ITINERARY AS EXCERPTED FROM KAREN BROWN’S E-BOOK:
If you want to see the most interesting and beautiful parts of Switzerland, including the picture-book-perfect scenery repeatedly seen on postcards, this is an ideal itinerary. The beauty throughout Switzerland is astounding, but unless you are planning a lengthy stay, it’s impossible to see it all in one visit. This itinerary gives you Switzerland in a nutshell-a tantalizing taste of its beautiful towns, charming villages, lovely lakes, lush valleys, and astonishing mountains.
Choose either Zürich or Lucerne as your originating city. (We give sightseeing suggestions for both.) They are so close that we suggest you stay in one and take a train to visit the other. Even if you have a car, it is much easier (and quicker) to take a train between the two than to struggle with traffic and find a parking garage. Trains depart at least once an hour from 6 am to 11 pm and the trip takes about 50 minutes.
If this itinerary begins your Swiss holiday and you are flying into Zürich, don’t pick up your car until the next leg of your trip. You can take a fast train directly from the airport to the city center of either Zürich or Lucerne. Not only is this practical, but also economical since you will save several days’ cost of car rental. Within either city you can walk almost everywhere.
From Zürich or Lucerne this itinerary heads south to Interlaken and the stunning Jungfrau region, then on to see more splendid mountains (including the Matterhorn) in Zermatt, then continues south (almost to the Italian border) to the romantic lakes of southern Switzerland.
RECOMMENDED PACING: We recommend a minimum of ten nights for this itinerary. This does not include the nights you choose to stay at the end of your trip in the Lake District. As you read through the itinerary, you will note that we suggest places en route that are very special. If you want to include time at one of these locations, it will extend the total days, but you will be well rewarded. The following is a suggestion on how to plan your time:
FOUR NIGHTS in Zürich or Lucerne: Four nights will give you three full days: one day to enjoy wandering through the city, one day to take a boat ride on the lake, and one day to visit either Lucerne or Zürich (depending upon which you have chosen as your base of operations).
THREE NIGHTS in the Jungfrau region: Three nights in the Jungfrau region will give you two full days-one day for the Jungfraujoch excursion (an absolute must see) and another day to take a walk in the mountains, visit Interlaken, take a boat excursion, or visit the quaint town of Thun.
THREE NIGHTS in Zermatt: Three nights in Zermatt will give you two full days to stroll through the town, enjoy some of the beautiful walking paths, and take advantage of the available trams and railways up into the mountains.
THE ITINERARY ENDS in the Southern Lake District. If you are planning to extend your trip, the following itinerary, Swiss Treasures off the Beaten Path, dovetails seamlessly with this one.
Zürich is a splendid, cosmopolitan city with an idyllic, lakeside setting. Although very popular with travelers from around the world, Zürich does not have the feeling of a tourist center. Instead, as you walk the streets, you experience the bustle of a “real” city. Of course there are tourists, but shopping next to you in the little boutique will be the local housewife, hurrying down the promenade will be businessmen on their way to work, and a couple from Zürich will probably be sitting next to you at a sidewalk café. There is a bustling atmosphere in Zürich, a gaiety to the city.
Zürich is a great city for walking. Meander through the medieval section with its maze of tiny twisting streets, colorful squares, charming little shops, and tempting cafés. It is fun to walk down the promenade by the Limmat River (which runs through the center of the city) to the lakefront and cross over the Quaibrücke (bridge) to return by the opposite bank. When weary, cross back over one of the bridges that spans the river to complete your circle. From both sides of the river the old section of Zürich radiates out on little twisting streets like a spider web.
Spend some time along the lakefront with its pretty parks and gardens. From the piers there are a fascinating variety of boat excursions to little villages around the lake. On a sunny day take an excursion on one these. There is a schedule posted at each of the piers stating where the boats go and when they depart. During the summer there is frequent service and a wide selection to suit your mood and your timeframe.
Shopping in Zürich is a dream. The two most popular shopping streets are Bahnhofstrasse and Limmatquai, both with many top of the line boutiques. Even just window shopping is great fun. When it comes time to dine, you have your choice of more than 1,700 places to eat and drink.
For those of you who relish sightseeing, Zürich has a rich selection of things to see including over 50 museums and more than 100 art galleries. Below is a selection of some of the possibilities. Note: most of the museums in Zürich close on Monday.
SIGHTSEEING HIGHLIGHTS IN ZÜRICH
Walking Tour: Always one of the best ways to capture the ambiance of a town is by taking a walking tour with a local guide to explain what you are seeing and tell fun tales of the city that you might otherwise never hear. The tourist office in Zürich offers just such an excursion. Tickets are sold at, and the tour starts from, the tourist office which is located in at the Hauptbahnhof, Zürich’s central train station. This adventure explores the charming Old Town. (May until November, weekdays, 2:30 pm; Saturday & Sunday, 10 am & 2:30 pm.) Note: when in the tourist office arranging for your walking tour, ask what special events are taking place during your visit. Zürich has a rich selection of cultural events.
