Planning 10-day trip in Switzerland

Old Dec 16th, 2023, 06:45 PM
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yk
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Planning 10-day trip in Switzerland

Hi, this summer I'm hoping to visit Switzerland with my family for a 10-day trip. I've been to Switzerland a few times before, most recently in 2010 with my brother and my parents (there's even a TR posted here ) so I'm quite familiar with it. But I want to do something slightly different this time and therefore can use your help:

Right now I'm thinking a 10-day trip (give or take one day), but I haven't booked plane tickets yet. I actually want to fly into Milan (new-to-me) and depart from Zurich.

Here's a rough draft:
Day 1 — arrive Milan, sightsee Milan, overnight Milan
Day 2 — to Lake Como, spend a few hours, onward to Lugano, overnight Lugano
Day 3 — Lugano and environs, overnight Lugano
Day 4 — Bernina Express Bus to Tirano, then BE train to ??? (see Q below)
Day 5 — Glacier Express ??? to Brig, then onward to Interlaken, overnight Interlaken
Day 6-8 — Interlaken, visiting Lake Spiez, Lake Thun, jungfraujoch, some hiking in Wengen/Lauterbrunnen
Day 9 — Luzern, overnight Luzern
Day 10 — Zurich, overnight Zurich
Day 11 fly home

Question 1: I had this same Q in 2010 and once again have the Same Q again now. Where should we overnight between "Bernina express" and Glacier Express? I don't like St Moritz. in 2010 we ended up in Celerina, but i'm wondering if we should stay in Pontresina? Or Samedan? Or go all the way to Chur?

If we pick Pontresina or Samedan, then "Bernina Express" day will be shorter, but GE day will be longer.
If we pick Chur, then "BE" day will be long, and GE day a bit shorter.

Question 2: My understanding is that we don't *need* to take the special tourist Bernina Express train for that route; we can simply take regional trains. However, if we go all the way to Chur, that will require 3 changes on that day (@ tirano, Pontresina, and Samedan). So there's my dilemma of where to stay and also if we should pay extra for the tourist BE train.

Question 3: How does the rest of the itinerary sound? I feel like I'm visiting fewer places than my previous 2 trips to Switzerland in the same # of days, yet this still feels like moving around a lot. But I'm not sure if I can really cut out anything. My spouse and my son have never been to Switzerland so I want to share with them the places that I really enjoyed. (skipping Zermatt, St Moritz and Bern as I didn't find them as charming)

Thanks in advance!
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Old Dec 17th, 2023, 12:21 AM
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Q1: Given that you will probably see almost nothing of the town where you stay overnight (or at least not much - late arrival, early departure) it is IMO important to be in a lovely mountain setting plus have a nice area between train station and your hotel.
Pontresina proper is located quite a bit uphill from the train station, a little inconvenient IMO, otherwise it fulfills the criteria. Samedan's train station is closer to the beautiful old centre but I found the area around the train station to be somewhat ugly/overbuilt in modern style and with lots of commercial/transport buildings. Chur is a bigger town, not sure if you would like it if you did not like Bern. My suggestion would be Bergün, half way between Engadin and Chur, a nice village with Engadin style houses in beautiful setting.

Q2: I would take the regular regional trains, the changes will go smoothly and you'll be happy to walk a few meters after sitting on the train for that long.

Q3: Sounds good to me. The Glacier Express day will be very long, though. I am wondering if it is really worth doing this - you never know about the weather and if it is rainy or the clouds are hanging low you won't see much. Is there a chance you skip it and go straight to Interlaken via Zürich? That's a scenic ride also, just different, and you see plenty of mountains on that trip.
Many people will tell you not to stay in Interlaken but I am not that strictly against this town. For your planned excursions it is actually the perfect hub.
And Luzern is perfect for the night before the flight home.
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Old Dec 17th, 2023, 02:56 AM
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Are you particularly interested in a visit of the city of MILAN?
If not, I would recommend to take a direct train from Milan Malpensa airport (MXP) to Lugano immediately after arrivel. Trains every hr, journey time 1 1/2 hrs.

