Switzerland 10 days in September

Old Mar 28th, 2005, 05:28 PM
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Switzerland 10 days in September

Hi,

We are a couple in our late 20s and will be visiting Switzerland for the first time this September, for about 10 days.

Can anyone offer any ideas on what cities that we must visit ? We are considering Zurich, Lucerne and Interlaken. Are we missing some "should-not-be-missed" place ? Our interests are mainly in nature, scenic drives, easy-moderate hiking, and a little bit of history and culture.

Also, what are some recommended scenic routes to drive ? We are considering taking some train rides and also renting a car for a few days and driving. Any tips on where we should take the train, vs where we should be driving ?

Also, to put things in context, we will be arriving from Austria and then traveling to Italy.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions !
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Old Mar 28th, 2005, 06:07 PM
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IMHO, I would avoid Interlaken unless you enjoy a frat party scene. Rahter than be at the base of the Alps go INTO them! I highly recommend Gimmelwald, not to be confused with a larger town called Grindewald.

Gimmelwald is a tiny little village in the middle of the Alps. We intended to stay there for one night on our 2 week trip through Austria and Switzerland and we ended up staying for 5 night! it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

There are many other nice towns that you can get to via funicular and trams. Check out Murren, Grindewald, Lauterbrunnen (sp?).

Check it out at www.gimmelwald.com.

We drove the entire 2 weeks and all of it is scenic. I think it would be from the train as well.

Lucerne is very nice and worth 2 days. We didn't make it to Zurich but we hadn't intended to.

Switzerland is gorgeous!
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Old Mar 28th, 2005, 06:17 PM
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We were in Switzerland in September 2003, traveled there from Paris via train, used trains exclusively in Switzerland (Swiss pass), and then trained to northern italy.
We stayed in Lauterbrunnen, and would definitely do it again! From there, you can take easy daytrips via train to Lucern, Interlaken, Grindlewald, etc. The train rides are a rare treat in themselves, a relaxing way to view gorgeous scenery. And Lauterbrunnen is a good base for numerous trails in the Berner oberland. Have a fabulous trip!
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Old Mar 28th, 2005, 06:23 PM
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Hey, I'm doing a similar trip this June! My main piece of advice is to skip Interlaken unless there is a specific reason you picked it. Usually, people go there to be near the Berner Oberland's Alps. However, Interlaken is not the Alps, although you can see them in the distance from there.

Instead, take the train about 1/2 hour south from Interlaken to any number of resort towns that really are in the Alps. Grindlewald, Wengen, and Murren are popular and touristy. Lauterbrunnen is a little quieter. Tiny Gimmelwald is a great choice (and my choice for my trip) if you like rustic and want to get away from tourist mobs. All 5 have great views, are good springboards for hiking of any difficulty level, and zipping up to the Jungfrau or Schilthorn. And Interlaken is less than an hour away by train from any of these towns.

From what I have read, French Switzerland is about the only area worthy of car rental. The rest of the country is well done by train. When you are done with the Berner Oberland, you could take the super scenic Golden Pass train route from Interlaken to Montreux. From there, rent a car and explore the region.

With 10 days (and 9 nights?), I would do something like this:

2 nights Luzern
3 nights in the Berner Oberland
3 nights in French Switzerland
2 nights in Lugano (since you're headed to Italy afterwards).

My other major piece of advice would be to skip Zurich. It's a fine city and worthy of a few nights, but personally I would not give it priority over any of the places above (except maybe Lugano).

Also, be very flexible with your itinerary here. The Berner Alps are probably Europe's most spectacular natural wonder but only IF the weather is clear, otherwise other Swiss places are more interesting. So, as you enter Switzerland check the weather forecast. If there is great weather in the Alps right off the bat, skip Luzern and head straight for the Oberland. You can reshuffle your itinerary afterwards to accomodate Luzern. I'm flying into Zurich and I won't book any hotels in advance because if the weather is good when I land, I will head right for the mountains. Otherwise, I'll spend my first 2 nights in Luzern.
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Old Mar 28th, 2005, 06:28 PM
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One last thing. Like eurotraveller's experience, it's quite possible you will get to the Oberland and not want to come out! If that's the case, there are lots of good day-trips that can be done by train from any Oberland home base. Brienz' open-air folk museum, lake rides from Interlaken, Thun castle, and even Bern, Murten, and Avanches can be done as day-trips.
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Old Mar 28th, 2005, 06:52 PM
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Edward 2005 gives fine advice--but if you want to include seeing the Matterhorn, and especially if you are going to the Italian lake area later, consider 2 nights in Zermatt instead of Lugano. Go there by train, not by car, as you have to park the car in Tasch anyway and then take a short train to Zermatt.
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Old Mar 29th, 2005, 04:14 AM
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Thanks all for the great information !

