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Best of Switzerland Tour Report

Here is the quick summary for those who are not interested in reading through all of the detail.
This tour was an extremely positive experience and I can heartily recommend it for others. You end up doing more and experiencing more than is represented by the itinerary. My group of fellow travelers was an exceptionally nice group of people which made the tour all the better.

Day 1. I had arrived in Switzerland the day before and chose to use most of this day to visit Mt. Pilatus. The tour hotel desk sold me the “golden ticket” which was quite convenient. I boarded a bus less than a block from the hotel which took me to the Gondola. Up a series of Gondolas to the summit and I was treated to a gorgeous view. There are several hiking paths available. This was followed by a cog railway down to the lake on the other side. A quick lunch at the restaurant there, and I took a boat cruise back to Luzern. It was just a matter of a short walk back to the hotel. I rested a bit before joining the group for initial meeting.

Our guide introduced himself and invited everyone to share their names and the reason they had chosen this particular tour. There was a short orientation walk and we returned to the hotel for our first group dinner. A good time of starting to get to know people.
Day 2 started out with the hotel elevator being broken. These things happen, so I made the best of it. 6 floors down to breakfast wasn’t so bad, but the 6 floors up reminded me why I really need a fitness regime. It was fixed within a few hours.

We had a walking tour with a local guide named Claudia. I hated it. For me it was 2 hours of torture. We weren’t 30 minutes into the walk before she had ridiculed Asian people, called the Italians dishonest, and explained that no one could possibly believe the Catholics. She seemed to think statements loaded with sexual innuendos were good tour guiding. Others seemed to enjoy her, but she started me doubting the wisdom of taking this tour. That was a tough moment when I had the horrible worry that somehow I had done something horribly stupid in signing up for this tour. Thankfully, this was the only time I felt that way during the tour. The rest of the time certainly made up for this one bad experience.

This was followed by a chocolate tasting which I enjoyed. The original tour itinerary had made it sound like this was in the afternoon, so I hadn’t adequately planned for the amount of free time we had (from 1 pm on). This made me realize that I need to be proactive going forward and really understand the daily schedule and have good planning done for my free time.

I ended up with a nap and walking the section of old city wall. Dinner was on my own so I ate at the Manor Dept. Store where I ran into a couple from the tour and had an enjoyable meal with them.

The members of the tour group are a very congenial group of people and I look forward to getting to know them better. It was a little bit of a shock to realize I was at the end of day 2 and our guide has never spoken to me. Perhaps when we start on the bus section tomorrow, he will use that time to start to get to know people and their names.

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Day 3 of the tour marked the first day of traveling together for our group. We loaded onto the bus about a block from our hotel and began a journey along the lakeshore of Lake Luzern. Our guide shared some language tips, practical matters and historical background as we travelled to Brunnen where we took a lake boat the short distance to Rutti’s Meadow, the traditional birthplace of the Swiss Confederation.

There is a short, but fairly steep, climb up to the meadow itself from the dock. Here we learned a little more and were given chocolate as we briefly played the name game as a group. It did help me learn more names, but I still have a ways to go. Our guide has “come alive” with the bus portion of the tour and is actually quite friendly. My previous worries have been taken care of.
We walked back down to the dock where we caught a paddle boat for a ride to the end of the lake where our bus was now waiting for us. It was just about noon and we drove a short distance to the town where the legend of William Tell is reported to have taken place. Our guide gave us a short orientation and set us off on a lunch break. I think all of us ended up in the cafeteria at the COOP grocery store.

We went back on the bus and drove to Stansed. We had about a 1/2 mile walk along the shore to Fortress Fürigen, a secret bunker complex built by Switzerland in the 1940s to help defend herself should the Nazis invade. Such defenses were built throughout the Alps. The museum is usually only open on Weekends, but opens exclusively for Rick Steeves tours when a tour comes through. We split into two smaller groups and were shown through by local guides. It was interesting, but I could feel my claustrophobia starting to kick up a little after an hour or so and was glad to exit the mountain tunnel back into the fresh air.

Our final short drive of the day was to Engelberg which will our home for the next two nights. We are visiting a ski resort in the “off season” which means the town was relatively quiet in the evening. Our group dinner was a good chance to get to know other tour members and sample some Swiss dishes.

Day 4
“An almost perfect day” was how today was described by most tour members. A beautiful clear day in the Alps, adventures on Mt. Titilus, and unexpected treats made for a great day.

Our group met after breakfast to take the gondolas up Mt. Titilus. The views were spectacular. At the top, our guide helped us by-Pass most of the others by taking us through the glacier cave and across the skybridge. There aren’t words to describe the views. We spent some time at the summit. Our guide invited anyone who wanted to hike the lake that was 1/2 down the mountain to join him.

Around 10 of us took him up on the offer and we had a very enjoyable hike. We ate lunch at the restaurant at the gondola station before people separated off to different activities and hikes.

Later in the afternoon our group met to tour the Benedictine Monastery. As a special treat, this doesn’t usually happen, we were allowed to visit the Monastery’s library and manuscript collection. Beautiful manuscripts over 700 years old,

Finally, our guide had heard that there was a community concert featuring Swiss music at the park this evening and encouraged group members to attend. Most of us did. There was an amazing yodeling choir in traditional dress and an alpenhorn band. The music was beautiful. If you looked, we were surrounded by Alps.

