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Italy and Switzerland--September/October 2013

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Sep 24th, 2013, 11:34 AM
  #1
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Italy and Switzerland--September/October 2013

First, we want to thank the folks on Fodor's and other sites like RS and TA for their great help in planning our trip. Also two new travel books--DK's Back Roads Northern and Central Italy and The Rough Guide to the Italian Lakes. Never done a trip report, much less a "live" report. Hope you enjoy it. As we go thru Switzerland and Italy over the next four weeks, any suggestions for places to see or where to eat on each leg of the trip are ALWAYS appreciated.

Background--we are retired couple in early 60s who fell in love with Italy on our first trip 15 years ago. Been back almost every fall since then. We now live most of the year on a small remote island in the Bahamas, so we tend to go to small towns and villages when visiting. We think the best way to do this is by car. Due to Delta FF miles, best route for this trip to Italy was RT nonstop from Atlanta to Zurich to minimize miles for business class. So we added a week to the trip and we are now visiting 4 lakes in Northern Italy we have never been to on the way to and from Zurich. Going to lots of new places and only staying in 3 hotels we have been to before, so hopefully this will be a mostly new experience for us, even after 12 previous trips.

Itinerary--

2 nights--Klosters, Switzerland, day trip to Davos
2 nights--Lake Como/Varenna, ferry trip to Bellagio
3 nights--Lake Iseo, day trips to Bergamo and Franciacorta
3 nights--Lake Garda/Bardolino, day trips to Verona and Sirmione
4 nights--Greve/Chianti, day trip to Siena
4 nights--Montalcino, day trips to Pienza and Montepulciano
3 nights--Cortona, day trips to Assisi and Umbrian countryside
2 nights--Rapallo, day trip to Portofino
3 nights--Lake Maggiore/Cannobio, day trip to Borromeo islands
1 night---Zurich airport, visit/lunch in Lucerne in route


Leg 1--Atlanta-Zurich-Klosters/Davos
We are at the International Terminal in Atlanta ready to board the plane to Zurich where we pick up our car for four weeks. We got a great price on a rental from AutoEurope with Europcar. We have used them many times and they have always done a good job. including a relatively small charge for a "dangling" side mirror on our last trip! From Zurich it's about 90 miles to Klosters where we spent one night in 1998. Going back to the Hotel Chesa Grischuna, a picture perfect Swiss chalet hotel in the heart of Klosters. Plan to recover from jet lag by taking the aerial tram up to about 7500 ft and have a leisurely lunch while we enjoy the scenery. Day 2 is a trip on the train to Davos for the day. Never been there. Any suggestions for meals or things to see in either place would be great.
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Sep 24th, 2013, 02:02 PM
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I love it---do you have room for me?
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Sep 24th, 2013, 02:49 PM
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Bob--read ALL your trip reports. You have been a big help for this trip. Just wish I could write in your entertaining way.
Skip
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Sep 24th, 2013, 02:55 PM
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(Hi Bob..I would ask the same question!))

Skip..while in Greve, located in the middle of the oval-shaped town is a family restaurant on the 2nd floor, Giovanni Verazzano.
A feeling of eating in their private dining room, superb food offerings and pleasant ambience which is totally relaxed and familial.

We enjoyed that place en route Florence to Siena. You may be in time for grape harvest and the colors of the leaves should be dramatic...deep rust, red and orange. Greve is completely surrounded with vineyards. The ride to Siena is an easy one
but parking in Siena is a nightmare. Best bet is to park at the south gate (Porta Romano)and walk(level) into town, 10 minutes or so.
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Sep 24th, 2013, 03:35 PM
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Hi Skip,

Your trip report comes at an ideal time, as I'm in the early stages of planning a 1-week trip to Tuscany, split between Chianti and the Montepulciano/Montalcino areas, for next September.