If you skip the visit of Milan, It wouldn't make a big difference whether you REACH OR LEAVE Europe at MXP or ZRH.
If you arrive at MXP: direct train to Lugano (every hr, 1 1/2 hrs journey)
If you arrive at ZRH: take the next train to Zurich HB and change there to a Lugano bound train (every 30 min, 3 - 3 1/4 hrs journey)
If you leave from ZRH: trains from Lucerne every 30 min, 1 hr journey
If you leave from MXP: train from Lucerne or Zurich to MXP the evening before (last departure at 6pm, 4 1/2 hrs journey, change at Lugano).

LAKE COMO
The Lugano - Tirano bus runs along Lake Lugano and Lake Como anyway.
If you waant to spend more time there, you can do a day trip from Lugano (may be bus Lugano - Menaggio, boat Menaggio - Como, train Como - Lugano).
IMO, tit would be a better choice to spend this time around Lugano, whiere you would find much more interesting things to do.
As a compromise, you could take a aftenoon bus plus ferry from Lugano via Menaggio to Varenna or Bellano (may be Lugano dp 15.50 - Menaggio ar 16.54 - Varenna ar 17.50).You could then spend the evening/night there and go on by early morning train Varenna dp 7.25 to Tirano - BERNINA -Pontresina ar 10.56. This would enable you to spend almost a whole day in the Engadin Valley.

ENGADIN
IMO the nicest village is Sils Maria. But it wouldn' make sense to go so far away of the Bernina/Glacier-Express itinerary, if you spend only a short ime in the area. If you start at Varenna at 7.25, you would arrive at Sils Maria at 11.35. If you come by Bernina Express bus from Lugano and Bernina Express from Tirano, you reach Sils Maria at 16.35.
The best would be to spend at least a full day in the area.

GLACIER EXPRESS
AS yoiu don't go up to Zermatt, one of the highlights of the whole Glacier EXpress ride (not the village, of course, but Gornergrat, Schwarzsee, Matterhorn Paradise, etc.), you must not necessarily sit 7 hrs in this train. A break at Andermatt would be a good idea. From there you could go on by Postbus over the mountain Passes directly into the Bernese Oberland: a much more spectacular ride than the train itineray via Brig.
Proposal 1: Andermatt dp by Postbus 15.51 via Schoellenen Gorge - Susten Pass - Steingletscher Glacier (30 min stop) to Meiringen ar 18.11 (Interlaken ar 18.55 by connecting train)
Proposal 2: Andermatt dp by Postbus 15.34 via Furka Pass - Rhone Glacier - Gletsch (30 min stop) - Grimsel Pass to Meiringen ar 18.34 (Interlaken ar 19.24 by connecting train).
Proposal 3: As an alternative, you could visit ALETSCH GLACIER, the longest glacier of Europe:
Andermatt dp by local train 45 min after arrival of one of the 4 Glacier Express trains from St. Moritz - Fiesch ar 1 1/4 hr later, put your luggage into the railway station lockers and take a gondola to viewpoint Eggishorn, 2900 metres above sea level (Panorama: Aletsch Glacier, Jungfrau, Matterhorn, Weisshorn, Mont Blanc, etc.......) Gondola ride: 20 min OW. You may then go down again by gondola and reach Interlaken by train (2 hrs journey). The better solution - of course - would be to spend a whole day in the excellent Aletsch hiking area.
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Old Dec 17th, 2023, 11:05 AM
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neckervd Sorry for some reason your post didn't show up when I started typing my response. I've been to all the places I listed in Switzerland, but have never been to Milan or spend time in Lake Como (besides passing it on the Benina express bus ), so that's why I wanted to include Milan on this trip for *myself* as a new destination. And good point about Glacier Express, so in my revised itinerary I've scraped it completely.

Ingo , as always, I'm deeply grateful for your help. I think you make a good point about Glacier Express... I've already taken it twice before and itself is a long ride. I don't think my son (age 11) would enjoy two days of long train travel. I am also rethinking flying out of Zurich! maybe we will skip Zurich altogether and fly out from Geneva instead.

