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Swiss Alps recommendations

Hello all, hubby and I are going to Europe once more, and after Copenhagen, we will fly into Zurich on May 30th. We will be in Europe for three weeks (minus the transatlantic trips), and starting off with Copenhagen, Swiss Alps, France - Lyon/Nancy, then into Maastricht, and one night in Amsterdam before flying home. We are planning to spend about 5 full days in the Alps. Have never really visited Switzerland, except for two days in Zurich a long time ago. I'm looking on VRBO for accommodations since I will need a kitchen. Trying to decide on a town/city where I will have access to decent grocery stores, train station for day trips etc. Lucerne or Interlaken? We want to do a bit of hiking,and possibly visit a few of the following: Jungfraujoch and Schilthorn, or possibly Mt. Titlis, Mt. Rigi, or Pilatus and Stanserhorn. Rick is crazy about Gimmelwald..worth a trip? What about Grindelwald? We don't need to do all of the above, but would like to get a "taste" of some of them. I read about the Swiss Pass, but can't really say I understood it all. If you've bought the passes in Switzerland, which did you buy, and would you recommend? Sorry if this is confusing. Any help at all would be greatly appreciated.

Posted by
12040 posts

"Rick is crazy about Gimmelwald..worth a trip? What about Grindelwald?" Gimmelwald isn't nearly as unique as Mr. Steves suggests. Beautiful location, but the village itself is just a regular Alpine farming settlement (with of course, lots of Rickniks walking around on any given day in the summer). Plus, the towns aren't attractions themselves, it's their scenic environs that are the reason to visit. If you're staying in one town, there isn't much reason to visit another. As a place to stay, I would vastly prefer Grindelwald. Easier to reach by car and public transportation, it has two grocery stores and far more restaurants. For daytrips, though, Interlaken would be a better location to stay. Late May isn't an ideal time to visit, because there will still likely be a significant amount of snow on some of the trails at higher elevations. You should be able to do some hiking, but nothing too high. Finally, because you're coming in through Zurich, let me make another alternative recommendation- Flumserberg. If you're looking to rent a place, there should be a lot of options. However, don't consider it if you won't have a car.

Posted by
1170 posts

Tom, thank you for your quick response. We are not planning on a car. I'm flexible when it comes to activities. If it's too wet/rainy, we will do whatever indoor activities we could find. Some hiking would be nice, but if not possible, not a problem. I've been reading various comments about transportation passes. Do you recommend any particular one? There would be six days worth of travelling in Switzerland before we move on to France. Any thoughts on footwear? Wondering how folks manage to pack light and still have adequate clothing/footwear.

Posted by
501 posts

Mme Eli, as part of your planning, consider Murren, very near Gimmelwald, on the way to Schilthorn . My recommendation is half-fare Swiss Card, especially if you choose to do Schilthorn and Jungfrau. Definitely give Luzern several days, my choice would be Mt. Pilatus, but uncertain if that will be open at the time of year you are going. The sooner you make reservations for accommodations, the more likely your choice will not be taken. A few other posters will chime in with other advice.
Regarding clothing, you may need coats if you go to Jungfrau as well as Schilthorn. If there are health concerns, the elevation of Jungfrau may be an issue.

Posted by
355 posts

My vote would be to stay in the Berner Oberland and for it not to be Gimmelwald.. I was pretty underwhelmed with it. However, Murren, Wengen and Lauterbrunnen are lovely. We stayed in Lauterbrunnen for a week and did day trips in the Berner Oberland. It kept us busy for a week and I would have loved to stay longer. Lauterbrunnen is accessible by train and you can travel easily without a car (we did). We rented an apartment and cooked some to save money. There are grocery stores in the three towns I mentioned. To locate an apartment, you might want to try MySwitzerland.com. They have a section on accomodation with lots of apartments. That's how I located the one we rented in Lauterbrunnen.
We used the Half Fare card and I think we came out ahead. We did visit the Jungfrau, Schilthorn, and a lovely area above Grindelwald - sorry I can't remember the name. I would not vote for Grindelwald - there are lots of tour buses and lots more bustle. The other three I mentioned seem much more like my idea of Swiss alps town.

