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Switzerland: Just beginning to plan our trip ...

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May 25th, 2006, 03:58 PM
  #1
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Switzerland: Just beginning to plan our trip ...

First, I want to say I've been reading a lot of posts about Switzerland, and it seems to me that the people who post about Switzerland are among the kindest and most helpful on all this forum! You guys rock!

Okay. I've just begun planning a trip to Switzerland for late next summer (2007). My ancestry is almost pure Swiss, so there are some places we must go simply because we'd like to visit some personal heritage sites, etc. It seems that this means renting a car for part of the trip (though I think we can do the first half without a car).

So far, this is my rough sketch of a trip. I have not yet looked to make sure all the time schedules work out, so if you notice that something is awry, please let me know.

Also, I will be taking this trip with a number of people over 65, so I don't want to cram in so much that they'll become achy and not enjoy themselves.

NOTE: I have seen many of the place names so much that I thought I had the correct spelling in my head, but I don't! I'll learn them, I promise. Accept my apologies for my errors.

Day 1: Arr Zurich - head to Pontresina. Sleep Pontresina.
Day 2: get to St. Moritz early; take Glacier Express to Zermatt. (What Mom wants, Mom gets!) Sleep Zermatt.
Day 3: Zermatt.
Day 4: Zermatt to Wengen. My understanding is this is about 4 hours, so I'm hoping we could get there shortly after noon, which leaves us time to do something; undecided yet what to do. Sleep Wengen.
Day 5: Days 5 and 6 are interchangeable to give best weather for trip to Jungfrauhoh. One day up to the Jungfrauhoh. Walking one leg of the trip, but I can't remember which part ... to Kleine ... what's the Kleine? That part.
Day 6: (Interchangeable with Day 5) boat trip on Breinz; to Ballenberg museum. (My Dad will take hours at Ballenberg, I'm sure!) Sleep Wengen
Day 7: Explore more Wengen/Lauterbrunnen (wow, I totally can't remember how that one is spelled)/Murren; go to the restaurant on Gimmelwald that everyone is raving about! Sleep Wengen
Day 8: To Bern area; explore Bern city. Sleep Bern or Bern area.
Day 9: Pick up car. Head out to historical ancestral places (cemeteries, churches, etc.) - Wynigen, Langnau, Munsingen, etc. Sleep Bern or Bern area.
Day 10: Head to Neuchatel for more ancestral stuff. Stay LeLocle or nearby.
Day 11: Head across the border to France for more ancestral stuff. Stay Montbeliard.
Day 12: Either head back to Zurich for flight home or stop somewhere in between - suggestions?

Questions:
1. Recommendations on accommodations?
2. Will the Jungfrauhoh (that spelling can't be right) trip take a full day, considering we want to walk part of it? I would like to take the early trip up; will that be possible if we walk part of the first part?
3. The BLS timetables for the boat trips are confusing to me for some reason. Are the listings such as "Bern 300" and "Merligen" and "Grunten" the boat equivalent of a bus stop?
4. Good things to do in Bern?
5. Would you stay in Bern, or just near? Or is it easy enough to get from Bern to Wengen and back that we should just stay in Wengen again?
6. Anything that strikes you as a bad idea on this very tentative preliminary plan? Suggestions or thoughts?

Planning is such fun!!! I love this. Thanks, everyone!
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May 25th, 2006, 04:29 PM
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Sounds like a wonderful trip! And you've done great with your planning so far. I'm not one of the "Swiss experts" you mentioned, but they are probably asleep right now, so I'll start this out:

It's "Jungfraujoch", and you were really close. It sounds like you want to walk up to Kleine Scheidegg from Wengen, and then catch the train up to the Jungfraujoch from there. Good plan. But. . . if you want to be on an early train (good plan to avoid the crowds, and get the best weather), you'll have to start walking really early, because everyone else will have an easy train ride up (from either Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen). Would you consider the downhill walk from Kleine Scheideeg back to Wengen after your Jungfrau trip instead, or would that be too hard on the knees? (I can understand that; we avoid the downhills whenever possible).