Rethinking about my previous trips, the experiences I loved most regarding Switzerland are:
ferry trips on all the different lakes
Bernina express train route
Hiking in Berner Oberland
cogwheel trains / cable cars etc up mountains
Ballenberg

Here is a revised itinerary:
Day 1 — arrive Milan, sightsee Milan, overnight Milan
Day 2 — to Lake Como, spend a few hours, onward to Lugano, overnight Lugano
Day 3 — Lugano and environs, overnight Lugano
Day 4 — Bernina Express Bus to Tirano, then train to Chur (3 hours Lugano to Tirano, break for lunch, then 4 hours on train to Chur) Overnight in Chur
Day 5 — train to Luzern (2.5 hours), sightsee Luzern, overnight Luzern
Day 6 — day trip to Pilatus (or Rigi?), overnight Luzern
Day 7-9 — to Interlaken, visiting Lake Spiez, Lake Thun, jungfraujoch, some hiking in Wengen/Lauterbrunnen; base in Interlaken
Day 10 — GoldenPass train to Montreux, and ??? (please see question below)
Day 11 fly home from Geneva

Questions:
1. For day 10, where would be a good town to stay overnight? Montreux? Lausanne? Geneva? I haven't booked plane tickets yet but right now the cheapest option is a 2pm flight out of Geneva, which should give us plenty of time to take the train either from Montreux or Lausanne to the Geneva airport. I'm looking at the GoldenPass schedule, even if we take the earliest train, we won't get into Montreux until 12:20pm. So this only gives us half a day to tour whichever town/lake Geneva. Should we stay in Montreux and visit Chateau de Chillon? Or head to Lausanne and do boat ride instead? Even though I visited both in 2010, I don't have a very specific memory of either place despite looking back at photos and reading my TR.

2. None of the main travels will require seat reservations EXCEPT for the Bernina Express bus between Lugano and Tirano, is that correct? The rest of the trip we can just hop on any train, including the GoldenPass train between Interlaken Ost and Montreux?

3. It's been over a decade since my last trip; i'm assuming there are still luggage lockers at train stations?

What else am I missing, or other suggestions to tweak the itinerary?

Last edited by yk; Dec 17th, 2023 at 11:10 AM. Reason: added response to neckervd
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Old Dec 17th, 2023, 11:59 AM
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Day 5: you may reach Lucerne by Glacier Express and treno Gottardo (via Andermatt).Or take the Voralpen Express from Pfaeffikon to Lucerne (with a layover at Pfaaeffikon SZ on Lake Zurich, however. Both solutions take more time but are much more scenic.
Question 1: Montreux is the nicer place to stay: Chillon, boat cruises, etc.
Reservation for Bernina Express train is compulsory and that for Golden Pass Panoramic is highly recommended.
No problem with luggage lockers at Swiss railway stations, but there are none at Como, Lecco, Varenna, Tirano (that means in Italy).

Last edited by neckervd; Dec 17th, 2023 at 12:03 PM.
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Old Dec 17th, 2023, 01:03 PM
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You're welcome, yk! I am happy to help. The revised itinerary sounds very good.

On day 5 I would try to get to Lucerne as soon as possible and enjoy the time in the old town plus along the lake promenades there. You're taking plenty of scenic train rides during this trip, no need to spend more time than necessary on this leg.

Q1: I would stay in Montreux proper, try to catch a boat either to Chillon or back (depending on schedules.) Your son will love castle Chillon.

Q2: I would make reservations for both Bernina Express (bus) and Golden Pass Panoramic.

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Old Dec 18th, 2023, 08:27 AM
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Just 2 points:
1. You plan to visit Milan (mostly churches, museums and metro rides between) just after a overnight flight. I confess that I wouldn't be able to enjoy this kind of things after a night with only few sleep.
As an alternative, you might check to move from MXP to Lugano instead of Milan (1 1/2 hrs by trains instead of 45 min by train) and to relax in and around Lugano (boat rides, open air museums, medeival castles,viewpoints, etc.) on day 1. For me. this k9ind of outdoor things are muc less tiring than a big city. You could then to visit Milan the day after as a day trip from Lugano (1 hr 15 min by train OW).

2. What do you mean exactly with "Lake Como, spend a few hours there". Do you mean to visi the city of Como, a viewpoint like Brunate or Pigra, a botanical garden like Villa Olmo or Villa Carlotta, to do a boat ride up to Arcegno or Bellagio......? According to your exact plans, it could make sense to visit "Lake Como" from MIlan, on your way from Milan to Lugano, from Lugano or on your way from Lugano (or may be Milan) to Bernina.
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Old Dec 18th, 2023, 10:05 AM
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neckervd You raised some very good points, and the very first segment is exactly the part of the trip that I'm not happy with. Arrival day will be brutal; my only goal is to see The Last Supper and visit the cathedral. If I have any remaining energy left, I'll swing by the art museum.

