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Scenic drives

I will be arriving in Milan in first week of August but plan to spend majority of my 2 weeks in Switzerland. I was debating about doing the journeys through train but am currently leaning towards driving due to the flexibility. I plan to rent a car in Milan, drive all around Switzerland and return the car in Milan.

I am debating between the two routes below (they try to hit scenic rail routes so that I can get some of that experience):

(this one hits the Golden pass rail and Bernina express scenic rails)
Milan --> Zermatt (park at Tasch) --> Lausanne/Montreux (1 day) --> Interlaken (through Zweisimmen) --> 3 days Jungfrau park at Lauterbrunnen --> Bern (1 day) -> back to Interlaken and to Lucerne via scenic route (2 days) --> Appenzell -> Pontresina --> Lugano/Como --> Milan

(this one hits the Golden pass rail, Glacier express & Bernina express scenic rails)
Milan --> Lugano --> Pontresina (tracing Bernina express route and stops at Bernina pass for hikes) --> Zermatt (park at Tasch) tracing the Glacier express route --> Zermatt (2 days) --> Lausanne/Montreux (1 day) --> Interlaken (through Zweisimmen tracingh golden pass route) --> 3 days Jungfrau park at Lauterbrunnen --> Bern (1 day) -> back to Interlaken and to Lucerne via scenic route tracing remaining Golden pass route (2 days) --> Appenzell --> Milan

  1. Any issues with rental car companies when I cross birder (other than having to purchase the vignette)?

  2. Will the views from the drives be as good as what we will see if we take the corresponding train?

  3. Any modifications, additions, subtractions to routes above?

Posted by
27426 posts

Number 2, having done both - the answer is absolutely positively no.

Driver has to watch the road - misses the views. I suppose you could drive, go back, switch drivers.

What do you mean by "driving due to the flexibility"? What sort of flexibility do you want?

Number 1 - just different colour of signs and different laws.

Where do you intend to park in Bern?

Posted by
3606 posts

I love to drive... But in Switzerland it's a headache. The combination of expensive and scarce parking, sky-high speeding fines with merciless traffic cameras, and car-unfriendly road engineering in towns, steers me towards the train, especially for a party of 1-3 people.
Many of the train lines you list take you in roadless areas (e.g. goldenpass, Bernina) and are best enjoyed from the comfort of the train rather than behind the wheel, scouting the next bend ahead.

With a travel-heavy two-week route, look at Swiss travel pass for fullest flexibility - you'll be able to just hop on any train you see, and any Swiss route is served at least hourly.
For luggage, many stations have lockers.

Posted by
45 posts

Thanks for the inputs Nigel and Balso.

With two kids and all the accompanying luggage/diaper bag/stroller etc seems easier to just drive. Plus with kids, it is tough to time morning wakeups to the train times (I heard the panoramic trains are only at certain times). Finally, I love the whole "stop when you see a great pano spot and take pics to your hearts content" thing!

Definitely starting to lean towards "train"ing now! Will start a new thread to see how to modify RS train itinerary if I start from Milan instead of Zurich.

Two final Qs:

1. This route is Google map version of hitting all the spots https://bit.ly/2Jx2tig. How are the views along this route. Any modifications/side road trips you would propose?
2. Balso, you specifically asked about Bern parking. Is bern notorious for being car unfriendly?

Posted by
45 posts

@Nigel one more flexibility car seems to give is more lodging options since some Airbnbs are not close to the city train station. How well are the different parts of city connected by local busses? I have heard taxis are expensive and only the big cities have Uber.

Posted by
5774 posts

2. Will the views from the drives be as good as what we will see if we take the corresponding train?

Hard to believe that the views driving would be anywhere close the views from the trains. My bias is that I only did the Bernina train journey and didn't (want to) drive. And we did the journey in March where passes were snow covered. That said, it appears that the train goes where no cars go. And as others suggest, if you were driving narrow mountain roads, your view would be of the pavement with eyes on the road, not the scenery that you are passing.

We also enjoy the freedom of not having to deal with a car and where to park it both during the day and overnight. And as you note, a private car is not even allowed in Zermatt. For us, trains are the flexible mode and a car would be a "tire around the neck".

