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Need help choosing between Destinations in Switzerland

Need help choosing between Destinations in Switzerland

Jan 19th, 2004, 12:52 PM
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Join Date: Jun 2003
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Need help choosing between Destinations in Switzerland

Hello. I am frequent lurker, rare poster on this board, but I have found the advice of fellow travelers on this board to be extremely helpful.

My wife and I are looking at going away for 9 nights around Labor Day (exclusive of travel time). Originally was thinking Spain but a quick look at the average temps at that time of year, killed that plan. Instead, we are planning to fly into CDG and spend the first 4 days and nights (well, 3.5 since day one is jet-lagged) in Paris. No daytrips. The next five nights are the ones we can't decide upon.

We want to spend the next 3-4 nights in the Swiss Alps (so really 2.5 days after 7 hour train travel). We have decided upon the Valais. We want to do summer skiing on the glacier (among other moderately active pursuits) and that is the only region where that is available. It also appears to take the same amount of train time, despite its remoteness, to get there as it does to get to the Berner Oberland. We cannot decide between Zermatt and Saas Fee. Our initial inclination is Zermatt based on the Matterhorn and more things in the town, but can't really get a good feel for the difference between the two. Can someone who has been to both help us out?

The second issue is where after that? We would need to get to either Zurich or Geneva to fly back to the US. We do not want to take the long train ride the day of the flight back. Thus, we'd either leave early the day before the flight and stay overnight or the day before that sometime. We have read that Geneva/Zurich as destinations tend to offer little (especially after being in Paris).

If we decided to fly home from Zurich we were thinking of stopping for a day or day and a half in Bern. Or instead fly from Geneva and stay in Montreux/Vevey. Which would you choose between Bern/Lake Geneva for a quick visit?

Thanks in advance for any help you can provide.
eschule is offline  
Jan 19th, 2004, 01:11 PM
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I think Geneva has a lot to offer as a destination. We spent 3 days there very happily. The old town is charming, the lake beautiful and we did a trip to Montreaux/Chillon that was nifty.

Can't comment much on Zurich since we spent only 1/2 a day there before an early morning flight.

Separately, am suprised about skiing only in the Valais - when we took the train up the Jungfrau in July one of the things we saw was a ski school - about 6 years ago though - maybe its not there any longer.
nytraveler is offline  
Jan 19th, 2004, 04:07 PM
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Hi eschule-
Can't help you with the skiing part. But for your 2nd question:
Geneva is very beautiful and quaint, so you won't go wrong for staying there.
Bern, on the other hand is my least favorite Swiss city. Seeing the clock tower and the bears were cool, but lodging was expensive and rooms were small. Plus I find it dirty, with tons of punks (aka homeless teenager) hanging around, esp next to the train station.
I did enjoy Zurich, it's not as boring as it seems. And have you looked at options for daytrips outside Zurich? I did a day trip to Schaffhausen, then took a boat ride down the Rhine and visited Stein-am-Rhein, then the train back to Zurich. Train ride was about 1 hr, and both towns were well-preserved medieval towns. The best part was I did not run into any English-speaking tourist all day!
yk is offline  
Jan 19th, 2004, 04:55 PM
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I spent a week in the Saas Valley several years ago, and I have been to Zermatt several times. Zermatt is very touristy, but it provides tourist services better than most places.

Saas Fee is less frequented by Americans. It is a lovely little visit that also is barred to cars.

You park in a big deck near the town and either walk or hope your hotel has an electric cart to come and get you.

The mountains above Saas Fee are very high and very steep. The Dom towers some 9,500 feet directly above the Saas Fee, which itself is on a valley shelf.
As to ski facilities, I am not a skier, so I cannot help you there.

Saas Fee is just as upscale as Zermatt but a little smaller. Which do I prefer? Not sure. I think Saas Fee would be more attractive because it is smaller.

But, Saas Fee is not reached by train while Zermatt is on a private line served from Visp and Brig.

The everywhere Post Bus however goes to Saas Fee and the other villages of the Saas Valley.

bob_brown is offline  
Jan 19th, 2004, 05:27 PM
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I've stayed in Zermatt twice before. Last year (thanks to the recommendation of Bob Brown, specifically) we stayed in Saas Fee for three nights.

I actually think Zermatt is a lot more upscale than Saas Fee, particularly in hotels, restaurants, and shops. I would agree that there are more American tourists in Zermatt -- but also extremely popular with Japanese tourists. The bulk of the tourists in Saas Fee seemed to be British -- at least in mid July when we were there.

Which did I like more? Hard to say. We had really great hikes both places. But I will say that while the scenery is breathtaking in SaasFee, there is nothing quite so spectacular in Saas Fee as waking up in the morning and looking out your window at The Matterhorn! If I were going back to one or the other, I think I'd actually choose Zermatt over Saas Fee. But this is a win-win situation. Both are great places.