The thought behind visiting Lake como = train from Milan to City of Como, drop off luggage there (tourist website recommends the company "bounce" 'for left luggage), take ferry to Bellagio, walk around, ferry back, then train to Lugano.

Another option is to flip the itinerary around by flying into either Geneva or Zurich, and go the reverse direction, ending in Milan. that way we may have slightly more time for Milan sightseeing (and less tired) I think you're right about doing a day trip to Lake Como from Lugano area seems more desirable.

I wanted to start in Italy first because of weather and crowds, assuming that if we hit Milan / Italy at end of June might be slightly better than 10 days later during first week of July.

Back to the drawing board.
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Old Dec 18th, 2023, 11:57 AM
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Lugano - bus - Menaggio - ferry - Bellabgio - ferry - Como - train Lugano (or vice versa), all without luggage, would be easier indeed.
Lugano - Como is just 30 min by train
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Old Dec 18th, 2023, 12:29 PM
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You are getting great advice and I cant comment other than to say we did stay a Pontresina one year and enjoyed it. The walk to the train station to take the BE was not a problem, but we do carry on. I Love Milan and there is really a lot to see there. That said, I agree with the comment on trying to enjoy it on your arrival day is not a great idea. So I think flipping your itn would help with the Milan portion.

Your idea for Bellagio seems really rushed! Maybe just see Como and move on?
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Old Dec 18th, 2023, 06:56 PM
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If i flip the itinerary, it will look like this

Day 1 — Arrive in Geneva, train directly to Montreux, visit chateau de Chillon, ferry ride around the lake; overnight Montreux
Day 2 — GoldenPass train to Interlaken , arrive around midday. Afternoon visit Lake Thun; overnight Interlaken
Day 3 — Jungfraujoch; overnight interlaken
Day 4 — Ballenberg/ Lake Brienz; overnight interlaken
Day 5 — Luzern day trip; overnight interlaken
Day 6 — half-day hiking @ Lauterbrunnen/Trummelbach falls, afternoon train to Chur via Zurich; overnight Chur
Day 7 — Bernina express/regional train to Tirano; onward to Lugano; overnight Lugano
Day 8 — Lugano
Day 9 — Day trip to Lake Como (Menaggio, Bellagio, Varenna); Overnight Lugano
Day 10 — To Milan; overnight Milan
Day 11 — fly home

How does this look? We will have to move up our trip timeline by one week so we aren't ending in Milan in July (thinking about heat and crowds). I have the biggest concern re: Day 6, is it realistic we can finish hiking by say 2 or 3pm? I want to maximize that day cuz Chur for us, it's just a place to sleep, so it's okay if we don't get there until 7pm or later. With this revised itinerary, we also move hotels less, which saves us time packing/unpacking as well as checking in and checking out.
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Old Dec 19th, 2023, 08:09 AM
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We have visited most of the places you have on your itinerary. I think arriving later in Chur is fine. Several years ago when we took the train from Zurich, and arrived in the early afternoon, there were hardly any people except the locals in Chur.. By evening, the little town was full of tourists. Everyone seemed to be coming back from hiking all day.

My vote is to take a scenic ferry from Como to spend day exploring Bellagio. Charming little town.

it’s good that you switch to have Milan at the end. You probably know this (but we didn’t at the time) but if I remembered correctly you need to have your church ask for permission to be admitted into the Cathedral. Also, advance tickets are needed for the viewing of “The Last Supper.” We visited in Sept. and was told tickets needed to be at least made a month in advance. I loved Milan. Have a fun holiday.
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Old Dec 19th, 2023, 09:21 AM
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All the plans you published until now are feasible and have your pros and cons.
As to post 11:
Interlaken is a handy transport hub butz may not be tthe most attractive place for a 4 nights stay.
Anyway, I wouldn' move from Interlaken to Lucerne and back if the next destination is Chur.
What about:
Day 5 hikes in the Bernese Oberland
Day 6: Train to Lucerne, luggage into the lockers. Visit of the town and may be some surroundings. Departure to Chur or any place in between itowards the evening.