The Jungfraujoch trip generally takes a half a day, unless you want to spend a lot of time there, or perhaps walk out across the snow to the Mönchjochhütte.

And you're so right, planning is so much fun. I'm planning a family trip there myself, for earlier in the same summer. My husband's ancestry is Swiss, but he doesn't know where to find his relatives. . . so we just go where we like.
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May 25th, 2006, 04:55 PM
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Thank you, Enzian! The suggestion of walking back from Kleine Scheidegg is a good one. I'll look into that. Scheidegg Scheidegg Scheidegg... Jungfraujoch Jungfraujoch Jungfraujoch ... okay!

If you want to tell me your husband's family name(s) I can tell you if I come across them in my research. If not - I understand!

Another question for the group to add to all the others: Is it worth it to spend a full day in Zermatt, or should I skip that and head straight to Wengen on day 3?
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May 25th, 2006, 05:08 PM
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I think that will depend on what you want to do there, as well as the weather. We go for the hiking, and I want as much time there as possible. (I'm planning 3 nights there).

If you are going mainly for the Matterhorn view, it might be good to allow some flexibility in case it is cloudy one day and you don't get to see it. On the other hand, Zermatt is one of the more expensive places, so you might be motivated to reduce the overnights there. But I'd still vote to leave your schedule the way it is, with day 3 (and night 3) in Zermatt.
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May 25th, 2006, 05:38 PM
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I have several comments. I find it hard to believe that Gimmelwald has a restaurant that draws rave reviews!!
Perhaps it does, but my image of the place is that it is a stop on the Schilthornbahn with a watering trough for hikers next to a house with a cheese for sale sign out front.

I think you may want to walk from Kleine Scheidegg downhill to Wengen. If you walk upwards, it is fairly steep. Besides, there is enough to do at the Jungfraujoch that you may not be at full steam when you finish.

Specifically, the walk along the snow track out to the hikers' shelter on the adjoining peak is a tremendous walk, certainly it has much more to offer than walking the path between Wengen and Kleine Scheidegg. (And I have done both.)

Also you make no mention of riding up on the Luftseilbahn to the crest of the Männlichen, that ridge that towers some 4,000 feet above the Lauterbrunnen Valley. That ridge crest provides some of the most dramatic views in the Berner Oberland for some at less than mountain top level.

Another factor that you may want to consider in going towards Gimmelwald and Mürren is that the Schilthornbahn promises to be more active than normal this summer because the elevator on wheels that ran up and down the side of the valley between Lauterbrunnen and Grutschalp is out of service while the new one is being built.

That means that everybody bound for Mürren and the Schilthorn that rode up to Grutschalp in years past will now be forced to take the Schilthornbahn up from the Valley Station located near Stechelberg.

Under normal conditions on a nice summer day, the Schilthornbahn would be full of people. With the added load, I have no idea what to expect crowd wise.

The trip to Ballenberg West, where the entrance to the museum is located that is convenient to the bus stop, is easily done by train and Post Bus from Brienz.

While in Brienz, I recommend taking a look at the wood carvers' shops along the street close to the lake. We bought some very nice pieces last summer for various presents.

The Ballenberg exhibition covers acres and acres of ground. In case you are not familiar with it, there are Swiss farm houses in all types of architecture that have been rebuilt and, in many cases, put back into working order. For example, most of the bakeries function as does the saw mill. When I was there, I watched the miller while he sawed up a large tree into lumber.

You are corrrect that you want to get a clear day for the Jungfraujoch. Otherwise, you will be viewing expensive clouds. I have only been up there twice because on earlier visits I have had bad luck on the weather. It is an expensive trip, and you definitely want to maximize the viewing opportunities.

