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Italy and Switzerland trip report- family travel

We just returned from 20 nights in Italy and Switzerland, which included my husband and me and our two kids (ages 6 and 2). I did consider whether we should cancel, but based on where we went and our activities, we decided to travel and I’m so glad we did. I am going to try my best to post about the trip itself, and then at the end of my recap I will add nuts and bolts about what it was like to travel at this point during the pandemic.

We flew out of Seattle on 8/4 on Lufthansa. Our flight was fairly comfortable, about 3/4 full, but nobody slept much. Upon arriving in Frankfurt, we found out our flight to Pisa was delayed, pushing our layover from almost 4 hours to more than 7 hours. That part was rough since we were so tired at that point, and there was nothing we could do except wait it out. The kids enjoyed the play area at the Frankfurt airport and we did our best to pass the time. Upon arriving in Pisa, we were supposed to catch the train from Pisa to La Spezia and then into Riomaggiore. My husband ended up booking a private transfer to Riomaggiore and it was money well spent. By that point we were all so tired (we landed around 6:15pm in Pisa) that I couldn’t imagine getting to the train station and then waiting for/taking two trains with two tired kids.

Cinque Terre
The drive to Riomaggiore was beautiful and once there, it was easy to get to our apartment (Alla Marina- Atlantis apartment). We really loved staying there. The accommodations were simple but the views were absolutely stunning and we had a lovely terrace with a great view. It had 2 bedrooms (a non-negotiable for us), a small kitchen area, and air conditioning. That night we all showered and had takeout pizza and crashed hard.

I really loved our time in Riomaggiore. This was the first place I ever went to in Europe Iin 1998, so it will always feel special to me. It was a relaxing spot for all of us to start our trip, minus the small hiccup of arriving a bit late. We encountered very few Americans there, though it was decently crowded during the day. Our first day there, we explored the town and let the kids burn off energy at the playground in Riomaggiore.

A highlight of our time in CT was hiking from Corniglia to Monterroso. My husband got an extra workout carrying our toddler in the hiking pack, and my 6 year old hiked the whole way. We absolutely loved stopping for fresh lemon granitas between Corniglia and Vernazza. I was also glad to hike the stretch from Vernazza to Monterroso since that is the only stretch between the 5 towns that I have never hiked before. That stretch was very steep and narrow in places, but the views were amazing. Our reward after a hard hike was an outdoor lunch in Monterosso followed by gelato before we took the train back to Riomaggiore.

We also enjoyed a day at the beach in Bonnasola. We took the train (though someday I’d like to bike from Levanto) and checked with a few lidos (all full) before the third one had two chairs available. We spent a few hours there and our kids love splashing in the waves and playing on the rocky beach. We also grabbed takeaway lunch from the snack bar. After seeing me take pictures of my family, a very kind Italian lady walked over and asked to take some, which was so lovely of her and we had a good chat with her.

On our last night in Riomaggiore, we had a great dinner at La Lampara and I had risotto that was absolutely delicious. We did a lot of takeaway meals so it was nice to sit and have a slower paced meal with a bottle of local wine. We also walked over to the harbor and saw a beautiful sunset—it made me so grateful to be back in Cinque Terre and show my kids a place that is so special to me.
On our final morning, we took one last trip to Panificio Rosi Di Baudinelli Roberta to get pastries and made another stop for cappuccinos, and I savored the cool air and empty streets (street?) of Riomaggiore.

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From there it was off to the train and on to La Spezia to pick up a rental car. The ticket machine at the station had a long line, so I used the Trenitalia app (with Apple Pay, no less!) and we were on our way. I should add that I found having the Trenitalia and the SBB Mobile apps on my phone to be very helpful.

Aosta
We picked up our rental car (a Fiat wagon) in La Spezia, complete with a car seat and booster seat. After installing car seats and loading up, we were on our way. Andiamo! We headed to Aosta, a new destination for us. Once on the autostrade, the drive was straightforward. We stopped once at an Autogrill for lunch (delicious sandwiches) and then arrived at our apartment in the late afternoon. There was a great playground five minutes from the apartment, so we let the kids run around and play and then got a quick dinner and got gelato (our best of the trip).

Our first full day in Aosta we explored Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso, specifically the Valle di Cogne. Our kids played at the playground in Cogne, which was large and had spectacular views. We didn’t know what to expect about this part of Italy as we didn’t find much information about it in guidebooks. It did seem very popular however--we were there midday and found that parking was very challenging. We also hiked part of the trail from Valnontey to Rifugio V. Sella. Since we got a late start and it was fairly warm, we opted not to hike the whole thing, especially since the first part of the hike was very steep. We had a late lunch then a picnic dinner back at our apartment since everyone was tired. It was great having a full kitchen and the apartment we stayed in was well stocked and comfortable. I’d love to see more of this area, especially Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso since we just barely scratched the surface.