The “almost” perfect came from doing a hike down from the cheese alp that turned out to be much steeper than I expected. A bit sore,but good.

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Day 5
Today was a travel day from Engelberg to Lugano., as well as a particularly fun group dinner.

The bus drives over the top of the Gothard Pass which is quite scenic as well as filled with curves. There was a brief rest stop near the top of the pass. On to Bellinzona where there is an interesting 1 hour walking tour of the fortifications and a lunch stop. The entire group was treated to gelato.

We checked into our hotel in Lugano where we were thankful for air conditioning. We had a short walking orientation to the town and boarded our chartered boat. We had a scenic cruise and ended up at our group dinner destination, a lovely lakeside restaurant. The group was split into teams to cook the risotto portion of our meal. We then ate together on the lakeside terrace. This was quite fun and symbolizes for me some of the extra value received from Rick Steves tour. This fun meal would be very challenging to replicate on your own, especially since it is the comradeship of the group that makes this so special.

Boat back to our hotel.

Day 6
Today was our scheduled “vacation from vacation “ which means there are no group activities planned. Tour members can use this time as they please. A few adventurers from our tour felt this meant a full travel/action day to achieve a long held dream of seeing Bellagio, Italy. Another had arranged to meet and spend the day with relatives that live nearby. Some wanted nothing more than to lay by the pool and read a book. Many, like myself, used this day for small outings in the area.

I started out taking the funicular up mt. San Salvatore and taking pictures from the viewpoints. I was by myself which meant several interesting conversations took place that wouldn’t have if I had been in a group. Funicular back down and then a walk along the lakeshore. I ran into two others from our tour walking and had a brief conversation.

Back to the room for a nap, and then out to the boat landing. I had decided to take a 2 hour boat cruise. It was hot today and being out on the water seemed like a pleasant option. I saw great scenery and got in some serious people watching as well.

Back to the room to freshen up and then I ran into a tour member who very excited about some gelato she had just had. She took me off to the shop and then continued with her walk. It was good! First I had to decide which type of chocolate I wanted them to line the cone with. Then, what flavor gelato. I ended up with white chocolate with strawberry gelato. Mmmm!

A little bit more of a walk and back to the room to do a little laundry and get organized for tomorrow.

I enjoyed the change of pace today and look forward to hearing what others did at breakfast.

Day 7
Today was exhausting. It was a good day for the most part, but when you arrive at your hotel for the night 11 hours after you set out from your last one, you are almost too tired to enjoy where you are. We still had a fondue dinner to go.

We started out by bus from Lugano at 8 am. We drove south and then west through Northern Italy to take a lovely pass back into Switzerland. We had a pleasant stop for coffee in a Swiss village with a great bakery. The bus then drove onto to a town near Zermatt which is as far as you can go by vehicle. We took the Zermatt shuttle train and arrived at a very crowded Zermatt. It was having a festival so it was enjoyable to see quite a few people in traditional dress. Our guide gave us a brief orientation to the town. Most of the group opted to take a funicular up inside a mountain to a restaurant and terrace that overlook the Matterhorn in hopes of catching a glimpse of the peak on this partly cloudy day.

It was almost 1:30 when we settled in on a lovely terrace surrounded by mountains to eat lunch. As usual, a great time being with a really nice group of people. We saw a peek of the peak, but the impressive surrounding mountains were in clear view.

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We took a very crowded train from Zermatt at about 3:30. Thankfully the tour had reserved seats for us. Our guide did have to politely shoo others out of them even though the car had a big notice in the window it was reserved. It was hot and the train wasn’t particularly pleasant. We did have some spectacular scenery as we continued the full length out of the valley.

We transferred to a little nicer train that took us under the mountains to where we came out near Lake Thun and our bus was waiting for us. It had driven around those same mountains while we were enjoying Zermatt. 45 minutes later we were ready to take the gondolas up to Mürren.

A thunderstorm was breaking as we arrived at 7 pm. The hotel is quite nice and every person has a view. Or at least they should after the storm clears. The fondue dinner at 8 pm was a little bit of a disappointment. However, I can’t tell if that was simply my tiredness coloring the situation or not.

My feedback form for this tour will definitely include a suggestion to find a way to decrease travel time this day. We did see some great scenery and after a good night’s sleep I will be ready to go again
Day 8. This was our full day in Murren. The guide offered an optional outing up the Schilthorn for breakfast. Since our hotel is associated with the cableway, the only additional cost was for the cableway, around 55 CHF. It was worth every penny! The weather was cloudly and rainy for the most part and we found the one window of opportunity to view the mountains we so wanted to see during this early morning time.

