Hello! I am planning a trip for my parents (aged 65+) and my husband and I (late 20's) for May 2014. We are planning on revisiting London, Scotland and Italy - but we wanted to incorporate 1 week of travel in Germany and Switzerland. We have never been and I hate to admit it - but we are not very knowledgeable on either country. I have scanned message boards, articles, etc for city recommendations but thought I would try a post of my own as well! We are curious as to the best "anchor" locations in each country to take a few day trips. We are not as excited by the bigger cities as the smaller locations where we can soak up the culture. Any help is much appreciated!
My fave is the Mosel valley. Its lined with vinyards full of Riesling (take a pass on the reds). The valley train line has hourly trains in both directions, West to Trier for Roman ruins (and Karl Marx's home town). East to Koblenz and connections up the Rhine for a short river cruise through the Rhine Gorge. In Mosel Kern for a 2 to 3 mile hike up to Burg Eltz. Most of the hotels and guest house have rental bikes to tour along easy riverside trail (old railroad bed). Cochem has some bigger hotels, but I like the little guest houses (Weingut) with the winery in the basement in the whistle stop towns. And its on the way between London and Switzerland.
I get the idea you don't have Rick's (see title of this web site) book on Germany and Switzerland. It's not as detailed, but you can get some of his advice for free on the site, here:
http://www.ricksteves.com/plan/plan_menu.htm I happen to prefer the big cities and iconic monuments and museums before small towns, but I suppose that's a matter of taste. I don't see how you can do justice to Germany and Switzerland in a week. One advantage of big cities is that you don't spend a lot of time traveling between sites. Berlin, for example, is a very rich location if you have no time for anything more. I might pick Lucerne and Rigi for two days in Switzerland, especially without hiking (I'm 62 myself.) But I can't justify the travel time to get to Lucerne when you could hit Basel or Zurich so close to Germany. You might get the most useful replies if you report what you plan to revisit in London and Scotland. I just don't see how you can start with the countryside and skip Berlin, Dresden, Cologne, Aachen, Hamburg, Munich, Freiburg, etc. There's plenty of native culture to soak up there, as well as monuments of history. It's not a fair comparison, but I wouldn't recommend that first-time visitors to the U.S. start with Concord, MA, Great Falls, Montana, Napa, CA, or my own fully-developed suburb of Wyckoff, NJ.
Just to note that if your goal in Switzerland is to experience the Alps, May ususually is not a good month, although not the worst either. Germany is really too big to have an "anchor" location, although if one did exist, it would probably be Frankfurt, due to the convergance of all the rail lines and the largest airport. There's enough to see and do in and within daytrippable distance of the city to last weeks, but even this is only one relatively small sample of Germany. One week is not that much time. As the Swiss Alpine experience is not at it's best in May, I would skip it and foucs on just one or two regions of Germany that interest you.
Taylor, A short time frame of one week won't be adequate to see either area properly, but it will provide a brief "sampler" of both countries. In the same situation, I'd consider spending three days in Munich and three in either the Berner Oberland or Lucerne. Munich is one of my favourite cities in Europe, and there's MORE than enough to keep busy with for three days. Which location in Switzerland to choose may depend on whether you want more "indoor" activities or outdoors enjoying the fantastic scenery. However, as Tom mentioned, the weather may not be perfect in the Berner Oberland at that time of year. Even so, if you're interested in alpine scenery, check the long range forecasts in the New Year and perhaps take a chance and stay in the Lauterbrunnen Valley for a few days. As you're admittedly "not very knowledgeable on either country", I'd suggest stopping by your local Libary or larger bookstores to see if you can find copies of both the Germany and Switzerland Guidebooks (or the smaller regional variants). The information there will help you decide on an area that best fits your interests. If you're travelling by train, travel time from Munich to Interlaken Ost will be about seven hours, depending on which train you use. Good luck with your planning!
A good place to combine Germany, Switzerland and of course French culture is the Alsatian wine route. Start in Strasbourg, maybe 3 days there (see Strasbourg, Riquewihr, or any of the dozen other totally cute Alsatian towns around there), then 3 days in Lausanne or Montreux (or even smaller town, but stunningly cute and picturesque, Neuchatel). That'll put you on a good course to NW Italy. If you're heading to Rome or southern, fly out of Bern or Geneva. May is when the wine plantings are celebrated, always a good wine fest in the towns known for wine (like the Rhein area previously mentioned and Alsatian towns)....I know this because there's always a great wine wandertag on Mother's day, yay!
To ease in to your plans for heading to Italy, I agree that southern Germany (Bavaria) is your best choice and then go on to Lucerne. You can stay in a smaller Bavarian town and go in to Munich for a day trip, and then explore the Bavarian region around the home base you choose. (we stayed in a cute B&B in Oberammergau) May isn't as ideal in Europe as it is in California, but sometimes you might get surprised. If you spend 4 nights in Bavaria and do one day in Munich, one day you can visit Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles, another you can visit Garmisch and the Zugspitze. Then head to Lucerne (my personal favorite city in Switzerland) for an easy two or 3 days before you go on to Italy. Before anyone flames me for saying Munich can't be done on a day trip, no it's not ideal, but for what they are looking for it can work! I just did a 3 week whirlwind trip with many major cities only being visited in a day. I didn't spend hours in museums, but that wasn't my interests.