I'm planning to fly into Zurich spend 3 days in the Alps & end up in Milan or Lake Como. I've been researching which trains to take to which regions to see the best of the Alps in my limited time without going too far out of the way. Frankly, my head is spinning a bit. Rick touts the Berner Oberland area, but I'm not sure that matches up as a logical stop between Zurich & Milan. It seems like it would make sense to head for one of the cities that links up with there Bernina Express to take that into the Milan area. If I do that, where does it make sense to make a base? Will the sites/scenery be as good as Berner Oberland? If I did Berner Oberland instead, how much travel time am I adding? Finally, once I'm finished in Switzerland, is it worth my time to take a day or two on lake Como? Every day on Como is a takes a day away from Tuscany (I'm planning 4 to 6 there depending). Anyone care to take a crack at it? PS I will not have a car during any portion of the travel.
Options: 1. Zurich to Bernese Oberland (2 days) to Lucerne, direct train to Milan (via Lugano and Como town). 2. Zurich to Chur to Bernina Express route, stop in Pontresina or someplace along the route (2 day), continue to Tirano, train to Milan (dont take th ebus portion). Stop at Lake Como if you like (we do). 3. Zurich to Bernese Oberland (2 days) to Spiez and south to Milan. 4. Zurich to Kandersteg (2 days), continue south to Brig and Milan. 5. Zurich to Zermatt or one of the villages in the Valais (we like Bettmeralp/Riederalp) (2 days), to Brig and Milan.
Thanks for the help. So many options. I'll have to do more research! The most overwelming part of travel in Europe (at least for me) is there are so many options and things worth seeing and so little time. Sometimes it would be better if someone could tell you exactly what to do, but travel is so personal.
Nathan, do you want to go hiking, ride lifts to mountain tops, go paragliding, etc.? Do you prefer a busy place or a quieter car free village? Will you be by yourself, or traveling with others? And what time of year are you going? There really is no " best" of the Alps- - - it is all good.
I'll be with my spouse. We are both in our early 30s but not really the type to rock climb or paraglide. I see us mostly riding lifts to mountain tops & going for easy to moderate hikes. We don't mind places with a little bustle to them but would rather not be in a place 90% of the people we see are tourists. That sounds difficult though, considering. We will be there in mid May.
Train connections in Switzerland are excellent so Berner Oberland is tops. For an all day thrill, go to top of the Jungfrau if you have the time. It's well worth it! Have been three times and every time is awesome!
The Bernina route does indeed take you to Lake Como, at Varenna, but it is actually the longest of the three routes between Zurich and Milan. The shortest route, via the Gotthard Pass and Lugano, also takes you directly to Lake Como but on the other side, at the town of Como. You can catch a ferrynthere to other points along the lake. Thisnroute does not pass through any alpine hiking centers, however. You do pass below Rigi and can head up there by cogwheel railway; there are hiking trails upnthere with gorgeous views over the lake and off to the Alps in the west. We like it there, but I don't know how it would be in May. Going via the Berner Oberland is the intermediate choice. It does offer a much better alpine experience than anything along the shorter Gotthard route, so well worth it. I do not share Tom's concerns about snow covering the peaks as that is not where you will be hiking. The lifts up these places will be open and you can go for the views, and do your hiking on the lower trails, still in view of the peaks. Some of the trails may have mud and snow patches, but that is part of spring hiking. And it definitelybwon't be crowded.
The Berner Oberland route ( going to Milan via Spiez and Brig) does not give you a chance to see Como, but it sounds like you are undecided about that. You could stop at Stresa on Lago Maggiore, but from what I have read it is not as charming as Varenna ( which we loved). Another place you could stop for the night on the BO route, right on your way to Milan, is Lake Oeschinensee, one of our favorite places. It is an alpine lake in a glacial basin, reached by gondola from the town of Kandersteg on the train line before Brig. The rustic hotel up there opens in May for overnight stays. You might have it to yourselves at midweek. So maybe you should decide about Lake Como and that will make the choice between Bernina and Berner Oberland for you.
"I see us mostly riding lifts to mountain tops & going for easy to moderate hikes. We don't mind places with a little bustle to them but would rather not be in a place 90% of the people we see are tourists. That sounds difficult though, considering. We will be there in mid May." Most peaks in the Alps still have a thick covering of snow in May. Your hiking options will be at lower elevations. I would recommend Flumserberg, as it would seem to fit most of your requirements... less than an hour from Zurich, more of a weekend getaway for Zurich and Basel residents than an international tourist resort, and there's miles and miles of relatively flat trails at 2,000 m and above elevation. But the problem, though is the time of year. There will be too much snow at the higher elevations during your time frame.
