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Very Specific Itinerary Needs Milan to Bern with Kids

We are at a wedding in Italy on July 21. Family of 5, 3 kids 10 8 and 4. Had planned to go north to Germany and fly out of Frankfurt on August 3. Airline tickets are already bought.
All my Germany trip planning was for nothing; my father in law wants to go to Switzerland instead. He will be visiting Bern on July 26-28th and we are to meet him there. On the 29th we then head to the Stuttgart and the Porsche museum. :\
So if you were going to be coming from Italy on July 22, and needing to be in Bern on the 27th, where would you go?
Our interests in Germany were castles, medieval towns and cities with history, and biergartens. We are not particularly interested in alpine hikes, as we have the world's grumpiest 4 year old who is a terrible hiker, and we live in Seattle where we can go do glorious mountain hiking whenever we want.
I saw there are castles in Bellinzona, but the town looks meh? Luzern looks like a pretty old town. The Open air museum in Brienz looked fun for the kids. Bern itself looks like it has a cool alstadt, etc. Montreux and Chillon Castle looked good, as did Gruyere. These sites have very different railway journeys, though...

Posted by
373 posts

You don't have to go hiking in the mountains to consider staying in the mountains. Lots of
other activities. Golf, rafting, shopping, etc. But I think the option of hiking in the Alps
(or just taking the gondola up) tied into having lunch at some charming mid-mountain
refugio is a much different experience than hiking at home.

I'd consider Chamonix as an option. Taking the Aiguille du Midi up, maybe the Panoramique
into Italy, and having lunch in Courmayeur is a great day. There will be a jazz festival in Chamonix
that week. It is a bustling town in the summer. There is history there if you are into things such
as alpine exploring. The natural beauty is stunning, and much different than I think you will see
in Seattle or the US Rockies.

From there, bus or train to Geneva and then to Bern.

Posted by
2453 posts

It would be helpful to know where you are coming from in Italy.

Posted by
495 posts

Yes, to really help we need to know where you’re coming from.

Personally I wouldn’t discount spending some time up in the alps. Yes, Seattle has beautiful scenery and hikes, but the car free high alpine villages are something you absolutely do not get in Washington and I think it would be like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower to not spend some time up in the mountains.

Chateau de Chillon + Montreux/Vevey/Yvoire/St Saphorin would probably interest you and then I’d recommend staying up in Wengen for a couple nights in order to do Mannlichen playground with the kids + the walk from there to Kleine Scheidegg & a Boat trip on Lake Thun with castle stops at Spiez, Oberhöfen & Thun. They aren’t castles like the huge German ones you’ve probably looked into, but they are lovely ones on the water with mountain backdrops.

Or if you really don’t want to do what your father in law has apparently decided for the whole group, leave Bern on the 28th and go to a German castle while he goes to the Porsche museum :)

Posted by
16683 posts

No matter where in Italy you are coming from your will most likely have to pass through Milan to reach Switzerland. Note that one of the two main routes between Italy and Switzerland via Domodossola and Brig, will be interrupted next July by a track closure between Arona and Stresa. There will be a bus link bridging the gap, but the result will be a longer trip and fewer passengers accommodated.

That leaves the route between Milan and Luzern using the Gotthard Pass tracks. (The main route for high-speed trains via the long and deep Gotthard Basistunnel is also closed to passenger trains due to a derailment last summer). But no worries, that is the route I would suggest anyway. There are various ways to do this, in terms of stops on the way, and one can even go partway by train and then by boat. So look at Milan to Luzern for the all-train route, or take the train as far as Flüelen on Lake Luzern (actually named Vierwaldstättersee), and a boat up the lake from there.

We took the train + boat journey last summer with our family, including grandchildren, and everyone loved it. The scenery from the boat is particularly nice, as is the space to walk around. Whichever way you choose (with or without boat), you can start this journey in Locarno or Lugano, both lakeside towns in Switzerland, if you prefer a smaller, more charming town than Milan for an overnight on July 22d.

That leaves 4 nights in Switzerland before you head to Bern. You could spend 1 or 2 nights in Luzern, even staying in a “castle” if you like. The château is somewhat historic, in that it was built in the Belle Epoque era. Queen Elizabeth stayed there in 1868.

https://www.chateau-guetsch.ch/en/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Château_Gütsch

Then spend the rest of your time in Wengen, above the Lauterbrunnen Valley, or elsewhere in the Berner Oberland. You will pass through Brienz on the way there by train from Luzern, if you want to stop at the Ballenberg museum on your way.

I know you say you are not interested in hiking, but there is so much more to see and do, and the villages are so charming. For example, above Wengen you will find my grandchildren’s all-time favorite playground. There is a small hike one can do there if you like, but it is not required.

https://www.maennlichen.ch/en/summer/experiences/alpine-herdsmans-playground.html

There is also a nice playground above Mürren if you choose to stay in that village. Both playgrounds have mountain restaurants adjacent for lunch.

https://schilthorn.ch/26/en/Adventure_playground_Flower_Park

For a castle, you could visit nearby Thun, on the lake by that name:

https://schlossthun.ch/en/

Posted by
37 posts

Thanks all! We are coming from Fossacessia, so we will be taking a Freccia to Milan on Monday the 22nd, and going from there.

Posted by
37 posts

Lola, that info on the train closure is super critical, thank you! Then it makes sense to enter Switzerland through Lugano.