Can't say that I'm a huge fan of the very urban town of Davos, but there's some great yet easy hiking (you'll still need at least trail running shoes) in the area, and the fact that all the lifts and local public transportation are freely accessible to hotel guests in the summer is a huge plus in my book. My suggestions:
1) Take the bus from Davos Dorf station (not Davos Platz, there are 2 stations) to Dürrboden and walk back, either to Teufi or all the way to Davos. This is a very gentle walk along the base of a valley.
2) Take the Gotschna cable cars all the way to the top and walk on the aptly named Panoramaweg path that runs mostly parallel to the mountain and is therefore reasonably level, either back and forth to the Parsennhütte, or all the way to the middle station of the Parsenn funicular, which you can take down to Davos. The latter is a bit more ambitious but easily doable if you're fit.

Weather-wise, Wednesday should be perfect weather-wise and Thursday should still be mostly sunny, so if you get a reasonably early start you should still have a hiking great day. We've been having gorgeous Indian summer weather for the past few days (I live in Western Switzerland).

It's been too long since I was last in Davos and Klosters for me to feel comfortable recommending any restaurants. If you're into 20th century art and/or the clouds roll in faster than predicted, the Kirchner Museum is worth a visit - I really like the artist (German Expressionist painter), not that impressed by the museum itself unfortunately.

Finally, on a completely unrelated note, if you're looking for a place to splurge on superb food in a great setting, I can definitely recommend lunch on the terrace of the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio. Of course in Italy there are quite a few such places...

Have a great time and keep us posted!
Andre
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Sep 26th, 2013, 12:03 PM
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Andre-- thanks for the ideas on Davos. Tomorrow we will probably go up the mountain if the weather is okay, if not, visit places in town. Had a little "glitch" in the start of the trip that changed our plans.
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Sep 26th, 2013, 12:16 PM
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Driving in Europe always seems to involve one trying day. Last year it was a "dangling" side view mirror getting off the ferry on Elba. This trip it also happened on the first day.
Landed in Zurich early. Had the bags in the car and on the road to Klosters in an hour after we landed. Doing great. Unfortunately my wife and I said to each other how great the trip was starting. OOPS.
That's when we got a phone call from a Swiss number about 10 miles outside of Klosters., 80 miles from Zurich. It started with "Mr Hudgins are you missing any of your luggage". Of course I said no until I looked in the back seat and didn't see the extra suitcase we packed. Back to Zurich. Thru Zurich downtown due to a wrong turn(beautiful city), pick up suitcase, back to Klosters. All's well now, especially after checking into our favorite hotel, Chesa Grishuna and a wonderful dinner-- two different veal meals.
We plan to start counting our bags before leaving on each of the remaining legs!
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Sep 26th, 2013, 01:45 PM
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Andre. just returned last week from 3 weeks in Italy including stays in Greve, Radda and Siena.
Hotel Athena in Siena has its own parking garage just inside the gate and is super location to walk to all major sites .Highly recommend but make sure you ask for 4th floor or higher as part of building is on hill, so below ground level rooms exist.
Loved Radda even more than Greve for its panoramic views and great food.Best meal ever at La Botte di Bacco
We did a self guided cycling tour and used Booking.com ( plus Tripadvisor) for all places except 1st night and last 4 in Rome and were pleased with it. You dont prepay so have some leeway if you arrive and want a different room. I definitely learned to ask " may I please see the room"?
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Sep 26th, 2013, 02:26 PM
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Just flew home from Zurich two days ago. We had gorgeous weather during our stay (4 days 20th-24th) in Switzerland, although Germany was cold and very damp where we were (former East Germany) for a week prior to Switzerland. Hope you are enjoying your trip. We (DH and I) love "seat of the pants" travel, and always do rent a car. We've had our own "luggage issues" (I won't go into details, but it was a National Lampoon's European Vacation sort of incident just a few days ago!).

