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Before I write this, I would like to mention, that the purpose of this trip was primarily to discover some carefully selected highlights of Switzerland without really spending a lot of time relaxing. So when you read on, keep this in mind, that such a fast pace and long days may not be everyone’s preference. Also, buy the swiss pass. It lets you wander about everywhere without worrying about tickets and expirations etc. I travelled for 1 day without the pass and the tickets were almost half the price of the swiss pass
I flew into Geneva and took the IC train to Bern reaching there at 10 am. Made a beeline to the tourist info and took an audio guide (always my preferred city exploration route). This way, even of you have just 2 hours or the whole day, the trip is so much more informative and the wandering times are much better spent. Followed this audio guide and caught the 12 pm cuckoo clock tower show. Also found time to climb the Munster church tower for beautiful views. After a hearty long lunch at the marketplace area, just did a lot of people watching near the Rail city from the terrace restaurant while waiting for my train. It's so easy to forget that Bern is a bustling metropolis while it's old town is still stuck in the past (in a very nice way). By the way, coffee is predictably awesome everywhere in Switzerland. But the expresso even with cream and sugar is scary strong. We visited Bern and Luzern in this trip and although we didn't spend too much time in Luzern we still loved Bern so much more.
3 pm: Train to Martigny (My husband worked there, so it was a mandatory stop to pick him up ?. We drove to Montreaux and spent the evening there. We also caught the last entrance to Chateau Chillon. Beautiful walk along the chateau. I am fairly certain that the Montreaux Riviera has a lot to offer, but we found it very similar to a beach town in the US. Imagine a quieter South beach area..or some such. The location however is so beautiful. We had a nice long lake front dinner and enjoyed a fairly long walk along the lake with beautiful late spring blooms. We then drove back to Martigny and died for 8 hours. As on any vacation, we are thoroughly refreshed after 8 hours of sleep.
Lovely location. About 10 min walk from the train station and nestled very close to a mountain..Spectacular views and sounds of cowbells. They have shutters in the rooms to filter the light and sounds later in the night.. a feature that my husband truly adored on his business trip. There does not seem to be a separate smoking/non-smoking rooms section, so the smoky room was kinda bothering. But for a European hotel, the room had plenty space to move around. Apart from that, it is a typical business catered hotel with the standard amenities.
We drove through the Mont Blanc pass to Chamonix, France. The drive is as beautiful as the location. A short while into the drive you can see the towns of Martigny and the Alps in the far background. The lookout points are very nice. The hidden and not-so hidden waterfalls along with the gushing rivers are such a pretty sight along the way. The little towns that we passed along the way had so much personality with clock towers and churches and typical swiss chalet. So just driving around these towns was nice, but if we had more time, we would have walked through a few of them. Perhaps another time! The town of Chamonix is pretty town with Mont Blanc glacier in the background carving it's way down the mountain. We did not ride up the mountain, but have heard good things about the gondola. I am a big fan of overcast weather so this day was perfect. We were in the Chamonix town on a Saturday, so we could sample the marketplace items. We had wine warmed in a fondue pot. Amazing! It was a little cold and cloudy so the drink helped for sure. We took a chance buying a smelly cheese in the market and hated it haha. Good laundry facilities in this town. So that's a plus while you wander the town. If you are a one bag person then you will appreciate this. The journey to Chamonix will take you through harrowing hairpin turns (not difficult ones in particular) beautiful mountain top views, breathtaking valley views and little towns along raging waterfalls and rivers that are nowhere on the tourist maps. What an experience. Now there is a train that goes here too, so if you don?t want to drive, then that is also a good choice.
Martigny from the Mont-Blanc pass Mont blanc glacier
We drove to Montreaux to drop the car and began our train part of the journey. We took the Golden Pass train to Interlaken. This is a nice activity for a rainy weather day. The train goes through a lot of terrain in a short time, and it doesn?t rain everywhere, so you get to enjoy the scenery through large windows while sipping warm coffee in the train. Also, this was our introduction to the Berner, Oberland mountains and we loved what we saw. Interlaken is a good base for the Berner, Oberland area. Also, it has the best connectivity to other parts of Switzerland, so if you want to travel somewhere right after exploring the Berner region, it?s a good place to park. Having said that, the town was a bit tourist-heavy and crowded. Again, I am certain that the town has a lot to offer, but we made a beeline to the mountains.
We stayed here during May 2012. We had a little room with a view on the third floor of the building. First off what a view... Really nice to wake up to that every morning. We had a room with a shared bath. We kinda did not care because we didn't spend too much time in the room. But we were amazed at how clean the bath area was. Wow! Cleaner than some of the standard hotels in the USA. I am not kidding. Hot water and heating in the room was perfect. We woke up to Louis's fresh croissants and cheeses from the region. Louis, is quite entertaining and had cool stories from his time in Jersey. Christopher and Jean are always bright and sunny even at 11 at night. We chalked out daily itineraries with his help. Not only could suggest really cool things based on our interests but he also knew about the closures etc. that helps save us quite some time on an occasion. You cannot beat the location. Interlaken would not have been our first choice for a town to stay in the Bernese area, but we had connections from Interlaken and hotel here saved us from carrying our bags around (even if they were light and small) and loads of time. Having said that we really enjoyed our experience here and we would stay again in a heartbeat. Lovely hosts, clean room and bath facilities....and affordable.