Zunfthaus zur Meisen: Located directly on the Limmat River, the Zunfthaus zur Meisen is housed in a splendid 18th-century wine merchants’ guild house. As indicated by the name, the museum features fine porcelain treasures from throughout Europe, including of course, the famous German town of Meissen. (Located on the west bank of the Limmat.)
Schweizerisches Landesmuseum: If you have time for only one museum in Zürich, choose the Schweizerisches Landesmuseum, which covers Switzerland’s cultural heritage going back to 10,000 BC. The exhibits are marvelously presented, including such highlights as a 16th-century chapel (its stained-glass windows are fabulous) and a vast collection of coats of arms and banners from the 14th century. To catch a glimpse of life in the 17th century, rooms are set up and furnished as they would have been at that time. Boys of all ages will be captivated by the toy soldiers set up to depict a model of the Battle of Murten, which took place in 1476. Another must see in the museum is an 18th-century pharmacy that was brought here from the Benedictine Abbey in Muri and reassembled. (Located on the west bank of the Limmat.)
Fraumümuster: If you are a devotee of Chagall, be sure to visit the Fraumümuster to see its stained-glass windows designed by Chagall. The Fraumümuster dates back to the 9th century. It was first founded by the German King Ludwig who built an abbey here and installed his daughter, Hildegard, as headmistress. (Located on the west bank of the Limmat.)
Rathaus (town hall): Zürich’s town hall (Rathaus) is built on piles hammered into the riverbed of the Limmat so the building actually stretches out over the water. An arcaded walkway adorns the front of the building. The origin of the town hall dates back to medieval times. (Located on the east bank of the Limmat.)
Kunsthaus: The Kunsthaus is reputed to be the most important art galley in Switzerland. Its paintings cover a wide span of time from medieval religious art to the 20th century. Its vast palette of artists include works by leading Swiss painters (including our favorite Albert Ankor) along with a large selection of Impressionist painting including works by Renoir, Degas, Picasso, Chagall, and Renoir. (Located on the east bank of the Limmat.)
Grossmünster: Cathedral buffs won’t want to miss the impressive and imposing 12th-century Grossmünster cathedral whose twin towers dominate the Zürich skyline. Supposedly the present day structure was built upon an 8th-century church founded by Charlemagne, whose stature adorns the crypt. (Located on the east bank of the Limmat.)
ZÜRICH TO LUCERNE
There is no expressway linking Zürich and Lucerne. However, it is possible to take four-lane roads some of the way. The fastest route is to take the A3 south from Zürich in the direction of Chur. Exit from the A3 at Horgen and go west in the direction of Baar and Lucerne. After about 6 kilometers, you arrive at the A4. Take this freeway for a few minutes and exit when you see the sign to Zug, which is about 5 kilometers to the south.
Zug: A visit to Zug introduces you to one of Switzerland’s oldest cities whose origin dates back beyond the Middle Ages to the Neolithic era. By far the most attractive part of Zug is its medieval core, which is like a town within a town. One side faces onto the harbor of Lake Zug, from which a maze of streets stretches back to the old walls of the town, some of which are still intact. As you wander through the quaint old town you will see many colorfully painted, tall, narrow 16th-century houses with steep gabled roofs. In the center of town is the Kolinplatz, a square highlighted by a fountain adorned by a statue of Wolfgang Kolin, a Swiss knight who gained local fame for his many brave deeds. The highlight of this old part of Zug is the whimsical clock tower above the city gates. It is cute as can be with a steeply pitched, tiled roof in a blue and white herringbone design, topped by a bell tower and jaunty steeple.
From Zug, continue south following the lake to Doldau and join the A4 going south toward Brunnen. Get off the freeway here and continue on to Lucerne on the road that traces the north edge of the lake. This will take you through some of the sweetest villages along the lakefront.
Vitznau: Your first stop is Vitznau, which has a lovely lakefront setting that is further enhanced by the wooded hills that rise behind the town. From Vitznau you can take a 35-minute ride on Europe’s oldest cog railway (built in 1871) that climbs to the Rigi-Kul summit, which affords a sensational panoramic view.
Weggis: A short drive beyond Vitznau brings you to Weggis, one of the prettiest resorts along Lake Lucerne and a favorite target for the ferryboats. Be sure to take a stroll along the lovely promenade that traces the water’s edge and leads out to a small peninsula that juts into the lake.
