Today’s blog is going to be a look back at a holiday taken in August 2019… a time when you could book a flight, hire a car, and go off to wherever you wanted!
I can’t quite remember how we settled on Switzerland… me and a friend wanted a road-trip holiday and were torn between the West Coast of the USA, driving around some of the Balkan states, and Switzerland.
Each had their own unique attractions and doubts. The USA… cities like San Francisco and LA, Yosemite National Park and the Grand Canyon. But would 10-days really be enough with the amount of driving we’d have to do? The Balkans… the historic cities and sights in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, the luscious mountains and beautiful coastlines. But again… would 10-days do it justice? And Switzerland… the picture postcode mountainous views and outdoor adventures, but would there be much to do there of an evening? And just how expensive is it??
After lots and lots of research… searching for flights, car rentals, hotels and places to visit, we eventually settled on Switzerland. With flights from Liverpool booked, hotel found for our first and last nights in Geneva, and car for the 10-days organised, we set about making an itinerary for the rest of the trip…
We arrive in Geneva late in the afternoon, and after the quick and easy train transfer and check in at the apartment, it’s straight out to explore and to get some food.
We’re staying in the Hotel Résidence Studio which is only a short walk from the train station and Lake Geneva, and although it’s not exactly flash or in the poshest part of town, the room is nice and clean and will do perfectly for one night.
After a short walk around the area and seeing Jet d’Eau on the Lake, we find a traditional looking restaurant for some food, before going to the Old Town for drinks and to discuss plans for the upcoming holiday!
The Lake looks great in the dark as we make our way back to the hotel to call it a night… but as we’re getting close to home, something doesn’t feel quite right as we’re walking through the streets. It takes a couple of minutes, but it starts to dawn on me that not only is this not the poshest part of town, we seem to be staying right in the middle of the red-light district! The area feels safe enough, but it does feel like all eyes are on us as we walk the streets!
Chamonix and Mont Blanc
One of the big attractions for me coming to Switzerland was for the driving… I wouldn’t go as far as calling myself a petrolhead, but I do like cars and love driving. And having researched some of the mountain passes we could take on the road-trip, I also decided to splash out on a nice rental car for the holiday.
It’s an early start to pick up the car, and after managing to kerb the alloy within the first 5 minutes (oops!), we’re soon making our way out of Geneva and over the border into France to our first stop for the day in Chamonix and to see Mont Blanc. Having also opted for a convertible to fully take advantage of the mountain views, I am a little disappointed that it’s absolutely pouring with rain today!
Chamonix is only an hour away from Geneva but there’s not much to do or see there on a quick visit like we have planned. The town is very quiet (I guess due to the weather) and we’re not planning on any trips up Mont Blanc, so after a short coffee stop and look around we’re back in the car and heading further up into the mountains and clouds.
Great St Bernard Pass & Hospice
The next stop is the Great St Bernard Hospice… the hostel made famous for its use of the giant mountain rescue dogs. And as well as being somewhere cool to see, the main reason for the visit is to drive on the Great St Bernard Pass, and the twisting mountain road is great fun to drive despite the rain.
The Hospice is located on the edge of a Lake (also called Great St Bernard), and with luck the rain stops as we have lunch at the café and so gives us a good opportunity for a walk to stretch our legs.
Walking around the Lake also takes us into our 3rd different country of the day, crossing over the Italian border and looking down the mountain towards the town of Aosta.
The break in the weather doesn’t last for long though, and as we turn to make our way back to the car, the clouds roll over the Lake very quickly and we’re soon engulfed by them… leaving us quite disorientated and making it difficult for us to find our way back!
We can just about make out the shape of the Statue of St Bernard on the edge of the Lake and use that to direct us back the way we came and make it back to the car, seeing some Saint Bernard dogs on our way (I wonder if they’ve been sent out to search for us!)
Zermatt & The Matterhorn
Our final stop for the day and our overnight base is Zermatt… the mountain town which lies in the shadow of the imposing Matterhorn in the Alps.
The rain isn’t showing any signs of easing up for the night, so after we’ve made the short train journey from the car park up to the town (the town is car-free so you need to park at the Matterhorn Terminal Täsch and get a train for the last part of the journey), we find a restaurant close to the hotel for a pizza and couple of beers.
It’s another early start and the rain has cleared overnight, leaving bright blue skies overhead, apart from one wispy cloud which clings to the peak of the Matterhorn.
After breakfast we have a look around the town, and it’s really pretty with the wooden chalet style buildings being towered over by the surrounding mountains and crisp blue skies!
A 20-minute walk south towards the Matterhorn takes us to Gorner Gorge. Entrance is CHF 5 (approx. £4) to follow the wooden walkways between the rock formations and criss-cross the river and waterfalls, all formed over millions of years by the Gornera River cutting its way through the rocks.
We take the scenic way back to town walking through some meadows and woods and it’s absolutely beautiful in the summer sun! The cloud hiding the peak of the Matterhorn even makes an effort to move to leave a nice clear view!
Charles Kuonen Suspension Bridge
After a few hours of morning walking we’re back in town for lunch and to check out of the hotel, before leaving Zermatt to head towards tonight’s destination of Lauterbrunnen.
When we were searching for other things to see and do while in Zermatt after the Matterhorn and Gorner Gorge… amongst the many cable car rides and viewpoints of the surrounding mountains, a slightly more unusual sight we spotted was the Charles Kuonen Suspension Bridge.
The bridge is just outside of Zermatt in a place called Randa, but caught our attention being the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the World! And also, being 85 metres high, it should have pretty good views!
We park at the Randa train station and look on Google maps for where to go and how far it is… just over 1km away and should take 22 minutes. Sounds good… I won’t even take my bag with any water in…
DO NOT TRUST GOOGLE!!! What followed is possibly the most challenging walk I’ve ever done!
While it’s not that long (only a few miles), it’s the fact you have to gain almost 1,000 metres (over 3,000 feet) in elevation over those few miles which made it so difficult (and maybe the fact I was grossly unfit!)
As we’re walking up what feels like a never-ending mountain, I consider giving up more than once! But with encouragement from my much fitter friend we finally make it… and boy is it worth it!!
I sit down for a few minutes to try and catch my breath and convince my body that I’m not having a heart attack, and once the feeling is back in my legs, we step onto the bridge.
And this presents challenge number 2… I’m not exactly a fan of heights! As we step onto the bridge it sways a little bit but feels very sturdy underfoot, so after a few seconds we’re ok and slowly start to cross…
On the other side are a few picnic benches where we sit and admire the view for a while, before starting the descent back to the car.
Going down is a lot easier than going up was, and it doesn’t take us long to get back to the village and stop at Treff 494, a small restaurant where we get some chips and drinks to refuel.
Tip… don’t let my story put you off visiting! While it was a tough walk, it was mainly down to my embarrassingly bad fitness levels and not being prepared at all! My friend managed fine, and there were other hikers of all ages also making the walk look much easier than I did!
With the walk having taken us a lot longer than planned, we now need to make the 2-hour drive to Lauterbrunnen before the hotel closes for check-in. I send a message to say we’re running late, and we depart.
We’re making good progress until we come to the end of the road, and all there is in-front of us is a huge mountain! Ermm, how are we supposed to get past that??
The sat nav seems to be telling us to turn into a train station, and it takes us a while to realise that it’s a car transporter train… cutting right through the middle of the mountain, pretty cool!
We make it to Hotelschützen and have a well-earned rest for the night… it’s been a long day of walking and driving!
In our tired state last night, we didn’t really notice what the hotel was like when we arrived but it’s quite cool in a kitsch kind of way! It probably hasn’t been decorated since the 90’s and is like a wooden ski chalet, but the best bit is the view of Staubbach Falls from the terrace!
My legs are feeling surprisingly fresh after yesterday’s walk from hell, but we’re having a bit of an easier day today anyway.
We’re going to Gelmer Funicular, a cable railway running up the mountains to Gelmersee, a man-made reservoir. And while there’s a walk around the reservoir and the views look beautiful, the main attraction is the funicular itself!
Originally built in 1926 to help build Gelmersee, it was the steepest funicular in Europe up until 2017. It’s again a challenge to my fear of heights, but after yesterday I’m just glad I’m sat down for the 1,000-metre climb and not having to walk today!
We get the return tickets for CHF 32 (£25), but you can also get one-way tickets as there are hiking routes you can take up and down the mountain too.