Posted by
206 posts

We've found Interlaken to be a nice central location for all directions: alps, lakes, major cities. If you have a clear day head for the Jungfraujoch, definitely worth it. You can visit other places on your way back down. Pilatus and Rigi are much, much smaller, but we enjoyed visiting those also (of course that was before we went to the top), but they all give you different views. We've always had a car, so don't know anything about their pass. Happy travels. Devra

Posted by
80 posts

We stayed for four nights in Murren and it was our favorite place we stayed of the six different places we stayed on our trip to Switzerland last September. If you like a rural setting and a slow, easy going place then Gimmewald would be good, if you like lots of restaurants, shops, hotels and tourist amenities then try Grindlewald - it is a typical tourist town (with great views). At least that was our opinion when we stayed there. We embrace the Rick Steves philosophy of travel so my ranking of places to stay in the Berner Oberland would be Murren, Wengen, Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald and then Interlaken in that order. Gimmewald is just a little too small for what we like and it really has no store for food - but we enjoyed a great day exploring it. Since you mention Lucerne, I might suggest one or two nights in Lucerne and then a few nights in Murren. Interlaken would be convenient for transportation, but there is nothing like staying up in the mountains.

Posted by
1170 posts

Hmmm...lots to think about, and all wonderful suggestions. My initial thought was to spend maybe 5 nights, but now I'm wondering of I should tack on another two. We are flying into Zurich from Copenhagen. Should we stay the night in Zurich? Our flight gets in after 4:00 p.m. Are there any problems taking luggage on the gondolas? Are most villages served by public transport?

Posted by
16714 posts

Luzern is only a bit over an hour from the Zurich airport. Mthere are direct trains and others with a single change at the main station. I suggest you go straight there instead of staying inZurich. Mspend two nights so you can do an excursion. Mrigioffers nice hiking and the windflowers might be out. The lifts that serve villages like Wengen are cablecars the size of a small room. Some have a luggage transport thing underneath, but you can usually just carry or roll your luggage right onto the cablecar. There is no seating; you just stand up. Gondolas are smaller, holding four to six people, generally seated. Mthen run in a constant loop and you generally board on the move. M these generally are used to access ski and hiking areas. On the Grindelwald side there are some mountain inns you can reach by gondola, so for those you would just take your luggage along in the gondola. In German they are Luftseilbahn ( cablecar) and Gondolbahn ( gondola).

Posted by
1170 posts

Lola, I'm a little concerned about altitude problems in the Alps. When we were in Maui, we spent a couple hours on Haleakala hiking. I remember at some point on our return drive down the volcano, I began to get a strange headache and felt nauseated for the remainder of that day, and well into the night. I don't recall how I felt the following day, but we attributed my symptoms to the altitude. Looking back, maybe I didn't drink enough water (we did take with us, and I generally have excessive thirst issues), or whether it was a combination of the hot sun and altitude. Did you have any problems? Has anyone else suffered any ill effects from altitude?

Posted by
2829 posts

Was it due to altitude or the windy roads of Hawaii? In any case, if you want to be on the safe side, stay down the valley, those villages are not higher than Denver.

Posted by
32244 posts

Mme Eli, Two places that you might have issues with altitude are the Schilthorn (10,000 feet) or the top of the Jungfrau (~12,000 feet at the Sphinx Observatory). I've never experienced any issues at the Schilthorn, and having a fine hot meal in the revolving restaurant is always enjoyable. Visiting the Jungfraujoch is a different story. Although I didn't experience headaches, nausea, dizziness or any of the usual primary symptoms, I did notice that things like climbing stairs were more of an effort and I was moving more slowly. Regarding Gimmelwald, although there's not much in terms of "things to see" it's a worthwhile visit or even a night or two. There's only one restaurant, so if you prefer more facilities, you may be better to stay in Mürren, Lauterbrunnen or other location. I spent about a week in Lauterbrunnen last September and found that it was a perfect "central location" for touring both sides of the valley. Grindelwald is larger and more touristy and some people prefer staying there. You could also consider Wengen. Cheers!

