We will be in northern Italy and Switzerland (staying in Murren for a week) for over 3.5 wks in late May 2013. Never been to the French Alps. Thought it this would be a nice addition to our trip. How many nights are recommended for a leisure trip to Chamonix? Typically we are very fast paced/high energy travelers, but would like to take it down a notch this trip and actually have time to relax on vaca. What other sights are worthy outside of Chamonix? Also, is Lake Geneva worthy of a visit? It does not seem appealing or am I missing something? Zermatt/Matterhorn worthy of a trip? We love Berner Oberland and wondered if Zermatt was equal. We are hikers and mountain bikers, with the love of high art and antiquites. Thank you
Lake Geneva is certainly worth a visit. From the Swiss side you have stunning views over the French alps. Chateau Chillon is one of the best preserved castles in Europe situated on an islet on the lake. In my opinion, the Lavaux vineyards between Vevey and Lausanne are not to be missed (a UNESCO protected world heritage site created by Cistercian and Benedictine monks that dates back to the 12th century). In addition you have easy access to Gruyere, a picturesque medieval town. Regarding Zermatt and the Matterhorn, I personally think it is not to be missed. I cannot emphasize enough how very special the Matterhorn is.
I agree with Rick Steves however that Geneva itself is not very interesting. There are great walks around lake Geneva (From Montreux to the Chillon Castle along the lake and in the Lavaux vineyards). Zermatt is hikers' paradise. I have not been to Chamonix for a long time. It is surrounded by beautiful scenery. Chamonix itself is a town, not a resort which I found not that appealing. From what I remember, you have to travel quite a bit from the downtown to the various gondolas.
Zermatt is a variation of a theme, but not the same as the Berner Oberland. From a vantage point of standing in the valley, with the exception of the stunning site of the Matterhorn, the scenery isn't as impressive as the Berner Oberland. However, once you ascend in altitude so that the valley walls no longer block your view of the peaks, the views are beyond stunning, even more impressive than the Berner Oberland. The hiking is also considerably more difficult. The tourist infrastructure in Zermatt can be a little overwhelming to some, but I actually find this a plus- more and better restaurants!
I have been to the Matterhorn/Zermatt area once and Chamonix area 3 times (read into that what you will) I am glad I visited Zermatt, just do not feel a need to go back having seen it once. Chamonix had a variety of things to do and was more interesting to me. If you can do both, they are both worthwhile. If you have to pick one, weigh your options. Zermatt and the Matterhorn are iconic. I had to see them once in my life. Chamonix is a chance to experience a little bit of France. The drive from the Berner Oberland area is beautiful, and as someone pointed out, there are worthwhile stops between the two. Also, Annecy is not too far away and you might enjoy a visit to the lakeside town. I finally made it this year (in my 3 trips to Chamonix, I never drove over, this year I skipped Chamonix and did Annecy) The town if lovely. We did a wonderful bike ride around the lake and the Saturday town marked was fantastic.
I have visited Chateau Chillion on Lake Geneva a couple of times. That is easy to do on the way to Chamonix (as is Gruyere) If you are driving and want to see Gruyere and Broc, I recommend the Jaun Pass route between Gruyere and the BO area. It is prettier if you drive from Gruyere TO the BO, so if going the opposite direction, be sure you stop and look back (lol) We have also used the Kanderstag train to go between these 2 sights. It is a unique experience as well (your car "boards" the train) and makes for a faster trip. If you are throwing Zermatt into the mix, that is the way to go. Chateau Chillion is close enough you can still visit it, but you would have to drive ou of your way to see Gruyere.