The next day had a relaxed start to the day and I found a great Sicilian bakery. I was able to enjoy my cappuccino at a table and it was nice to be able to relax and have a few minutes of solitude. The kids played at the park again, and then had nap/rest time. Honestly, this was one nice thing about traveling with young kids. When possible, we tried to have our youngest nap and it gave the rest of us time to relax, read, journal, etc. Later that afternoon we took the Skyway Mt. Bianco from Courmayeur to Punta Helbronner. This was the first time we were asked to show our CDC cards. We had beautiful sunny weather and very much enjoyed the views from the top. We closed out our right with dinner out at The Place in Aosta and enjoyed delicious pizza and beer outside. Our final day in Aosta was relaxing, as the kids needed some downtime to recharge and my husband went mountain biking.

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Berner Oberland- Murren
On our way out of the Aosta Valley we stopped to tour the Forte Di Bard, which was fascinating. Our CDC cards were checked (with a bewildered look) but accepted. To break up our travel day, we drove to Stresa for the night. We chose Stresa because we could return our rental car there and it worked well with our train route. Finding our apartment was challenging since we didn’t know it was on a pedestrian only street, but it all worked out. The town was beautiful, but I don’t have too much to report since our time there was so brief. We explored, found a playground (are you sensing a theme yet?) and had gelato and dinner. The next day we set out early, and our kind apartment host insisted on driving us to the train station. Luckily we all fit in his tiny hatchback car (at first I thought there was no way that we would). We took the train to Domodossola, then to Spiez, Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen, and then the cable car up to Murren (via Grutschalp). We used our Swiss travel passes (8 day flexi pass, purchased for 25% off in July) which came with the free family pass. I purchased the Italy part of our journey separately using the Trenitalia app. None of the trains were very full so it was easy to find seats and have space for our bags.

We stayed at the Pop Up Lodge in Murren, which worked well since it had 2 bedrooms and a small kitchenette. The apartment itself was a bit worn, but the panoramic views were incredible. When we arrived the weather was sunny and warm. After rest time and unpacking, we set off to Gimmelwald, a place that I will always love (especially the Mountain Hostel- stayed there in my teens/20s). The kids played on the playground and then we had a great dinner at Pension Gimmelwald. We particularly enjoyed their beer, Schwarz Monch, and our food (tomato soup and alp mac and cheese with apple sauce) was delicious and filling.

Our first full day in the Berner Oberland was beautiful and sunny so after a quick Coop breakfast, we went up to Allmendhubel. The kids loved the playground up there. It was one of the coolest playgrounds I’ve ever seen and has spectacular views. This was also the jumping off point for our hike on the North Face Trail. I cannot say enough good things about this hike. The weather was gorgeous and sunny and the views were incredible. It was a bit harder than we expected but still very enjoyable. For all our hikes my 2 year old rode in our hiking backpack (carried by my husband) and my 6 year old is a good hiker and was able to do this hike just fine. I believe it was about 5 miles. We take breaks as needed and pack plenty of snacks.

Other highlights in the Berner Oberland were a trip to Trummelbach Falls, which was very cool and a perfect cloudy/rainy day activity. I should add that kids must be age 4 or older to visit. Another day we took a trip up to the Schilthorn, which was spectacular. It was very cloudy in the valley and up to Birg, but sunny at the top. The whole cable car gasped when we emerged from the clouds and saw snow capped peaks all around us. The cable car on the way up only had a few groups of people and it was practically empty at the Schilthorn summit. We did not stop at Birg on the way down since it was still cloudy down there.

For our final day in the Berner Oberland, we did the Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidigg hike. The playground at Mannlichen (with the huge cow play structure) was a hit and we all enjoyed the hike. It was a bit cloudy which impacted our views, but it was still a gorgeous hike and not overly strenuous. I'd love to do the hike again on a clear sunny day. Overall, we had great weather, which I am very thankful for. I also want to add that we had some great dinners in the Berner Oberland. We really enjoyed eating dinner on the terrace at Hotel Bellevue, and had a great dinner at Hotel Oberland in Lauterbrunnen.

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Luzern
After 5 great days in the Berner Oberland, we were all sad to leave Murren. It was my six year olds favorite place and he now calls it his “happy place.” Lucerne (and a night in Zurich) was our final leg of the trip. The train ride to Lucerne was beautiful and the trains were again mostly empty. We rented a great 2 bedroom apartment that was a short walk from the river and though it was on a busy street, the noise didn't bother us. By this point we were all tired so I think we slept extra hard!

For our time in Lucerne, we took a trip up to Mt. Pilatus which we all enjoyed. We took the cable car both ways so that we could stop at Krienseregg on the way back and visit the dragon themed playground, “Pilu Land.” I continue to be blown away by how many amazing playgrounds there are in Europe. We also made a stop at Frakmuntegg so that my husband and son could do the luge. He had a huge smile on his face after his first luge experience!

