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Switzerland and Lake Como Itinerary

I have been struggling with this itinerary, and need the insight of the wise RS Forum. [ I did post earlier, but felt a new thread is appropriate as I now have a draft.] I know open jaw into Milan and out of Zurich would be ideal, but the current Business Class rates don't make this feasible. Nothing is booked yet, but the BC rates are so tempting...
I should add I have NO sense of direction, so me studying maps for hours is a mighty challenge.
I have been to these areas in the past, but really want to return . The proposed trip would be late August, September, 2021, about two weeks, and all travel by public transportation/ train. Both my husband and I are active seniors and have been vaccinated for covid. All luggage is carry-on.

Please be kind but constructively critical, as I know I've overlooked aspects which are obvious to more seasoned travelers. I really struggled with the logistics of the second week. Day 8 is a long train day, but it will probably be time to rest the feet. I hope my estimates of train travel time are correct.

Thx so much for any and all input!

Nights:
1 Depart West Coast, fly red-eye
2 Arrive Zurich, train to Luzern, sleep Luzern
3 Luzern
4 Luzern

5 Luzern to Lugano [2 hr train]- Lugano bus to Menaggio [1 hr] - Menaggio ferry to Varenna
6 sleep Varenna
7 sleep Varenna

8 Varenna Train to Tirano [1 hr] - Bernina Express [4 hrs] to Chur - Chur to Montreux [3.5 hr train]
9 sleep Montreux
10 sleep Monteux

11 Montreux to Jungfrau area [2 hr train]
12 Jungfrau area sleep
13 Jungfrau area sleep

14 Jungfrau area to Zurich airport [2 hr train] sleep Zurich
15 Zurich fly home to West Coast

Posted by
6525 posts

Cut Montreux out add another day to the Como area and/or Jungfrau.
You could do Montreux area on a day trip from Luzern taking the Golden Pass Scenic train.
You might have too much moving around; you have think that you will go there again.
I've been to the Jungfrau area twice: once coming from Luzern another time coming from Geneva .

Posted by
15706 posts

Yeah, Montreux makes this a rail trip marathon. If you want to add another destination in the itinerary, try Pontresina. Then you could use the Glacier Express to get from there to the Jungfrau region. Otherwise, its a big "backtrack" to go to Montreux via Zurich.

Posted by
11905 posts

We often fly into Zurich when going to Italy, because (1)!the flight times on our usual airline (British Airways) seem to work better and (2) we just like a little time in Switzerland. We generally use either the Bernina Pass route or the Gotthard Pass route for the trip tonItaly.

I think you have done a good job of organizing your itinerary, incorporating the Bernina Pass train into your plans, But why Montreux? Unless you have a particular reason for going there, it makes no sense and just adds extra travel time to your trip. Your time in the Jungfrau area is short for what it has to offer.

Posted by
31195 posts

Pat,

I had a brief look at your proposed Itinerary and a few thoughts came to mind.....

  • the suggestions that others made about skipping Montreux might be good to consider. If you really do want to spend a day or two in that area, you might also consider Lausanne, as it's somewhat less posh (expensive) than Montreux.
  • one point that occurred to me with your plans to travel from Varenna and then to Montreux on the Bernina Express. If you're planning to use the train with the panoramic windows, as I recall that doesn't leave Tirano until the early afternoon so you wouldn't arrive in Chur until about suppertime. Adding another 3.5 hours to that is going to make for a very late arrival in your next destination and it will be a bit of a grueling travel day. I decided to avoid that issue by spending a night or two in Chur. Of course you could use one of the "regular" trains which would get you into Chur a bit earlier (I haven't checked the schedules).
  • It's not necessary to travel right to Zürich airport prior to your return flight. Zürich main station is only about a 10 minute ride from the airport so you could easily stay in the city and spend a few hours exploring in the evening and have a fine hot meal in a gourmet restaurant. There are hotels right near the main station and there's a large "Rail City" underground shopping area right there also. I can suggest a hotel if you're interested.
  • although you've both received the two Covid vaccinations, you might find this helpful - https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/05/digital-health-passport-will-i-need-proof-of-vaccine-to-travel-abroad.html . The IATA App may be the most widely accepted version.

Of course, I have no idea at this point which hotels will be operating or what the specifics of travel will entail in the post-pandemic world.

Posted by
831 posts

Thanks for the incredibly insightful, practical info.

I had liked the idea of wine tasting in Montreux, and wanted to return: perhaps not this trip? The consensus seems to be to modify that part of the itinerary.

