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Zurich to Munich Road trip

This is a trip summary of our European Alpine road trip in Mid August of 2021. This is the best trip we have ever taken. I asked a lot of questions on the forum, so I thought I would give back a little detail from the trip. Ultimately because of covid and convenience we decided car rental over train. Excuse my grammar, spelling and poor writing...

-Asterisk indicated how much we liked a stop on a scale 1-5

-Vaccinated Adults, but not Kids ages 8 & 10.

-Filled out Swiss Entry tracing form. Uploaded to the United Airlines portal and no one ever asked to see it again. Italy and Austria Hotels/restaurants asked us if we were vaccinated, no need to show proof. German restaurants required FFP2 masks. The green certificate proved no obstacle for us but we were not at major city tourist attractions either in the EU.
-Got a FREE test at the Sofitel in Munich with no wait for our return trip. Score! Procrastination pays off again.

-Logistics: August 9-22
-We Drove most of the trip from Zurich to Munich in a rented Volvo v90 wagon (great ride). This car was impossibly long but somehow I always managed to park it. I would have preferred a shorter car, but it turned out to be super comfortable driving with Autopilot steering assist and adaptive cruise control.

-About 14hrs of Driving over 13 Days. Approximately 850km.
-Most travel days were broken up by a sightseeing spot for lunch and to stretch legs so we were never in the car more than 2.5 hrs and most legs less than 2.
-We only took trains or gondolas when required to get to Alpine villages (zermatt, Murren, Wengen, Compsatch, Summits)
-The weather was 10/10 the entire trip.
-We purchased the Swiss half fare cards and family cards. I think we made out on the deal on the lifts and trains.

--Zurich: Day 1 **** Landed in Zurich to find border control to be friendly and was thrown off by their genuine interest in our stay in Switzerland. Immediately struck by the wealth and cleanliness of this beautiful country. Walked around the beautiful old town. Recovered from flight with a quick nap then generally followed the RS walking tour. Sat in streetside Cafe’s in the pedestrian zone after a much hyped but skippable fondue dinner.

--Travel Day with stop in Lucerne Day 2 **** Visited Mt Pilatus gondola(Kriens) with Lucerne lake views, saw a KA 32 helicopter delivering construction supplies which everyone found super exciting. Next we did the Lucerne RS walking tour, and saw a fantastic street Cellist playing contemporary hits. Marveled at ancient fortifications, and bridges. From there we drove to Berner Oberland, also stopped to see Giessbach Falls on Lake Brienz which was beautiful.
Note: Google Maps and Tunnels do not play well

--Lauterbrunnen Day 2 to Day 4
--Day 2 Hotel Balcony overlooked Staubbach Falls. Simply Amazing.

-Note: Why can’t they cut pizza for you in Europe??? What am I supposed to do with a butter knife??
--Day 3***** Awakened by a herd of goats with loud bells as they paraded through Lauterbrunnen at 630AM. Smiles Galore! Train to Wengen then lift to Männlichen, Hiked to kleine scheidegg. My wife said this hike (walk) was one of the five greatest things she ever did in her life.
--Day 3***** Jungfraujoch from Klein Scheidegg. Altitude killed us up at the summit. Amazing Glacier, Scenery was fantastic, Glacier cave was awesome. It was hard to really enjoy so much because my family was not feeling 100%***** (Maybe we should have switched Day 3 and 4 to get more Altitude acclimation but the weather was good so we went for top priority.)

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--Day 4***** Took the lift from Stechelberg to Schilthorn through Gimmelwald and Murren. Did the Thrill walk at Birg, ate early lunch with no reservation at the rotating restaurant at Summit which everyone loved and visited Bond Display. Altitude much easier today. Rode the funicular to Allmendhubel for an afternoon drink and for the kids to enjoy the Flower park playscape. Trummelbach glacial caves falls on the way home was a joy and the smiles nearly broke our faces.
Zermatt Days 5-7
--Day 5*** We drove to Zermatt with a quick stop in Spiez to see some castles(Schloss Spiez**** and Wimmis) and have a quick bite to eat. Rode the car train at Kandersteg which was a cool experience. Logistics of arriving were good from Tasch to Zermatt as our Airbnb picked us up at the train station. We stayed in Winkelmatten near the Gondola to Furi. This made relaxing strolls to the city center a real workout as the elevation gain on the way back was significant. Taxis were 25CHF one way. Bus stops running at 7pm. This is an obvious nod to the Zermatt taxi Cartel.

