Having an activity free day in Locarno so thought it would be timely to write another trip report.
Wednesday, 4th July - after checking out of the hotel in Vevey, we headed to Montreux to catch the MOB Panoramic train to Gstaad, having made a reservation in the first class carriage, we purchased a 1st class upgrade ticket via SBB (as we held a 2nd class Swiss Travel Pass Flex - 15 days), so the train ride cost an additional 10 chf which was a very small price to pay given the amazing views of Lake Geneva we had as the train ascended up the hillside. The train trip took under 90 minutes and we arrived at Gstaad around 1pm and decided to walk around the promenade (traffic free centre of town) before heading to the hotel (Le Grand Bellevue), as we had a couple of late nights in Montreux, we decided to spend the afternoon relaxing at the bar sipping on Hugo's (a drink that we were not familar with previously but will become a signature summer drink once back in Australia) before heading to dinner at Leonards Restaurant (which is situated within the hotel), the meal was lovely as was the location (on the terrace), we finished up with a night cap at the bar (there is a definite theme of eating and drinking with this holiday) before retiring around 11pm.
Thursday, 5th July - We had been advised the night before that the weather was going to make a change (for the worse) so we were not suprised when we woke up to overcast/rainy conditions. Since we had a very light schedule in Gstaad, we decided to take advantage of the change in weather and booked a spa treatment for the next day (Friday, 6th) and after a very filling breakfast, watched a DVD in the hotels private cinema (which was a real treat), afterwards we spent the rest of the day relaxing, heading down to the bar for a drink late afternoon and then to Le Petit Chalet (on the grounds of the hotel) for dinner, ordering cheese fondue (as the weather temperature was 17c it wasn't too hot to enjoy this traditionally winter dish), I also opted for the meringue with double cream for dessert which was a lovely way to finish the meal, before heading back to the bar for a night cap.
Friday, 6th July - As we had a spa treatment booked for 9.30am, we had an early breakfast - 8.00am (based on our standards anyway), then spent 2 1/2 hours being pampered by the team at the hotel's spa, before settling back in our room for an afternoon nap. As the rain was teaming down we decided to cancel our dinner reservation at Bar Rialto in Gstaad and opted to dine again at Leonards Restaurant, as we were planning a trip to Lake Lauenen the next day, we retired around 10pm in the hope of improved weather for our Saturday outing.
Saturday, 7th July - Though the air was crisp and cool, the skies were blue so we were keen to explore the area with a trip to Lake Lauenen. We had originally planned to visit both Wispile and the lake but decided to only do one activity. After breakfast we caught the 11.37am bus to the lake, walked around the circumference of the lake (around 1 hour), had a drink at the restaurant on the lake and headed back to Gstaad, arriving back at the hotel just after 3pm, though I had visited the lake on a previous trip, it is such a beautiful spot where there are many options for walking/hiking for beginners and experienced hikers alike, I would include it as a must see/visit if you are heading up to Gstaad/Saanen for a short or long stay. Saturday evening took us out of Gstaad to Saanen and dinner at 16 Art Restaurant, www.16eme.ch/ , the food was great and the service was friendly and a definite recommendation if you are looking for good home-style cooking (this was a recommendation by the hotel staff and it lived up to it's reputation), we arrived early at 6pm and got a table on the terrace (my understanding is that the terrace tables can't be booked so the earlier you get there the better chance of securing an outdoor table). By the time we left (around 9pm), the restaurant was very busy and close to being full both inside and out. After a quick night cap at the hotel bar, we headed to bed as the next part of our journey was a long train ride to Locarno in the Ticino region of Switzerland.
Sunday, 8th July - Another sunny day and after breakfast we headed to the train station on what ended up being a very long day on buses and trains. Initially I had estimated that it would take around 5 hours to reach our destination (given the timetable on SBB), however we hit an unexpected snag when we were advised that the journey from Zweisimmen to Spiez (the 2nd leg of the train ride) would be undertaken via bus (as the train line was closed due to maintenance works). As advised by the train staff, we followed the crowd to the bus not realising there were 2 buses (both travelling to the same place - Spiez train station) but the one we got on had extra stops resulting in us missing our 12.05pm train connection from Spiez to Domodossola (no one's fault but our own), so we jumped on the 12.12pm train to Domodossola which was a longer train ride (just over 1 hour on the 12.05 vs 1 3/4 hours on the 12.12pm), so we missed our 1.25pm connection to Locarno and had to opt for the 3.25pm train instead (as we had planned to travel on the Centovalli Railway as opposed to travelling via Bellinzona and had purchased a first class upgrade for 33 chf which from our perspective didn't make sense to use if we were travelling via Bellinzona) so we waited 90 minutes for the Centovalli train to arrive and ended up arriving at our hotel - Villa Orselina around 6pm (2 hours later than our ETA of 4pm). After a quick freshen up, we walked across the road to a local restaurant -Al Grottino and had another thoroughly enjoyable home-style meal and wine to match. We ended the evening with a cocktail on the hotel terrace before retiring to bed.
Monday, 9th July - We decided the night before to get a later start than originally planned as we were very tired after our trip the day before, our Monday itinerary included a trip to the Brissago Islands and Ascona, so we set off around 11.30am to catch the 12.15pm boat from Locarno to the Brissago Islands. As the hotel is located in Orselina, which can be reached via bus or funicular (we took the funicular option up to the hotel the day before), we decided to avail ourselves of the hotels shuttle service, which saved us using public transport (and our Swiss Travel Pass). As the boat service on Lake Maggiore is run by NLM (an Italian company) our Swiss Travel Pass could not be used so we instead purchased a day pass for the lake and received a discount of 20% with the Ticino Ticket provided by the hotel - after a 50 minute boat ride to Brissago Islands, we spent a couple of hours wandering around the grounds of this beautiful island (a definite must see in the area) before heading to Ascona (20 minutes by boat heading towards Locarno). The intent was to walk around Ascona but as it was very hot and humid so we found a lovely cafe/restaurant - Osteria Nostrana on the lakefront and spent the next couple of hours drinking wine and eating pizza (best pizza I have tasted in a very long time). We arrived back at the hotel around 6pm and decided that after a very filling late afternoon meal we would skip dinner and have an early night even though we had no plans for the Tuesday the hot/humid weather was making us very tired (though we live in Australia, I live in a cooler location so haven't been subjected to humidity/heat in a long while).
Tips: Gstaad - Le Grand Hotel Bellevue was a real highlight of the trip to date - it is 5 star but with a very homely feel, the staff are attentive and the owner (Daniel) was ever present throughout our stay, making sure we enjoyed every moment of our time whilst on site, it is definitely a hotel I would stay at again if I travel to Gstaad in the future. Ticino Region - I was very taken with Ascona and for me would be a better option location wise (our hotel in Orselina is very nice but somewhat removed from the local scene), we haven't had a chance to explore Locarno as yet but it has a big city feel and we are spending the day in Lugano on Wednesday, 11th July so I will have something to compare and contrast with Locarno and Ascona. Would be keen to get others thoughts on holiday locations in the Ticino region based on their own experiences.
Our holiday is rapidly drawing to a close, 2 more nights in Orselina then heading to Zurich on Thursday for an overnight stay before flying back to Sydney, Australia on Friday morning. Once I am back in Australia, I will post my final trip report.
Happy travels to all.
Other parts of this trip report: