It’s been two months since I returned from Switzerland and it somewhat pains me to write this because I still miss the country. I stare out the window from the 15th floor of my office and I still imagine the beautiful Swiss Alps before me.
I recognize that this reportis rather delayed, but I am still intent on paying it forward. I was able to benefit from these forums and I hope that I’ll also be able to help out a fellow traveller with their itinerary. It is a truly humbling experience to “meet” people from all over the world from the comfort of one’s computer at home. I give special thanks to Annika, Arno and Slowpoke!
So here is a recollection of my trip to Switzerland from May 18 to June 3, 2016!
Biking from Kreuzlingen to Bern
My very initial itinerary was to spend a few days cycling around Lake Constance. Eventually I started to second guess my plan after reading up on some of the amazing sights in the Lucerne area. MySwissAlps was able to persuade me to change my mind, and I ended up allocating just two days in Lake Constance to get over any potential jet lag.
Lake Constance was pleasant, but relatively homogeneous in scenery as Slowpoke mentioned. I stayed at a BnB in Kreuzlingen and crossed over to Konstanz by foot. What a contrast! Over on the side of Germany was this bustling town, and then over to the Swiss side was a sleepy little town. I spent my second day cycling over to Meinau and taking a ferry over to Meersburg. Across the horizon I could see the Alps – not sure whether they were the Austrian and Italian Alps – but it was a sign of what was yet to come.
I actually never made it to Bern by bicycle! It either started raining or I got lost! Nevertheless, it was quite an experience to be cycling along the Aare River and making my way to the heart of Switzerland. At the hostel in Brugg, I met a Swiss traveler from Biel/Bienne who admitted that he had never explored his own country until now. He says that travelling within Switzerland by bicycle is truly the best way: “When you’re driving, you can’t see anything.”
Bern was a beautiful city. For people who are curious to know how long to spend there, I would say 1.5 to two days would be sufficient. I spent two days there and had a very relaxing time walking around the Old Town, and making my way to the Gurtenbahn and Rosengarten. The chocolate from Eichenberger (next to Einsteinhaus) was divine. I was extremely sad to leave, but I also knew that Lucerne would be another adventure.
Lucerne was absolutely stunning – I couldn’t believe how close I was to the Alps! I’m so glad that I followed the advice of others and allocated more time to this area. I visited Mt. Pilatus, but the BIGGEST highlight of my time there was the luxury of witnessing the beautiful sunrise up on Mt. Rigi. There I was greeted by two Swiss hikers who had taken two hours to hike up from Kussnacht.
Patchouli at 5 am: “Oh my God, I’m so tired!”
Hikers: “It’s worth it. Not many Swiss people have even seen the sun rise up here, and it’s a pity.”
Dawn was breathtaking; I can’t even put into words just how awed I was as the sun rose above the horizon. At daylight, the two boys invited me on a boat ride on Lake Lucerne. We were around the same age (mid-20s to mid-30s), and it was such a pleasure to learn about their lives in Switzerland. They taught me so much about the Swiss culture, and I will forever be grateful for the cultural exchange.
(Yes, in hindsight I probably shouldn’t have accepted their invitation because they could have taken me anywhere on the lake, but I was extremely fortunate…..)
Wengen was also magnificent. As many have observed over and over, the weather fluctuates significantly. Most mornings the village would be shrouded in clouds but the fog would dissipate by the afternoon. Klein Scheidegg was still covered in snow so it wasn’t possible to hike the famous trail. I spent four days there and went inside Trummelbachfalle (so that’s where the glacial water drains!), visited Murren and went up the Jungfraujoch.
I know that Wengen is usually the highlight of one’s trip to Switzerland, and here are my thoughts:
My view up at the Top of Europe wasn’t actually that clear, and I had known it before I went up with the help of the webcam. I went up during a very short window of opportunity, and even then the visibility was only a few kilometres. So I think that it’s very important for tourists to be aware that if Jungfraujoch is shrouded in cloud, you absolutely will not be able to see anything.
Wengen vs. Murren vs. Lauterbrunnen Valley
I stayed in Wengen and I was very happy with my decision. I had debated long and hard whether I should travel to Switzerland at the end of May or in June, precisely because I wanted to make the most of my time in Wengen. I ultimately decided to go during the shoulder season because I simply didn’t want to fight crowds. Because I was going during off-season, I decided that Wengen would be a better choice in terms of access to restaurants and other amenities compared to Murren.
I personally preferred the view from Wengen, but each individual has a different take on things so take this opinion with a grain of salt. The view from Murren is quite rugged, which is not a bad thing, but I prefer the view of waterfalls from Wengen.
Another factor that goes into deciding where to stay is how risk averse or risk tolerant you are. The most leading question is whether it will snow up in the Alps. I debated this for a long time, and read up on all the replies on MySwissAlps to inform my decision on whether it would actually be wise to stay in Wengen at the end of May. In the end, I decided to take my chances and went ahead with staying in Wengen where there would be a 50/50 chance of good weather. I would consider myself to have been quite fortunate on the weather front because it only rained for one day while I was there. When I went back to Canada, a coworker told me that his parents experienced nothing but bad weather over the two weeks that they stayed in the Italian Alps. The answer to the leading question is “It all depends.” That’s really the best answer that anyone can give to the prospective traveller.
If you are feeling really risk averse, I would recommend staying in the Lauterbrunnen Valley. You’ll still get a very lovely view of the wild flowers in full bloom on the valley floor. Walking from Stechelberg to Lauterbrunnen was quite a treat! It’s also very well connected since all trains and busses begin/end in Lauterbrunnen. That in itself will save you quite a bit of money if you need to take a day trip outside of Lauterbrunnen due to inclement weather. Although I enjoyed staying in Wengen, it was a bit of a hassle to take the train down for every little trip aside from going up to the Jungfraujoch. But again, I went at the end of May and the weather in June might produce a different experience. Certainly in the summer, all the hiking trails via Wengen will be open and access to public transportation will be less of an issue.
I only stayed 1.5 days in Zurich, and I felt that was more than enough. Leaving the Alps was heartbreaking. The view from Uetliberg pales in comparison to what I had seen in the Berner Oberland. But the view from the Grossmunster is highly recommended!
When I told people that I was only going to Switzerland, many people tried to persuade me to explore other countries: “Switzerland’s boring.” It got to the point that I changed my answer to "I'm going to Switzerland and Germany" (not really a lie). If you ever get that reaction, just nod in agreement and think “Good! You’re one less person on the trail.”
Enjoy Switzerland! And thank you, My SwissAlps, for contributing to some very fond memories. I’ll never forget it.