--Day 6
*** We visited the Klein Matterhorn glacier paradise, Ice caves were in significant disrepair. Views above were spectacular. Altitude effects were back slightly as we approached 13000ft. We ski at home and we wished we had time to strap some on because the skiing albeit icy looked fairly significant for some east coast intermediate skiers like us. It was not for beginners this time of year and we saw some people really endangering themselves. We met a US ski team member on the lift. Super friendly and talked to us all about being a professional skier for the last 15 years. We took the lifts down to Furi then up to Riffleberg and caught the train up to Gornergrat. Took the hike from Rotenboden down past the picturesque lakes and went right on a steeper descent back to Riffleberg when we should have gone left as RS says in the book. Had a nice Italian meal at Grampy’s in town.
Italian Lake District Days 7-9
--Day 7 **** Drove to Varenna from Zermatt through Morcote. This was the hardest driving day as we passed over a mountain(passo della novena) on a Sunday loaded with daring motorcyclists and bicyclists. Lots of switchbacks. Lake Lugano is a beautiful blue green and Morcote was a beautiful Swiss Italian Town. No stop at the Italian border even though we agonized over our EU-DPLF forms. Beautiful Airbnb in an old Italian villa converted to Apartments with views of Lake Como. Fantastic Dinner outside in the Varenna town piazza.
-Note: The food prices dropped by 50% immediately when we left Switzerland.

-Note: The gelato in Italy has either lost its fastball since our last visit 10 years ago or we are totally spoiled by Connecticut farm fresh ice cream stands.
--Day 8 ***** Took the mid lake como ferry pass around to all the stops and stopped in Bellaggio for a sightseeing walk and meal. Bellagio really is the quintessential beautifully touristy Italian lake town. Views and pictures galore. Fantastic cheese plate and cappuccino made a wonderful light lunch. Spent the rest of the afternoon in the pool and had dinner by the lake in Varenna.

-Note: Vino della Casa was on point in Italy.
-Note: If I had to choose an Italian lake to visit again I would choose a lake with a prettier color. Lake Lugano was just much more pleasing to the eye than Como and I am sure others could also be the same.

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--Day 9 **** Drove from Varenna to Ortisei (Dolomites) with a stopover in Verona. Saw the arena, followed the RS walking tour and had a nice meal. Whole wheat flat bread with Porchetta and burrata. Yum! Verona was super crowded and we couldn’t even sniff Juliett’s balcony. Verona was a beautiful Italian city and we were super excited to stretch our legs there and soak in the antiquity. The ride up to the Dolomites was beautiful as we entered Alto Adige. Wish we had more time to explore the vineyards and the dozens of castles that dotted the hillsides.

Ortisei / Val Gardena Days 9-12
--Day 10 Seceda***** Took the lift from Ortisei up to Seceda. This is one of the most amazing places I have ever been. The scenery was fantastic. Hiked down to the quad lift then back up to Seceda after stopping at a Hutte for lunch. This was pretty steep down hill hiking and was a good leg workout. I love hiking, eating and drinking. I wish the mountains in the US would catch on to this better. Took a beautiful evening stroll through the Ortisei pedestrian district. We nearly missed this and it was pretty magical at night.
--Day 11 Alpe di Suisi*** Took the Gondola up from Suisi to Compastch. Hiked down to the Panorama lift and then up to the ridge. Walked down to Hotel Ritsch and then back to Compatsch. Nice views but it was a little bit of a let down after all the scenery we had seen. Nice easy hiking. This is probably the only day we would have replanned. Nice afternoon stop at Trostburg Castle. FYI the Volvo X90 does not fit thru the Castle Wall gate…. Missed the tour but they had a nice room with lots of information in german about the Castles in the surrounding area. Had a nice dinner and stroll in Val Gardena. Should have taken one of these lifts instead of the Alpe di Suisi.
-Note: Bring cash to Alpe Di Suisi or get it in Compastch, we almost got stuck getting up Panorama because we ran out of Euros. The attendant decreased one of our kids' ages by one year because we looked pathetic and couldn’t scrounge 2 more Euros. Once you leave Switzerland the value of the CHF goes to ZERO. FYI :))
-Note: We didn't have hotel reservations beyond Lauterbrunnen because of the aggressiveness of our itinerary and Covid. All other reservations were made a couple days before arriving at the destination. This worked out beautifully, except in the Val Gardena region. Apparently, ALL of Italy visits this area in August and the THOUSANDS of hotel rooms all become booked. We scored one night then I talked a clerk into two more in an employee apartment they rent only in the winter with a small….tip or is it spelled bribe…..

