Switzerland first times!

Mar 26th, 2010, 09:57 AM
  #1  
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Switzerland first times!

Hi All-

My boyfriend and I are planning a trip- neither of us have been to Europe before, and we are having trouble deciding on an itinerary!
We will be flying into Milan on May 26th, and we would like to spend 2 or 3 nights in Northern Italy. We are not that interested in exploring Milan- I think we would prefer smaller areas such as Como and Verona.
After our few days in Italy, we will take the train into Switzerland. I have done a TON of research, but I can't seem to decide on a plan, any suggestions?
Here's some info about us, maybe it will help!
We will be backpacking, will have rail passes, don't have a huge budget (but we're also very low maintenance!), we like to hike and be part of nature, not that interested in museums but like castles and other cool sites. We both enjoy great food and wine, photography, and we don't mind packing a lot of activities into a single day, (hey, we're young! we can relax at home..) We have to be in Prague by the 3rd, or the 4th at the latest. I know it's not a lot of time, but it's all we can afford right now (starving college kids )


My idea for an itinerary is below. I appreciate that it is a lot of stuff in a short time period, but hopefully not to much so. Also, I'm looking into a half fare card or a Swiss pass, because they seem to be the best deal for Swiss travel. But the train from Zurich to Prague is incredibly expensive. Does anyone know a solution for this? Possibly fly?

Day 1: Head for Verona in the morning (from Milan.) See the highlights of the city, spend the night in Verona.
Day 2: Half day winery tour in Verona vicinity. Late afternoon train to Como. Maybe a short hike or boat ride. Spend the night in Verona.
Day 3: Full day in Como, probably rent bikes or do a hike of some sort, over night in Como.
Day 4: Early morning train to Sion possibly. Also considering going to Gruyeres instead. Has anyone gone to both that can say what they prefer? Would stay in Fribourg overnight.
Day 5: Brunch and a little more site seeing in Fribourg, mid day train to Lauterbrunnen. Visit Trummelbach falls. Overnight in Lauterbrunnen.
Day 6: Jungfrau and Wengen (if good weather), Interlaken if poor weather. Overnight in Lauterbrunnen.
Day 7: Schilthorn if good weather (might take this out, Jungfrau might satisfy our top-of-the-alps desires), otherwise Murren and Gimmelwald, overnight in Lauterbrunnen (there is a hostel in Gimmelwald that I am considering for this night instead...)
Day 8: Late morning train to Luzerne. Boat ride and see a few sites. Overnight Luzerne
Day 9: Mid day train from Luzerne to Zurich. Overnight train from Zurich to Prague (this is mandatory since my study abroad program is in Prague.)


Thanks in advance!
Sincerely,
Kaleigh and Andrew
kaleighmh is offline  
Mar 26th, 2010, 10:56 AM
  #2  
 
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Day 6 suggestion - Jungfrau - Wengen.
AFTER you have done the Jungfrau and are descending by train, get off at the Kleine Scheidegg stop. (Think it is the stop right above Wengen). From Kleine Scheidegg there is a BEAUTIFUL 1 1/2 hour hike to Mannlichen with absolutely beautiful views of the mountains and the valley looking down to Grindelwald (not Gimmewald on the opposite side of L.V.) below. At Mannlichen you descend to Wengen via a Gondola.

Hum... we were there June 21 and parts of the path were still covered with snow. So this may not be an option for you in May. Check first.

Also in Lauterbrunnen - you can take a path and walk ut to the base of Starbuck Falls. Also take a quick "peek" of Lauterbrunnen's cemetery.
nannibray is offline  
Mar 26th, 2010, 11:47 AM
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Day 4: Early morning train to Sion possibly. Also considering going to Gruyeres instead. Has anyone gone to both that can say what they prefer? Would stay in Fribourg overnight.>

Yes have been to both and would infinitely prefer Gruyeres as the old-world dreamy walled town of your dreams. Sion is thoroughly modern and lacking almost totally old-world charm. Yet it is in the sweet vineyard-laced Rhone Valley. Sion does has a neat ruined castle and a not ruined castle on hills outside of town. They are really nice but the town itself IMO ho-hum. And Gruyeres is a lot closer to your next destination.

