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Input on (driving) itinerary through Alps

Next summer we (me + husband + 18 y.o. child) will spend 13 days in/near the Alps as part of a longer trip (after that we will fly to Naples and continue our trip from there).

Part of the trip is set: we'll stay in Interlaken for 5 days, and use it as a base for day-trips to the Jungfraujoch, Schiltorn and other areas on the Lauterbrunnen valley, full-day trip to Zermatt (leaving early and coming back late), scenic Golden Pass rail. For this part of the trip, we intend to pick a good hotel near Interlaken train station and use railways/funiculars/gondolas to get around. Is this a good plan? How busy is Interlaken on summer, and is it likely that prices will be no more expensive than on winter ski season?

The other part will be a 8-day road trip (we don't mind hopping from hotel to hotel during this period), and I'm lost about how to plan it out, so though I've time I'd still like some input early on. We want to drive between Chamonix to Cortina d'Ampezzo and back to Zurich cutting through Swizterland, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein.

We've seen several pictures of impressive road mountains that go well above the tree lines among glacial lakes and tundra, and we want to drive in some of them (Grimsel Pass, Susten Pass, Abula Pass, Timmseljoch, Passo Stelvio). Mt. Blanc, Vaduz and Bolzano must be part of the itinerary. However, we're having a hard time trying to pin-point a coherent itinerary. We don't want just to drive on highways, but we also don't want to overburden ourselves with too many mountain road harpins. To make it more challenging, Switzerland has sketchy Google Street View coverage, which helps us a lot on planning for Italy. What would be a good approach or general itinerary for this road trip?

Posted by
12040 posts

Don't visit Zermatt as a daytrip. If the weather changes en-route, you'll go all that way for very little pay-off. The hiking above Zermatt is some of the most spectacular I've ever seen, but the views from the altitude of the town itself are fairly average for the Alps (the majestic Matterhorn, which often hides itself in it's own blanket of clouds, being an exception). If you want to drive the Grimsel Pass (spectacular!), why not hit Zermatt for a few days after visiting the Interlaken area?

"We want to drive between Chamonix to Cortina d'Ampezzo and back to Zurich cutting through Swizterland, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein." You're kind of all over the place here. I'm trying to picture a logical itinerary that would incorporate all of these locations AFTER visiting the Interlaken area, and I'm coming up blank. Perhaps someone with more creativity can come up with something. Your overall approach might be more logical if you start at Chamonix and make your way east from there. Vaduz is skippable. If it weren't the capital of a small independent country with funny looking black license plates, it would be indistinguishable from the Swiss and Austrian territories it borders. Overall, though, I'm not fond of the idea of moving frequently from one Alpine location to the next. In this area of Europe more than almost any other, your experience is dependent on good weather conditions. This is never guaranteed. It just seems like a waste to me to drive all the way to a new location only to have your allotted time there blotted out by rain and cloud cover.

"How busy is Interlaken on summer, and is it likely that prices will be no more expensive than on winter ski season?" Fairly active, but nothing compared to the height of the ski season. I've never stayed the night during the summer, so I couldn't compare, but I've found that in most Alpine resorts, rooms are more expensive during the winter sports season. Getting a table at restaurants is also usually tighter during the winter.

Most posters on this forum will advice you to stay in one of the Alpine villages rather than Interlaken. I would say, it depends on how much of your visit you plan to spend on daytrips elsewhere. If my primary focus was hiking, I would stay in either Mürren, Wengen or Grindelwald. But despite the bad rap it gets, Interlaken is a nice town.

Posted by
3336 posts

OK...if it were me here's what I would do. Stay in Interlaken and see everything you want to see EXCEPT for Zermatt. Take the train from Kandersteg, at the eastern edge of the Berner Oberland, through the tunnel (you can take a car on this train...easy and fun!) to Lotschberg and drive to Zermatt...45 - 60 minutes from the train to the parking structure, and then 30 - 40 minutes from there depending on how long you have to wait for the next train. See Zermatt and spend one or two nights depending on the weather forecast. It's an easy drive from Zermatt to Chamonix (about 2 1/2 hours, maybe 3) but I'm afraid that you won't be able to avoid hairpins, especially driving from Martigny in Valais up out of the valley through the vineyards. After that, though, the road isn't all that twisty and it's very well maintained.
Don't expect to avoid hairpins in Switzerland...it comes with the territory just about wherever you go in the mountains! When you're driving between Bolzano and Cortina d'Ampezzo, and in the Dolomites in general, you'll encounter major crazy hairpins. Completely worth it though as these are some of the most dramatic and beautiful mountains in the world!
That's the only part of your planned trip I can speak to as far as your itinerary - good luck!