As I read through the suggestions, it appears that instead of packing up and moving every couple of days, I should pick a base, and then do day trips from there. Does that make sense ?

If so, would Luzerne and Gimmelwald be good bases ? And I forgot to say in my original post - that we love to visit castles ! Are there any good ones around these bases ?

Is Montreux and Lake Geneva worth the trip towards the west (given that we will be heading to the east to Italy) ? If we had 2-3 days remaining after we finish Luzern and Gimmelwald, what would the fine folks here recommend ?

As a base, how accessible is the "small town" of Gimmelwald ? While I am all for small, rustic, non-touristy places, I also want to make sure that the place is accessible and I dont have to make 3 hops just to get out of town ;-). And how about language - given that we dont speak a word of any language other than English, would a "small town" work for us ?

Finally, is September weather really unpredictable ? Would it really be ok if we dont make any hotel reservations and make changes on the fly ? We are what you might call "very methodic, planned travelers" - but dont hold that against us please !!

Thanks again !
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Old Mar 29th, 2005, 06:31 AM
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I adore the lake area outside Geneva (canton of Vaud). Actually I prefer Vevey over Montreux for a town to base in. But with only 10 days, I'm not sure I'd add this to your itinerary, which seems a bit busy already. These towns are wonderful, and I'd love to live there, but I don't believe they are as spectacular in scenery as some other parts of the country to visit.

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Old Mar 29th, 2005, 07:01 AM
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In the Oberland, Gimmelwald, Murren, Wengen, Lauterbrunnen, or Grindlewald would be fine homebases. There is supposed to be a nice castle in Thun. Near Montreux is Chateau Chillon, which is supposed to be fantastic.

With that much time in Switzerland, you should also look into getting a rail pass of some sort. The Half Fare card costs only 99 SF and will get you 1/2 off nearly all trains, buses, lifts, etc. It is valid for 1 month and is most likely the most economical choice.

The 8-day 2nd class Swiss Pass is $217 (if you buy 2) and will get you free rides on almost all trains, buses, lake cruises, lifts, etc in the country. It also covers intracity transportation such as city buses and subways. It's not likely as economical as the Half Fare Card, but I bought it because it saves the trouble of buying tickets every time I want to go somewhere. Although it does not cover Jungfraubahn and the Schilthornbahn, it does get you 25% off.

This site has more details on rail pass options:
http://www.ricksteves.com/rail/ausswitz.htm
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Old Mar 29th, 2005, 07:14 AM
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Hi Carolposter05,

I agree with suze: for your first, brief trip to Switzerland, you ought to skip the French area.

I think you've chosen your base spots well. And for your "extra" two days, I'd recommend you add one to Luzern and one to the BO!! I don't think you will run out of things to do in either place; personally, I like to plunk down in a base for at least four nights and really prefer six to seven. I really like to dig in to an area and see a lot of what it has.

There are literally dozens of castles in Switzerland. In the BO, you'll find castles in Thun and Spiez. I can't remember any castles near Luzern, but I'm sure there are some. . . maybe go to www.luzern.org and hunt around or do a search for "castles."

Gimmelwald will be a tad remote -- and by that, I mean it will require more connections and more minutes to reach it every time you leave on an excursion. But you can verify this at the Swiss rail website (www.rail.ch) by checking the schedules for your planned day-trips.

I'm pretty sure you won't have a problem with language -- English is a required course in all the schools, even in Gimmelwald! I think, too, that there are more and more Americans going through Gimmelwald, so more natives will be used to speaking English.

September is still a pretty busy tourist time, and hotels can be booked up. There seem to be a lot of festivals that take place in Sept. that draw locals in. You'll probably be able to find a hotel, and it'll be a clean one too, but it may not be nicely located --

Hey Edward2005, I don't agree that folks would need a car in the French area of Switzerland. I've travelled there lots & lots, used a car twice and regretted it both times. There are so many local trains & ferries that carry you everywhere -- really no need for a car. I *might* say that the only Swiss region where a car is useful is the Engadin, where travelers need combinations of trains & buses to get to the isolated villages, but some say that a car still isn't necessary there. But really Vaud is as easy to roam as the BO without a car.

Have fun!

s
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Old Mar 29th, 2005, 07:15 AM
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Prior to any trip I listen to language cd's in my car for a couple of months. I did this prior to my trip to Switzerland. You will find that most people speak some English, even in the small villages. Gimmelwald is accessible via funicular but there is no vehicle traffic in the village other than a couple of very small farmer type pickups.

There are only a few places to stay in Gimmelwald and no stores except for a hut to buy bread and cheese from a farmer. You can walk to Murren from Gimmelwald to buy groceries, visit the post office and withdraw moeny from an ATM.

It is fairly fast and easy to access the other towns via combo of trams and funiculars.

