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What's the best way to travel in Switzerland/Italy

What's the best way to travel in Switzerland/Italy

Oct 31st, 2009, 10:41 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 25
What's the best way to travel in Switzerland/Italy

We are travelling to Switzerland and Italy in May 2010 and spending 12 days total...flying in to Zurich and flying out of Rome. My partner wants to drive but I've been told it's ok driving in Switzerland but Italy not so nice. I'm leaning towards Rail passes.
The only place I absolutely must visit is Poschiavo for a couple of days. (Grandfather born there) Otherwise itinerary is flexible. Any suggestions?
TassieTwo is offline  
Nov 1st, 2009, 01:39 AM
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Railways. Driving in Switzerland is ok, Italian roads are full of Italian drivers. The advice you were given is close to the truth in my opinion.
stfc is offline  
Nov 1st, 2009, 01:49 AM
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Hi TT,

It depends on what you wish to do.

If you are going from city to city, I suggest a train.

If you wish to get into the hinterlands, a car would be better.

Does Poschiavo have a train connection?

Be aware that
A: There will be a fairly large surcharge for car pickup in one country and drop off in another.
B: You will have to pay extra for required reservations on high-speed trains.
C: Railpasses are unlikely to be cost effective in Italy.
D: There are discounts on Swiss trains.

I found driving in Italy to be no worse than in the rest of Europe - outside the cities, of course.

Enjoy your visit.

ira is offline  
Nov 1st, 2009, 06:15 AM
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It depends on the role of driving in your travel.

If the driving is the objective of your (partner's) trip, then I don't think there is an alternative.

Driving in Italy adds additional challenge - unless you are super rich, you probably want to research the routes to dodge ZTL cameras.
greg is offline  
Nov 1st, 2009, 07:18 AM
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It's better to use public transportation in Switzerland. There are a number of desirable destinations where cars are not allowed. And Swiss trains, boats, and buses interconnect most efficiently. Plus the scenery is stunning, and public transportation allows everybody to admire the changing views.

As for Italy, it depends on where you're going. You definitely want to drive if you're touring hilltowns in Tuscany and Umbria. Driving in northern Italy isn't bad, and the freeway is easy.

You don't want a car in cities; it's expensive to park and hard to get around, avoiding those ZTLs. So if you're just doing, say, Florence and Rome, stick to the train.

You do need to take in your partner's point of view and maybe tweak the itinerary accordingly. However, some people are just afraid of public transportation. Once tried, they'll probably change their minds. But then there are the control freaks....
Mimar is offline  
Nov 1st, 2009, 09:32 AM
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Poschiavo has train service, and I'd probably do this itinerary by train.

If you were to drive, unless you're flying in from somewhere else in Europe, it would probably be a good idea to spend your arrival day in Zurich. Then you want to spend a couple of days in Poschiavo and presumably a couple of days in Rome. Now, you're down to about a week between Poschiavo and Rome, a driving distance of about 450 miles. What do you want to see? The most direct route will take you through Verona, Bologna, Florence, portions of Tuscany and Umbria.

Your cost comparisons need to include parking fees, tolls, fuel and the rental drop-off fee Ira mentioned. You can search the route and get toll and fuel estimates at:


You can research train schedules and fares at:

http://www.sbb.ch/en/index.htm [Swiss rail]

http://www.ferroviedellostato.it/homepage_en.html [Italian rail]
Jean is online now  
Nov 1st, 2009, 10:37 AM
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You should decide based on your itinerary. If just a couple of major cities then train is fine. If you want to explore the countryside then you really need a car.

Don;t know why people complain about drivers in italy- I have found them, in general, to be better by far than those in the US. (In the US a chimp who isn't blind can get a driver's license - all you have to do to pass the test is be breathing and not hit anything. Getting a license is harder in europe - they actually test to see if you can drive). You don;t have soccer moms in giant SUVs they can;t control wavering all over the road, people drinking, eating or even reading while they drive, or packs of senior citizens who can no longer see over the wheel and insist on doing 40 in the fast lane.

