Swiss Trip - Yikes!

Nov 18th, 2007, 06:10 PM
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Swiss Trip - Yikes!

Please help me make sense of this trip! I'm visiting a cousin in Zurich for three days in March and then meeting up with some British friends who want to take the Glacier Express from St. Moritz to Zermatt -- then we'd like to visit Geneva (where our friend lived as a boy)and some other towns in the area.

So we have 10 days: roughly three with the cousin, three on our own, and three with the British friends.

Here are my basic questions:

I thought about heading south from Zurich to possibly visit Guarda and do the Bernina Express ride before meeting our friends in St. Moritz, but then I read all the raves about the Berner Oberland. Is it silly for us not to head straight for the Jungfrau railways and Golden Pass from Zurich instead? Then we could reverse the plan -- meeting our British friends in Geneva and doing the Glacier Express at the end. . .

Also, is the Glacier Express a bad idea? Our friends have always wanted to do it and we really enjoy being together, so eight hours on a train will be fun, but the Berner Oberland sounds so much more interesting. Should I be trying to convince them to go there instead?

Finally, our friends want to do a package (St. Moritz hotel, Glacier Express, and Zermatt hotel). Do you think it would make more sense to use a Swiss pass or Flexi pass and pay the reservation fee and hotel costs on our own?

Any other random advice is most welcome. Thanks so much!

abbydog is offline  
Nov 18th, 2007, 08:06 PM
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I have visited the Berner Oberland several times and I like the area for many reasons.

First, you can see it with all the hiking you want to do.
Second, you can see it without hiking at all!
Mountain lifts and trains take you up to beautiful views.

There are several great places to stay in any one of 4 or 5 villages, the largest of which is Grindelwald. In fact, Grindelwald is hardly a village because so many hotels and other businesses are there.

I also like Zermatt because it is the gateway to some beautiful views as well.

If I had to pick one viewpoint that is my all time favorite, it is the Klein Matterhorn. The ride is expensive, but on a clear day you can literally see forever.

When we were there we could see all the famous peaks, except Monte Rosa. The panorama swept from the Dom on the east, past the Matterhorn and all the way to Mount Blanc in the far distance.

As for the various train rides, I have found that the best way to get the tremendous views in other areas other than Zermatt and the Berner Oberland is to rent a car and drive the passes. The 3-pass drive over the Sustern, Furka, and Grimsel Passes (all in a loop) will give you plenty of viewing.

St, Moritz and the surrounding area is incredible. You cannot lose.
brookwood is offline  
Nov 19th, 2007, 02:09 AM
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Hi abbydog,

Yes, one hears a whole lot about the Berner Oberland -- but not because it has the best mountains in Switzerland; as one poster here says, it only has the best PR. Because of that PR, English-speaking folks tend to head only there and rarely go elsewhere. The BO also has really well-developed tourist infrastructure, so it's comfortable for English-speakers to stay and to get around in. But imo that's no reason to go there --

The Engadin Valley (from Scuol to St. Moritz) is an incredibly beautiful place with majestic, towering peaks and a narrow valley of the Inn River. The architecture is startlingly different from other areas of the country, as they use the local stone instead of wood. They decorate the stone faces with colorful sgraffiti that has been there for hundreds of years.

There are plenty of hikes from the towns in the valley, starting with cable cars to get you going. There are plenty of tiny villages perched on mountains to explore, too, like Guarda, Soglio, or the town of Pontresina.

And yes, the Bernina Pass train ride is probably the most spectacular one in Switzerland.

I spent a week in Zuoz once, and most of the other travellers were German-speaking serious hikers. The German-speakers I've talked to prefer this valley because of its drama and its great hikes. So, don't be put off just because English-speakers haven't discovered it yet. You can be one of the few to actually go off the beaten path!

Here's a link to a Conde Naste article on the area:

(hope the link still works)

Me, I would rather be out exploring the mountains on a gentle ramble than sitting for eight hours on a train like the GE.

Good luck!

swandav2000 is offline  
Nov 19th, 2007, 02:10 AM
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To get a lot of information on this region, do a text search here for "Ingo" and find some of his trip reports -- you'll be won over, I promise!

swandav2000 is offline  
Nov 19th, 2007, 03:25 AM
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Thanks! This is extremely helpful!
abbydog is offline  
Nov 19th, 2007, 09:18 AM
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The Glacier Express is a lovely trip. No way is it a bad idea. I've been to every region of Switzerland many times and I find it all to be breathtaking. BO is beautiful, but it's not as if those are the only beautiful sites in the country. I think the comment about them having great PR is correct.

Sorry I can't be more specific regarding your question about packages, but you really need to do the math and see how it comes out. If the package actually saves you money, that's great. But, even if it's reasonably close it might still be worth it to not have to make the reservations on your own. has listing for 2,500 hotels in every price range in even the tiniest villages. Good place to do research and check prices.
sundown is offline  
Nov 19th, 2007, 09:59 AM
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gruezi is offline  
Nov 20th, 2007, 04:36 AM
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Just saw an excellent and thorough post by Cicerone on another related thread. You might search for it under Zurich or Cicerone....
gruezi is offline  
Nov 20th, 2007, 07:33 PM
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I am the one who has said that the BO does not have better mountains just better PR. I am also the one who has sung the praises of Guarda for a long time, a very charming village, which you really will NOT find in the BO. Grindelwald is not a charming Swiss village by any stretch of the imagination and don't get me started on Interlaken (the only city in Europe with a Hooters, let's just say that and be done with it.)