As for the rest of our time in Lucerne, we enjoyed exploring the city, found more playgrounds to explore, visited the Musegg wall and the fortifications, and had some good meals (and one not so good meal). We also celebrated our tenth anniversary and had a lot of fun reminiscing about travels with just the two of us, as well as trips we’ve taken with our kids. We had a particularly great meal at Bierliebe & Friends, which we wanted to visit since we both enjoy beer and they had a good variety of Swiss beers that we had not tried elsewhere. The service was also wonderful and they were very kind to our kids. Our time in Lucerne was definitely more of a relaxed pace since we were nearing the end of our three week trip. We all took our covid tests in Lucerne, and then spent one night in Zurich since we had an early flight the next morning. I am so grateful that we were able to take this trip and create these memories as a family. If anyone has questions about where we went or about traveling with young children, feel free to ask!

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If you made it through that very wordy recap, thanks for sticking with me! If you're curious about the logistics of pandemic travel, read on. If you're tired of this sort of thing, feel free to skip. I am including it with my trip report since it relates to the above posts. If

Pandemic travel nuts and bolts**
We strongly considered about whether we should cancel our trip. Based on our itinerary and what we had planned, which included lots of outdoor time and hiking, we decided to move forward and take every precaution possible. The case rates for the regions of Italy were visited were quite low, and Switzerland was higher, but still lower than case rates in Washington. Both kids were tested the day before flying (my youngest did not need to test but figured it was a good idea) and my husband and I had our CDC cards. At the airport, we were asked to show our CDC cards and my son's proof of a negative test. These were also checked again at passport control in Frankfurt, and we showed the QR codes for our digital PLF for Italy. Our CDC cards were checked a few times in Italy, but not at all in Switzerland. From what I witnessed, people were very good about wearing masks inside and on public transportation. We saw a few people not wearing them, but there were very few. It was a little tricky to find a place in Lucerne that would test a child, but thankfully I found a pediatric clinic what would test our whole family and they were wonderful. We ended up all getting tested there to save time, and the results (antigen test) were back to us within an hour. I had our hotel in Zurich print the test results so that it was easier to show them at the airport. Flying home went smoothly--we showed our results when we checked in at the Zurich airport, and then again in Frankfurt. When we arrived back in Seattle, the customs line and process went very quickly. We had a wonderful trip, and now it's back to reality at home. Cheers!

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Meg, thanks for taking the time to share this! It sounds like a wonderful vacation. My kids are grown, but it made me smile to read about all the playgrounds. :) A lovely trip! (Also thank you for doing normal stuff first and Covid stuff separately.)

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Meg, loved your trip report! We had a wonderful trip to Switzerland several years ago, staying in Murren, Lucerne, Zurich, and more. Fun to hear you describe those places. I also thought the playgrounds we saw in Switzerland were amazing. We didn't have children with us, but talked about how our grandkids would have loved them if they had been along.

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7721 posts

What a fabulous trip report ! Thank you for taking the time to put it together, Meg. I too like how you did the “fun” stuff and then a separate helpful entry for the Covidnelements.

Anyway it sounds like you and your husband and kids had a wonderful wonderful trip that will be remembered fondly !!

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4626 posts

Thank you, Meg, for your fun trip report! It’s SO nice to read a trip report again. Glad everything went smoothly!

I haven’t been to Aosta, yet, but your other locations brought back great memories.

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2554 posts

Meg, wonderful trip report for a wonderful family vacation. I enjoyed reading it, especially since we haven’t been to any of those places.

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1105 posts

Thanks for sharing! It sounds like a great time. I'm really looking forward to our trip next summer.

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10130 posts

Happy for you to have had such a great trip! We are in Lauterbrunnen now and loving it!

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1132 posts

Enjoyed the report. I too enjoyed the Schwarz Monch in May 2019 during my time in Murren and the surrounding area.

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965 posts

My gratitude as well. Curious, what was it about the playgrounds that made them so interesting? Maybe you could post a few generic playground equipment shots to Imgur?

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Really enjoyed your report! And I especially love that your 6 year old has a happy place!! I’m planning to visit Switzerland next year and this made we want to go now.

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I’m bookmarking your report, someday with our kids and grandkids!

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Thank you everyone for reading and for your kind words--I truly appreciate it!

To answer the question about the playgrounds, overall we were impressed with how many great, unique spaces there were for kids to play. Several of them had features where kids could play with water through various pumps, waterways, etc. In Allmendhubel, there was a play cheese hut and tunnels underground to mimic a marmot burrow. I am going to include links to a few of our favorites since they have pictures that show them better than I can describe:

Mannlichen: https://www.maennlichen.ch/en/summer/experiences/alpine-herdsmans-playground.html

Allmendhubel: https://schilthorn.ch/26/en/Adventure_playground_Flower_Park

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1901 posts

Great report and very informative.
Thank you for all the detail!
Welcome home!

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So enjoyed your report especially learning about the creative, unique playgrounds and I don’t even have children! ( full disclosure: career as an elementary teacher)-photo links a bonus. You have my admiration traveling so far with young children.
Thank you for the time and details composing such an interesting travel experience.

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5160 posts

Thanks for the great report, Meg. You seem to have had a joyful trip; how wonderful!

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Thank you Meg!!! We are looking at going..opposite direction, in May/june 2022. It was a joy to read of your adventure...take care:)

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3083 posts

Nice trip report. You are smart to put playgrounds high on your list of priorities when seeking out activities for your family in Europe.