As for Half-Fare Card vs Swiss Pass - you are traveling enough that i would think the Swiss Pass would be better than the Card, which pays 50% off after you pay $100 about to buy it - and with a pass folks tend to travel more than they may think - like hopping a lake boat in Interlaken when they had not planned it - or to do a day trip out of the Alps if a rainy day sets in - Swiss Card is great for folks going from an airport to one place and not moving around that much. Anyway some great sites for helping plan a Swiss rail adventure - www.ricksteves.com; www.seat61.com; www.budgeteuropetravel.com - download their free European Planning & Rail Guide that has a superb IMO chapter on Switzerland that will give you itinerary ideas. And www.swisstravelsystem.com links you to the Swiss Federal Railways site www.sbb.ch - so you can compare normal fares and the Card and the Pass - if you can do a consecutive-day pass those are the best deals - if you can fit their set 4- 8- 15-day consecutive periods into your time frame. Otherwise look at the 3-day flexipass - good for one month with three 100% covered travel days (trains, boats, city trams and buses, postal buses) but in between the first and last 100% covered travel days you get 50% off everything - just like the Swiss Card or Half-Fare Card. And the pass lets you avoid all ticket lines - just hop on - and also you don't have to get a calculator out - in your case i think the pass will be both cheaper and easier. A Saverpass is for two or more folks traveling together - two names on one pass - one person can use the pass without the other being present, however. If you have kids under 16 the get a free Family Pass and always go free - even on aerial cableways that the Swiss Pass pays 50% off on - kids go free always with the Family Pass that comes with the pass - kids must be accompanied by parents - grandparents or aunts, etc do not qualify.
Palenque is offline  
Mar 26th, 2010, 12:35 PM
  #4  
 
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Gruyeres is a lovely charming town with a fabulous castle you can tour. I've changed trains at Sion, but never really hear it mentioned in particular as a tourist destination.
suze is offline  
Mar 26th, 2010, 12:41 PM
  #5  
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Wow, thanks so much for the quick, informative replies!!

Nannibray- that sounds like a great idea- hopefully the weather will be good enough for a nice long walk.
Palenque- thanks so much for the rail info- I'm definitely leaning towards the swiss pass. In cheapest case scenario, the HFC might by SLIGHTLY cheaper, but for the minimal price difference I think I'd prefer the easier-to-use Swiss pass.

On that Day 4, would you recommend spending the night in Gruyeres, or should me move on to Fribourg late in the afternoon? Specficially- can we see the main sites of Gruyeres in 3 or 4 hours? Would accommodations be more affordable in one versus the other?
kaleighmh is offline  
Mar 26th, 2010, 02:26 PM
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I would suggest doing Nannibray's walk in reverse, take the cable car from Wengen to Mannlichen and walk to Kleine Scheidegg, and then if you have time perhaps another day take the train from Kleine Scheidegg to Grindelwald and back to Interlaken. I realise you may not have the time to do both I offer it as an alternative. The falls you can see in Lauterbrunnen are the Staubach Falls. The Trummelbach Falls are few kilometres outside the village.
tipsygus is offline  
Mar 28th, 2010, 06:06 AM
  #7  
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Tipsygus- why do you recommend doing it in reverse? I'm just curious...