Lake Como - Lake Lugano:
All Tirano - Milan trains (every 1-2 hrs) stop at Varenna Therefore, it might be easier to stay at Varenna instead of Lugano for 2-3 nights and to visit Lugano in a full day trip from either Varenna or Milan.
In the case you prefer to go by bus from Tirano to Lugano, I would stay there for the last 3 nights, visit Milan in a day trip from there and reach MXP by direct train from Lugano.
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Old Jan 5th, 2024, 03:32 PM
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I haven't done anything since mid-December except for monitoring plane ticket prices... 3 weeks have gone by and now it appears to cost $100 more to fly into Geneva instead of Zurich.

If we fly into Zurich, the flight doesn't arrive until 12:30pm. We will have to skip the entire idea of Montreux/ chateau de Chillon. but maybe we can visit somewhere near Zurich? 20 years ago I visited Stein am Rhein/ Rheinfalls / Schaffhausen which I thought was quite pleasant. Or to St Gallen (never been)?

Then day 2 we can visit Luzern enroute to Interlaken and pick up our itinerary listed above.

I feel like I keep going back to the drawing board... just wish plane tickets aren't so expensive (i know i know, we are going in June which is peak season)
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Old Jan 6th, 2024, 04:09 AM
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Will you buy a Swiss Travel Pass, a half fare card, combined with saver tickets or regional passes?
May be 100 USD isn't much more than a train fare between Western and Eastern Switzerland.

If you arrive so late at ZRH, I would go straight to Lucerne and relax there.
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Old Jan 6th, 2024, 02:29 PM
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We loved Zurich and IMO was more appealing than Montreux. My DH loves it for its scenery but also because there were very few tourist shops (not like Interlaken). In Zurich, you could consider taking a boat ride across the lake to a little village called Rapperswil. There were stops all along the lake. Not sure what day you arrive but if on Sunday, all the shops were closed but nice castle and rose garden to visit. There are several scenic hikes you could take (check All Trails).

Another small town worth visiting is Bellizona, (the Italian side of Switzerland). We took a 2 hr. scenic bus ride from Chur. (Train faster). It's a beautiful small village surrounded by 3 medieval castles & mountains. We hiked to all 3 castles in one day. Gorgeous views from each one. You can take take a train into Milan (I think only 1 1/2 hr or less away).

.
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Old Jan 26th, 2024, 01:33 PM
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I'm still in limbo; have been watching airfares for another 3 weeks. Perhaps I should have jumped at the prices sooner but I didn't. Now all the cheap fares are gone — this is particularly tricky because we are essentially doing a multi-city trip flying into Geneva and out of Milan (from Boston) — and not many airlines have connections to both of those cities. As a result, I'd have to buy 2 one-way tickets rather than r/t and they are much pricier.

Now onto Plan b (or maybe Plan E by now?) is to fly into Geneva and out of Zurich, with 11 full days/11 nights on the ground. Can i sort of go counterclockwise? Would this make sense?

Geneva -> Montreux -> Goldenpass -> Interlaken -> Lugano -> Ticino -> Bernina pass -> Zurich

Day 1 9:30am arr to Geneva, onward to Montreux, lake cruise, chateau de chillon; overnight Montreux
Day 2 Goldenpass to Interlaken; afternoon hiking; overnight interlaken
Day 3 Jungfrau ; overnight interlaken
Day 4 Ballenberg, lake Spiez; overnight interlaken
Day 5 onward to Luzern; overnight luzern
Day 6 Gotthard Panorama Express to Lugano; overnight Lugano
Day 7 Lugano & environs; overnight Lugano
Day 8 Day trip to Milan; overnight Lugano
Day 9 day trip to lake como; overnight Lugano
Day 10 Long Travel day from Lugano via Bernina Express all the way to Zurich (overnight Zurich)
Day 11 Zurich (overnight zurich)
Day 12 fly home from Zurich

there are 3 long journeys on this trip:
Goldenpass — 3.5 hours (Day 2)
Gotthard express — 5.5 hours (Day 6)
Bernina express — about 10 hours from Lugano all the way to Zurich, with a 1.5 hr lunch break (Day 10)

11 overnights would be:
1n montreux
3n interlaken
1n luzern
4n lugano
2n zurich

Does this itinerary make sense or is this insane? Being able to fly into Geneva and out of Zurich will keep the airfare cost down to about $1000pp; vs $1500+ for flying out of Milan
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Old Jan 26th, 2024, 11:53 PM
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Doable, but IMO too much travelling around, too much time on trains and buses, especially since you plan day trips as well. An excursion to Jungfraujoch also means hours inside trains e.g.