As to the rest of the trip? No question. Stay at Montreux and then fly out of Geneva. You can even get to the Geneva airport easily from Montreux if your flight isn't too early. We loved exploring the Lake Geneva area, especially crossing the lake to the lovely little village of Yvoire. The chocolate train to Gruyeres is also a great day trip from Montreux. Bern doesn't begin to compare to the Montreux area in my opinion!
Patrick is offline  
Jan 20th, 2004, 07:04 AM
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thanks for the responses so far. topping.
eschule is offline  
Jan 20th, 2004, 10:18 PM
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Zermatt vs Saas Fee, hummm, that's a tough one. I've been to both and I very much like both, but Zermatt keeps calling me back.

Having said that, the first time we visited Zermatt was in the month of September. It was packed with tourists, and we were so turned off by the crowds that we didn't dare go back for several years. We've since visited many times in the off season, and we love it.

Both villages offer lots of hiking and skiing, both are beautiful.

For comparision purposes, Zermatt has an elevation of 1605m and a population of about 5400. It has the Matterhorn of course, undeniably one of the most spectacular sights in the country. It's a quaint town, with plenty to do and lots of tourists. It's easy to get to via train. For skiing, the Klein Matterhorn has the highest cable station in Europe and the most summer skiing in the country.

Saas Fee has an elevation of 1800m and a population of about 1600. As previously mentioned, it attracts fewer tourists and it's a bit more difficult to get to. Saas Fee is home to the highest underground funicular in the world - Mittelallalin, and the Feegletscher, which has summer skiing.

Zermatt has more nightlife, more shopping, more tourists. Saas Fee is quieter, less crowded and much more sedate.

No matter what you decide, you really can't go wrong.

If this is your first trip to Switzerland, you might want to go to Zermatt to see the Matterhorn. You can also do both - you can base yourself in Saas Fee, and go to Zermatt for the day or vice versa.

Good luck with your travel plans.
Melnq8 is offline  
Jan 21st, 2004, 06:26 AM
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Given that my objective is to see the mountains, I think my vote would be for Zermatt. There are two very rewarding excursions from Zermatt: the Gornergrat train and the cable ride to the Klein Matterhorn. Both have no equivalent in Saas Fee.

Both rides on a clear day put you in a position to get beautiful views of the Matterhorn and much, much more. Monte Rosa, which is viewed from the end station on the Gornergrat rail line, is an awesome mountain - huge and covered with glaciers.
Other mountains of immense size and character loom all around you.

Saas Fee, with the Dom towering up to almost 15,000 feet, rises so steeply and so dramatically that taking it all in is almost impossible.

The trails around Saas Fee are steep, so steep that hiking requires a very high level of fitness. One of them, the Gemsweg, is so steep that coming down it can be dangerous because of slipping.
(Which I did, fortunately I landed flat on my pack and was unhurt.) Most Europeans hike up that thing, but to do that requires top level leg strength.

The streets of Zermatt can be very crowded upon occasion. I think there is a trade off between the level of service that Zermatt provides and the throngs of people who go there.

I wanted to see Monte Rosa and the Matterhorn and I was willing to tolerate the mobs to do it. We took the train as far as Rotenboden and walked to the Gornergrat. Our plan had been to walk back, but the snow became so thick and the fog so dense that I could not see the trail. So many little paths crisscross the terrain that finding one's way is mostly by sight.
(The whole ridge is above timber line, so visibility is unrestricted by trees and bushes -- it is all tundra like.)

bob_brown is offline  
Jan 21st, 2004, 06:42 AM
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For the city part of your question...
I would consider visiting Geneva. You can also have a day trip to Montreux or to Lausanne. Also, Bern is only 1h40 from Geneva by train if you'ld really care to see Bern.
Geneva is a nice city, the old part is beautiful, interesting museums, good restaurants, good to stroll around.
baldrick is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2004, 01:59 PM
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Montreux is gorgeous and entertaining. Vevey is a cute town to visit, but I wouldn't want to stay there, Chaplin notwithstanding.

From Vevey it is about 30 minutes to Gruyeres and about an hour to Berne ( the best part of which, in my opinion, is the scenery along the way).

That part of Switzerland is beautiful, and if you prefer beautiful views to small European cities, stay in Montreux, not Geneva.
LynFrance is offline  
Jan 26th, 2004, 08:00 AM
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Thank you all for your suggestions and descriptions. At this point I am thinking we will go to Zermatt and Lake Geneva.

I have also reconsidered my order of travel. Let me know what you think. Instead of starting in Paris , I think I will end there. I can get a direct flight from here to Zurich which gets in early in the morning and was thinking of going from there straight to Zermatt. Spend that 1st jet-lagged day on the train and arrive mid-day. Spend the next 3 nights there.