The journey only takes a few minutes but is great fun and gives amazing views across the surrounding valley. And as we leave the train and walk towards the reservoir, the only surprise today is just how beautiful the view up here is as well!
The water of the reservoir is a bright turquoisey blue, and the mountains and clouds above reflect perfectly to make a scene so vibrant and clear it looks like a photoshopped image!
The walk around the reservoir only takes an hour or so and most of the path is easy to walk on, only having to scramble over rocks in a few places.
Grindelwald & Jungfrau
After yesterday’s slightly more relaxed day, today is going to be all action and adventure! We’re going to the village of Grindelwald, or more accurately, parking in Grindelwald while we get the cable car up into the surrounding mountains!
At the top of the mountain is First Cliff Walk by Tissot… a purpose-built walkway and viewing platform overhanging the edge which makes it feel like you’re walking into the sky!
And then as well as a number of walking routes and trails, there are activities to get back down the mountain… First Flyer, where you are strapped in and sit in a harness and fly down a zip wire at over 50mph! First Glider, which is more like paragliding down a zip wire headfirst! Mountain carts, which are 3-wheeled go-karts/buggys to drive down a rocky path. And finally, Trottbike Scooters, where you get a scooter to finish off your descent back to Grindelwald.
You can mix and match the tickets to only pay for the number of activities you want to do, and then you can choose which once you get to the top. And unlimited use of the cable cars is also included. We go for the ticket for the First Cliff Walk with 3 activities, for a cost of CHF 106 (£80). Which although felt quite expensive when we were buying them, proved to be worth every penny as it gave us an amazing day of fun!
Tip… to get the right tickets to suit what you want to do, go to the tourist information office in Grindelwald and speak to someone. We were confused by the different options and prices, but they were very helpful and explained it all to us!
First Cliff Walk by Tissot
After using the cable car to reach the top, our first port of call is the cliff walk. The walk along the platform is impressive as we cling to the side of the mountain, but the viewing platform at the end is unreal!
It’s quite busy so we have to queue and wait our turn, but it’s totally worth it as it really is something else! The view looks too spectacular to be real… it’s almost like a painting with the mountains of Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau and the rest of the range in the background! Truly awe-inspiring!!!
We have lunch at the Bergrestaurant and we’re pleasantly surprised at the reasonable prices (well, reasonable for Switzerland!). The food isn’t amazing, but it fills us up ready for our next adventure…
One of the hiking routes is to a mountain lake called Bachsee. It’s a pretty easy walk on good paths, taking about an hour and half in total from the restaurant. A perfect way to walk off lunch before the adrenaline activities start!
And it’s a really nice walk too… with some fantastic views again, and with the surprise of some cows roaming around! How did they get up here??
First Flyer, Mountain Cart and Trottbike Scooters
What I hadn’t realised earlier when we were buying the tickets to include the activities, not only are they for fun, they’re actually the way to get down the mountain back to the village!
The first part of the descent seems to be a choice between the First Flyer or Glider… going down a zip line either sat in a harness, or headfirst as if you’re flying! (have I mentioned I don’t like heights??)
We stand and watch both options for a while and opt for the Flyer… surely being sat is going to be less scary than headfirst, and it also goes faster so I think it’ll be more fun!
We join the queue and as it gets closer to our turn the nerves start to kick in. A few people in front of us have already bottled it and turned around… but no, I’m going for it!
We get strapped in and it’s not too bad to start with… the view of where we’re going is hidden by a swing-door which opens when you get released.
I’m debating whether to get my camera out to try and film it, but my hands are clenched so tightly on the harness there’s no chance I can hold my camera as well! (the below video is from someone else braver than me who filmed it for YouTube, credit: Tom)
The guy starts the countdown… three… two… one… shit, here we go!!
WOW WOW WOW!!! It’s absolutely amazing!!!! Any fear I had instantly disappears as I see the jaw-dropping view… it doesn’t feel like a fast zip line, more like a gentle glide as we fly between the mountains high above the cable cars below!
We get unstrapped and I can’t take the smile of my face, the adrenaline is still pumping and I want to go again!
But up next is the mountain cart… the one I was actually most looking forward to!
