Our adventure into AMAZING Switzerland was prefaced by two months of fun research on the country, the customs, the topography and the possibilities. This wonderful forum was an immense help from start to finish.
I hope to not get too detailed as to bore, however I do feel like an adventure was had and while we returned a few weeks ago, my enthusiasm has not diminished. We are from North Carolina in the USA. (My apologies about our president)
Quick prep tips:
1. Purchased 15 day Swiss Travel Pass from Happy rail one week before departure date. I didn’t realize that our purchase date was auto filled as our START date. Made printed copies of STP More of that SNAFU later!
2. Notified credit cards we were traveling to Switzerland.
3. Procured 400 Swiss Francs in cash
4. Had some local emergency numbers provided by friends.
5. Made copies of our passports and secured in separate spot from originals.
6. Used Airbnb for all lodging
7. Had a general itinerary planned with enough latitude to be flexible.
Downloaded google translate app on my phone.
Used our home Cell phone service plan for $10/day
Day 1: arrive Zürich noon. Train to Sargans. Bus to Lichtenstein. Find Airbnb in Triesenburg. Sleep.
Day 2: Gorgeous morning. Liechtenstein is celebrating 300 years as a Principality and has developed a lovely trail that goes through each of its eleven municipalities. It is 46 miles long and I loved the idea of “walking across the country, we just did not have the time to do it. As an alternative, we got a map and planned our own cross country route. We took a bus to bus to Ruggell. We mapped out a beautiful hike across 5 miles of the least wide part of Liechtenstein and I could say I walked across the country to Austria. Back to Ruggell for a bus ride back to Vaduz. Arriving at 7:00 pm (1900) alas I approached a dark Coop grocery store. I immediately remembered the several admonitions I had read on this forum: Grocery stores close early. We got quickly introduced to a Coop Pronto (minimart-gas station) and stocked up on eggs, ramen and delicious bread.
Hopped on a bus to Vaduz. Lovely town center, great Visitor’sCenter with good souvenirs and free maps and advice. Rented e bikes and set out to the Alte Rheinbrucke, an old wooden bridge across the Rhine. In Switzerland we followed the lovely bike trail along the Rhine eventually crossing into Austria. We basically followed the Liechtenstein Trail back to Vaduz. Our own three country tour. Got back with an hour to shop in the Coop before closing and cooked up a mighty meal. Amazing weather and wonderful day. First time on an e-bike and for these totally replaced knees, a fun way to bike!!
Day 4: We got an early start on bus to Sargans and then caught the train to Fiesch. Found our lodging and headed to cable car up to Eggishorn to see the Aletsch glacier. Do it!!! This beauty is the largest glacier in the Alps. It is 23 km long. There are trails running all along it. It is melting and it is stunning. Another great weather day and not too crowded. Loved the rock cairns, the information spots and the trails. Caught the last cable car back down and food and sleep.
Day 5: another early start on the train to Randa. Our goal was to hike to and across the Charles Kuonen Suspension Bridge. It is the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world. It crosses the Matter Valley(500 meters long) and is also completes the Europaweg from Grachen to Zermatt.
Being a Sunday it was good to start early. The route is a tough one. All uphill. We started from the train station in Randa and hiked and hiked and hiked. Took lots of snacks, water and breaks. Slow and steady got us to the top. About 200 yards from the bridge we were overtaken 50-60 people. They were part of a group that had taken a bus to Randa for this hike. We holed up on a small ledge to the east side of the bridge and let them have their loud fun. When they were having lunch on the other side we took our walk across which, while at its highest point is 85 meters up high, seemed perfectly safe and manageable. There is a trail on the west side that also gets back down to Randa but after noticing the crowd heading that way we opted to go down the way we came. We were glad to get back down and avail ourselves of the fresh, cool water available along the side of the road. It was a wonderful day. We took the long train ride back to Fiesch, shopped at another Coop pronto 😝, and enjoyed a restful evening.