Then go to Montreux/Vevey at some point the 4th day and spend two nights (or just one in Geneva itself). This part of the trip is the least set in stone.

Take an early train to Geneva (or taxi if in Geneva) and cacth an am flight to Paris. (I saw easyjet has 2 that get in before noon). Spend the rest of that day and the next 3-4 in Paris. Fly home the following day.

Any thoughts? Thanks again.
eschule is offline  
Jan 26th, 2004, 08:20 AM
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Hi eschule,

I've enjoyed watching your posts & plans evolve.

The Montreux area is one of my favorites, and I have a standard list of things to do there. Either let me know to post it again or do a text search here for "Montreux" to find it.

But my specific advice is to stay in Montreux or Vevey, even on the night before your flight. You can catch a direct (no changes) train from either Montreux or Vevey to the airport, and the trip will only be about 70 minutes. Unless you really like big cities, spending the night in Geneva isn't worth the 30 or so minutes you'll save getting to the airport.

Let me know if I can help further.

swandav2000 is offline  
Jan 26th, 2004, 08:21 AM
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I suggest you check where the Easy Jet plane lands. I don't think it is at CDg or Orly.
If it is where I think it does, you have a looong ride to Paris.
bob_brown is offline  
Jan 26th, 2004, 08:24 AM
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thanks for the heads up. However, I just checked and it lands at orly.
eschule is offline  
Jan 26th, 2004, 09:20 AM
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I like your plan a lot!

2 small comments though:
- can you fly into Geneva instead of Zurich? You save about 1.5 hours of train riding.

- From Montreux/Vevey, it's easiest and just as fast to take the train all the way to Paris - just change for the TGV in Lausanne. Total journey time is under 4.5 hours. There is even very limited direct TGV service from Montreux to Paris (1 train per day on Mondays and Saturdays).

Just in case you haven't found it yet, here's the web site for the Swiss Railways:

I would book my train tickets through them in advance (about 2 months ahead).

Hope this helps,
Andre is offline  
Jan 26th, 2004, 09:25 AM
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The trains in Switzerland run like, well Swiss clocks. They are great. HOWEVER, if you taking lots of luggage be prepared for exhausting loading/off-loading on/off the trains (a two minute stop isn't rare).We prefer to base ourselves in medium sized towns (Chur, Ascona) and take day trips. The Glacier Express train is a must. Have fun......
wpcx2 is offline  
Jan 26th, 2004, 09:29 AM
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Last summer we were ending our stay in Switzerland in Montreux. We had considered taking Easy Jet to Paris from Geneva after taking a train from Montreux just as you mention, but after comparing the schedules and prices, decided it was easier to just take the train. Fortunately we were traveling on a Saturday, so we took that direct TGV departing Montreux at 8:47 and arriving Paris/Lyon at 1:21. There was no way we could have made it door to door in less time taking the plane, and the total costs were very similar.
Patrick is offline  
Jan 26th, 2004, 09:33 AM
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I had thought about flying into Geneva instead of Zurich but to do so would involve a plane change in Zurich 1st (or Paris or wherever). The extra 1.5 hour on the train was at least an hour or so quicker than flying straight to Geneva (and reduces the chance for lost luggage). I will however look into the train schedules straight to Paris v. training to GVA and then flying to Paris.


I have already printed off your suggested itineraries for the Montreux area and plan to use them. Thanks.
eschule is offline  
Mar 9th, 2004, 07:39 PM
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Thanks again to the many people who have responded. All have been very helpful. I have finally booked flights (direct) arriving Zurich early on Day 2 (departure is Day 1) and departing back from Paris on Day 11.

After arriving Zurich I plan to get on the train (puchase Flexi-Pass) and spend the next 3 nights in Zermatt. The train ride appears to be 5 hours with stops. I was hoping to break that up with a stop somewhere nice to get out for a few hours, walk around and have some lunch etc... I was originally thinking Bern because it was the first place I changed trains, but after researching the train stops I am leaning towards Thun or Spiez.

Thoughts for a good place to stop? Thanks in advance.

eschule is offline  
Mar 9th, 2004, 08:25 PM
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I have a bit trouble following your thread as it seems like you have changed your itinerary a few times...

Looks like you will have total of 10 days. You are flying into Zurich and out of Paris.
You want to spend your first 3 nights in Zermatt, but want to know if you can stop somewhere for a short break during your train ride from Zurich to Zermatt. Am I correct so far?

Where are you going to be for the rest of the 7 nights? Geneva? How many nights in Paris?

Anyhow, I would suggest stopping at Luzern. It is a beautiful town by the lake and Mt Pilatus in the background. I did not find Thun too charming (esp when compared to Luzern). I haven't stopped at Spiez, so I cannot comment.

Hope this answers your question.
yk is offline  

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