It's true that rules of the road are followed and enforced (esp NO dawdling in the left lane, which is for passing only) but IMHO that makes driving easier, not more difficult.

There will be a drop off charge for renting in one country and dropping in another - but IMHO it's worth it if you want to explore outside major cities.
nytraveler is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2009, 07:16 AM
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I agree with everyone, just depends what you want to do, where you are going. Personally I like the train because then both people can relax. Depending where you are going and how often you travel, you likely don't need a "rail pass" rather just buy tickets. It works great from city to city.

If you want to wander around, then the car would be better.
suze is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2009, 07:24 AM
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Switzerland is one place i would eschew the car for public transport - indeed in some of the finest locals, like the Jungfrau Region cars are not even allowed into such gems as Wengen, Murren, Zermatt, etc - but must be parked far away and then take trains anyway - in Italy if only going to cities like Rome, Florence, Venice then cars are a liability - large areas of these cities now off-limits to private vehicles and parking can be problematic (and theft from parked cars also possible) so you have to pay a ton to park at some potentially remote lot, etc. Now if wanting to drive around Tuscany's hilltowns then the car is fine - though local buses are very comprehensive as well.
It does not take much to make a Swiss Railpass pay off IME and it also covers lake boats, all scenic specialty trains like the Bernina Express (a gorgeous way to Italy - the Bernina Pass rail route is to me one of the very most scenic in all of Europe - the only north-south trans-Alpine train like to trek up and over the Alps and not burrow under it - use it to reach Lake Como (Bellagio, Como, etc) and Milan - easy to do if coming from Zurich and going to Poschiavo. But no train pass in Italy will be nearly cost-effective for you so just buy regular tickets as you go along - rarely any problems getting on the at least hourly trains going everywhere. For lots on planning a rail trip in these countries: www.swisstravelsystem.ch - likes you to lake boats, scenic train lines and www.sbb.ch the Swiss Federal Railways official site; www.budgeteuropetravel.com; www.ricksteves.com and www.seat61.com
Palenque is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2009, 05:15 PM
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Thanks everyone. I am now in the process of looking at timetables and gathering evidence so I can present my husband with the reasons why he should not drive and just enjoy the view! I have found it will certainly be cheaper with Rail passes than car rentals/petrol/parking fees etc....that should be enough.
We did a 7 day driving tour of Ireland a few years ago and he still complains that we didn't spend enough time in any one place but just drove every day. I can't see the point of driving to a city/town and staying with the car unused.
But, a train journey every two or three days and look around an area...sounds good!
We can certainly hire a car when we do two weeks in England. At least we'll be on the correct side of the road there!
TassieTwo is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2009, 05:33 PM
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We spent 14 days in Switzerland using public transportation the entire time. The trains, boats, buses, and cable cars were fantastic. There was never a moment that I wished for a car. I just was envious that we don't have this wonderful public transportation system in the U.S. Look into the various rail passes for Switzerland. You may want a base for 3 or 4 days, but will probably take short trips every day as you explore. Your DH will be thrilled not to be driving.
ethelsue is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2009, 05:48 PM
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We bought a Swiss Rail Pass in the states before we left for 2 weeks in Switzerland and it covered the train, boat, bus and even a ski lift because the guy couldn't read it. (It was summer) We had a great time. Let me tell you....their trains leave on time. If you miss the train, your watch is wrong not the train.
southeastern is offline  
Nov 3rd, 2009, 09:08 AM
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I am always amazed at the efficiency of Swiss tranports - two trains an hour at the same time every hour - or more to any destination and if no trains go where you want then waiting at the train station will be buses tied in with train times to take you to any little hamlet. And no surprises like strikes in say France or Italy or other strike-prone countries where you can never really counting on the train to show up until it does roll in. How they keep the system running without huge subsidies is beyond me but i think it must just be that - state supporting its transit system for the public good and to keep more cars and lorries off the roads.
Palenque is offline  
Nov 6th, 2009, 09:02 AM
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Just did this myself a couple months ago. I flew in and out of ZRH, but my main destination was Italy. I used bahn.de and trenitalia (ferroviedellostato), more than sbb.ch to plan my travel itinerary (the German site is easiest to navigate IMO, even for non-German destinations, and then I used the others to get ballpark for price). Pre-planning should give you a chance to evaluate railpass vs. tickets.