While you are in Zermatt, I also hope that you have a clear day. If you take the Gornergrat train to the end station, you will catch views of the Matterhorn to your right on the ascent. Once at the end station, you will have a chance to view the huge massive of Monte Rosa and those huge alpine glaciers while the Matterhorn looms large like a sentinel to the west.

I spent a day in Bern, and there is not as much to do there I has hoped. We visited the ugly bear pit and wandered around the streets. We went there that day becausse it was pouring rain all over the Berner Oberland.

If you want to spend hours and hours at the Ballenberg museum, you might want to take the train and bus because the boat is slow and can eat up viewing time at the museum. You probably would not want to ride it both ways.

There is a lot to do and it sounds like you will have a full schedule. I wonder if the group will be unanimous in keeping up with the somewhat ambitious travel plan you have put forth??

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May 25th, 2006, 08:11 PM
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Thanks, Bob, for some really good comments. I hadn't yet come across Luftseilbahn in my research (or if I have, it didn't sit in my memory), so I'm going to look that up. Also good call on taking the bus back from Ballenberg. I hadn't even thought about that, but it really makes sense. Note that my trip is summer 2007 not 2006, so I'm hoping the Murren funicular (or is it a cable car?) will be fixed/finished/whatever. I have been reading posts about that dilemma in this forum. Do you know when it's scheduled to be completed? I would hope it wouldn't take more than a year!

You said that my travel plan sounds ambitious, whereas I, not familiar at all with Switzerland, was worried that it was too slow. That's why this forum is so valuable!! What parts would you say are overly ambitious, or do you think that of the whole trip?

Bern is sounding more and more like a half-day excursion; however, there is a church there that we want to go to and look up some old family records. Also, Zermatt, maybe we don't need that much time there.

Anyone have an opinion on Glacier Express vs. Bernina Express?

Thanks so much!! And yes, I'm reading as many other Switzerland reports as I can get my hands on ...having a delightful time doing it and getting to "know" you guys through your posts! Lovely!
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May 26th, 2006, 03:51 AM
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Why Bern compared to Luzern? Luzern is one of the most beautiful cities in Switzerland. You've got lake, mountain, river views, good shopping, medieval ramparts and good food. Bern, while having its charms, is nowhere near as interesting IMO.
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May 26th, 2006, 04:04 AM
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Hi suspire,

Just a few comments here --

If you do take the Glacier Express to Zermatt, do keep your two overnights there because you'll need to stay still after a long train ride on days 1, 2, & 4. *I* think your plan is ambitious because you have so many travel days, and because you've loaded so many hours of travel in the first days after your arrival.

I agree with JN to spend at least one night in beautiful Luzern. There are direct trains from Luzern to the Zurich airport that take about an hour, so you may want to linger there for your last day/days.

I've never taken the Glacier Express, but I have heard some people describe it as boring after the first hour or so -- it's an eight-hour trip, which to me is about six hours too much of a good thing (and I LOVE trains!). I have taken the Bernina Express and thought it was wonderful -- I even got off at Alp Grum to eat lunch and stare at the glacier, then caught the next train.

Good luck!

s
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May 26th, 2006, 04:15 AM
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suspire
"Also, I will be taking this trip with a number of people over 65, so I don't want to cram in so much that they'll become achy and not enjoy themselves."

LOL

I ride (67 years old) a bike 50+kms three times per week normally.

I have a woman who is just coming back from a pilgrimage. This starts near St.Jean de la Luz on the Spanish and French border. Then she walked to Santiago de Campostello (sp??) for a total of 800 kms. She's a bit younger than me but she's at least 64 years old.

Her ankles hurt and her legs are aching too but that's a long walk.

So, don't give a chance that your elders may be walk with the others.

I'm just laughing but I'm serious too. Some of the olders may kick butt going up the hills.