We took the earliest train to Jungfrauoch. It’s about 2 hours of train ride each way. So earlier train rides to the top and back gives you ample time to explore the top and still have enough of the day remaining to do more things. Early morning views are very clear. At any given time, this place is crowded, so earlier the better. On the way back there are a few options to come down from the mountain. We chose to come down by the Lauterbrunnen route. The valley is the picture perfect swiss valley; The town is very pretty. We took the bus to Trummelbach falls. Water from 3 mountain peaks and 2 glaciers carving through the rocks gushes with so much force… There is another waterfall that can be hiked up to a certain distance. After all the walking and climbing, we sat in a town café overlooking the valley and had a well deserved rich warm brownie dessert and excellent coffee.. the long rest stop might explain the excessive (a little over 50) yellow and green train pictures and videos! After getting back to Interlaken, we had a traditional fondue dinner and died for another 8 hours!
Again an early morning cable car-short train ride from Lauterbrunnen took us to the town of Murren. That?s where we will stay the next time we are in Berner Oberland. Its picture perfect town perched on the mountain top where most hotels are on the edge of the mountain?Most windows overlook the valley. Wow! Since it was the non-peak season, there was absolutely no one in town at 8 ish in the morning..Got some great pictures?Alps look spectacular from this area. Most mountain peaks are visible. There are a lot of flat trails here, so in a better season, that would be great. But most trails were closed when we visited. The schilthorn cable car from Murren is an adventure. It runs from 6000 ft to 13000 ft with 1 change in between! Gorgeous views and rapidly changing terrain kept us running from side to side to get great views. Early morning rides (I think we took the first one out at 9 am) are a bonus because there were very few people at the top and we got to run around like kids?. Also the crisp views in the morning made viewing of distant locations an added bonus. We could see as far as Bern! That was something?. I would certainly recommend doing Schilthorn rather than Jungfrauoch?(just found it little less crowded and a third of the price of Jungfrauoch!). The James Bond movie ?On her majesty?s secret service? was filmed here, and you can see snippets of that all over the top. The way down was the best part of the trip to Schilthorn. The pretty town of Gimmelwald. Well, really it?s a traditional swiss town that has refused to acknowledge that the modern world exists. They have it simple. Traditional display of cowbells, quaint huts and equipment that we never knew existed?and yes..the Obama exhibit..haha? Of course, Gimmelwald is a town made really famous by Rick Steves (An American tour guide) on his shows. Hence the reference is not out of context but still funny.
Later we returned to Interlaken and took a train to Luzern. We had a nice walk in the town, but we took a long (2 hr) boat ride on the lake. You can see the lakeside homes (certainly of the rich and famous)? and pass several towns while taking in the views of the Alps. A nice relaxing ride. We had a nice lakeside dinner before leaving for Landquart where we stayed in a BnB. Landquart was 10 min ride to Chur which is a starting point for several train rides. You can go to Austria as well as Italy from here.
We came across this through BnBs Switzerland website. We booked directly through their website. The whole point of staying here was to catch the first Bernina express out of Chur. Maya was quick on responding and we could communicate easily. She sent the instructions in the email for all important things. During our stay we interacted with Melanie and she came to pick us up as well. Due to the low season, in spite of having a shared bath, we got the entire floor to ourselves and a room upgrade. Happy happy! The room was spacious and lots of charging outlets around for all our gadgets. She had reasonable laundry rates as well. Clean facilities. Can’t say much about Landquart as a location. It's close to Chur and that's pretty much it. It has awesome views but as a town we found it a bit shady. So if I were going alone, I would think twice. Having said that Melanie picked us up and dropped us off at the train station every time, so that was perfect. The breakfast was soooooo good. Breads and custard pudding with fresh fruits and nuts. Nice selection of cheeses and jams. Fantastic coffee. That seems to be the trend anyways in Switzerland. Melanie was great with everything. All in all, a recommendable place near Chur.
We loved this train route. Now we rushed early in the morning to actually get into the Panorama train (Bernina express) but frankly that was a mistake. For one, they charge you for the reservation and give you only some of the seats that are available (ours faced the opposite direction of the train route) and the train is perpetually crowded. We stood in the windows for the better part of the ride. We should have taken the regional train instead. We took the regional train on the way back and that was a much better experience. But the route is phenomenal. The bridges and tunnels that the train goes over and through, is amazing. There is narration both on the regional as well as the Panorama trains, so no big deal. There is always an information booklet available at the train stations so that comes in handy. When the scenery changed from bright green mountains to bare and snowclad mountain tops, our jaws dropped. At that height and terrain, these trains achieve phenomenal feats. At a point we were travelling on the mountain top with a glacier and another lake very close to us. As the train descends into the Italian countryside, the views get even better. The train goes to Tirano in Italy, but we did not go all the way. We stopped in Poschiavo in Switzerland. This town is very Italian-esque. It’s a beautiful walk within the town and the food is good. We took the regional train back and if you are a person that loves to take plenty pictures without the ghastly reflection of the train windows..regional trains are for you my friend! You can roll down the windows and the experience was suddenly different. The mountain air and sounds of the valley..Really spectacular. The gzillion pictures were an added bonus. We stopped in St. Moritz on the way back to Chur, but it was too cold to venture too far. Looks like a decent town, but had a resort ambience. The lake looked good to wander about (if it is not cold, or if you wear the appropriate attire of course). After this we just did some shopping in the outlet mall at Landquart! Haha yes, an outlet mall…but only for chocolates…and later enjoyed our BnB. Had a loooong hearty breakfast and took the train to Zurich and flew to Paris!