But if you need to drive:
https://www.bern.com/en/detail/traveling-by-car

Once you’ve arrived in Bern, Bern Tourism recommends leaving your car
in one of the multistory parking garages and exploring the city center
on foot. The old town is car-free, except for deliveries.

https://www.car-parking.eu/switzerland/lucerne

The inner city of Lucerne is a pedestrian zone where traffic is
forbidden. Outside this area there are just a few parking bays
on-street. For a long stay we would like to advise to park in the city
centre car parks or in one of the P+R's on the outskirts of the city.

Posted by
3606 posts

With two kids,
- a car starts to make sense if they're not car-sick; your concern with luggage is valid
- my main concern with your route becomes the number of stops with one day (one night?) stays. At the very least I would skip Bern, unless you have a specific reason to go, and spend two days near Montreux.

Posted by
45 posts

Thanks Balso. Rick Steve's recommends Bern as a must-do (three mountains!). Let me actually read the things to do. After reading his description on Pontresina, it actually seemed like a great place for me even though he just gives it a single mountain!

He also mentions the best thing about Glacier express route is the Disentis to Brig. Will look into if I can just do this part as a drive.

Posted by
3606 posts
  • Disentis to Brig is fully driveable in summer. Tiresome drive, though (bends, bends, bends).
  • Never been to Pontresina, but I'll go in January.
  • In full disclosure, I never took the time to full explore Bern, but the few hours I spent between two trains didn't thrill me that much. Much preferred Luzern. But this is a personal opinion.
Posted by
897 posts

Here is another kid thing about Swiss trains. The kids can get up and run around and stretch their legs instead of being confined in a car. In fact several Swiss trains that are double deckers have small kids’ play areas with slides etc. on the top deck. The trains have very clean bathrooms which is definitely important for kids.

Posted by
9993 posts

Bern is "meh" compared to Pontresina, in my opinion. Pontresina is and accessible and easy little town, great bus service and a cute little red train that takes you to scenic lifts and walks. The horse-drawn carriage out to the Roseg Gletcher is likely to be a child pleaser. You can even walk one way on an easy trail (pram friendly).

Posted by
45 posts

Thanks for the info @Kelly. The kids play area seems like a dream come true!

QQ: Do any of the scenic rails: Bernina, Glacier (esp this one since its so long), Golden pass or Gotthard have the kids play area? One day, my son will one day realize why I am rolling my eyes at the thought of playing on slides when these great sights pass by, but surviving is the name of the game today!

Posted by
45 posts

Thanks for the info @Laurel. Which one is the easy hike in Pontresina? Is the Muottas Muragl to Panoramic Hike in Rick's book, stroller friendly for the most part? My youngest hates the backpack!

Posted by
897 posts

I do not recall a kids play area from Interlaken to Lucerne, but I didn't specifically look for it - they are in certain cars on the trains. Apparently look for FA on the schedule and/or on the train car. There was a play area on the way from Lucerne to Zurich, though. See https://www.myswissalps.com/forum/topic/travelling-with-kids-in-trains and https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=46&v=n9Pbys9bsJU for more info

Posted by
27426 posts

No FA on the all-in-one Zentralbahn trains between Interlaken Ost and Luzern. Narrow gauge, not a lot of extra room, no upper deck, just panoramic floor to ceiling windows. Lots and lots to see. The train changes ends in Meiringen (Reichenbach Falls of Sherlock Holmes fame). On the rack (you might have heard of it as "cogwheel") for much of the distance between Meiringen and Luzern. Sit on the right hand side leaving Interlaken Ost - soo you will cross the bridge and the lake and waterfalls will be on your right. Stay on the same side when the train changes direction at Meiringen and the lake will be (along with you) on the left hand side, then the treasure hunt and then the mountain lakes. Not until nearly Luzern does Lake Lucerne make an appearance on your right hand side. Have fun.

So much to see, perhaps they can look out the windows and spot the (fake) animals next to the track. Treasure Hunt!!

Posted by
9993 posts

The easy hike is between the Hotel Roseg Gletscher and Pomtresina. You can take the horse drawn wagon/carriage one way and walk the other. Another easy one is to the glacier Morteratch. You take the train to the station there (and there is a restaurant there as well) and walk to the foot of the glacier on a very nice and even path. The Panorama Weg was a bit more challenging. Nice to go up on the funicular and there is a little walk up there with sculptures and views,but the walk might be too much with a roam or stroller.