Blackduff
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May 26th, 2006, 04:40 AM
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Here is another vote for the Bernina express. It is the trip of a lifetime. We only took it as far as Poschiavo (leaving from Pontresina) but it was a trip we still talk about. In Pontresina, I can strongly recommend the Hotal Albris...their Engadiner Torte is to die for. Hopefully the wonderful Ingo will weigh into this discussion. He is the Engadin expert.
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May 26th, 2006, 08:16 AM
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Blackduff - you're right, I should not have stereotyped! I should have said, the 65+ year-olds who will be going with me are NOT the type who have been biking 50km a week! They have been told they have a year to get in good enough shape to go on an easy 2-hour walk. But you're right, I should not have generalized. I'm speaking specifically of the people who are going on this trip with me.

As to Luzern - the reason we're going to Bern over Luzern is purely a matter of where our ancestors came from. They came from the Bern area, Emmental Valley, Neuchatel, and up northwest into France. I am sure there are many beautiful places we'll miss due to taking time for the heritage stuff, but the heritage stuff is the driving force of this particular trip. I guess I'll just have to plan to return! Nonetheless, our trip itinerary is in constant flux at this stage, so I'll keep Luzern in mind if our travels head that way.

Sounds like the Bernina Express might be our better bet. I'll check out those towns you all have mentioned. Thank you!
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May 26th, 2006, 09:07 AM
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FYI, you can take a boat from Interlaken to Brienz and then catch the bus to Ballenberg. The boat leaves from across the street from the Interlaken Ost train station. (This is the train station with trains to Lauterbrennen and beyond.) The bus to Ballenberg meets the boat at Brienz.

Also from Interlaken we took an little old train up to Schynige Platte, where there's a alpine botanical garden, nice views of Lake Thun, and lots of walks, not too steep.

I gather you are doing most of your travel by train. Have you looked into buying Swiss Passes? They're quite expensive, but pay for trains, buses, and boats. (Some of the trains in the BO are private, like the expensive trip up to Jungfraujoch. But offer discounts with the Swiss Pass.) We found it worthwhile to buy a Swiss Pass -- somewhat to our surprise.
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May 26th, 2006, 09:17 AM
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Mimar - we're definitely looking into Swiss Passes! It sounds like there are lots of different choices though - Swiss Pass, Half-Fare Card, Swiss Card...? - I'm going to have to get out the ol' spreadsheet and crunch some numbers once we know more specifically what we want to do. Thank you for the suggestion!
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May 26th, 2006, 01:06 PM
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May 26th, 2006, 01:32 PM
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Hi suspire,

I also think your itinerary is quite ambitious. It is definitely not slow.

I see you did a good job researching for your trip. Although I am glad you are trying to squeeze in the Engadin I must say it is quite out of the way for your trip, sorry. It is at the very Eastern edge of Switzerland and a looooong train ride from your other destinations. Also, just one full day in the area won't give you a chance to capture the difference in culture/language from the rest of Switzerland. It is hard, but I feel tempted to recommend against the Engadin on this trip. Maybe you can come back one day and do an Engadin/Ticino combo?

(Yes, the Bernina Express is definitely much more scenic than the Glacier Express.)

Why don't you head straight to Lucerne from the airport? Spend the nights exploring this area instead of Pontresina/Zermatt. And add one day to your stay in Wengen.

Like Bob I doubt that there is such an outstanding restaurant in Gimmelwald. In my memories it is just a hamlet (in gorgeous setting) with low budget accommodations - and one or two restaurants which serve typical, average Swiss (Bernese) Food.