-Note: We needed to say we were vaccinated to use the indoor pool. No verification needed.
-Try the Lagrein local wine. It's an Ancient variety found in the area.

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Munich Days 12-14
--Day 12*** Drive from Ortisei to Munich. Stopped in Innsbruck for a stroll and lunch. It's a neat little town( where they don't wear masks) but I don't think I’ll ever come back. Would have liked to detour to Neufachstein castle but we lost the will to detour. Try the Kaesespaetzle or the fried potatoes with speck and eggs at the Augustiner Brau Biergarten in Innsbruck. Weisswurst will slip off your plate and onto the ground if you don’t stick a fork in them when you cut them. Had dinner in Munich at HofbrauHaus after conquering the U Bahn. Courtyard seating next to the wooden barrel and the band was a win. Not sure of the point of a reservation at this place. Employees are not super helpful until they become invested in you.. Great beer and fun had by all.
--Day 13 Munich**** Visited the English garden to see the river surfing. Kids both surf so this was a fun stop for us. I expected more crowd interactions for great moves. I guess the Germans are too polite. This park is really impressive and warrants a bike or scooter tour. Did some walking around Marienplatz, etc… and spent a bunch of time sampling in the Victuals market. Get there early if you want a spot for lunch in one of the biergartens. Nice dinner and drinks at Ayinger, one of my favorite brewers. Try the barrel aged Helle Lager if you get there early enough after 5pm.
-Note: Pretzels seemed harder and chewier, dare I say staler than the last time we were here 11 years ago. This was across the board over several data points…
-Don’t forget your FFP2 mask otherwise you will not be getting in anywhere.
--Day 14** Flew home to the US directly into a Hurricane... where border control in the US genuinely hates and mistrusts you….
-Note: Despite uploading covid results to the United Airlines portal we were asked to produce results again before entering the boarding area beyond security.

Posted by
1299 posts

What a great trip report!! Thanks for taking the time to share your experience. I leave for Switzerland next week and am now wondering if I need to pack a pizza cutter and food for the goats. 😊

Posted by
2082 posts

Great report!
Carrie, I'm trying not to get excited, because there are still so many moving pieces of which I have no control !
Safe travels!

Posted by
229 posts

Thanks for a wonderful report! I’m traveling vicariously this year and really enjoyed your detailed description of your adventure + your humor.

Posted by
847 posts

Thank you very much. Glad that things worked out and you had an awesome trip.

I will also drive from the Alps back to Munich. From Innsbruck, did you heard back to Munich via Garmisch-Partenkirchen or Kufstein? What was the traffic like? I understand that traffic varies according to the time of the day and day in the week.

Also, while in Val Gardena, did you buy the Val Gardena Pass (cable car/gondola pass)? If so, was it worth it?

Posted by
25 posts

Thanks everyone. I enjoyed this trip so much that it made me really happy to document for posterity sake for ourselves. A pizza cutter would have been a game changer. Also we could have asked the kitchen to cut it up if we weren’t so absorbed negotiating meals with the kids in three languages. We went over the Garmisch side. No traffic on a Friday afternoon. Lots of traffic coming from Munich, easy going to Munich.

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We bought a Seceda all day pass and we lost money on it because we only took one additional lift. If we had bought the three day val gardena we would have come out slightly ahead when throwing in the second day at alpe di suisi. At ADS we went ala carte and came out slightly ahead I think. I had no wifi at the hotel at night due to our deal and had no way to research the prices so we just went with it and it probably cost us 30-40 euro. Also the mountains lift mobil sites are not great.

Posted by
847 posts

Thank you very much!!

Some more follow-up questions:

  1. Was Google Maps correct on driving time estimates?

  2. Did Google Maps work even in the mountains? How were mobile signals were ok?

  3. Did you rent GPS for your rental car?

Posted by
3815 posts

Thank you for this great, detailed report!

Re. Google maps in mountains, I'll let the OP answer, but driving times tend to be on the optimistic (i.e. fast) side. I usually add 25%. This is also true in flatlands, to a lesser extent.

Posted by
25 posts

I downloaded the region in google maps, so it always worked and used less data. Our car had a gps but we never used it. I didnt trust a gps I wasn’t familiar with as much as google. Driving times we’re optimistic but only because of traffic. +20% is probably safe.

Posted by
10053 posts

So glad you enjoyed our favorite place in Italy, the Val Gardena! No one ever wishes they had less time in the Dolomites. Hope you will go back and LMK as I have some great hikes to recommend.