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Proposed Switzerland and France itinerary

Any comments on this proposed itinerary for travel with a group of friends, splitting our time approximately equally between Switzerland and France? We are thinking Sept. of 2022.

Flight into Milan and first night in Varenna, just to have a relaxing place for our jet lagged first day.
Get from Varenna to Tirano (I assume it's by regional train) and spend the day on the Bernina Express scenic rail journey, ending in Zurich but no overnight stay there. We'd take the train to Lucerne and spend 2 nights there.
3 to 5 nights in Murren, our base for exploring the Berner Oberland
2 nights in Zermatt
2 nights in Chamonix.

Rent cars. Until now the trip will have involved all public transportation.

7 nights near St. Remy, our base for exploring Provence
Flight home from Marseilles

The two nights in Zermatt may have to be cut out if we stay in Murren 5 nights, but we have the ability to do it if we stay in Murren only 3 nights.

This itinerary has a one 1-night stay and three 2-night stays, and I know this is a lot of moving around, but we've traveled with this group to Europe twice before and have done some short stays like this and everyone enjoyed the experience and didn't feel like we were wasting a lot of time in transit. Sometimes the journey is as good as the destination! We travel with carry-on sized bags only and everyone is in good physical condition. Fully guided group tours do this kind of moving around but you have the advantage of putting all the travel details in someone else's hands. My feeling is that independent travelers willing to do the research can figure out the transit details and have the trip go just as smoothly as if they were being lead around on a group tour.

Are we missing out on any must-do overnight destinations in Switzerland? Any comments on 5 nights in Murren and skip Zermatt versus 3 nights in Murren and 2 in Zermatt?

Posted by
13523 posts

It looks good to me. We often do trips with a few 2-night stays in addition to longer ones. And in Switzerland, I agree that the journey itself can be the destination.

Depending on the train you take from Chur to get to Luzern, you may change at Thalwil instead of Zurich. That shaves about 9 minutes off the total time, but mainly saves you from dealing with the Zurich train station! Use the Swiss rail site or ( goes directly to English) to see the schedules and routing.

You will find a map of the Swiss rail system here:

As for Mürren vs Zermatt, I would endorse the 3 nights in Mürren plus two in Zermatt. We didn't get to Zermatt until our 4 th trip to Switzerland, but really liked it when we did, and would happily return. Note that Rick used to diss Zermatt as "too touristy" but went there while filming his new Swiss Alps show in 2019, and has changed his mind. Watch the show if you haven't already. And check out the new Fr nah Alps show, which includes Chamonix.

Are you considering getting Swiss passes?

And how many are in your travel group? If six people, and they will fit comfortably in 3 bedrooms, I can recommend an apartment in Mürren for you. It has two full bathrooms, a large modern kitchen, and a wrap-around balcony with a gorgeous view of the peaks across the valley. It is close to the Allmendhübel funicular which you can ride up to access the highly recommended North Face trail.

Posted by
409 posts

In reply to some questions, yes, we are considering the Swiss Travel pass for this trip. Our group size is 10.

I've used The Man in Seat 61 many times before when trip planning. Such a great resource! All his info on the Bernina Express is very helpful, thanks for the reminder and the link!

Posted by
28827 posts

spend the day on the Bernina Express scenic rail journey, ending in Zurich but no overnight stay there. We'd take the train to Lucerne

I think you can save more money than Lola said, still changing at Thalwil. The fast direct train, via Zürich, is actually slower by nearly an hour. For example, the 15:12 from Chur to Luzern via Zürich (IR 3276 and IR 2635) gets to Luzern in 3 hours and 39 minutes at 18:51. The 15:16 RE 3476 leaves Chur 4 minutes later on its way to Zürich but you change at Thalwil at 16:38 (8 minutes to change from platform 5 to platform 4, probably just across the platform) and get the 16:46 IR 2126 which gets to Luzern by 17:25. Total time for that route, 2:09, a full 90 minutes faster.....

Posted by
28827 posts

Varenna to Tirano (I assume it's by regional train)


Posted by
2305 posts

May I suggest three nights in Luzern? One day could be the trip to Mt. Rigi [one hour boat ride, then 30 minute cogwheel train ride to the summit.] IMHO, this is a wonderful adventure! This is all covered by the Swiss Travel pass, Mt Pilatus is not.
Then - a second day to explore Luzern.

On our RS Tour a few years go, we went to Engelburg, and to the summit of Mt. Titlus, 10,000 ft. Being at that altitude on a clear day is a magical experience. We then took the gondola part way down, and hiked back down into town [3+ hrs.] The scenery was fantastic. It is a mystery to me why Rick takes his tours here, but does not cover the area in his guide books.

In any case, have w wonderful- and safe- trip!

Posted by
50 posts

The only place on your list I have been is Varenna so I will limit my advice to that. It is lovely, but even taking into consideration what you have said about accepting one-night stays and it being on the way to your connection in Tirano, I would not recommend stopping there unless you can have a full day there (ie, two night stay). What's best about it is a nice day visiting the nearby villages by ferry on the beautiful lake, and if you can't do that, I think it's a relatively pointless stop. It will take you quite a while to get there from the Milan airport by train (a car service would cut that time at least in half but be very expensive), so you will have little time or energy for anything more than a village stroll (which admittedly is scenic) and dinner. In exchange for that, you are paying a heavy price the next day in terms of added time and complexity to your trip. Looks like you have a long, three-leg train journey planned. It would need to start probably at the crack of dawn, wrangling your large group back up the hill from your lodging to Varenna's postage stamp size train station, maybe catching a last glimpse over your shoulder of the lake you didn't have time to see properly, to catch the local train to Tirano with enough cushion to make your Bernina Express connection. Will the Italian local be on time? Or is there a delay or (God forbid) an unexpected train strike? (it's not just a stereotype, these do happen fairly often in Italy, they have disrupted my plans several times). Rather than do that, what I would do is take the train the first day all the way to Tirano, rather than do a stop and start at Varenna, and stay there. I don't know Tirano but it looks like a tourist transit point so I'd be surprised if there aren't decent places to stay and eat there, and for this first night, frankly, one Italian town would be as good as any other for me, for that. Then the next day you will have a bit more time for breakfast and such, and catch your scenic Express without worry about having to make a connection to do so, making your day a more reliable and significantly shorter two-leg train day just in Switzerland rather than a three-leg international one.