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Itinerary help with trip to France, Switzerland and Italy

We are in the planning stages of a trip to see our daughter (studying in Florence, Italy) Our dates will be 3/26-4/3/20. We want to visit the Alsace region of France first (particularly Colmar and the quaint little towns around there.) We are looking at flying into Zürich and want to rent a car but don’t want to have to pay a drop off fee to rent in one country and drop in another. Is it best to rent a car in Colmar for 3-4 days and if so, where should we do that? After France we want to train through Switzerland by way of the Bernina or Glacier Express (we are open to spending one night somewhere along the train’s path in Switzerland to explore (we are Mountain people!!!) Not sure the best place to start our Switzerland train journey and best way to get there from Colmar. I see the Bernina Express goes to Tirano Italy- what is best way to get to Florence from there or is the Glacier Express a better option for ultimately getting to Florence. We are ok with a scenic day on the train thru the Alps to Italy if that makes the most sense. We will fly home from Florence. Would love help with the details and appreciate any advice for the itinerary.

Posted by
8785 posts

To solve your car drop off problem, return it somewhere in Switzerland. Obvious option: back at Zürich airport.
Then catch a train to Chur and overnight there.

Chur is the northern end of the Bernina route.
The Glacier Express route is east-west, you are wanting to head south to Italy, so not a good fit.

Once you get to Tirano, the train route continues south to Milan, and then to Florence.
You can look up train times on the SBB (Swiss Federal Railways) website: https://www.sbb.ch/en
You can do Chur to Florence in one day. It would be better to stop off somewhere, for example Varenna on Lkae Como which is on your route.

Sample timing Chur to Florence in one day on 1st April. There are earlier and later options as well:

Chur dep 08:32, Tirano arr 12:49 - This is the Bernina route
Tirano FS dep 13:08, Milano Centrale arr 15:40
Milano Centrale dep 16:10, Firenze S. M. N. arr 18:04

Posted by
27 posts

Thanks Chris! I thought it made the most sense to rent a car at Zurich Airport but didn't know if there were rules about us driving from Switzerland into France (possibly Germany) and then dropping back off in Switzerland (Zurich Airport.) I would love to spend a day or two in Switzerland doing the scenic train and exploring a town (maybe old town Lucerne??) We are big fans of quaint towns and mountain scenery. Not sure that Chur to Florence (though less expensive and makes more sense) would satisfy our need to see the scenery in Switzerland on one of the scenic trains?! This will be my 3rd trip to Florence (his second) so no sightseeing/exploring necessary in that area of Italy. We do want a minimum of 2 nights (one full day) in Florence before he leaves (I'll be staying another week.)

Posted by
8785 posts

didn't know if there were rules about us driving from Switzerland into France (possibly Germany) and then dropping back off in Switzerland (Zurich Airport.)

No problem about driving into and through other countries. The problem is returning the car in another country, that incurs a huge surcharge, because someone (paid employee) has to drive it back.
You may read reference to a "Vignette" needed to pay tolls on Swiss Autobahns. Any car rented in Switzerland will already have this.

I would love to spend a day or two in Switzerland doing the scenic train and exploring a town (maybe old town Lucerne??) We are big fans of quaint towns and mountain scenery. Not sure that Chur to Florence (though less expensive and makes more sense) would satisfy our need to see the scenery in Switzerland on one of the scenic trains?!

The Bernina route, Chur to Tirano is the absolute best scenic train route in Switzerland, It goes over the Alps, the other two routes across the Alps go through in tunnels. It even has UNESCO World Heritage status. And it gets you to Italy, where you want to go.
For info see here: https://www.seat61.com/BerninaExpress.htm
And search YouTube for "Bernina Express".
It includes going across this famous bridge (click for photo of Landwasser viaduct).

26/3 to 3/4 (European format) is 8 nights. I didn't know how many nights you were spending in Alsace and Florence, so assumed you were time limited in CH.
Minus 2 in Florence = 6 nights. Assuming 3 nights in Alsace (minimum recommended), you could do 2 nights Luzern + 1 night Chur.

Plan B: Alsace to Luzern, drop off car there (if possible) 2 nights. Train to Chur 1 night. Then to Florence via Bernina route.
If car drop off in Luzern not possible, try Basel (worth ½ day and ticks the quaint old city box), then train to Luzern.
You are tight on time but can do this.

Posted by
27 posts

Chris F- I can’t thank you enough for your thoughtful reply. I sent you a private message (with more detailed questions) but we will plan to do 3 nights in Colmar, 2 in Switzerland (after reading your post) and then take the Bernina Express into Italy for final 2 nights in Florence. Should we look at buying a travel pass (if so- which one for such a short stay) for the days we will be in Switzerland? We would be traveling by train from whatever town we overnight in (Lauterbrunnen or Lucerne?) to Chur on the Bernina Express. I’m a little confused (intimidated) on buying train tickets for fear I will purchase the wrong thing. I want to be mindful of what makes the most money sense as well as travel sense. Thank you again for your time!!