We slept in a bit and decided to go to Zermatt and shop and treat ourselves to good food and an easy restful day. The rain kept us company as we got off the train at Visp and enjoyed tea, coffee and sweet bread at the local backerei. It was still early and so nice to linger and people watch. We had our bags with us as we were spending that night deep in a Valais valley. Loved the ease and convenience of our STP to hop off and on trains and be spontaneous. Arriving in Zermatt we stored our luggage for a cheap 8 francs in a locker at the train station. Again, just one of the many insights and info gained from this great forum.
Feeling light and free, not pulling a bag or walking either up or down hill or 300 feet in the air, we enjoyed wandering in and out of shops in Zermatt. The rain didn’t bother us a bit and it cleared up later in the afternoon. We splurged on a delicious lunch at an Italian spot and bought souvenirs and t shirts for the kids at home. Another amazing day. Have I said I was loving every minute of this trip yet???? The Saas valley is east of the Matter valley, very authentic and beautiful. Working class look, the Saas Fee ski area is probably more upscale. Finally getting it right, we went into Visp to shop at the Migros which was great. We backtracked to Stalden Saas and then we took the bus too Saas Grund. Dinner and early bed for an Alpine start the next morning.
This day was probably the one I was anticipating the most. Back at home I had this idea to find a mountain pass where we could hike to Italy from Switzerland. I settled on the Monte Moro pass. The trail begins at the Mattmark Resevoir south of Saas Grund. If you have some time, read up about the construction of this, the biggest earthen dam in Europe. It is an amazing body of water, an engineering feat and a source of hydroelectric power for the country. I read and studied the Monte Moro pass hiking route. It looked tough, but doable.
We got up early and stopped at the visitors center in Saas Grund just as it opened. We were told that the Passo Moro cable car on the other side of the pass that went down to Macugnaga Italy was closed. I was disappointed because my plan was to hike across the pass, get a ride down to Italy for a late lunch and ride back up and then hike back down to the reservoir and catch the bus home. You would think I’d know better by now. All of our hikes took longer than we planned.
We took the Saas Valley bus to the southern end of the line. The Mattmark reservoir was huge and a gorgeous aqua blue. The air was chill. I loved the diversity of the people we saw. It wasn’t crowded but we encountered a group of people dressed in traditional clothing. There were generations represented and it looked like a wonderful family outing. A bus pulled up with a group of school kids on a field trip. One couple spoke Italian, another Swiss German, a lone woman traveling said she was from Japan.
There were trails heading south on both sides of the reservoir. We opted to start on the west side and fairly quickly made our way through several tunnels. The route looked stunning in the morning light. We got to the southern end of the reservoir and enjoyed cows and cowbells and a delicious snack of bread and cheese. Then we headed up. The trail was clear, the rocky route surrounded us as we saw wildflowers and green lichen on rocks and moss and peaks and snow and cairns and our dependable Swiss Alpine Club painted trail signs.
We walked and walked, up and up. Heading deeper into and then up the side of a canyon. We saw no one. The sun rose from the eastern peaks and passed over head. We kept moving. The weariness of midday tempted my determination to not waver. We continued up. Seven hours later we passed through the final snow field and made it to the top. We laughed at my initial thoughts of “enjoying a late lunch in Macugnaga.” At that point we just wanted to get down before dark. The clouds were thick at the top and we opted to not risk a quick side trip to visit the Golden Madonna statue about 1/4 mile further. We ate our very late lunch, took our summit photos and headed down. There were parts of the trail where fixed cables had been set up to provide safety. I wouldn’t have wanted to be up there in the rain or on wet rocks. Once again, we were blessed with amazingly clear weather.
As we carefully headed down seeing the reservoir in the distance helped keep our spirits up. Finally we got there and slogged the last few miles on the eastern path. We we getting anxious we might miss the last bus back to Saas Grund, but at that point we were going as fast as we could. The bus route was clearly visible as the gorgeous Saas Valley unfolded below us. I hiked ahead and swore to myself I would lie in front of that bus if it tried to leave without us. Fortunately, the timing was again in our favor and as we came to the parking lot of the small restaurant we saw the bus making its way up the final switchback. We got on with a few hikers and staff from the restaurant. It sure felt good to sit down!