Also, if anyone knows the answer.... if we are doing point-to-point tickets in Italy, then a Swiss pass, how does the ticket from Como into Switzerland (probably to Gruyeres) work? When we buy our ticket in Como, do they only charge for the Italy portion? Or should we stop as soon as we can in Switzerland and start using the pass?
kaleighmh is offline  
Mar 28th, 2010, 07:10 AM
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We walked Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg last Oct. and noticed that it was an incline all the way. Not much, but noticeable. A lot of people were walking from Kleine Scheidegg to Mannlichen, but it was up hill all the way. Also, there isn't much at Mannlichen except the gondola, but when we ended our walk at Kleine Scheidegg, there was a very nice restaurant, where we sat outside and had a beer and just looked at all the surrounding mountains. It was a wonderful day, would do it again in a heartbeat. We also went to Como and took a boat ride to Bellagio. We did that as a day trip from Milan. We were a little lazy that day and got a later start then we had planned. Everything seemed to take longer then anticipated, if you want to bike ride and/or boat ride make sure to get an early start.
grace44 is offline  
Mar 28th, 2010, 07:28 AM
  #9  
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Well we are staying 2 nights in Como, so we should have one good full day to ride a bike or hike, or just relax

I'm just sort of confused how to get from Lake Como into Switzerland. It seems like getting to Gruyeres is a pretty long ride, does anyone have a suggestion of a good place to stop on the way for a couple hours?
kaleighmh is offline  
Mar 28th, 2010, 07:30 AM
  #10  
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O I see where the confusion might be- Day 2 should say spend the night in Como, not Verona. Oops!
kaleighmh is offline  
Mar 29th, 2010, 09:30 AM
  #11  
 
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Also, if anyone knows the answer.... if we are doing point-to-point tickets in Italy, then a Swiss pass, how does the ticket from Como into Switzerland (probably to Gruyeres) work? When we buy our ticket in Como, do they only charge for the Italy portion? Or should we stop as soon as we can in Switzerland and start using the pass?>

Yes you just buy a ticket from Como to the first Swiss station - Lugano if you take the route Como- Lugano - Zurich - Gruyeres- the other option would be from Como to take a train to Milan then go via Brig (first Swiss station, at Swiss end of Simplon Tunnel) where you would start your Swiss Pass. (Not sure which would be quicker but the Como-Zurich route (which is also very scenic) would be cheaper as the Italian portion ticket would just be a few euros. so you just buy a Como to Lugano ticket then use your Swiss Pass from Lugano to Gruyeres via Zurich
Palenque is offline  
Mar 29th, 2010, 11:49 AM
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Great, thanks for the advice. I think we might go to Stresa and Montreux/Vevey instead of Como and Gruyeres. It just seems easier given our short amount of time, and the Montreux area and Chillon really sparked our interest. But I believe your advice will apply to this situation as well.
Also, that way we can take the Golden Pass to Lauterbrunnen via Interlaken which is something that we both really wanted to do.

I'm still wondering the best (fastest and cheapest) way to get from Switzerland to Prague. Has anyone ever taken the overnight train? It seems pretty expensive, but we save a hotel night and a day of site-seeing. I would consider flying, but I can't seem to find good information about this.
kaleighmh is offline  
Mar 30th, 2010, 11:02 AM
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kaleighmah - ordinarily you must activate your Swiss Pass at a ticket windor at any Swiss station - but a caveat for folks like you who are coming from another country then and then only the conductor must activate it for you on the train -this is explicitly stated as conditions on the pass i believe. So you do not have to get off a train that is continuing onto Switzerland to activate the pass. IME howeverthe conductor may well not have the necessary stamp to activate your pass and will tell you just to activate it once you reach your destination.
Palenque is offline  
Mar 30th, 2010, 12:44 PM
  #14  
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Interesting. Well maybe it would be better if we didn't get it activated on the way in. I'm considering do a flexi pass and that would save us a day on the pass. Plus, the tickets from Stresa to Montreux are relatively inexpensive so it wouldn't be a big deal
kaleighmh is offline  
Mar 31st, 2010, 09:22 AM
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Actually now it seems, due to a fight between Swiss and Italian railways - mainly the Italians as i can determine - there are very few trains that actually go thru the border anymore - so you will probably have to change at Brig anyway, in which case you would have to hop to the ticket window to activate it anyway - or try to spot the few trains if any that would do say a Stresa-Brig-Montreux direct - then it would be more convenient that way and do it on the train.
Palenque is offline  
Mar 31st, 2010, 11:33 AM
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Well a perusal on bahn.de - the German rail site -indicates that EC Euro City trains still go direct Stresa to Montreux about every two hours - unlike other cross-border Italian trains like to Austria where there are almost no cross-border trains and with France - ditto

Cisalpino was a company run by the Swiss and Italian railways and ran most of the Italy to Switzerland trains under that subsidiary - Cisalpino was disbandedand it went back to each country running the trains inside their country.