Posted by
16683 posts

Here is a link to the SBB website with information about the cancellation of EC trains between Domodossola and Milan from June 9 to September 8, and the replacement bus. Just open the “Italy” section.

https://www.sbb.ch/en/travel-information/rail-traffic-information/timetable-change/europe.html

And here is a link to the rail map of Switzerland, with scenic routes highlighted. The route I am suggesting is on the map as #5, the Gotthard Panorama Express from Lugano to Luzern, which includes the boat ride if you want, but only goest once a day in each direction. Or you can start in Locarno and take the Treno Gottardo instead, with or without the boat ride.

https://www.mystsnet.com/en/download/swiss-travel-system-map-en-2023/?wpdmdl=14294&masterkey=63a023c8da36c

All trains coming up from Milan will pass through Como and Chiasso before reaching Lugano. It’s you want to head to Locarno, you can change at either Cadenazzo or Bellinzona (which does, as you note, have a couple of castles, but I know nothing about them as we have not spent time there).

Posted by
4993 posts

Lucerne is charming and scenic and comfortable, and very close to the train station.
You have access to Mt Rigi and Mt. Pilatus, along with the open air Cabrio cable car to Mt. Pilatus . Getting to the summits involve boats rides, trains, and/ or gondola rides, which should keep all ages happy. Switzerland is like a Disneyland, with the cogwheel trains, gondolas, and cables cars sweeping folks up into the sky. Also, the kids will love the hands-on Transportation museum in Lucerne.
Note that in July the Swiss cities can be in the 80 degrees range, while the summits are much colder. I was caught off- guard with the heat in the cities, packing only mountain layers.
Have a fantastic time!

Posted by
37 posts

Thanks Lola! I realize my phrasing sounded like I was demanding more info of you, I meant more like thank you for the original heads up! But thank you for the links either way.

Posted by
16683 posts

I read your post as a simple expression of gratitude, which I appreciate. I added the link with details on the track closure for others who might like more information on the timing of the track closure, and possible alternative routes.

Posted by
37 posts

Yes, the differing climates will be a challenge to pack for! I tried to get my kids to go up a gondola this winter and they were afraid, so I don't think I'll be planning our trip around those either. I really don't think you are all imagining this 4 year old correctly. Worst. Hiker. Ever.
Right now I'm thinking
7/22-23 Lugano
7/23-7/24 Luzern
7/24-7/26 Thun? Interlaken? Lauterbrunnen?
7/26-7/27 Montreux
7/27-7/29 Bern

Too much?

Posted by
33123 posts

when you are in Bern they would very likely enjoy, maybe really enjoy, a trip up the Gurten. That's Bern's tame mountain, reached by a really cool funicular, and at the top there is a very good ride-on kids railway and more things for kids to do than you can count. Great for adults too (it has been a long time since I was a kid and I love it up there).

https://www.gurtenpark.ch/en/gurten-funicular/ Note that until May 15th there is a replacement bus during funicular renovation.

https://www.gurtenpark.ch/en/

Posted by
20309 posts

I am thinking that 5 locations in 7 days might be a bit much, but you know better than I the logistics of moving around 3 kids. But I would cut out Montreux, and pass straight through Lugano to Luzern. 2 nights Luzern, 3 nights Lauterbrunnen, 2 nights Bern.

Have you thought about passes? With the Swiss Travel Pass or Half Fare Card you get the free Family Card and the kids travel with you free.

Posted by
16683 posts

With Fossacesia being around 400 miles south of Milan, it is going to be a long day getting to Switzerland.

Google says the drive is around 6.5 hours with no traffic to Milano Centrale, where you pick up the train to Luzern. If you get a transfer from Fossacesia to Pescara on the coast, you can take the train from there to Milano Centrale in 4 hours 15 minutes.

You are going to need an overnight somewhere along the way before reaching Luzern. Milan is not the nicest place, at least around the train station. Bologna is a stop the train makes about an hour before Milan, so you could stop there. Or better yet change trains at Milan and go to Como (the town on Lago di Como), Lugano, or maybe Bellinzona. The R80 regional trains between Milano and Lugano also stop at Lugano-Paradiso, a suburb of Lugano. Just south of there is Melide, with the Swissminiatur outdoor museum/theme park, which might be fun for the kids—-even a “hiking averse” 4-year-old.

https://www.swissminiatur.ch/the-park/?lang=en

Melide has a train station and offers a string of hotels lined up along the lake. Hotel Riviera is a 10-minute walk from Swiss Miniatur and offers a swimming pool and private beach.

Posted by
37 posts

Lola - Oh, fur sure, we are stopping in Lugano for the first night, should get in around 7pm, based on the schedule. I don't know the reliability of the Freccia trains, though.

Posted by
16683 posts

We have found the Frecce trains to be very reliable on our last 3 trips to Italy (2022 and 2023). But from Milano Centrale to Lugano you will not be on a Frecce train; it will either be a Regional or an EC train. Probably little in reliability, though we have waited up to 10 minutes for a Regionale on a couple of occasions. This is unlikely to affect any train departing from Milano Centrale, which is an “end station”, not a “pass-through” station. Trains arriving there come to a full stop, generally with a wait there built in to the schedule (sometimes used for cleaning the train before passengers can board), and then reverse to depart the station.

Posted by
37 posts

Once we're in Milan there seems to be lots of options. Was just worried about getting out of Fossacessia as it's more remote and only a few Freccia trains a day.

Posted by
37 posts

Sam, I think you're right about the number of places we're stopping at. My reasoning is that day trips can be hard with little kids, to walk around a city without a hotel to stop back at. It does make sense to cut out Montreux, but I'm still mourning the loss of all the castles I was planning to visit in Germany, I just had to hit one of the few ones there seems to be in Switzerland! Luckily the train rides are not too long, and are part of the experience. But I will look at it again.

Posted by
37 posts

Sam, yes I was looking at Bellinzona, but there were so few hotels there. I figure we can stop there on the Lugano to Luzern route