cable car

Views from the top of Ribi-Wannelen cable car

It was damn windy so we decided we’d better head back just in case they had to close the cable car; we didn’t want to be stranded at the top. The cable car looked to be a one woman operation – we called her below via the phone in the car and told her we were ready to come back down. Our descent was a bit freaky; the car was swinging around thanks to some fierce wind gusts. The Föhn had arrived.

Once at the bottom we walked back to Unterschächen (population 729) and popped into the only restaurant we saw, the Hotel Alpina for a light late lunch (glad they were still serving). We shared some really good sausage and bread, 23 chf with two ciders.


Hotel Alpina, Unterschächen

Unterschächen

We returned to Burglen on the bus, and then walked to Altdorf, where an outdoor market was underway and where I noticed several interesting birth announcement signs. I’ve seen these before in other parts of Switzerland and I think it’s a nice tradition; announcing a new baby by putting up a large cut out with artwork, baby’s name and date of birth. I also saw a garage with three of them stored dating back to 2002.




We picked up dinner provisions at Coop, which we ate later on our patio facing the school (salad for me 10 chf, sushi and steak tartare for Bill 16 chf and 9 chf). I could hear Bill’s stomach gurgling as I typed notes in our apartment later and worried for his digestive system.

The owner of the apartment came out and talked to us for a while, telling us that when the wind stops, the rain comes and to expect rain for our last two days.

We’d logged ten miles, and Bill was cursing the heat.

To be continued...

Last edited by Melnq8; Nov 3rd, 2023 at 03:29 PM.
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Old Nov 3rd, 2023, 04:29 PM
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Mel, I like your travel style, especially around choosing locations and bases---bookmarking for sure.
*Btw, it has finally come to me that the gal in Minori back in the spring who 'claimed that she'd once met you' was probably referring to another Fodorite.
My bad, sorry for any confusion.
Carry on!

I am done. The Swiss places.
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Old Nov 3rd, 2023, 04:53 PM
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Love your writing style and your determination to see Switzerland off the beaten track. Uri is strong in tradition and boasts some gorgeous scenery. I still am amazed at some of those small farms high on the slopes of the mountains.

Sorry to hear about the food. It's one reason why people picnic instead and then just pop in to a restaurant for a cup of coffee and some dessert.
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Old Nov 3rd, 2023, 05:42 PM
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zebec - no worries, figured it was someone else.

kleeblatt - well that explains all the cake and coffee eaters we saw. We usually have pretty good food in Switzerland, so we were surprised, but things did improve after that first bad meal.
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Old Nov 4th, 2023, 12:16 AM
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Excellent start, Mel, and great pictures as usual! I love canton Uri and it is definitely off the beaten path. That's why a cable car for 4 is enough! And astonishing mountains, even without the height and the fame of the "4'000ers".

The sidenotes:

- About the cable cars of Altdorf - right side of the Schächental valley: Eggberge, Ruogig, Biel and Ratzi, they are not covered by the Half fare card. Die Geltungsbereichskarte: wo Ihr Abo gültig ist | SBB You can go up and down on the Eggberge or the Ruogig for 22.- or buy a combined ticket for all four cablecars for 23.-, that becomes 28.- including the public transportation in the valley by Auto Uri. Hence, you had the right ticket! Eggberge: Preise/Tickets and Tarife | LSB Ruogig Fleschsee

- Ingo, nice resource for the maps. In Switzerland, try also the official ones, on Maps of Switzerland - Swiss Confederation - map.geo.admin.ch or the more curated version at Map | SwitzerlandMobility (schweizmobil.ch)
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Old Nov 4th, 2023, 05:46 AM
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Fabulous photos and wonderful report. I'm so glad you loved Uri and Unterschächen! I stayed at Hotel Alpina for 4 nights and loved their meals! How was your lunch there? And by the way, it was Roland on TA who had strongly suggested some years ago to me to visit Uri and Unterschächen. He deserves the credit.

Anxious to see where else you went in Uri.

Thanks for posting your report, I've been waiting....
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Old Nov 4th, 2023, 06:27 AM
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Your photos are beautiful! The scenery is stunning! I am so impressed with all the hiking that you do. Did you rent a car on this trip or did you travel solely by public transportation?
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