We get our buggys and helmets, get a minute or two to practice breaking (there is no acceleration, the incline on the mountain is more than enough), and we’re let loose!
The track is quite bumpy but my confidence soon grows, and I loosen the grip on the breaks more and more. When breaking for the corners the buggy doesn’t feel the most stable, but it’s a lot of fun and I push faster and faster…
Coming around one corner I hit the slope a little too fast, and up ahead two girls have stopped in the middle of the track to take selfies… shit!!!!
I pull the breaks on far too hard to avoid crashing into the selfie queens, and as I do, one of the wheels locks and flips the buggy over… throwing me out onto the gravel path and narrowly misses landing on me!
One of the girls asks if I’m ok, and I say I think so as I pick myself up and check. Nothing seems to be broken or badly hurt, just a few cuts and scrapes (and a slightly bruised ego!)
My friend comes round the corner to join us as I’m picking the buggy up, and we descend the rest of the way taking it a little more carefully!
The last stretch is on the scooters, and although the path is now a nice smooth asphalt, my earlier crash is still in mind and so I take this leg quite easy and enjoy the views and scenery rather than racing down as fast as possible!
Hiking the Lauterbrunnen Valley
Today is going to be less adrenaline filled and more scenic hiking, but with the Charles Kuonen Suspension Bridge episode still fresh in mind, I’m going more prepared today!
We fill up on breakfast in the hotel and then stop at the local shop in town for supplies, before catching the cable car up to Grütschalp railway station. We haven’t done too much research into where we’re going to walk… the plan is to get to the top of the mountains, head towards the town of Mürren, and see where we end up along the way!
The walk to Mürren takes a few hours, and is absolutely incredible! I know I keep saying it… but the views really do need to be seen to be believed!
We pass by Wengsicht, Dorewald, and the source of the Staubbach Falls (the waterfall we can see from the hotel), as well getting to pick some wild blueberries and making friends with some mountain goats. But without doubt, the highlight is the view of the peaks of Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau, the 3 mountains which dominate this area of the Bernese Alps.
As we start heading back down from the mountain tops, we come across Restaurant Sonnenberg which provides a nice refreshing ice-cream, before we continue our way to Mürren and eventually Gimmelwald.
It is possible to get a cable car between Mürren and Gimmelwald, but we decide to walk that stretch on the steep twisting roads, before catching the cable car the rest of the way to Stechelberg.
Tip: for those wanting to experience the views without the walking, there is a mountain railway at the top which runs between Grütschalp and Mürren.
Once back at the bottom of the valley we have a 1 hour walk back to the hotel, but on the way we have another stop at Trümmelbach Falls.
The falls are the largest underground water falls in Europe, and the only glacier waterfalls accessible underground in the world. The 10 waterfalls in the system manage to carry 20,000 litres of water per second from the glaciers atop Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau towering above.
The entrance fee is CHF 12 (£9) and takes about an hour to wander around, and after the day hiking in the bright summer sun, it’s quite refreshing to be inside a cold and damp cave system, getting splashed by the thundering waterfalls all around.
As we make our way back to the hotel there’s one last stop at the catchily named Aussichtsplattform Staubbachfall… a cave and viewing platform underneath the Staubbach Waterfall.
After the action packed and busy first week of our holiday, the next few days are going to be a change of pace, relaxing at Lake Lucerne.
And the change of location gives another opportunity for some fun driving… this time going via Andermatt and the Furka Pass!
I plot the route I want to take on Google maps, and go out to program the sat nav in the car while my friend checks out of the hotel. With the roof down and music playlist on, we head off full of excitement for the drive ahead.
After nearly an hour of driving we still haven’t gone past some of the places I was expecting too and I’m a bit confused… are we going the right way?? The sat nav suggests we are, but I don’t recognise any of the place names I remember plotting on Google maps…
A few more minutes pass and the realisation comes to me… the car has routed to a different road than I wanted to… shit! We’re not going to drive on the Furka Pass, one of the highlights I’d been looking forward to!
We’re high up in the mountains though and the scenery is spectacular (as always), so we pull over to admire the view and so I can double check the map. Yep, we are definitely on the wrong road, looks like we’re going to take the Susten Pass instead!
