Switzerland with kids in February

Old Sep 15th, 2005, 09:03 AM
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Switzerland with kids in February

I fly to Geneva with 2 kids (12 and 9) in February for 9 days. We will ski in Wengen for 5 days. Where else should we go? Bern? Interlaken? Lucerne? Geneva seems to be not recommended by some of the travel books. Thanks!
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Old Sep 16th, 2005, 02:42 AM
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If there is any way you can fly into Zurich, you may will find that a bit easier for the trip to Wengen, as it will save you an hour on the train journey. Getting to Wengen from Zurich would take 3 hours and require 2-3 changes, versus Geneva which will take 4 hours and require 3-4 changes. Take a look at rail.ch for schedules. You can then either fly home out of Geneva if you want to see that end of Switzerland (see below), or fly out of Zurich.

Not sure if your plan for the 5 days was to ski every day, if so, you might want to spend 6 days in Wengen (esp as you may not ski the first day as you won't arrive until the afternoon) and take one or more days off to explore the valley or go down to Lake Thun or the Brenerzee, take the train up the Jungfrau, do some cross country skiing, sledging, some winter walking, etc; there are numerous activities in the area. Also, you might want to build in a day in case it is very cold or snowy and you can't ski, which does happen. IMO there is nothing to see in Interlaken, and you are already in the most beautiful part of the area. There are other lake towns which are more interesting, like Thun to see the castle and their very nice old town (about 30 minutes by train.). There is an outdoor at Feilichtmuseum that is also interesting. However, in February, the ferries are not running, so coming down the valley to the lakes would not be so high up on my list as it would be in summer, as a ferry ride on the lakes with the snowcapped mountains in the distance is one of the best things about a trip to Switzerland, IMO.

I am not such a fan of Lucerne, but for a half day to see the old town if would be fine, and could be a stopping point on your way back to Zurich. As you will already have been in the mountains, there would not be a lot of point to go up to Titlus or the other mountain areas around Lucerne, and also the ferries don't run in the winter, so a large part of the reason to go to Lucerne would not apply to you or in February.

If your kids can sit for a good 8 hours, a great trip would be the Bernina Express train. This goes up and over the Bernina Pass through some spectacular scenery and IMO is the best of the "panorama" trains in Switzerland. From Wengen, this would be a series of two longish 7-8 hour train rides, which you could break it up by going to Zurich for a day or two first or staying overnight in the St Mortiz/Pontresina area. However, this might be a bit ambitious with kids, so going to the Lake Geneva or Zermatt areas might be better. For information on the Bernina Express, go to http://www.rhb.ch. Click on "English" in the lower right to get the English version. Click on "Experience Trains" and then look for the Bernina Express. Also take a look at rail.ch for an idea of the time it would take to do this from Wengen.

I agree that Geneva is not much, esp with children, but the lake area further east around Vevey, Lausanne and Montreux is quite beautiful and worth seeing. It is usually a bit more temperate there in February, there are in a little bit of a sun bowl. There is also Chillon Caslte which I think you kids would enjoy (I know I always do, one of the best castles in Europe in terms of the ability to get inside and look around). You can get to Geneva airport from this area in about an hour by train, so it is easy to stay in down the lake and then fly out of Geneva. Of all the lake towns, I prefer Vevey, although you really can't go wrong with any of them. Run a search on this board as this area is very popular.

To get to the Geneva area from Wengen, you could take the Golden Pass train, take a look at goldenpass.ch

Antoerh alternative would be to go to Zermatt which has excellent skiing in addition to the Matterhorn. You can then get a train to Geneva in about 4 hours (or take a late day train and just stay out near Geneva airport.)

As noted in my response to yoru other post, Wengen would not be my among my most recommended places to ski in Switzerland, as I find the runds narrow and the lift and cable car system is not that convenient.

I am not a fan of Berne, and would pick Lake Geneva far and away over it.
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Old Sep 16th, 2005, 11:37 AM
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I'll chime in about the towns outside Geneva as already mentioned above.

Vevey is also my most favorite. But Montreux is a close second. I think there's great stuff to see with kids, and much more friendly than a big city like Geneva. I'm not sure which things are available in winter though. I'd normally suggest boat rides on Lac Leman (Lake Geneva), the Saturday morning farmers market in the Vevey town square, the sight-seeing tram from Montreux train station up the mountains called Rocher de Nayes, definitely Chateau de Chillon outside Montreux.

