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Alpine trip help

We're planning a 2 week Alpine trip for summer 2019 (2 couples). I originally wanted to do the RS Alpine Your Way Tour, but decided that I wanted more time in Switzerland so I am considering an independent trip. We intend on purchasing the Swiss Travel Pass for 5 or 8 days. I am usually comfortable planning independent travel, but I am finding Switzerland confusing.

The Plan:

Fly into Salzburg. Stay 3 nights.
Pick up rental car in Salzburg on last day and head to the Zugspitze/Fussen area. Visit Zugspitze en route to Fussen area.
Stay in Fussen area 2 nights and visit Neuschwanstein area.

Drive to Lucerne and spend at least 2 if not 3 nights and explore Pilatus, Rigi, etc. Drop off car upon arrival to Lucerne.
I would like to split the rest of the time with at least 3 nights in the Berner Oberland area and then at least 2 nights in the Geneva area (to include a day at Chamonix). We will fly home from Geneva. We could add another stop or increase length of stay in the above mentioned areas. Bern is a possibility (or maybe a day trip there if possible) We should have 14 nights total, but don't want 1 several 1 night stops. B&Bs or vacation rentals a plus.

Now here is my concern...
I did pick up the RS Switzerland guide book, but have not totally devoured it yet. We want to ditch the car in Lucerne and use the Swiss Pass to use train travel for the rest of Switzerland (including the Panoramic Trains) . I am wondering which towns would be best as a base without a car. Proximity to trains, etc are a factor. We are capable of walking with light luggage, but not too far of course. I am considering Wengen, Murren, Gimmelwald, Grindlewald. Is Zermatt a must see? How about Lugano area? We are more interested in nature, hikes, boat rides, cheese, wine and just hanging out...more than big cities and museums.
Is one really able to thread together day trips and overnight stays to just about anywhere in Switzerland?
Are the train stations fairly accessible by foot?

Is Air Conditioning scarce in Switzerland?

Thanks for any input.

Posted by
13049 posts

We just returned from our fifth family trip to Switzerland (and also went to Chamonix). I would be happy to help.

First of all, you will incur a large drop fee if you take the rental car into Switzerland and drop it there. It is best to drop it in the country where you rented it. So consider taking the train from Salzburg to Munich and renting the car there. Then drop it on the German side of the border with Switzerland and use the train from there. You will be paying for that journey anyway with your Swiss Pass.

For the Swiss part, I suggest 3 nights Luzern (Rigi day trip, fully covered with the Swiss Pass), 3-4 nights Mürren, then take the Golden Pass panoramic train to Montreux and spend 3 nights there (or in nearby Vevey, a charming smaller town). You can daytrip to Chamonix easily from Montreux on the train, and it is also fully covered on the Swiss Pass. (The bus from Geneva to Chamonix is not covered, and not nearly as scenic).

Trains go directly to the Geneva airport from Montreux and other lakeside towns, so if you have an afternoon flight there is no need to spend a night in Geneva, unless you want to.

For Mürren, I highly recommend this vacation rental:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/VacationRentalReview-g188084-d6588573-Chalet_Oberdorf_Murren-Murren_Jungfrau_Region_Bernese_Oberland_Canton_of_Bern.html

It is a 3 bedroom, 2 bath deluxe apartment with a large deck and gorgeous views across to the Jungfrau massif. We shared it with our adult children and two grandchildren, and it was very comfortable.

Since you do not have dates yet, I suggest early August. The Swiss national day is August 1, and the celebrations are fun to see. And the first weekend in August is the Mürren village festival (Dorffest), with a parade that is lots of fun to see.

Posted by
714 posts

Lola has good advice, and I'll just add a few more considerations, because I've done a similar trip.

Whenever possible, try not to drop off a rental car in another country. $$$

After doing Salzburg stuff (Sound of Music tour?, Hitler's Hideout near Berchtesgaden, and check out https://www.eisriesenwelt.at/en/ ), I'd be tempted to take a train to Munich, which is sorta on the way to Fussen, or, at least cross the border to rent a car. You could also rent a car in Munich, and/or take the train down to Fussen as a day trip. I'm not sure I'd visit the Zugspitze. It's nice, but you'll have 3 other chances at mountain peaks (2 in Berner Oberland, plus Chamonix) and I think those 3 have more ambience, AND they'll be "right next door".