We got to our home away from home feeling quite proud and satisfied. We even had food to cook!! We both were tired and fell asleep after eating.
Another great day lay ahead if us. We bussed back up the valley to Stalden Saas. The transportation became part of our adventure. The land is sooooo beautiful. The huge train windows were perfect for daydreaming as we floated by the changing landscape. Enormous boulders, the Rhône river, faraway homes perched on the ridge line, cows, goats, sheep, tiny homes tucked into pockets of level ground. The busses and trains were so comfortable. The people so nice. It was truly a dream. It was amazing to see the real sites of places I had read about. My understanding of Switzerland was basic before this trip. Our immersion into lives and sights and sounds and smells was awesome. I think I read just about every word on this forum and that insight and knowledge really made a difference.
We were headed back to Zermatt. This time to try and see the Matterhorn. Again we stashed our rolling bags in a locker. The visitor center had webcams from above and they indicated complete cloud cover of the Matterhorn. I had thought the Five Lakes hike off the Gornergrat lift would be our route. We decided to go up the Sunnega lift instead. It was cheaper and we thought it would be worth it even if we didn't get a good view of the summit. It was worth every penny. First the lift itself was so cool. Second, the hot chocolate at the restaurant was delish. Third we saw an amazing display of clouds move across panorama. We wandered around, had a snack, sat and day dreamed. We got some lovely pics of the Matterhorn in the clouds. A perfect morning after our exciting and tiring hike of the day before. After lunch we collected our bags and got on the train to Leuk.
Leukerbad was our next stop. Again I was intrigued by another mountain pass. This time the Gemini Pass. My readings told me this storied trail felt the footsteps of Mark Twain and Plato. It forms the boundary between the Valais and Bernese Oberland. It has an alpine lake. The bus ride up from Leuk to Luekerbad was said to rival rides from the Almalfi coast. It did not disappoint. We checked in to a lovely condo and had a wonderful meal from the Chinese Restaurant. The Migros even had Pepsi!!!
Day 9: The next day we took off without a map thinking we could easily find our way to the Gemini lift that would take us up to our starting point for our hike. We wandered around town for a while and enjoyed being geographically confused. Eventually we got to the lift and it was another fantastic adventure just getting to the trailhead; the sights were stunning. The elevation angle on the lift was like an amusement ride.... so totally amazing. And we hadn’t even started our hike yet. Ahh, Switzerland❤️❤️❤️
We got off the lift, this time checked maps and signs and headed north toward the pass. The beautiful Daubensee lake was our first rest/snack spot. So beautiful. Again it was not crowded and we had clear weather. Our off season roll of the dice was paying off big time! The trail was flat and snowy and easy and relaxing. We again overestimated our energy thinking we could get to the top of the pass and then take the Sunnbuel lift down to Kandersteg. We also had hoped to see the hotel Schwarenbach just past the top. Not to be. We did make it to the top but opted to turn around and take the lower trail back to the lift. Another spectacular adventure. It was magical. It’s always good to save something for next time. 😉
The next morning we got up and headed for our last stop before Zürich airport. Lauterbrunnen. I could hardly wait.
Unfortunately the first snafu that I was not able to work around or integrate into our adventure occurred. On the train and feeling good, the conductor came around and asked to see our tickets. We confidently whipped out our phones, feeling quite comfortable with the process. Oops. She informed us that our passes had expired the day before. I couldn’t believe it. I got out my paper copy and she was correct. She was kind enough to let us continue our ride without charge. I was grateful. I spent the next hour trading emails with “Happy Rails” where I had purchased the passes. Turns out the date I made the purchase was automatically filled in as the start date of the pass. I did not double check being under the impression the STP became activated the first time it was used in country. MY BAD.
Unhappy Rail, as I now call them was, decidedly unsympathetic and unhelpful.
“ nothing we can do. Your fault. We are only a travel agency. your fault.”
I felt upset but my lovely wife reminded me that it was all good, we could pay when we had to. So we ended up doing just that and I comforted myself by saying “well if this is the worst that happens...”