Sidebar - I've done both methods. Your railpass may still need reservations (fee) and a supplemental (fee) depending on the train, destination and time of day. Railpasses are 1st class only (price-wise; you can opt to sit in 2nd), so tickets probably will be a little cheaper if you'll travel 2nd class. BUT if the costs are comparable, go with the pass. Only one ticket to have to keep track of, flexibility if you want to travel on a whim, and less stress from time pressure of catching a particular train.

But I digress. This last time, I bought tickets. My plans included quite the variety of trains - night, regional, and high speed. Due to the problems I've read, about the trenitalia site (esp. in the Italian forum), I didn't even try to purchase online. My goal was to purchase my Zurich-Roma night-train ticket upon arrival and get the Italian segment tickets in Italy. Imagine my delight when I was able to buy ALL the tickets there in Zurich. In the Main train station, around the corner from the SBB information kiosk, are several SBB windows (1 international, and a couple domestic) for ticket purchase. In between these windows and the Western Union money exchange is the free SBB travel agency/assistance. Inside, you take a number from a machine by the doors and wait a couple minutes for your turn. It really helped going in prepared with departure times AND arrival times to ensure I was ending up at the right station (Venice and Turin legs could have been interesting).
[luggage lockers, WC, and shower are 1 floor down]

Other items that might be of interest to you. The airport and the main train station are in different (but adjacent) zones. This is important to know if you're getting a ticket from the machine at the airport (beats the long line everyone else is standing in for a ticket counter - so have some swiss francs for your arrival). I realized I was lucky, when I discovered the multi-zone thing later that day.
Grossmünster church (climb to the top) offers great views of Zurich. Also get a 3-zone ticket and take a quick ride on S10 to Uetliberg (http://www.zvv.ch/en/routes-and-zone...work-plan.html) Short hike from the train station, but worth the incredible views.
And finally, note the fashion trends as you're wandering the shopping district. Not in the windows, but on the people. Zurich has some very distinctive trends (esp. with the ladies) that you won't find happening in Italy. American tourists are fairly easy to spot in Italy. I was rather impressed that I was able to spot some Swiss ones as well.
Have a great trip.
bitten_by_the_bug is offline  
Nov 11th, 2009, 04:05 AM
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Palenque, I've just been reading your thread on Scenic railways...lots of interesting reading. It has made me determined at the very least to do the Bernina Pass route by train. I had already decided I must get to Poschiavo this way and now I'm sure I can present hubby with plans to do most of the travelling in Switzerland and Italy by train. I consider as I'm doing ALL the organising, he can follow where I go!
I find doing all the preparation and researching nearly as exciting as the actual travel.Still a lot to do...only 180 days left to do it!
TassieTwo is offline  
Nov 11th, 2009, 05:02 AM
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We have done and enjoyed both in Italy. After Britain's congested roads we find all types of Italian out of town roads a pleasure to travel on. Historic city centres can be challenging if you are easily flustered and it can be difficult to park - but never impossible. The Michelin red guide is very handy for navigating round medium to large town/city centres as it has maps showing the one way systems. Mainly we use Touring Club Italiano maps. You can also print directions off at www.viamichelin.com but I've found they are not always reliable.

"unless you are super rich, you probably want to research the routes to dodge ZTL cameras". If you are staying in a historic centre with such a zone you are allowed in to get to your hotel and drop bags, but be aware of the rules - any hotels in such zones should send you instructions on how to get there legally.
caroline_edinburgh is offline  
Nov 11th, 2009, 11:50 AM
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tassieTwo - thanks for the comments - and if in summer then you can sit in open-air platform cars on some of the Bernina Pass route trains to Poschiavo and Tirano - southern terminus. I did this once and thought it the most exhilarating train ride i ever took - these are on the normal hourly regional trains and not on the official Bernina Express - only some trains have them but even in summer it can be chilly at the summit or pass itself.
Palenque is offline  
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