Tom loves to promote Flumserberg, but it's not the "Alps" you are looking, it's low peaks on the edge of the main Alp chain over by Lichtenstein. The peaks are about half the height of the Jungfraunand there are no glaciers. The lifts to the top of the Schilthorn will be running in mid-May and so will the train to Jungfraujoch. You can hike on the lower trains around Gimmelwald, Lauterbrunnen, and Grindelwald. It will be early season so there won't be many tourists, and hotel prices should be lower. So the Berner Oberland is a fine place for you to go on your way to Italy. Train from Zurichnairport tpmInterlaken (2hours) but don't stay there. Change tona train for Lauterbrunnen and then gonupnto Mürren or Gimmelwald to stay. To continue to Italy, go from Interlaken to Spiez and pick upna train south to Milan. You've hardly gone out of your way at all and you"ll see one of the best places in the Alps. There is a reason everyone likes it there and in May it will not be crowded.
Good choice! And you might look carefully at the suggestion above. I would happily give up 2 nights in Tuscany for Lake Como, but not for Milan. I mean it is nice, but it is a big city. Nice if younwant to go clubbing or that, but not nearly as relaxing and romantic as Como.
While not in the title, the issue is addressed in the last couple of sentences, so hopefully Nigel and Ed will not go ballistic!! I would definitely say that Lake Como region is worth at least a day, probably two even if it subtracts from time in Tuscany. I don't know the level of your adversity to renting a car, but Tuscany, like Provence, is best seen by car. Yes, I am sure there are trains and buses that ply the routes between "major" towns, but wandering the back roads of Tuscany is the charm. As a "for instance", I have never found San Gimignano on the DB Bahn site.
Thanks for all the help. I think that the solution that I may go with is Zurich to Berner Oberland to Milan. Then take two days in Milan. One to see the city a bit and one to day trip to Lake Como before heading on to the Cinque Terre. That may be short changing the lake (and maybe Milan?), but you have to make cuts somewhere. Two weeks is two weeks...
You could also see Milan for a half-day and continue on to Varenna and spend the two nights there. I think you will find nicer places to stay, at better prices, in Varenna than Milan, unless you are there on a weekend. Milan hotels are expensive. If you depart Lauterbrunnen at 7:30 you can be in Milan at 11:30. Leave your bags at the station, and take the whole afternoon to see Milan. Trains depart for Varenna at 16:20, 17:20,etc., and arrive in Varenna an hour later. It is not a bad journey from Varenna to Cinque Terra in a day. We did that last year.
I know Milan doesn't have the sites like Rome, but we don't mind a big city. Live downtown in Chicago, loved Rome, liked Barcelona & Paris. I'll have to do some more research. It's possible that everything I want to see in Milan can be done in a few hours. The only things that stand out in my mind are the Cathedral & the Last Supper. Our itinerary is tending toward what is listed below (if you care to know :-)...the spouse has family in copenhagen if you're wondering why CPH is awkwardly tacked on to the end of the trip. Also, we went to Rome, Orvieto & Venice on a previous trip, so we're trying not to duplicate. Friday May 11 Flight Saturday 12 arrive ZRH (train to Berner Oberland) sunday 13 Berner O monday 14 Berner O tues 15 Berner O, late train to Milan wed 16 day trip to Como thur 17 Milan, late train to Cingue Terre Fri 18 Cingue Terre sat 19 Cinque Terre (late train to Florence) sun 20 Florence mon 21 day trip to Siena tues 22 Florence wed 23 early train to Pisa (leave bags in locker late flight to CPH) Thurs 24 CPH Fri 25 CPH Sat 26 CPH Sun 27 CPH Mon 28 to Chicago
Having been to both Lake Como and parts of Tuscany and knowing you won't have a car, I recommend a little time at Lake Como. We stopped there last June on a 2-week drive through the Alps and just parked our car behind the hotel. We only stayed 2 nights and wished we would have stayed longer. It was much better than any pictures and much better than we imagined. Here is a link to my blog entry about our visit there: http://travelswithtrout.blogspot.com/2011/10/europe-june-2011-lake-como.html.