>> I will be travelling with my 81 yr old father. He’s is fairly healthy but cannot walk long distances as he has bad knees. (He needs to rest after walking 10-15 m – so I’m thinking I would bring a portable stool with us! =) ) I’d like to make this trip as comfortable and memorable for him as much as possible as he has always wanted to see the Alps and go where the Sound of Music movie took place. =)
I’ll concentrate on some tips in relation to your father’s mobility. With bad knees, I suspect he might have difficulty with stairs and downhill slopes in particular.
If he does not already use a walking stick, I would recommend he gets a folding one, or a lightweight hiking pole. Even better, a set of lightweight hiking poles. These will help with stability on cobblestones, uneven ground and slopes.
Re your idea of bringing a portable stool, I would recommend you try it out before your trip to make sure it is not too low for him to comfortably sit down on and get up from.
>> Can you recommend what part of town/neighborhood to stay in that is not too expensive, clean and comfortable, easy access to transportation?
You can use Google Maps to check the address of all hotels you are considering, to see where the nearest railway station or bus stop is. The cheaper options often have poor access to transport and local attractions unfortunately.
You might want to make sure all your hotels have a lift - many older ones, especially in historic town centres, do not.
Wengen has a lot of steep roads. The most level, central part of the village, is in the main street (Dorfstrasse), from the station to just before the Hotel Schönegg. Choose a hotel in this area if you can manage it.
>> I also have questions … as to whether that location would be ok for my father to walk around.
As I mentioned above, Wengen has a lot of steep roads. Dorfstrasse in Wengen is level and easy to walk along, but is not very long: about 10-15 minutes at a relaxed pace takes you from the station to the Hotel Schönegg, where there is a short, steepish hill.
To get to the best viewpoint in Wengen, you follow Dorfstrasse up that hill where the Hotel Schönegg is, before turning left on a level path towards a church. There is a hand rail to assist on the hill. I have attached a map showing how to get to the lookout, and a photo showing the view from the lookout area. There are seats there.
Mürren also has some steep roads, but has a long fairly level road through the village from one end to the other. For a level walk, Mürren provides a better opportunity than Wengen I think, but I wouldn’t skip going to Wengen. The views from both villages are superb, but very different.
Lugano and Locarno
The lakeside promenades are level, well paved, good for strolling and have beautiful views. Some of the lanes in the old towns are steep and have steps, but you can avoid them if need be. The stone surface in Locarno’s Piazza Grande could be a bit hard on your father’s knees (see photo), but there might be a route around the edge of the square on flat, even paving.
Ascona has a very nice level waterfront with lots of restaurants. You can get there by local bus or boat. Buses are covered by the Swiss Travel Pass, but the boats on Lago Maggiore are not. However, for the most convenient access to the waterfront, I would recommend getting the boat, as I’m not sure what the terrain is like between the nearest bus stop and the waterfront. (Maybe someone else knows.)
Luzern Altstadt (old town)
In Luzern, to get from the riverside promenade (Rathausquai / Unter der Egg) to the main lanes and squares of the old town means mostly going up long flights of stairs. To avoid stairs, you can access the old town from streets that run parallel to the river: e.g. Kapellplatz / Kapellgasse at the Seebrücke end and Metzgerrainle at the Reussbrücke end.
What are you planning to do there?
At Kriens, there is a 10-minute walk between the gondola and the bus stop. From the gondola station to the bus stop it is a gradual downhill walk; and therefore gradually uphill from the bus stop to the gondola station. If you think your father might find this a bit much, you could go both ways by cogwheel train.
There is about a 200 metre walk along a wide paved path that leads gradually uphill from the station to the restaurant and viewpoints. If your father can’t manage this, there is a café at the station with outdoor seating, but the views are not as good from there.
Montreux – Chateau de Chillon
From memory there is plenty to see without climbing any of the many flights of stairs. The riverside promenade in Montreux is good for strolling and has wonderful views.
Are you getting the train to Hallstatt station, then the boat across the lake to the village? There is a path leading downhill for about 70 metres from the station to the jetty. A small boat meets each train, but doesn’t hang around long. If they can see you coming, I’m sure they would wait, but you might have to wait for the next boat if your father can’t walk down there in time.
The Hallstatt cemetery is not to be missed, but (from memory) involves a steep climb up narrow stone stairs. This might be a good time to settle your father into a café or on a seat with a view over the lake while you see a few sights that he might not be able to manage.
Gondolas, cable cars and funiculars
Access to many cable cars and funiculars is up a flight of stairs. You might have to ask whether there is a lift, as it will often not be well signposted. When boarding and alighting from gondolas, they do not actually stop, but continue to move very slowly. This can be a challenge for people whose mobility is not the best, especially getting out. I would recommend you get out first and be ready to assist your father. Keeping both hands free (e.g. by using a backpack) will help. Cable cars and funiculars are stationary for boarding and alighting.
I hope this helps you plan a comfortable and enjoyable trip with your father.