I really want to experience the Bernina Express. I have watched the "Mighty Trains: Bernina Express" show from the Smithsonian Chanel, and am fascinated with the history of its construction, and the routine maintenance required. So- this is important to me.
I guess I need help with what to do after arriving in Chur, as it would be too much to go directly to the Jungfrau area. I think the train into the Jungfrau area from Chur is about 4 hours? So- just spend the night in Chur, and the next day head to the Jungfrau region.
I believe part of that journey would be on the Glacier Express? I am not sure if these train schedules have been affected by covid?
Since my previous visit to the area was a RS tour, I'm not clear on the specific rail options into the Jungfrau area. My maps aren't that detailed. We would also like to access the rail to the Jungfraujoch. When I search all these rail routes, do I input Chur to Wengen, or Chur to Murren, or Chur to a stop in the Valley, from which you climb the mountains via the cogwheels or gondolas ?

Thx so much again. Probably not sleeping in Montreux now, but was thinking of maybe going to Bern from the Jungfrau region. We could access the Zurich airport from Bern [did that after the RS Tour], and could still do a day trip to Montreux.

Thanks again for the quantity and the quality of your input. You are all so helpful and I am such a klutz with maps!!!

Posted by
24663 posts

when you are looking at train times, look carefully at the route that the trains take, and connection times.

If you want Chur to Interlaken Ost disregard routing via Basel - it is around the Sun to get to the Moon and involves considerable backtracking. The route Chur>Zurich>Bern>Interlaken Ost is the fastest. The plainest but the fastest because you will be on the flat part of Switzerland the whole way. A more scenic route which is a little slower but much prettier (but you need to do it in the daytime) is Chur>Arth Goldau>Luzern>Zentralbahn narrow gauge train via Brünig Pass (you have to select it explicitly because it is a few minutes shower than the flat route, but my goodness it is one of the most scenic in Switzerland)>Meiringen (train changes ends just a few minutes walk from Reichenbach Falls of Sherlock Holmes fame)>along the shore of Lake Brienz>Interlaken Ost.

The big question, alluded to a post or two ago, is do you want the Bernina Express named tourist train with the hermetically sealed windows, the vast majority of passengers foreign tourists, either independent or tour groups, most going from end-to-end, and the tippy glasses, just a couple of services a day, extra fare; or do you want to consider the normal hourly trains - same route, same scenery and views, same speed, some opening windows, locals and some tourists, some making short journeys, no extra costs but un-named and not the fancy paint and reputation? There is not a right or wrong answer, but if you can say which is your preference it will help an awful lot to help you.

Posted by
5538 posts

You could juggle the route to end in Montreux and fly out of Geneva?

Posted by
831 posts

Nigel, Thx for the helpful info. We are open to using the beautiful scenic train routes without using the posh train cars. :)

Posted by
31195 posts

Pat,

"Since my previous visit to the area was a RS tour, I'm not clear on the specific rail options into the Jungfrau area. My maps aren't that detailed. We would also like to access the rail to the Jungfraujoch. When I search all these rail routes, do I input Chur to Wengen, or Chur to Murren, or Chur to a stop in the Valley, from which you climb the mountains via the cogwheels or gondolas ?"

My suggestion (based on my preferences) would be to travel from Chur to Lauterbrunnen, and base there during your time in the Berner Oberland. I quite enjoyed my stay at the Hotel Oberland. There will undoubtedly be other opinions on that, but I find that staying in Lauterbrunnen makes travel in that area somewhat easier, since it's the rail hub for that area and you can easily reach locations on both sides of the valley. Trains from Chur to Lauterbrunnen are as short as about 3H:47M with three changes. The route suggested by Nigel via Meiringen would provide better scenery, if you don't mind a slightly longer travel time.

If the Jungfraujoch is a major focus of your visit to that area, you may find it beneficial to buy one of the local passes - https://www.jungfrau.ch/en-gb/jungfrau-travel-pass/ . The Jungfraujoch is one of the more expensive excursions in that area, and it's prudent to check the weather at the top before you embark on that trip. If the top is shrouded in fog, the trip won't be as pleasant. Reaching the Jungfrau from Lauterbrunnen is very easy..... take the Wengernalpbahn cogwheel train from Lauterbrunnen to Kleine Scheidegg, and then transfer to the Jungfraubahn (bright red as I recall, you can't miss it). Here's a picture of the Wengernalpbahn leaving Lauterbrunnen - https://images.app.goo.gl/Wsze5HiE5BmXCeVJ9 . It stops at Wengen on the way.

One important point to mention about your visit to the Jungfraujoch. That facility is at an elevation of almost 12,000 feet and some people may have slight problems with the altitude. If you have concerns about this, you may want to discuss this with your family doctor. I found that I was moving much slower there, and stairs especially were more of an effort.