Don't you love it when you have to drive through Zurich?? Our garmin keeps trying to get us there, but we KNOW the better way using the Nordring and Westring to get around a lot of the traffic. Been travelling to Switzerland twice a year for decades.
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Sep 26th, 2013, 02:26 PM
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Hi, here are some suggestions:
- Two off the beaten path places in the Garda lake area: Parco termale del Garda, a natural open air SPA in a beautiful garden (http://www.villadeicedri.it/parco_main_prova.html) and Borghetto sul Mincio, a delightfull middle age mills hamlet, with excellent restaurants. You can actually get there by bike from Peschiera, following the Mincio River (more details in this post http://wp.me/p3sImA-9G)
- Not too far from Verona (if you have a car), UNESCO heritage sites Mantova and Sabbioneta
- For itinearies and travel tips in the Montalcino and Chianti area you may have a look at my travel blog www.delightfullyitaly.com
- Rapallo isn't that nice, you may consider Sestri Levante (http://www.google.it/search?q=sestri...&bih=781&dpr=1), which is also a good gateway for Cinque Terre. You can get to portofino from Sestri either by Boat or by Train.
- When in Portofino, don't miss San Fruttuoso (you can get there by boat, from Portofino)

Hope this helps
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Sep 28th, 2013, 11:33 PM
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Been having too much fun to post.
Switzerland-- picture postcard beautiful. People very nice but a bit reserved. At Europcar they upgraded us to an Audi A3 with auto transmission. Great piece of German engineering and fun to drive in the mountains.

Klosters--perfect Swiss chalet village. Very quiet during this slow season with many restaurants, bars and hotels closed. We loved its charm and quietness. Hotel Chesa Grischuna is a very welcoming place. We had a nice corner room on the top floor. Breakfasts were great and included not just the normal Continental breakfast but also eggs. Its restaurant deserves its high reputation. Great food and attentive service. We had two different veal meals, one sliced in mushroom sauce with rosti and other one of the most tender veal steaks I've cut into. We wanted fondue the last night there and decided on Rustico, a small hotel and restaurant. So slow the fondue restaurant was closed during weekdays, so they used a private dining room in the hotel to serve us a very private cheese fondue. It was delicious.

Davos--Andre, I agree with you about Davos. While once it was probably a charming village like Klosters, it is now a developing city. Lots of action without much charm. Worked around a bit looking for the Panorama restaurant. Finally realized it got its name because it was up a mountainside. Part of the Schatzalp resort. You get there by also vertical funicular tram ride up the mountain. The view from another thousand or so feet up is indeed panoramic. The food was good.
We had a carrot/orange/ginger soup and local dish--Rosti. Loose English translation would be "mound o hash browns". Chose one with cheese and bacon. Turned out to be a mound of hash browns, covered in Swiss cheese and topped with 9 slices of bacon. They keep a cardiologist on staff. It was delicious.

Suisse is a very organized place. Everything seems to work. Driving is polite. Everyone seems to slow down to the speed limit when it is reduced. They literally slam on the brakes to allow people to cross the street in crosswalks. The Calanda and other local beers were delicious. Their local Pinot Noirs were great and much better than anticipated. Bringing a few bottles home.

We drove yesterday over two mountain passes, one so high it was above the tree line, in Switzerland to get to Northern Italy and it was a great fun. Now in Varenna on Lake Como. Headed to Bellagio by ferry today.

Thanks to all for suggestions about things to see and do.
Ciao
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Sep 29th, 2013, 09:03 PM
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I was in Garda last month and took a drive to Albisan - quiet little place with amazing views of the lake. Had delicious lunch at Ristorante Panorama.

My step-great-grandmother took me here because she said that it was a little place that my great-grandfather discovered (he grew up in Garda) and used to take her.
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Sep 29th, 2013, 11:27 PM
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5th morning in Europe. 5th morning raining. No worries, beer is still good/cold and the red wine is great.