We drove to a parking lot at the bottom of Gimmelwald and parked there during our 5 day stay. We just left it parked there and the fee was not outrageous.

We did a moderate hike to the Kilchbalm Glacier and it was spectacular! We also did many more strenuous ones in the area. Each day you can head in a different direction and you will always be surrounded by beautiful scenery.

I will warn you that you will crave fresh vegetables while in Switzerland! You will eat more bread and cheese than any other time in your life!
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Old Mar 29th, 2005, 07:50 AM
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carlposter05,

First let me apologize for turning you into a carol!

According to the website, www.swisscastles.ch, there are 15 castles near Luzern! The nearest one is at Meggen:

http://www.swisscastles.ch/Luzern/meggenhorn.html

You can hunt around the site to see the others -- the ones at Thun & Spiez would be the best, though, I think.

s
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Old Mar 29th, 2005, 08:37 AM
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Actually I am thinking of getting a Eurail pass. We will be in Europe for a total of 5 weeks (visiting Hungary, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Greece). Would you still recommend the Swiss Pass ?

Also, for the extra 2 days, would Zermatt be a better choice compared to Lugano ?

Finally, is there any segment that we should drive rather than take the train ? We have always wanted to drive through Europe, but if Switzerland isnt the right place, we might consider driving in Austria.

For the most part, we'll be taking the trains, but driving through the country side at our own pace, stopping wherever we fancy, taking side roads to explore is something we definitely would like to do.

What say folks ? Thanks again !
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Old Mar 29th, 2005, 11:03 AM
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Driving in Switzerland and Austria is a great thing to do. It allows you to stop in little villages and wander down roads that appeal to you.

while in Austria I highly recommend a stop for a day or two in Halstatt!
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Old Mar 29th, 2005, 01:02 PM
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Eurotraveller, I definitely agree with that. So do you have any suggestions for some good driving routes in both Switzerland and Austria ? In Austria we have about 8 days - planning to go to Vienna, Innsbruck and Salzburg (but am open to other suggestions as well, although that might be a totally different thread).
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Old Mar 29th, 2005, 07:34 PM
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there's a wonderful town west of Vienna on the Danube called Durnstein (or something similar). was there years ago & enjoyed the bit of history & nice ambiance.
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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 05:02 AM
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I've just scanned this thread, so if I repeat someone else's comments, please forgive.

Re the Eurrail Pass. Years ago, before I became addicted to Switzerland, friends and I used the Eurrail. At that time it was not valid for any of the places above Interlaken. Does anyone know if that is still the case?

Re the castles: Besides Spiez and Thun, there's a lovely small one at Oberhofen on Thunersee. For fortresses, don't forget the three in Bellinzona, if you do decide to include Lugano. (I'm not sure if you've ruled it out yet.) Of course, the one at Montreux is the best IMO.

One more thing that I'll just throw out for consideration if you decide on training Switzerland and like daytrips. If by any chance you'd consider staying at Brienz, a woodcarvers' village at the base of the Oberland with a view of the mountains rather than actually being up in them (I can hear groans), you could remain at one hotel for six nights easy, visiting Lucerne, Bern, Thun, Grindelwald, Murren, Gimmelwald, Ballenberg, Solothurn, and even Chillon as day trips. Brienz to Lucerne is 1:30 via the gorgeous Brunig pass. Brienz to Grindelwald is 1 hour. The Montreux daytrip for Chillon is quite a stretch (3:20), but my friends did it and enjoyed the ride. Staying in Spiez would make that trip shorter, but Spiez faces away from the mountains. Well I've said my piece. Hi all, J.
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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 10:23 AM
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Thanks for all the great info. One more question that I asked earlier, but got lost in the conversations.

Can someone suggest a good driving route through Switzerland (around Lucerne, Berner Oberland, Zermatt, Lugano, etc) ? We'd love to drive through beautiful, scenic, Swiss countryside - hopefully where there arent too many tourists, and we can get to see the "non-touristy" side of this great country.
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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 07:12 PM
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With a car, coming from Austria, head toward Lucerne (depending on your route, you could stop in Appenzell or the Engadine area on the way if desired), then to the Berner Oberland area. From there, you can go down to Zermatt (actually to the Tasch giant parking lot) via either the Kandersteg/Lotschberg train tunnel (you can put your car on the train) or the Grimsel Pass route (we did the latter, which is longer). From Zermatt, you can take the Simplon Pass route via Brig into Italy, and make a side trip into Lugano if desired. Lugano to Milan is a short drive. Most of this route is highly scenic.
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Old Mar 31st, 2005, 02:41 PM
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Thanks taxatty. If we could only chose one route to drive (and cover the rest by train), which one would it be ? We want to get the most out of great drives and great train rides - any tips in helping us where to drive and where to take the train, will go a long way in us reaching the final decision !
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