Again on the subject of transportation passes, there are other passes available for that area such as the Berner Oberland pass - https://www.regionalpass-berneroberland.ch/en/ . Which pass or combination of P-P tickets to buy is often very complicated and depends on the specific touring each traveller wants to do. You'll have to do the number crunching to determine what works best for you. I've had to format an Excel spreadsheet in the past to try and make some sense out of it.

If you're planning on also visiting the famous Schilthorn (used in the filming of the James Bond movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service ), it's also very easy to reach from Lauterbrunnen. Take the cable car from Lauterbrunnen to Grütschalp and then board the small mountain railway which will conveniently be waiting. You'll be in Mürren in a few minutes and can explore that before heading to the Schilthorn (beautiful views and a very scenic small town). You can also get there by taking the Post Bus to Stechelberg and then the Schilthornbahn cable car to Mürren and then to the top. The cable car has four "changes" if travelling from Stechelberg. You can easily buy tickets for local trips at the rail station in Lauterbrunnen, and these include will all modes of transport.

Good luck with your planning!

Posted by
11905 posts

Here is a map of the Swiss rail system so you can see all the routes and connections.

https://www.sbb.ch/content/dam/infrastruktur/trafimage/karten/karte-sts-pass-gueltigkeit.pdf.sbbdownload.pdf

For the Bernina Pass route, we chose the regular regional train, and were really glad we did. Not onlybwas it less expensive and more flexible in terms of time, the carriafpge we were in was practically empty---just us and one other couple. There was plenty of space for us to move from side to side for the best views, rather than being tied to a reserved seat in a more crowded car.

Posted by
831 posts

Lola, the consensus which you seconded is to travel the Bernina Express route in the regular train cars, for very good and practical reasons.
Thx so much for the map.
Safe future travels!

Posted by
831 posts

Nigel and Ken, thx for your time and energy in sharing your experience. I will study your routes carefully.

I believe you all are conveying to me that there is no fast direct route into the Berner Oberland from the west; one must travel around in a "circular" fashion, either going around thru Zurich, or going around thru Bern, right? And you all suggested both efficient routes, and scenic routes.

We will most likely get the 15-day Swiss Travel Pass. It's not that much more than the 8 day flex pass, and the 15-day allows for more flexibility in the event of poor weather. The last time I was in Murren the peaks were heavily clouded all day, and we hiked in the light rain, but didn't go up to the peaks. I did see the Jungfrau the next day- from Bern! [Not a cloud was in the sky.] Does the Swiss Travel Pass give us discounts on the Jungfrau lifts? I think if one uses the Swiss Travel Pass for a discount, that counts as one of the use days, right?

Also- if we make it to Bern- has anyone actually swum around in the river? This is one of my bucket list items.

Thanks for all your help and I am reading thru your responses carefully.

Safe travels!

Posted by
24663 posts

I believe you all are conveying to me that there is no fast direct route into the Berner Oberland from the west; one must travel around in a "circular" fashion, either going around thru Zurich, or going around thru Bern, right?

You were asking about connecting off the Bernina Express. That is southeast from the Lauterbrunnen Valley, not west.

From Chur, the three routes are as we have spoken about, and there is nothing faster.

From the west (where in the west? Geneva? Montreux? Lausanne? Gruyere?) there are also various possible routes. None would involve Zurich, and it is unlikely they would involve Bern.

Can you ask that question again please?

Regarding swimming in the Aare - not for me thanks, I'm not a strong enough swimmer. I prefer the lazy rivers at the various Thermae that I visit. Nevertheless, Bern is a favourite city for me.

But others have done. There is a number of threads from previous questions, such as:

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/switzerland/things-to-do-in-and-around-bern (scroll down to Mari's answer on 1/31 and the several following)

and

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/switzerland/warning-swimming-in-the-aare-river-is-dangerous-right-now

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/switzerland/swimming-the-aare

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/switzerland/swim-in-bern-information

Posted by
831 posts

Geez- no direct fast route from the EAST, I mean. I told you al I have a problem with directions and maps! :)

Posted by
831 posts

Ken, thx, regarding the benefits of the Swiss Travel Pass-
that is the most helpful list that I have seen.

Posted by
24663 posts

the reason there are no straight as an arrow fast trains between Chur and Interlaken is all those pesky mountains.

The routes via Bern and Zurich use the flat lands and go reasonably fast but it is the long way around so even though they are fast they have to cover a lot of ground in a huge loop.