I only mention this that like with France or Austria thru trains could always be scrubbed if nutty Trenitalia follows what they did with those other countries.

Stresa to Montreux - i like that - one sweet lakeside resort to another - both dreamy places to me - Stresa, with the Borromean Islands just off shore a bit dreamier to me.
Palenque is offline  
Mar 31st, 2010, 03:00 PM
  #17  
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Palenque- you are a wealth of knowledge. I suppose for nearly the same price, we will do the 8 day consecutive rather than the 6 day flexi, then we won't have to worry about it. Changing at Brig will be fine with us.

I am so happy to hear that you like the Stresa to Montreux change... I was a little apprehensive about cutting out Como and Gruyeres, but I think we will be very happy with this itinerary- specifically because now we can do the Golden Pass.
kaleighmh is offline  
Apr 1st, 2010, 07:24 AM
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Kaleighmh - thanks for your nice comment!

A consecutive-day pass, if it comports to your actual time there to me is the best bargain for most - and in places like Montreux you may use it more than you think - like at a whim jumping on a lake boat and going for the early evening over to Evian-les-Bains France - swank lakeside resort with a Casino and of course really good mineral water. Or you may just hop the train or trolley bus (buses also covered by the pass as are lake boats) to Vevey for dinner and to see that cute lakeside town, etc.

Or if you want to go to Gruyeres, which is a fantastic walled town (Montreux to me is a better base - Gruyeres is nice to visit but i would not revel basing there but more right on the romantic lake in Montreux - anyway Gruyere is an easy train trip from Montreux - and there is also the Chocolate Train - Belle Epoque Pullman wagons that take you first to Gruyeres - where you also visit a Cheese Factory and then the train rolls to Broc-Factory to do a Willie Wonka tour of the Nestle chocolate factory - the train departs from Lausanne i believe - just a few minutes from Montreux by train and climbs up thru large vineyards so you get great views over the lake - wine and cheese are served en route.
Palenque is offline  
Apr 1st, 2010, 05:01 PM
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The Chocolate train sounds so fun! But I think it will have to wait until our next trip since we don't have very many days. Plus, my boyfriend hates chocolate so he might not enjoy that haha (Can you believe there are people in the world who don't eat chocolate?!)
Anyways, I plan on buying the Swiss Pass ahead of time. Should I order to the point-to-point as well (Milan to Verona, Verona to Stresa, Stresa to Montreux, and Zurich to Prague overnight)? I'm worried that it will limit our flexibility, but on the other hand, I don't know how often the trains get full.
Also, for the Golden Pass, in the one portion that requires a reservation, the front VIP seats are already reserved. So, should I still make reservations ahead of time (as in, right now..), or is it only those front seats that require early booking? We will be going from Montreux in the afternoon on a Saturday, if that makes a difference.
Finally, does anyone out there prefer the standard trains to the panoramic trains? I have read that the windows open and close on the standard trains, which is good for air flow and to take pictures. Does the panoramic train add enough to the experience that we should definitely take one instead of the standard trains?
kaleighmh is offline  
Apr 1st, 2010, 05:04 PM
  #20  
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O one more thing, Palenque, we are actually staying in Vevey. We were able to book the Riviera Lodge for a good price. We plan on taking the train into Montreux, then walking lakeside to Vevey. I'm getting so excited, the more planning that we get done! I plan to take detailed mental notes and lots of pictures to share with the forum when we return, I appreciate all the help we've received so much!
kaleighmh is offline  

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