Küssnacht am Rigi: The next stop along the way is Küssnacht am Rigi, a small village located on a northern finger of land that stretches into Lake Lucerne. What makes this town particularly attractive is that the highway bypasses it so there is no through traffic. The main street, lined by colorful 16th-century buildings, leads down to the lake, ending in a small square facing the waterfront. On the square is a handsome, Baroque town hall. Also facing the square is the Hôtel du Lac Seehof, an excellent place for lunch or dinner. It has a romantic, tree-shaded terrace on the edge of the lake, right by the boat dock. Küssnacht am Rigi also is famous for its folk hero, William Tell, who, at a site nearby, is said to have shot the Austrian governor with his mighty crossbow while leading his people in their battle to win freedom from Hapsburg rule. From Küssnacht it is a short drive into the heart of Lucerne.
Lucerne is a charming medieval town with a fairy-tale setting located directly on the lake with a beautiful mountain backdrop. This is one of our favorite places in Switzerland, an exceptionally romantic city with the charm and intimacy of a small town. Hugging the edge of Lake Lucerne, the site is pure perfection. With its magical setting, Lucerne makes a delightful beginning for any itinerary, offering a tempting glimpse of what is to come-lakes, mountains, rivers, quaint bridges, historic buildings, masses of colorful flowers, and a selection of romantic excursions by boat.
Remnants of stone walls trace an outline around the old town of Lucerne. Although the ramparts that once encircled the city have deteriorated with time, the old section remains a marvelously preserved example of a medieval city-an exceptionally attractive one. Stately ancient buildings line the Reuss River, which rushes through the center of town. It is lined by colorful buildings and spanned by charming bridges. The most famous of these is the Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge), which was built in the 14th century to accommodate the ever-increasing merchants coming over the Gotthard Pass as they traveled north into Germany. With its wooden roof, cute octagonal water tower, walls painted with murals, masses of bright geraniums, and a little chapel midway, this jewel of a bridge is one of the most photographed sites in Lucerne and a trademark of the city.
You can best enjoy all of Lucerne on foot; it is a wonderful town for lingering. Just strolling through the quaint streets and enjoying a snack in one of the small cafés overlooking the river can easily fill an afternoon. There are always many tourists in Lucerne since its enchantment is no secret. However, the bustle of activity and happy travelers adds a festive spirit to the city. When planning your activities, remember that most Swiss museums close on Mondays.
SIGHTSEEING HIGHLIGHTS IN LUCERNE
Walking Tour: The Lucerne Tourist Office offers an excursion called “A Walk Around Lucerne”-a walking tour that also includes a short ride on the city train. Along the way your guide will explain many interesting facts (and humorous stories) about the city’s history, its churches, narrow streets, bridges, and quaint medieval squares. The two-hour tour takes place daily from May through October. November through April, the tour is on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The departure time is 9:45 am from the tourist information center at the train station. If you are with friends or family and there are five people in your party, private theme tours are available. Ask about these at the tourist office. This would be a fun way to have your own specialized excursion.
Museum of Transport and Communications: The Museum of Transport and Communications, one of Switzerland’s finest museums, follows the development of transportation and communication up to the exploration of space.
Boat trips on Lake Lucerne: You must include at least one boat trip on Lake Lucerne while staying here. There are steamers constantly crisscrossing back and forth across the lovely lake, stopping at small villages along the way. Boat schedules are posted at each dock. Plan your day so that you arrive in one of the cute villages at midday to have lunch at a lakeside restaurant (Küssnacht is one of our favorite stops) and then return later to Lucerne. In addition to the regularly scheduled routes, there are many boats that offer specialty outings such as dinner cruises. For a truly relaxing day, sign up for the all-day (6-hour) circle cruise of the lake.
Rosengart Museum: This museum, which features the private collection of Sammlung Rosengart and his daughter Angela Rosengart, is one of our favorites. Along with modern art, it has an amazing selection of Impressionistic paintings including works by Picasso, Monet, Renoir, Matisse, Chagall, and Cézanne.
Picasso Museum: The same Rosengart family, whose art collection is exhibited in the Rosengart Museum, donated many paintings by Picasso to the city which are displayed in a 16th-century home. In the museum there are also many photographs of Picasso and his family, giving you a glimpse into this great artist’s personal life.
Franziskanerkirche: This Franciscan church is Lucerne’s most ancient building, dating back to the 13th century.
Historisches Museum: Housed in a 16th-century Renaissance building that connects via its gatehouse to Lucerne’s historic covered bridge, the Spreuerbrück, the Historisches Museum depicts the history of Lucerne through its display of costumes, folk art, crafts, and weapons.
Museggmauer: Lucerne’s medieval heritage is apparent in the remnants of its old city walls. Parts of this medieval fortification, with its nine towers, still stand on the north side of town running from the river to the lake.
