We are traveling to Europe this September. We are flying in and out of Milan and going to Lake Como first for 4 nights. We then want to go to Switzerland for 4 nights before heading back to Milan. We have never been to Switzerland and are overwhelmed with all of the choices. We love to hike and are also foodies. We would appreciate any feedback.
It's fairly easy to get to the Lauterbrunnen Valley of the Berner Oberland from Milan and 4 nights makes for an excellent stay. This area is written of extensively in this forum as well as in Rick Steves' Switzerland guide. The beauty is exceptional as is the hiking. There is hiking for all ability levels.
Personally, although we love to cook, eat and drink wine, I am not thrilled with Swiss cuisine, but there are many decent restaurants and it is a chance to try the regional specialties.
Aside from the Berner Oberland, there is also Engleberg which has hiking and the cable cars to the top of Mt. Titlis. you could also go to Lake Lugano where there is hiking, boat rides and several cable car trips. There would be more food choices in Lugano and both Engleberg and the towns in the Berner Oberlandcan be small and the choices limited.
You do not say where you are staying on Lake Como, but if itis Varenna, I suggest you head north to Tirano and ride a Swiss train on the Bernina Express route. It does not have to be the actual Bernina Express train; regular regional trains travel the same tracks frequently and enjoy the same scenery. Ride to Pontresina, St. Moritz, or a smaller village such as Samedan, all of which are mountain villages with great hiking opportunities. Or you could get off at one of the mountain hotels that have their own stop---no village there.
After two nights, take the train to Luzern for two nights. Lots of scenic possibilities there---boat rides on the lake, hikingin Rigi, a glacier visit j Mt. Titlis.
Then take the short transfer to Arth-Goldau and catch the direct train to Milan. You can get great prices on this international train by buying ahead on SBB.ch or Trenitalia.
This plan will take less travel time than getting to the Berner Oberland, and has the benefit of one of the most scenic train rides anywhere. I had to wait til our fifth trip to Switzerland to ride this train, but I am so glad we finally did---the Bernina Express route offers the highest train route in Switzerland. Over the Alps, not under them in a tunnel.
I have the same question as Lola - where on Lake Como are you staying?
If you're staying in Varenna, I second the suggestion to head north on the Bernina Express route, as the scenery is spectacular (it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site as I recall). You could also go to the end of that line in Chur, spend one night and then continue on to Lucerne the following day. Lots of choices!
Ken and Lola I love this idea! I have been trying to figure out how to incorporate the Berina Express into this and was also very interested in Lucerne. We are staying in Bellagio on Lake Como so does that work?
Bellagio will work--- you would need to take a ferry to Varenna to catch the train, as the train does not stop in Bellagio. It is an easy ( but slightly uphill) walk to the train station from the ferry dock.
Or you might be able to take a taxi--- the two towns are not far apart.
Whichever you choose, it is best to buy the train ticket from Varenna to Tirano in advance on the Trenitalia website, and print it out in advance. There are no ticket machines at the Varenna station, and no station agent either. There is a travel agent nearby that sells the tix, but what if they are not open when you walk by? It saves time and angst to get them ahead of time.
You can also get the Tirano to xxx ( your stop in Switzerland) in advance and you may save $$$ doing so as this is considered an international journey. I believe I paid only 32 CHF for our tickets from Samedan to Tirano by buying them 3 months ahead on sbb.ch.
We stayed in Samedan for two nights and enjoyed a great " balcony" hike above town, but St. Moritz and Pontresina both offer hiking as well, and are larger villages with more dining and lodging options. St. Moritz is an upscale ski resort so has some fine dining places if you are interested. Pontresina has a particularly intriguing lift-served hike above town--- you ride a lift up, hike across a high plateau to another lift, and ride down. And if I remember correctly, one of the lifts has a restaurant at the top that is open for dinner ( and great views), with a ride back down after your meal.
The three villages are just a few minutes apart by train. With a two-night stay, most hotels in the area will include a transport card that provides free rides on buses, trains, and lifts within the Upper Engadine region. We used it to ride a lift down to Celerina from our day hike, and then the train back to Samedan.
Thank you so much Lola for this wonderful info! I am a planner so I appreciate all of the train info. I am very excited about our Switzerland plan!
In order to reach Bellagio, I assume you're travelling from Milan to Varenna and then taking the Ferry across? The train from Varenna-Esino to Tirano is a Regionale, which means you can buy your ticket several days in advance, and then just validate prior to boarding the train on the day of travel. DON'T forget to validate or you'll risk hefty fines which will be collected on the spot!
Again if you're travelling from Milan to Varenna / Bellegio, if you forget to buy your ticket, you could always stop at the helpful Tivano Tours office. You have to walk right past it to reach the Ferry. You'll likely be travelling to Bellagio in the afternoon, so the office should be open.
If you want to take the panoramic Bernina Express cars, I believe there's only one departure per day in each direction with those. However you can take any train that travels that route, as they all use the same tracks. While the panoramic cars are nice, they do have one small disadvantage - it's difficult to avoid window glare in photos. As I recall, reservations are compulsory on the panoramic cars.