Posted by
12040 posts

"Are there any problems taking luggage on the gondolas? Are most villages served by public transport?" I'm not sure how they work it in the summer, but in the winter, here's the set-up. At the cablecar station in Stechelberg, luggage goes in one cable car that goes straight to Murren. Passengers ride the other one to Gimmelwald (where only Rickniks would stay in the winter), then they change to another cable car for the short trip up to Murren. I'm not sure how it works on the Wengen side. Grindelwald is accessible by car and train. If you stayed at the hotel at Kleine Scheidig, you can reach it by train from either Wengen or Grindelwald. Hard to say if your symptoms were attributable to altitude. But, because acute altitude sickness can be potentially fatal... you probably shouldn't risk going much higher than Murren or Kleine Scheidig.

Posted by
80 posts

When we hiked in Rocky Mountain NP I got the headaches from the altitude. At the Jungfraujoch my wife and I took a one hour hike across a glacier (we are early 60's) to a hut and about 45 minutes back and neither of us were affected by the altitude (except breathing was a bit more labored). Maybe we were too excited to notice it. No trouble at the Shilthorn either and we did do some hiking up there as well. There is no problem taking luggage on the trams up to Murren or Gimmewald, but packing light makes it a lot easier to get your luggage around. Of course everyone has different tastes but we liked the atmosphere in Murren (no cars, up in the mountains) compared to Lauterbrunen, although staying in Lauterbrunen makes getting to other locations in the BO a bit easier. We just thought, for us personally, we wanted to stay up in the higher mountain villages.

Posted by
1170 posts

I'm liking the ideas and feeling better about making a decision on where to stay. I would love to stay in the mountains, but hubby is iffy about that, so we may end up in the valley. I may ask my doctor what he thinks about the altitude issue, and not sure if low BP could cause issues, as much as high BP? I tend to have dizzy spells off and on because mine is on the lower side. Anyway, what about shoes? Hiking boots? I'm really wanting to keep bags as light as possible, because I'll have to bring some GF almond flour with me. I have NEVER seen it in any country we visited. Plus my medication and a few extra safe snacks. I have severe food allergies and intolerances so my choices are limited. Travelling tends to be an adventure for me, food wise. I'm assuming in late May, early June, we will need our winter clothing for the mountains. At least that's what I've been reading online.

Posted by
12040 posts

"I'm assuming in late May, early June, we will need our winter clothing for the mountains. At least that's what I've been reading online." Not unless you want to soak them with sweat (what online source is recommending winter clothes for early summer?). Try a windbreaker, perhaps a sweater underneath, +/- gloves, scarf and hat for the brief periods that you might be outside at really high altitude. And if you're hiking, you'll need considerably less, because your body will start to generate heat. As for hiking boots, if you're going to try any kind of hiking off of the main roads, I would recommend them, especially this year, when the trails will be snowier and muddier than usual in late May. It wouldn't be safe without some ankle support.

Posted by
2829 posts

Let's make a quick comparison. Most contemporary airplanes are pressurized at pressure equivalent to those of 2.400m altitude. There is no permanently inhabited town/city/hamlet in Switzerland (or anywhere in the Alps) at that altitude. Illness at hiking as these altitudes (not the top of the Jungrajoch) can have a variety of causes, altitude is not a major one. It only starts becoming a concern above 3200m.

Posted by
75 posts

Back to "where to go," I second someone's suggestion to stay in Lauterbrunen. I like that town since you can catch the Jungfrau train heading up one side of the valley, or catch the trams to those small towns mentioned as well as the Schlithorn. Plus some stuff to see in the valley. Can't comment on apartments available though as we stayed in hostels (even those are expensive).

Posted by
1170 posts

I'm still looking for accommodations with a kitchen, preferably in the valley. Sounds very central. Most places seem to want a 7 night stay in apartments. We have enough days to do that, plus hubby wants to spend two nights in Lucerne before we get to Lauterbrunnen. Good choice? We will arrive around 4:30-4:45 on the 30th in Zurich (from Copenhagen), and thought it a good idea to head to Lucerne two nights, then June 1st head to Lauterbrunnen.

Posted by
12040 posts

If a kitchen is a necessity, then if you haven't looked yet, check out Grindelwald and Interlaken. Far more rental properties there.