All the mountain areas you have mentioned are beautiful, and really you cannot go wrong with any of them. Jokes aside, the BO is lovely. However, if Guarda and the Bernina were your first thoughts, then I would stick with them. It's gorgeous too. There is a TON of stuff to do in Guarda and the St Moritz area, I don't know why you would think that there is less to do there. It's a huge activity centre for winter and summer sports for Europeans. Beyond just being knocked out by the views and the lovely villages and the little castles in the Guarda valley, there is cross country skiing and winter walking (see below) which is much easier and better in these broader flatter valleys than in the very, very narrow Jungfrau valley. There is a national park in Zernez with just miles of trails for skiing and walking, relatively flat and easy; the park is about a half hour from Guarda. There are cable cars in many areas to take up for more great views. In addition, there is the hugely fun 8 mile sledge/sled run from Preda to Bergun, just about 45 minutes by train from St Moritz that IMO you guys would love. (this is about 2 hours from Guarda, so is more doable from St Moritz; as you may know, Guarda is only an hour by train from St Moritz, so you could use St Moritz or Celerina or Pontresina as a base to stay and explore the area.) There is also the infamous Cresta Run toboggan run in Celerina, but that is US$200 or so a pop, the Preda is like US$8 for the day.

With regard to the "hikes" mentioned above, remember that in March you are going to find a ton of snow still in the mountains. This will be winter walking on packed trails, with just a little bit of melting going on esp toward late March. It is very different from the summer walking. Still very beautiful if you are dressed for it and have good boots. You can't go as far, IMO, as you get tired more easily. However, also consider snowshoeing, and cross country skiing, both very fun (well, sort of IMO for the snowshoeing, its a lot of WORK!!). Also remember that sleigh rides are a good way to see the countryside, and the Guarda valley and St Moritz valley are perfect for this (again harder to do in the BO, in fact I am not sure it is possible at all). It is also still prime downhill ski season, so consider spending some time doing that. In addition to skiing in St Moritz, Davos /Klosters are close by and are quite good. There is limited skiing in the Guarda valley.

Remember also that the Bernina Express is a series of trains, one of which departs from St Moritz, and you will actually be on part of it when you train from Zurich to St Moritz. The very, very lovely Bergun valley (where the great sledge run is) is part of this first leg. You can break up the Bernina by "doing" the Zurich-St Moritz part of the train trip first, then doing the St Moritz to Tirano trip as another much shorter day trip to and back from St Moritz, this will actually be better as it is a much shorter trip (possibly with your friends from the UK). This will also be cheaper as you can just go regular fare for that leg (and use your Swiss pass), and you do not need to pay for the Panorama cars, and save the Panorama cars where you will really want them, in the high mountain passes and glaciers on the round trip between St Moritz and Tirano. Go to for schedule and for the whole Bernina spiel.

I actually am not a big fan of the Glacier Express, it's not nearly as interesting as the Bernina, IMO, but as a way to get from St Moritz to Zermatt it is fine, and as you say, to sit with friends will be quite fun (and there is beer..,.). Sitting on a train in the winter sunshine looking out onto deep snow is nice too.

The Golden Pass from Zurich to the BO does not really go through pretty areas, IMO. You have to take it on the route over to the Geneva side from Interlaken to get the good views and high passes. This is probably out of your way, although that end of Lake Geneva around Monteux is very beautiful, so it is a thought. (I would actually take a fast 2-hour train from Zurich to Monteux, explore this area, then take the Golden Pass from Monteux to Interlaken to get the good bits of the ride.) The train ride from Zurich to the BO is not, surprisingly, especially scenic and other than the Brunig Pass, which is not even above the tree line, does not go over any high passes. It is Switzerland so there are some pretty bits, but it is nowhere as beautiful, IMO as the ride to St Moritz.

The last thing I will say about the BO is that getting by train from the BO to St Moritz is a pain, it will take you 6 hours and require 4-5 changes. If your cousin has a car (or is a member of Mobility Car Sharing where he can rent one cheaply, not sure if he will be with you) I would drive, it is much faster and in winter there is a fun car train for the tunnel into St Moritz.

Cicerone is offline  
Nov 21st, 2007, 05:54 PM
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Cicerone, I had already sought out your incredibly detailed and helpful threads, so imagine my joy when I discovered you had responded to my query here! I have much to digest, and currently am brining turkeys and undertaking other gourmet feats in preparation for Thanksgiving so my travel musings will have to wait. I'm sure I'll have more questions when I get a chance to sort all this out. Many thanks to you and all Swiss travelers!
abbydog is offline  
Nov 22nd, 2007, 06:26 AM
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Just printed off the info for the EGB Collection which it turns out is right up the hill in my neighborhood. I'm planning to go tomorrow...

Thank you again... I printed out all your information for my own use and when I have visitors. Very, very helpful.

BTW, I think the church bells ring every night at 7:00 at least they do in my town just on the edge of the city.

gruezi is offline  

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