The route via Luzern and the Brünig Pass has the clue in the name. To get up and over the mountains that line uses a narrow gauge railway between Luzern and Interlaken - after that it become standard gauge again. The train and gauge is narrow so it can get up and down steep gradients and around tight corners. Much of the route is cogwheel - on the rack. The rack is inherently slow. The scenery is gorgeous with mountain lakes, waterfalls and fabulous views, and the trains are very comfortable. It is nearly as fast as the flat route because it is much more direct, but the train moves more slowly (all the better for the scenery).

There is one more possible route - Glacier Express: Chur> Disentis> Andermatt> Furka Pass/Tunnel> Brig> Spiez> Interlaken Ost but it is also narrow gauge and very very slow. If you have done the Bernina Express already another many hours on the Glacier Express and then connect at Brig may not appeal. It is so slow I didn't even include it. It goes along the tops of the Alps. After about 2 hours I find it boring.

Posted by
831 posts

Nigel, that was most helpful.
Ken, the videos are great.

If you can, find the Smithsonian Chanel's "Might Trains" series. The episode on the Bernina Express was great- focused on the original building of the rail lines, tunnels, and the current maintenance required. There is actually a small maintenance rail car/crew that goes thru the tunnels and scrapes ice from the "live " power lines. Also, some of the tunnels have automatic doors to keep the snow from being blown in, but the crew must keep the snow from building up outside the doors- all down by hand.

Thx again and I continue to study your detailed info.

Posted by
22 posts

Hello OP

We actually travelled to switzerland in 2019. It was our first trip to switzerland and wonderful.

We too wanted to do what you are doing- to go through lugano and to see the jungfrau region. We found it incredibly inefficient and challenging.

Some of the issues have been alluded to above, but I will try to be more specific-

We essentially realised that switzerland should be divided into east (lugano etc) and west (geneva, jungfrau etc)

We found that travelling from east to west had the main challenges of cost, travel, and stations

the cost issue was a big one. to travel to the lugano area, you need a special train that has its own pass. This is very expensive.

The other areas, from zurich, to jungfrau, to montreaux to basil etc are all under essentially one (maybe at most 2) train systems making the cost manageable because how many different places you can travel. Still, we shelled out more because in the jungfrau there are many other trains/trams? that are private and not included in the pass which we paid for (if you have pass you get a discount for some of them but still adds to cost). These passes would have been in addition to any pass we needed to travel to jungfrau.

Separately, we also saw, as you have noticed in your train estimates- that travel to lugano was the longest train travel time and required multiple station changes. Furthermore, the travel from Lugano to Geneva etc was through one train system only with limited hours and required perfect planning. We also were on a 14 day trip and did not want to spend so many hours simply to travel from one place to another.

Finally, I would say that traveling by train, while convenient had its pitfalls. Granted we did not take the luxury train with panoramic views but in general the trains in switzerland are quite old. They have cabins that are not as clean as one would expect and bathrooms with their own issues. I am glad we limited our train travel- and we ONLY used trains while there!

Instead we opted to leave out the west side and chose to ONLY visit the east side. This saved us a considerable amount of travel time and cost. We travelled from strasbourg (our plane was via paris) then train to basil, then to luzern and then to geneva where montreaux is. We were able to extend our stay for far more days as a result.

Your best use of time is to spend as many days in the jungfrau as possible. We visited everywhere you went to except lugano and menaggio and varena.

We loved our trip and have no regrets.

Our next trip after COVID will be northern italy and hopefully we can enjoy lugano on the italian side

cheers!

If you have specific questions regarding travel, hotel, trains I can probably get my wife to give some specifics as she did all the trip planning!

Posted by
831 posts

Jay, thx so much for your help!

Posted by
31195 posts

Jay,

I'm surprised that you found the rail system in Switzerland to be "incredibly inefficient and challenging" as that differs from my experience. I've found the SBB to be one of the easiest and most efficient of any rail systems in Europe.

I wasn't clear where you were travelling to and from during your trip, but I don't believe you need a special train to get to Lugano. There should be numerous regular SBB trains on that route. If you're visiting northern Italy, Lugano is a very easy trip from Milano Centrale.... about €4 PP fare and as short as 1H:17M travel time.

I've always found the cleanliness on Swiss trains to be reasonably good, even on the ordinary regional trains. I've seen far worse in other countries! Of course if premium trains are available, they will always be better but of course you'll be paying for that. I've been all over Switzerland using a variety of trains, and found it to be a very easy way to travel.

As far as the cost, Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries in Europe to travel in, not only for trains but also hotels, meals, etc. so travellers have to be prepared for that. If using mountain lifts or privately operated trains, it can be very challenging to figure out the cost. I've had to resort to a spreadsheet on past visits to get some idea on the costs between passes and P-P tickets.