Arriving in Interlaken we immediately went to the ticket counter and bought tickets for Lauterbrunnen. Most reports in the forum did not give Interlaken many stars and I agree. We passed through after a quick lunch at Mac Donald’s. 😝😝
Arriving in Lauterbrunnen was a cool cloth to my worried mind. The granite cliffs and deep valley reminded me of Yosemite in California USA. Stunning. Awe inspiring. Not crowded! We got there in time for an efficient shopping trip at the Coop and settled into a lovely apartment with a balcony that looked out toward the wonder of the mountains. I fell asleep dreaming of the Eiger, the Mönch and the Jungfrau.
Day 11: We planned to explore the west side of the valley first starting with a cable car to Grutschalp and then the narrow gauge train to Mürren. The small car free town was fun to walk through.. we located the Allmendhubel funicular. Serious rain finally caught up with us and we took out our jackets and prepared for a wonderful rainy day hike. The North Face trail meandered on the side of the valley up and down and around. Through cow fields and through pasture gates. Green and muddy and gorgeous. It never got really cold and as long as we kept moving and kept our winter hats on we were comfortable. A soggy lunch perched on the grassy lands was so much fun. The cows were everywhere. We caught glimpses of the peaks on the other side and we were sure we saw the Eiger. Making our way down we crossed bridges and farms and working men and women. Another perfect Swiss day.
Day 12: Our west side story began with the fun cog wheel train ride up to Wengen. Another car free town. We had seen this train from our balcony and now we were on it. We enjoyed a quick walk around but then set out to ride the cable car to Mannlichen to start our “Grannies Hike” to Klein Scheidegg. I must sound like a broken record....gorgeous scenery, amazing, views, well sign posted trails. There were still clouds left over from the day before as we started. We hiked and enjoyed the fabulous fresh air. By the time we got to the classic picnic viewing spot the clouds lifted. Truthfully my heart lifted as well. The Eiger. The Mönch. The Jungfrau. There, right in front of us. I almost could not believe it. It was stunning. Dazzling. I had read about these mountains for 50 years. And there they were. We took pictures and marveled.
We then took the train down to Grindelwald where we enjoyed a lovely lunch. It was difficult to pick a spot to eat...so many choices, so little time! We wandered and enjoyed the town and then took the train back down to Lauterbrunnen. We had a lovely evening walk through town before turning in.
Our final full day in Lauterbrunnen started with a visit to the Imboden bike shop. We rented e bikes again. Far superior in quality than our Liechtenstein visitor center bikes. The Lauterbrunnen Valley is full of surprises. We started on the bike trail to Stechelberg and stopped and admired waterfalls along the way. We meandered through side streets before getting serious and exploring the Lutschine river area. So pretty. Heading back we took the main road. It was slightly busy but not life threatening. We cruised past town heading to Zweilutschinen. We found the river trail after crossing the bridge at the end of town. The smooth valley trail became a memory as we bounced on pot holed gravel as my total shoulder replacements railed at the indignity of the constant rattle.
We decided to turn around there and I endured another 15 minute bone rattling ride before emerging back up out of the river’s edge and into town. Turning the bikes back in we had some time for a final shopping spree. We took the advice of many forum writer’s and got all our chocolates in the grocery stores. We found sales on
tee shirts because it was end of season. We bought our train tickets to the airport since we were leaving at 6:00 am the next morning I cringed at paying the full price kicking myself again for making the mistake with the STP and unhappy rail. We soaked up the mountains and the vibes and the absolute magic of Switzerland.
Our final alpine start, we got on the early train to the Zurich airport and no one checked our tickets. Honesty still the best policy. It was more crowded and more busy every mile we travelled. We became focused on our phones and schedules and details and passport lines. I wasn’t ready to leave. I wanted to return to the mountain air and the cool water. I had bought one water bottle in Liechtenstein and had filled and reused it the whole trip. I sipped it slowly. I knew it would have to be emptied at the security line at the airport. I was taking that bottle home!