I recommend that you start your trip up to Jungfraujoch with the cable car ride up to Männlichen - walk from there to Kleine Scheidegg where you catch the train to Jungfraujoch. It is an easy walk of about 1.5 hours and not crowded at all in the morning. All the time you'll have that gorgeous panorama right in front of you. (and don't miss the short detour at the start to Männlichen peak, only 20 minutes, for the best views). Add the hike on the glacier to Mönchsjoch hut from Jungfraujoch and have a simple lunch there. This excursion will come out as a full day, I am sure. You'll want to rest from time to time and also take photos

I am one of the few who think Bern is worth more time. I have spent five nights in Bern a couple of years ago and loved it. Did day trips to Neuchatel, Biel, Murten (Lakes cruise), Kleine Scheidegg and spent the other two full days in Bern itself. It is a very interesting town IMO. To get an overview walk up to the Rose garden - great view over the old town. Stroll through the old town, watch the fountains with figures, see the Gothic Münster church (stunning stained glass windows, sculptured western portal, climb the tower), see Zytgloggeturm (Clock tower) with figure play, peek into the Einstein house, have a glance into the Baroque Heiliggeist church, join a guided tour of the parliament building. If you are into museums etc. you could visit the Historical Museum (very interesting), the Alpine museum, Postal museum. Other options are the recently opened Paul Klee museum (ZPK) and the Kunstmuseum (Art museum). Places for a leisure walk and recreation are the Elfenau park, the previously mentioned Rose garden, the beaches by the river below the parliament building and Mt. Gurten (funicular). Beside sightseeing I enjoyed shopping very much - and I am not a big shopper! Strolling under the old arcades, buying a souvenir here and a shirt there, having a hot chocolate in a cafe ... that's fun.

Bern is centrally located for visiting the places in the Emmental you mentioned. Definitely stay in Bern.

The BLS listings on timetables you mentioned confuse me too. Merligen, Gunten are boat stops, yes. But these are on Lake Thun, not Lake Brienz. Bern is not on a lake. I guess it means railway station Bern, (printed) timetable page 300 (the route from Bern to Thun - Spiez). It lists the connections by train/bus.

For proper advice on accommodation we need a price range.

Ingo
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May 27th, 2006, 09:50 AM
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I think the Gimmelwald restaurant recommendaton came from a discussion here somewhere. I believe it is notable for the lovely views from the deck, as well as for the Rösti and bier---not a gourmet place, just pleasant Swiss lunch fare with a knockout view.
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May 27th, 2006, 01:46 PM
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Just a comment on the various passes, with the amount of travelling you intenmd I would think the Swiss pass is the only one that would be cost effective. From 06 you get 50 per cent reduction on the mountain railways and as you said the boats and trains are paid for. One tip if you do go on the boat to Brienz pay the extra for 1st class, you get away from the Swiss children who use the boats as a school bus, it can be noisy.
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May 27th, 2006, 06:04 PM
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Good tip on the Brienz boat! I will look into that for sure. And thanks also for the tip that Swiss Pass may be the way to go.

Ingo - I just finished one of your trip reports. What a wonderful way you have with words, and such great detail! Fabulous.

As to the price range for our trip ... We have people with a variety of budgets going along - mine probably the smallest. I expect I'll probably end up paying slightly more than I would if I went on my own, and that's okay. We are not extravagant people; we don't need spas, saunas, frills and whistles. View is probably one of our greatest criteria. Location, meaning close enough to things without being noisy at night, is another. I would say maybe we're looking for 3 star quality at 2-3 star prices? Does that sound reasonable for what I'm looking for?

Also, I am considering looking into renting a chalet for our time in Wengen, since we'll be there several nights. Could end up being much cheaper. If anyone has any good recommendions for such, let me know.

We are also just starting to consider the possibility of hiring a local guide with a small minibus to drive us through the Emmental Valley to our ancestral places. Anyone have a good lead on how to find such a guide? I've sent an e-mail to www.smit.ch; I'm hoping someone there can read my English and will get back to me!

thanks all!
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May 27th, 2006, 06:06 PM
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Oh, also - wanted to mention that on the advice of you wise people, we are re-thinking the Engadine / Glacier and/or Bernina Express part of our trip. I think you're right - that is probably better left for another trip when we have time to enjoy it fully.

When, again, was I going to win that lottery so I can just quit my job and travel?!
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May 27th, 2006, 06:09 PM
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enzian - I was just looking at some of your other posts. Are you from the Seattle area? So am I!!
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