I mention Munich for another reason: you can get a bus from there to Zurich for around $20 each, taking 4 hours or so. See flixbus.com and I'm sure there are others.

Once in Zurich, you can use your SwissPass. I'd take the day saved from Zugspitze, keep Lucerne to 2 nights, and use the extra 2 days to have at least 5 days in the Berner Oberland. Why? I return there year after year, and I try to schedule 10 days. (I'll send our fav. trails to your forum private mail.) We never run out of things to do, plus you should assume a third of your days will be overcast, misty, or rainy. You are in the mountains, after all, and thundershowers are common. For that same reason of clouds/rain I would skip Zermatt and Lugano, plus they take a long time to get to. I'd skip Bern.
Lola has a good suggestion about Murren, though I have a slight preference for Lauterbrunnen because of it's more central location. Wherever you stay, Grindelwald, Wengen, Murren, or Lauterbrunnen, I wouldn't worry about distance to the train. In Murren you are only 5 min walk from either the train station or cable car. Same for Wengen. Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald are more spread out, so they have local buses that run every 30 min. The Swiss are great at transportation. I've met lots of locals there that just don't own an auto because they can get everywhere using trains and buses. The train station folks speak good English and are very helpful.

In Geneva, you might be interested to know there are free bikes for rent ( www.geneveroule.ch ). The Red Cross Museum is interesting, and the views from Calvin's church belltower are great. If you time it right to be there for generally the 2nd Saturday in August, you will see one of Europe's greatest fireworks over Lake Geneva. Youtube search "Fetes de Geneve 2018". (I used to live in Geneva.)

In general, air conditioning is scarce, but it is rarely needed. If you are worried, buy one of those little fans that plug into your USB port.
If you do Lucerne, Berner Oberland, Montreux (Chillon Castle there), and Geneva, you will have a Great sampling of Switzerland.

Posted by
145 posts

Thanks so much to Lola and Shoe...

All great advice that I will for sure consider. (
For what it's worth, we will likely be traveling during August 2019 and we have the option of flying home from Zurich as well as Geneva if that would make a difference to itinerary. I wasn't planning on a Zurich stop, but if there is good transportation to the airport we could consider.

This may be a dumb question, but what is there to do in "BO" if the weather bad?

Going back to the drawing board now. I'm sure I'll be back for more feedback.
Thanks again!

Posted by
16736 posts

It is too early to book flights for August 2019, but looking at July 2019, you would save quite a bit of money flying into Munich and out Zurich, as opposed to flying into Salzburg. From Philly its $1350 pp through Salzburg, and $935 through Munich. All 4 of you could take a train from the airport to Salzburg for 43 EUR total with a Bayern Ticket and it only takes 2 hours an 18 minutes with hourly connections. You could rent a car when you are ready to leave Salzburg just over the border in Freilassing, do Berchdesgaden, then Fuessen, then drop the car in Lindau (worth a short stay there), then proceed to Switzerland by train.

You have a lot of time to fine tune your flights, but as a general rule, flying into small airports adds cost as there are few flights, from few places, and the the planes are small, and prices are uncompetitive compared to big airports. You might also look at Newark as a departure point.

Posted by
714 posts

Rainy, misty, overcast days in the Berner Oberland, alternate activities:

  • Hike behind Staubbach Falls at Lauterbrunnen (out of the rain half the time)

  • Hike or bus over to Trummelbach Falls (inside the mountain, so out
    of the rain)

  • Visit the Lauterbrunnen Museum (near the river, near the church)

  • Take the train to Interlaken Ost station and browse the huge Coop
    store across the street

  • If you have a train pass, check the weather (www.meteo.ch) for Luzern, 1.5 hrs away

  • Likewise for Bern. With an umbrella you can walk to Einstein's
    house and out of the rain

  • Misty day: train to Meiringen and visit Aareschlucht (Google it)

  • Take a boat ride on Lake Brienz, especially if covered by your pass

Posted by
145 posts

Regarding flights to Salzburg vs Munich

Originally I had planned to fly into Munuch...(Just because) and spend 2 nights. I knew that we could easily transfer to Salzburg by train. We are using United/Lufthansa FF miles so the miles cost doesn't change. I know it's always an option.