Btw, there is no Lake Spiez, you probably mean Lake Thun.
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Old Jan 27th, 2024, 08:02 AM
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Everything is feasible, but you will not have much time at the places you pan to visit.
Day 1:
Arrival at Montreux railway staton at 11.40, hotel check in around noon. You will have enough time for a Superior Lake Geneva cruise and for the visit of Chillon castle.
But don't underestimate the jet lag after your overnight flight with Air Lingus.
Day 2:
I suppose you will leave Montreux at 9.34 and arrive at Interlaken at 12.50. Really spetacular hikes don't start at Interlaken.Wherever you go (NIederhorn, Gruetschalp, First......) you can hardly start your hike before 3pm. That's not a problem as it will get dark around 9pm only. Bur you may still be tired just 1 day after arrival in Europe.
Say 3:
All will depend on the weather. The horribly expensive Jungfraujoch trip makes only sense if the weather is really fine.
Day 4:
Ballenberg, Lake Brienz paddle steamboats and Giessbach Hotel is your first relaxing day.
Day 5.
You will arrive at Lucerne around 11am and will just have time for a visit of the town and may be a short look into the 2 main museums (Swiss Transport Museum and Rosengart).It might be better to book a morning guided tour (last one at 10am) and to visit individually in the afternoon. You will have no tme for the suroundings (cog wheel railways to viewpoints) for sure.:
Day 6:
The Gotthard Panorama Express trip cuts the whole day. You can do almost nothing at Lucerne before 11 am and not much at Lugano after 5pm.
I would either leave Lucerne with the first boat at 9.12, change at Fluelen to the Treno Gottardo and arrive at Locarno at 14.27 (Lugano ar 14.35) or spend the whole morning at Lucerne and leave by boat (with board restaurant) at 13.12 (with arrival at Lugano at 18.35).
Day 9:
A day trip to Lake Como brings nothing, as you will pass through this area the day after anyway. You can better invest your time in Lake Lugano where is really much to see and to do. If it must really be another lake, go to Lake Maggiore and visit the castles and the bonanical gardens of Isola Bella and Isola Madre islands.
Day 10:
Stop over at Pontresina. Nice alpine Valley and better hiking than at Interlaken for sure.
Day 11:
Leave Pontresina in the eveniing, may be Pontreina dp by Bernina Express 16.24 - Zurich airport ar 20.12
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Old Jan 27th, 2024, 02:25 PM
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I want to say that I really appreciate your thoughts. I know I'm packing way too much and I definitely find your input helpful.

Another possibility would be: Fly in/out of Zurich, focus on Lugano/Bernina pass and Berner OBerland. Skip Geneva/Montreux/goldenpass completely, skip Lake Como

Day 1: arrive zurich, directly head to Lugano, spend afternoon walking around town; overnight Lugano
Day 2: boat trips around Lugano; overnight Lugano
Day 3: day trip to Milan; overnight Lugano
Day 4: Bernina express - Q is where to stay overnight? - want to head over to Luzern area by the next day
Day 5: Luzern; overnight Luzern
Day 6: Luzern; overnight Luzern
Day 7: Berner Oberland
Day 8: Berner Oberland
Day 9: Berner Oberland
Day 10: Berner Oberland
Day 11: Zurich
Day 12 fly home from Zurich

OR:
Day 1 : arrive Zurich, onward to Lugano
Day 2-3: Lugano/ day trip Milan (as above)
Day 4: Bernina express, overnight in Chur
Day 5 : Glacier express to Interlaken
Day 6-8: Berner Oberland
Day 9-10: Luzern
Day 11: Zurich
Day 12: fly home

Option 2 makes more sense to me, though we would be on 2 scenic trains back-to-back.

Are there better ways to organize our 11 days/nights? I'm a bit sad to skip Geneva/Montreux
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