www.vevey.ch
www.montreux.ch

This area couldn't be easier to get to by train when you land at the Geneva airport. Simply walk thru the connected buildings from the airport, catch a train, it's ~1 hour out to Morges, Lausanne, Vevey, Montreux (in that order coming out of Geneva).
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Old Sep 16th, 2005, 12:03 PM
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And with Swiss Pass your two kids gets a free Family Pass whereas kids under 16 go free as long as there is one adult buying a pass! (Ask for Family Pass when buying your Swiss Pass) From what you said above i have little doubt that Swiss Pass would be good deal for you - especially since kids go free. Note that though you can buy Swiss Passes in Switzerland at stations they are significantly cheaper now if bought in the US thru RailEurope - i always recommend BETS (800-441-9413), Swiss rail experts who don't charge some of RailEurope's mailing fees though they are a RailEurope agent. Their free European Planning & Rail Guide has a chapter on Switerland by rail with rail map, etc. I saw this guide originally listed in Frommer's Budget Europe magazine as one of their top 100 travel tips and highly recommend it for novice train travelers. Note the Swiss pass covers rail travel in full from Geneva to Wengen - and to all other places you mention - ask about consecutive day passes - check www.sbb.ch for Swiss Pass prices in Switzerland and point-point ticket prices and call RailEurope or BETS for prices in US dollars - same pass, same benefits but for some reason cheaper now in US. Check it out and see for yourself.
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Old Sep 22nd, 2005, 06:47 PM
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Thank you for the information. Unfortunately United miles have already been booked to Geneva. Although Wengen doesn't sound like the best place to ski, the town looks beautiful and hopefully it will be adequate for the kids. The other stops you mention sound great especially the Chillon castle. Is it necessary to book Wengen this far in advance or can I wait a few weeks before when the snowfall has declared itself? Thanks
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Old Sep 22nd, 2005, 10:24 PM
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I would book the hotel in Wengen now, as you never know if your holiday week will coincide with European school holiday weeks, if so, hotels could be crowded or already booked out. If it is not a school holiday week, you will find rates lower anyway as hotels know the schedules, they don't really change rates based on snowfall, they are based more on holiday and school vacation schedules. Cancellation is usually 30 days out (check each policy), so you can cancel in January if your plans change or if for some reason snow looks thin.

As you are flying into Geneva, what you might do first is go to Vevey/Montreux area and relax for the first few days so everyone can get over the jet lag before trying to ski. This will also save you from having to take a 4+ hour train ride on top of an overnight flight. The train ride from Geneva airport to the Vevey area is about an hour to 1.5 hours, depending on which town you end up choosing. After you have spent a few days in the lake area, you could then take the Golden Pass train up and over the mountains and down into the Interlaken area, and you probably would enjoy the train ride (which is very scenic) much more when you are rested and are not in the same clothes you flew in all night.

Another thought after doing the lake Geneva area is to take Goldenpass train as far as Gstaad and stop there first (or on the way back from Wengen). Gstaad has some good skiing and has a very, very charming downtown area with lots of wooden chalets, very Swiss style and much prettier than Wengen, although the surrounding mountain area is not nearly as spetacular, IMO. (Don't get me wrong, it is still very beautiful.)

On the trip back, you could take the faster "regular" Swiss train from Wengen via Bern back to Geneva, about 4 hours. This will require you to overnight in Geneva as you have an early morning flight out of Geneva, but with that 7:30 am departure time, if you save the lake Geneva area for last and stay down in Vevey you will have to get on a train sometime between 4 - 4:30 am to get to the airport in time, so overnighting at the airport may be the best option anyway. There are hotels at the airport if you want to take a late evening train out of Wengen or Gstaad.

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Old Sep 23rd, 2005, 01:49 AM
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What time does your return flight leave from Geneva?

Cicerone is correct that there are hotels close to the airport including a Holiday Inn as I recall.

The last time we flew out of Geneva we actually stayed at a downtown hotel and wear easily able to take the train out to the airport since our flight home didn't depart until between 10 and 11 in the morning.

I agree with both the Chillon castle and the trip up to Rochers de Naye ideas. The latter is exciting in and of itself just for the trip up..steep, steep, steep with fabulous views on the way as well as from the top. Unfortunately, sometimes the views from the very top may be totally obscured by cloud cover.

What are the children particularly intersted in?

I assume you are already familiar with this site for Swiss ski reports:

http://switzerland.skireport.com/
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Old Sep 23rd, 2005, 02:08 AM
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ecp222; book your hotel now. February is high season for skiing. We always book a year in advance. If you haven't booked yet, perhaps look at Megeve (France); it's only 1 to 1 1/2 hours by ski bus from Geneva airport, the village is pretty, and skiing is great at all levels (www.megeve.com).
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Old Sep 23rd, 2005, 11:01 AM
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FYI, English schools will all have their halfterm holiday break 10-19 February inclusive. This time of year is ALWAYS peak price time, and usually coincides with European halfterm holidays too. So if these are your dates don't waste any time in reserving accommodation. I wouldn't think in February there will be any problems at all with snowfall - that usually applies to December and possible early January.

But have a great trip anyway. I wish I could be skiing this winter - anywhere!
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Old Sep 24th, 2005, 01:31 AM
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February is also Fasnacht time. There's a nice Fasnacht Fest in Lucerne on Thursday, 23. February and Monday and Tuesday, 27 and 28 February. There is music, parades and just a wonderful fest. Definately something to see.
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Old Sep 24th, 2005, 08:05 AM
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These are all great ideas. Thank you so much. Here is a rough schedule. Arrive Saturday, February 19 and train it to Vevey or Montreux. Go to Chateau de Chillon on Sunday and then to Gstaad for 3 nights. On Wednesday take a train to Wengen and ski for 3 more days until
Saturday. My plane leaves Geneva on Sunday at 10:15am so I'll have to get closer on Saturday night or just go straight to Geneva late Saturday night. This sounds like alot of moving but my kids only ski 3-4 hours until they get tired which leaves alot of down time to rest or sightsee.
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