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Family trip to France and Switzerland - Proposed Itinerary

Five of us (three adults in our 30's, plus our parents who are in their 60's) are starting to plan a trip to France and Switzerland for July 2019. We had an amazing trip to Italy last summer and are eager to return to Europe! I had been to Italy before and so I felt more confident planning that trip but need guidance on this one. We will likely have 11 nights on the ground not counting travel days. We do not want to rent a car and will be relying on public transit and probably a few guided day trips/tours. I'd welcome any suggestions on this itinerary, especially how long to spend in each place and how best to spend our time in Lucerne.

  1. Fly direct from Chicago to Paris. Stay 5 nights. We're planning to do a full day guided tour from Paris to the Normandy beaches/D-day sights for one of the days. We know it's a long day but we don't like to switch hotels a lot and don't want to hassle with the logistics ourselves.

  2. High-speed train from Paris to Colmar. Stay either 2 or 3 nights. This looks like a beautiful region and is on the way to Switzerland. We like the idea of staying in a smaller city like Colmar and seeing a very different part of France after Paris. If we stay 3 nights, we're thinking of doing a guided tour for one of the days - either of just some of the other little towns in the Alsace region (Eguisheim and Riquewihr look enchanting) or possibly something that combines that with Freiburg or another interesting small town in Germany. We'd love to see Germany while we are so close!

  3. High-speed train from Colmar to Lucerne. Stay either 3 or 4 nights. Then we'll go directly from Lucerne to Zurich airport by train to catch a midday flight home. We're trying to decide whether to split our time 3N/3N in Colmar and Lucerne or 2N/4N? Is it worth going all the way to Lucerne and only staying 3 nights? We are still researching Switzerland but are thinking Lucerne might be the best base for us due to the beautiful scenery/lake setting, cute town to wander, opportunities for day excursions into the mountains or other towns, and the ability to go directly to Zurich airport without overnighting in Zurich. Is Lucerne a nice snapshot of Switzerland if we only have a few days?

We had been thinking of spending time in the Berner Oberland but I don't think we'll have time for Colmar, BO, and Lucerne. My father has some foot issues and somewhat limited mobility and so serious hiking isn't really our thing. We prefer wandering cute towns, enjoying scenery, historical sites, people-watching in cafes/etc rather than strenuous/serious hiking. Is the BO worth us finding a way to spend a few nights there? Or should we just focus on the Lucerne area?

Also, am I correct in assuming that the Colmar region will be less expensive than Switzerland? I am thinking 6 nights in Switzerland would be too expensive, especially combined with Paris....

One final question. The frequency of rail strikes in France last summer does make me a little hesitant to plan a trip in France that relies on travel by public transit. Does anyone know whether the main concerns that the French rail unions had in summer 2018 were addressed? I know the sheer level of strikes last summer was not the norm for France and I of course know no one can say for sure whether it will happen again, but I don't have a good sense of whether that is expected again in 2019. I figure even if there are strike issues, for this trip we'll really only need two French trains (Paris-Colmar and then Colmar-Basel) so we should be able to figure things out even if there are issues, such as hiring a private driver as a last resort if it came to that... Any thoughts?

Thank you!

Posted by
2594 posts

Lucerne will definitely be more expensive than Colmar, but in my opinion, absolutely worth it. I love Alsace, but more the smaller villages around Colmar. I should think one day for Colmar would be enough and you could spend a day each in the small Alsatian villages and in Freiburg area. A car would make things easier, I would think, but I know there are tour or bus options for Alsace, not sure about Freiburg. Another option from Colmar might be a day trip to Strasbourg by train. It is quite lovely and the cathedral is a major tourist draw (and absolutely stunning!) I think 3N in Colmar and 3N in Lucerne would work well. Unless you would do two of the mountain excursions (Titlus, Pilatus and Rigi), 3 days would be enough. I've only done Rigi and liked it very much. It involved a nice boat ride across the lake to a cog train ride up to the top of Rigi. You could do as much or as little walking there as you want.

Posted by
364 posts

Hi Sara,

Maybe it's just me, but I'd allow more days for Paris. Your first day you're a zombie from jet lag so wander around and maybe cruise the Seine. Then you have one day in Normandy, so that leaves three days for touring the city. On the other hand, if you just want a taste and expect to return, your plan will probably work.

Posted by
2594 posts

I think the decision on number of days depends on a number of factors. I do like Paris, but its a big city and for me 5 days would be enough, and I would be yearning for a smaller town.

Posted by
340 posts

This sounds like a nice trip with ample amounts of time. One note is the Alsace region. I would recommend a car, but since you do not want to rent one, you should probably look into a driver for the day with a vehicle large enough to accommodate all of you to visit all the villages you are interested in seeing. The BO is beautiful to see even if you do no hiking. Lucerne is a great city with lots to see and do. A boat trip or a combo boat trip to Mt. Pilatus is nice.

The one thing I personally don't like to do is commute very far to my flight home. Although Zurich airport from Lucerne is only about an hour, keep in mind depending on the time of your flight home, you may be pushing yourself early in the morning to get to the airport in plenty of time. Just a thought. I didn't have a problem with the strike last year in France, but it took some planning. Enjoy your trip.

Posted by
7 posts

Thanks very much for the comments and suggestions! We are definitely now leaning toward Paris 5N, Colmar 3N, and Lucerne 3N. It might be perfect for us for what we want to do. And we try to avoid 2N stops as they always fly by. I know we could easily fill more time in Paris as well but hopefully 5 nights in one place will be a great way to start the trip and give us a nice intro to Paris. In Colmar, I think we will plan to hire a driver at least for one day for a private tour of the area. Great tip, thank you.

I do appreciate the tip about leaving time to get to the Zurich airport. The flight we're looking at has us leaving Zurich at 11:45 am. We are early risers so I believe we can get up plenty early and arrive 3 hours ahead.

Thanks all!