Italy--Bella Italia. Arrived 2 days ago after beautiful drive thru Switzerland. Spent the time on Lake Como in Varenna and Bellagio. Como is another magical beautiful place. Easy to understand why Mr Clooney, who everyone talks about here, picked Como.
Varenna is a very small quiet town on the Eastern shore with great views from our hotel--Albergo Milano. Very nice folks run this 8 room inn, all rooms lake view. A little bit of a hassle getting your bags from parking garage to hotel as not accessible by road. But once you are in, you are happy. We were met in Varenna by friends from the Bahamas. Had a excellent lunch with lots of laughs and travel stories at Il Cavatappi. Mixed salads, pate, local sausages, spaghetti with pomodoro and grilled fish from Como. All good especially the fish. Then visited the two Villas, Cipressi and Montastero, and their gardens. The latter's garden is very large but the stop in their bar midway thru the garden helped. Dinner that night at the hotel's restaurant, La Vista. Dining on a terrace overlooking Lake Como, eating fantastic food is hard to beat. Risotto with saffron and ossobuco, mushroom crepes and grill freshwater bass in a delicious sauce. Outstanding overall. Diners mostly Americans and Aussies. Many stories told about each other's travels in Italy. Pouring down rain next morning so we slept in and then had lunch at Borgovino on "restaurant row" in Varenna. Best meal yet in Europe. Fish soup, slightly spicy with lots of shrimp, mussels, squid, clams. Spaghetti with same seafood. Risotto with mushrooms and Taleggio.
Tiny place where reservations are needed. Great waiter.
Bellagio--not much time to visit there but ferried over for a quick trip. Grand tour 1800s resort feel to the waterfront. Did some shopping, wandering around and few stops for refreshments. Totally different than Varenna. Much busier. Day ended watching NFL football! while waiting for last ferry back to Varenna. Hard to believe but the once a season game in London was on and US fans watching it like it was a Serie A soccer match.
On to Bergamo for the day and then 3 relaxing days on Lake Iseo.
Thanks as always for the suggestions. Any idea for a favorite winery in Franciacorta would be great.
Got to go, looks like the SUN may be coming out.
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Oct 2nd, 2013, 11:46 PM
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Day 8 of the "Sun Watch". Still looking for it. Left rainy Como 3 days ago for short truck clogged trip to rainy and windy Bergamo.

Bergamo-- thank you Claudio on RS Helpline. He lives in Bergamo and suggested we visit. Great stop. Citta alta is the old preserved foot traffic only medieval city above modern Bergamo. Found parking near the funicolare that took us straight up the hill. Spent late morning walking around almost deserted streets. Then the college let out for lunch and we were surrounded by students. Ate at Sant ambroeus trattoria.
Fancier than we planned but great meal of artichoke hearts with goat cheese, polenta with walnut cream sauce, Bergamo ravioli with butter, sage, cheese, bacon and a massive veal Milanese. Visited several churches including the spectacular Santa Maria Maggiore. One of those words can't describe it churches. One of the best we've been on any trip to Italy.

Iseo--a great find. The baby lake between Lakes Como and Garda. Three days here have been a blast but for the weather. Could not see the lake for 2 days from our hotel on the lake! Il Due Riccoli is a beautiful country home turned into a small resort. Great restaurant, nice people and is about 2 very curvy miles up the mountain from Iseo so wonderful views. Spent 2 days walking around Iseo and enjoyed this small waterfront town with its town square. Visited about all of it including the police station to pay our parking ticket. It was closed. Gotta love Italy. No tourists. No Americans. Just kids and families playing and biking in another car free area. We have enjoyed it more than Lake Como. Because of weather we didn't see all that we wanted so will make this a return destination. This is Franciacorta wine country and it is delicious. The hotel set up a very special tour for us of the Bellavista winery. It is the name of our house in Bahamas and our favorite champagne. Thank you Roberta for a memorable tour and our gift--6 liter empty bottle of Bellavista if we can figure how to ship it home. Even spend one weather crappy afternoon at the outlet mall about 15 minutes away near Brescia--just like the states including a food court with McDonalds. Made an obligatory stop as we do each time in Italy. cheeseburgers just like the states but they have beer and wine. Gotta love the Italians.