As we get back into the car I’m a little disappointed we’re not going to drive on the road I’d planned before we came, but as we climb higher and higher and as the road becomes more twisty and fun, that disappointment soon goes and I’m in driving heaven! The road is incredible… the views are incredible… and I thought I’d hired a pretty nice car, but we’re being shown up by the procession of Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s, Bentley’s, and pretty much every other supercar you can think of as we race up and down the mountains.
Teufelsbrücke / Devil’s Bridge
The stop I (unsuccessfully) used in the sat nav wasn’t just a marker to take the scenic route though… just outside of Andermatt is Schöllenen Gorge and the Devil’s Bridge which crosses it.
The gorge and it’s 3 bridges are an impressive sight even amongst the amazing mountain views we’ve just driven, and the café there makes for a handy stopping point for a coffee and a comfort break after the adrenaline rush of the drive!
The rest of the drive is an easy cruise along the motorway and we’re soon by the side of the lake, relaxing with a beer and soaking up the sun as we have lunch. We’ve booked Hotel Winkelried for the couple of nights we’re here… a lake front nice hotel after the traveller/hostel types we’ve been staying in for the previous days. And while it is quite nice, it’s still very 1990’s décor with floral carpets and curtains!
The views from the hotel over the lake are amazing though, and having a few relaxed days with some good food is the perfect respite after our hectic first week! Although paying over £35 for glorified fish and chips one night was pushing it a little bit!!
Close to the hotel is a lake side sunbathing and swimming area which costs a few CHF per day to use, and the only thing to see is Schnitzturm, a medieval stone tower from the early 13th century which you can climb to the top of for elevated views across the lake.
The hotel is out on it’s own in a very sleepy hamlet with not much around it… the nearest city is Lucerne, which sits at the head of the lake. So one night we get the train there to go and explore what that has to offer…
The main sight in the city is Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge), the oldest covered wooden bridge in Europe dating back to the 1360’s, although parts were rebuilt in 1993 after a fire destroyed large sections of it. And the other sight is another bridge further up the river, Spreuerbrücke or The Spreuer Bridge.
In the old town there is a large selection of restaurants and we choose one carefully… one that looks decent but won’t be £35 for fish and chips!! Once we finish eating there doesn’t seem to be such a choice of places to go for a drink, so we end up getting the train back and have a couple in the hotel bar instead.
Bern & Montreux
Before we know it our last day of the holiday has arrived, and we need to get back to Geneva to drop off the car and travel home tomorrow.
The journey gives us the chance of a last day of sight-seeing though… on the way we have to pass by Bern, the de-facto capital city of Switzerland (interesting fact… Switzerland doesn’t actually have an official capital city!), and close to Montreux, one of the main tourist stops at the edge of Lake Geneva.
The historic old town of Bern is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is probably one of the quietest and most laid-back capital cities I’ve been to before (I think Ljubljana in Slovenia takes this title… look out for a future blog!). And it’s a really nice city to wander around for a few hours.
And then last stop is Montreux… but by this time we’re both pretty tired and just want to get to Geneva, so only use it as a stop off to get a coffee and have a short walk along the lake front where we see the Freddie Mercury statue.
Before we came to Switzerland we were looking forward to the mountainous views and outdoor adventures, and were concerned about the nightlife and how expensive it might be.
Well, as you can see the views were more spectacular than we could have ever imagined they would be, and the outdoor adventures were more challenging, adrenaline inducing and fun than we could have wished for.
What we’d heard about the lack of nightlife turned out to be true, but it really didn’t matter as we soon found out you don’t come to Switzerland for that.
And was it expensive… yes, yes it was! But as with most places, you could do it on a relatively tight budget if you want to. The hotels we stayed in weren’t anymore expensive than most other places in Europe, and if you’re not too fussed about trying some of the local restaurants you could find places to eat for reasonable prices too.
So, with all of that taken into account, would I recommend going to Switzerland? Hell yes!! One the most amazing and beautiful places I’ve ever been too, and we barely scratched the surface in our 10-days there! I will definitely go back one day, and who knows, I might even get to drive on the Furka Pass next time…
This is pretty much the route we took… ironically though, the step from Lauterbrunnen to Teufelsbrücke is avoiding the Susten Pass as it looks like there’s construction work happening in a tunnel at the moment.