Later there was an optional group hike to Gimmelwald. Some members of the groups returned to Murren for the afternoon while others went to the valley. I joined with 3 others to go to Trummelbach falls and then walk to Lauterbrunnen. We took the cable car up and then the train to Murren. Dinner was with 3 other tour members at the Eiger Guest House and was quite good.
Day 9
The group was sorry to leave Murren this morning. We drove to a cheese alp in the Juan Pass where we had an excellent presentation about cheese making and a cheese tasting accompanied by folk music. This was the highlight of the day for me and I think for several others. This was followed by a lunch stop at Guyeres and a visit to the Olympic Museum in Lausanne. Lausanne is an absolutely beautiful city. Our group dinner was in a historic restaurant and was a meat fondue.
Day 10
There was a free morning today. I walked up to the cathedral, explored the local market day and took a short rest. We met up as a group at the lakefront, shortly before noon. We took an absolutely beautiful cruise across Lake Geneva to Chateau de Chillon. A local guide gave us a tour. Next we loaded the bus for a short drive to a vineyard with a stunning location about the lake. We were given a tour of the winery and there was a wine tasting. Then back to Lausanne where dinner was on our own.

I know from time to time, people ask on the forum about the wine tastings and what they are like for a non-drinker. This was fun because of the setting. The vineyard also did a very informative presentation about how making the wine works. The winery is located above Lake Geneva and the views are amazing. The set up allowed for groups of tour members to converse while sampling. If there was any downside to this experience, it was that the person running the wine tasting was quite rude to myself and another tour group member because we were only drinking water. It was incomprehensible to him that anyone would not drink his wine. I could understand where he was coming from, but being rude to customers probably isn’t a good idea.

Another good day.

Day 11

Today we visited Avenches, a former Roman Colony. A local guide gave a presentation and we toured about 3 sites including a roman bath. We then continued to Bern and had a pretty extensive tour of the old city.

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Our “Farewell” group dinner was held in a beautiful restaurant. The group had become to feel so much like a “family” that it was a bit hard to have to say goodbye to them. I can’t say enough about how much the people one travels with add to the tour experience. This was certainly true in this case. I enjoyed where we went on this tour and I enjoyed being with the other tour members.

Day 12
Breakfast and then off to home! Very easy connection to Zurich Airport. Tram to the train station stops at the door of the hotel and the train to the airport is quick and scenic.

I tried to keep a record as we went along. I don't feel that this report adequately expresses the sum total of the experience and what a positive and fun time it was. I enjoyed this tour very much.

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935 posts

We did this tour in July and had a wonderful experience, I agree that the comradeship truly makes these tours so special!

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11450 posts

Thank you for Porto g this trip report , I think you did a great jobs and included a lot of interesting details !

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2396 posts

Thanks for posting such a good trip report.

I hate it when I get that "I've made a terrible mistake" on the first day of any endeavor. Glad it turned out so well.

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93 posts

Thanks Carol for the great report. We did this tour in June and your recap has helped me recall some of the details. We also enjoyed this tour lot. We had a rainy day on Titlis, so that was a disappointment. Also our free day in Mürren was drizzly. We did have great weather in all the lake towns. We had planned to return to Mürren/Lauterbrunnen after the tour for 5 extra days. I’m so glad we did this, as there is so much to do there, we had more time to explore, and the weather was good on our return. I would love to visit that area again, as well as some other areas we didn’t get to. We were also impressed with how efficient the Swiss transportation system is. Thanks again for refreshing my memories.

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2018 posts

Hi, Carol. Nice report about a tour I've been seriously considering. Thank you for posting, it sounds like you enjoyed yourself!

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3304 posts

I enjoyed reading your trip report. Thank you very much for taking the time to write it.

Where did you stay in Luzern? I’m searching for a hotel for April 2020.

I have to say I am stunned & appalled to learn about the racist & religious bigotry of your first city tour guide. Talk about disturbing.

I cannot believe that the Rick Steves tour company doesn’t have discernment practices to weed out the bigots who unfortunately do exist.

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2097 posts

A wonderful report, this tour has been on my radar for awhile! Maybe in 2021 or ‘22, I have to go on the Scandinavia tour first.
The local guide, Claudia, seems so out of place with a RS tour (I’ve been on 6), I’m sure you were taken aback. She definitely needs to be reported.

I agree the tour members are so congenial that is a primary reason the tours work so well.
Thanks again for a lovely summary of your trip.

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1 posts

Carol,
Thanks for sharing your reflections on your trip. It sounds like it was a wonderful experience. My wife and I are taking the same trip in mid-September. Did you feel that purchasing the Swiss Pass would have been a benefit at all during the trip?

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27745 posts

Thanks for the clear and easy to read report.

I hope you let your guide know of the racist behaviour of the local guide, and I hope you told Rick Steves' HQ.

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9718 posts

"I cannot believe that the Rick Steves tour company doesn’t have discernment practices to weed out the bigots who unfortunately do exist."

They do. Each traveler completes an evaluation and I would certainly note this. I'd also call the RS office and talk to a supervisor in the tour department to make sure they understand what this local guide said was completely unacceptable.

Carol, it sounds like you had a fabulous time! I agree about being prepared for free time. It sounds like this was an excellent tour for a solo traveler as well.

Thanks for taking the time to post!

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3030 posts

Thanks for the trip report. I've never taken a RS Tour (or any other tour), so it's interesting for me to see how things went. Glad you had a good time!