Headed to Lake Garda. Thanks CourtK for your suggestion. We will try to visit. Staying in a B and B just above Bardolino for the 3 day Bardolino wine festival plus a side trip to Verona for one day. Never been to either place so we are looking forward to the new adventure.
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Oct 4th, 2013, 12:24 AM
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CatchK. Sorry I got your name wrong before. Headed to Albisan for lunch. Just a short drive from where we are staying. Hope they serve Bardolino there as we may need a little " hair of the dog" and peace and quiet after the first night of the Bardolino wine festa. Fun crazy time.
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Oct 4th, 2013, 08:29 PM
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Hi Skip and BA! Or might the moniker Bacchus and Ceres be more appropriate as it would appear the gods have decided to revisit one more La Dolce Vita Italia in the most capable bodies of you two! What a wonderful itinerary and it sounds like you two are partaking to the fullest! And you still have 21 days to go? I think the over under would be 18 days at this pace but I would not bet against you! Did I see a visit to Cantina Lenotti?
We love you two and are thoroughly enjoying our vicarious travels with you.
Thanks and Safe Travels.
Andy and Polly
Life is good!
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Oct 5th, 2013, 11:42 PM
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Iseo trifecta--we loved Iseo but now have to relate 3 different things that happened to us, all on the same day as we have discovered.
1--dinner bill--had a quick meal at a nondescript place on the square one night. Average food not worth a review. Discovered the next morning we had had been given the wrong bill. There were only 3 tables eating. Not a wrong item, but we had paid the wrong bill. Upon further review, our Germans friends got our cheaper bill and we got theirs. Only about a 10 Euro difference , but the start of a trend.
2--parking ticket-- we parked in the white line parking but apparently overstayed the max time while eating and paying for the wrong bill. Police station closed on 2 separate attempts to pay.
3--laundry-- the same day 1 and 2 happened we picked up a weeks worth of laundry at the cleaners. 2 days later and now in Bardolino we open the bag and discover it is NOT our laundry! Don't know name of the cleaners. No name on bag. We need our laundry. Some guy needs his.

So yesterday drive an hour or so back to Iseo. First try to pay ticket again. Police station open but they won't open locked door. Finally they do when I show the ticket and it is paid. (Must be no crime in Iseo as police open 4 days a week, 4 hours each day). Then go to laundry. Closed but opens in 30 minutes. Along comes the lady who runs it, sees me and starts with about a hundred apologies in Italian. I give her the wrong laundry. She gives us ours and it's back to Bardolino with the Iseo trifecta completed.
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Oct 6th, 2013, 12:02 AM
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Bardolino wine festival--we wanted to stay on Lake Garda near Verona to see both for the first time. Picked Bardolino because there happened to be a wine festival going on at the time we planned to be on Garda. Perhaps best described as--
Start with a New York City street fair or small Southern county fair, add in scores of kids and hundreds of dogs, both on leashes or in strollers, dozens of food stalls, a few small concert venues, 2-3,000 Germans escaping South from Octoberfest and you begin to get the picture. Oh yeah, there's wine. Lots of wine. You buy a souvenir glass and then go from one food/ wine stall to another paying a nominal charge for each glass. All while 60s, 70s and 80s American rock and roll music is being played on loudspeakers along the beautiful Bardolino waterfront. Can't make it up.. Lots of people, lots of wine, lots of fun. The Germans, who apparently love Lake Garda, were the primary revellers. Italians and other folks from North Europe also in good numbers. Spoke to one American in two days. Definitely worth going if you are in the area on the first weekend of October
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Oct 6th, 2013, 05:44 AM
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I think I'm coming up with a plan for my next trip to Italy...

If you take the side trip to San Fruttosa from Portofino, continue on from SF to Camoglie by ferry. The fronts of the buildings were amazing. We did all three in a day trip from Cinque Terre.
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Oct 6th, 2013, 08:08 AM
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Thanks kwren. We live on the water and love a good boat trip.
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