Posted by
33131 posts

I'm assuming in late May, early June, we will need our winter clothing for the mountains. At least that's what I've been reading online. At the summits you may well want a jacket and gloves and a hat if you go outside and play on the snow, but inside the windows it is very warm. Down the hills where most people hike or walk we always have a light windbreaker and short sleeve shirts at that time of year. In fact in June you may not want the windbreaker or you will leave it in your daypack. If you go through Trummelbach Falls some water protection is a good idea. While Lauterbrunnen is nice enough it is where we park our car or get off the train and go up to Mürren (some people go over the other side of the valley to Wengen, or continue past Mürren to Gimmelwald - but we much prefer Murren). I don't like the traffic in Lauterbrunnen; in Mürren we just start our walk or hike rather than having to have a journey to the start.

Posted by
1170 posts

Yes, I need a kitchen. Grocery stores and kitchens are always my top priority when travelling in recent years. Sadly, I can seldom give restaurant advice since I do all my cooking on trips! Numerous serious food allergies and intolerances. I've been sending out emails for various places. Fingers crossed.

Posted by
3180 posts

If you need a good grocery store you better stay in Interlaken, or maybe Grindelwald. Coop groceries are well- stocked, including gluten free items, but the one in Mürren is too small to have specialty items like that.

Posted by
1170 posts

Murren sounds wonderful, BUT, finding an available apartment for our dates isn't that easy. Some have part of the time, which means we have to move twice in a week's stay.

Posted by
7209 posts

Have you contacted Denise at the Chalet Fontana? The chalet has an attached apartment with full kitchen. Denise also has another apartment she rents although I don't know if it has a kitchen. Have you looked at www.muerren.ch choose your language then choose ACCOMODATION from the tabs on the left. There is a category of APARTMENTS.

Posted by
9429 posts

We've stayed in Murren twice and loved it. It's only 5000' altitude and is an amazing experience to stay where you are surrounded and enveloped by the Alps and the incredible views. Not the same experience when you stay in the valley. We went to the top of the Jungfraujoch and I got very sick from the altitude. It was awful. After spending all that money (very expensive to get there) we had to leave immediately. We went to the top of Mont Blanc in Chamonix, France, twice which is higher than the Jungfraujoch and had no problem at all.
Can't know til you get there. Despite the Jungfraujoch experience, Murren and the area was a highlight of our two trips there. So amazingly beautiful and so many fun walks to go on.

Posted by
1170 posts

Tim & Chris, thanks. Will check those links and let you all know how things work out. Susan, yikes! You were staying in Murren and still had problems at Jungfraujoch? I am a little hesitant to make that trip. Maybe it will be fine, but I have read a few reports online and would HATE to spend all that money and have to leave right away. Depending on where we finally find a place, we would like to see as many areas as we can during a week's stay. Wengen Murren if we stay in Lauterbrunnen and vice versa Jungfraujoch (maybe) Schilthorn
Hubby still wants to take a gander in Gimmewald We have read about the various passes but still confused about which might be helpful. I guess it depends on how much "travelling" from town/village you do during the day? We may want to ride to a certain point and maybe hike down a bit, then ride back up to wherever we started from. Also, do these passes cover the trip from Zurich to Lucerne, then Lucerne to Lauterbrunnen or Murren (the two contenders for our stay)?

Posted by
1170 posts

Denise is booked. Just checked my email. Back to searching. I'm sure there is something out there for a party of two!

Posted by
12040 posts

Just to emphasize again... as attractive as the towns may be, the point of visiting the area is not to see the towns. It's to use them as bases to explore the mountains. There's little reason to visit one town if you're staying in another, other than, for example, grabbing lunch in Mürren before hiking up the Schilthorn. So, no reason to go to Wengen unless you're staying there, or passing through on your way to Kleine Scheidig or Männlichen. And even less reason to stop off in Gimmelwald, unless you want to meet a bunch of people carrying a certain Blue Book...

Posted by
1170 posts

Tom, that's what I meant...going to the towns with a purpose of going up to the mountains and hiking. Not strolling about :-). Got my RS book today.

Posted by
1170 posts

Thank you Chris. Sounds delightful. I'll make a note. I have two leads for accommodations. One is in Murren (yay!!) and the other is in Lauterbrunnen.