Kuntsmuseum: The Kuntsmuseum is housed in Lucerne’s Congress Center, an ultra modern, steel and glass building that was built in 2000 by the French architect, Jean Nouvel. The focus of the museum is on Swiss painters from the 18th to 20th century.
Mount Pilatus: Recommended for a sunny day is an outing from Lucerne to the highest mountain peak in the area, Mount Pilatus. The most enjoyable route for this excursion is to take the lake steamer to the town of Alpnachstad and then the electric cog railway up to the top of the mountain. From the rail terminal it is only about a ten-minute walk to the peak of the mountain where there is a spectacular panorama.
Monastery of Einsiedeln: Another excursion from Lucerne is to the town of Einsiedeln to see the home of the famous Black Madonna. The Monastery of Einsiedeln was founded by Meinrad, a Benedictine monk, who built a small chapel for the Black Madonna (a statue of the Virgin Mary), which had been given to him by Zürich priests. Meinrad was later murdered by some men who mistakenly thought he had hidden treasures. Later, the Monastery of Einsiedeln was built over Meinrad’s grave and another chapel was erected to house the Black Madonna. This site has become a pilgrimage, not only for Catholics, but also for tourists who are attracted to the Einsiedeln Abbey, an excellent example of Baroque architecture.
Richard Wagner Museum: If you are enchanted by the works of Wagner, visit the Richard Wagner Museum which is on the lake on the southern outskirts of Lucerne in a neighborhood called Tribschen. The museum is in the home where Wagner lived from 1866 to 1872, when he composed many of his masterpieces. It was in this villa that he married Cosima, the daughter of the Austrian composer, Franz Liszt. This charming lakefront villa where he lived has a wonderful collection of antique musical instruments. The museum is closed on Mondays and also from December to mid-March.
LUCERNE TO THE INTERLAKEN & JUNGFRAU REGIONS
When its time to move on, leave Lucerne on the A4, heading south toward Interlaken.
Flüeli-Ranft: Exit the A4 at Sachseln and follow signs to Flüeli-Ranft. This tiny village, nestled up in the hills, has great religious and political significance. It was here that Saint Nicholas of Flüe, a deeply religious person, was born in a simple peasant’s cottage. He married and fathered ten children. He lived a normal life until, when in his 50s, he felt the irresistible call to live the life of solitude (with ten children, perhaps it is understandable). He went into the hills behind Flüeli-Ranft where he lived as a hermit and spent the rest of his life in meditation. Because of his reputation as a fair and peace-loving man of inspired wisdom, many priests and political leaders came to him for advice. When a war between the cantons seemed inevitable, Saint Nicolas negotiated a compromise and instead of going to battle, the cantons were united into confederation in 1481. One can visit the small home where Saint Nicholas of Flüe was born and hike to the hermitage where he lived in solitude for so many years.
Sachseln: From Flüeli-Ranft, take the small road marked to Sachseln, which like Flüeli-Ranft, is also a very holy pilgrimage for Catholics since Saint Nicholas of Flüe is buried in a beautiful church here.
From Sachseln, continue south, following signs to Brienz and Interlaken. The road leads downward from the Brunig Pass to the town of Brienz and beyond to Interlaken.
The scenery around Interlaken and the nearby Jungfrau region is breathtaking. Within the immediate area there are spectacular mountains, scenic lakes, and pretty villages with charming places to stay. From the following sightseeing suggestions, choose a hub to use as your base of operations. Stay in just one place. Don’t move around since everything is within easy driving distance. We have broken down the sightseeing into three sections: Sightseeing Highlights in the Interlaken Region, Sightseeing Highlights in the Jungfrau Region, and the Jungfraujoch Excursion.
SIGHTSEEING HIGHLIGHTS IN THE INTERLAKEN REGION
Interlaken: Interlaken, which translates to “between the lakes,” has a fabulous location on a spit of land connecting two splendid lakes, the Brienzer See to the east (Lake Brienz) and the Thuner See (Lake Thun) to the west. It is not surprising that this superbly-located town with incredible mountain views has been a popular resort for over a hundred years, as evidenced by its grand old Victorian-style hotels. Although its glamour has faded a bit, tourists from all over the world still come to shop, visit the casino, and make excursions into the mountains (especially the Jungfrau circle trip). There are also numerous steamers that in summer depart from Interlaken and ply the waters of both Lake Brienz and Lake Thun. Although both are beautiful, our favorite of the two is Lake Brienz, which is wrapped by mountains.
Thun: Thun is a picturesque medieval village nestled at the west end of Lake Thun. It has an intriguing shopping area with two levels. You walk along the top level built above the arcaded buildings below, and drop to the lower street to do your shopping. Crowning a hill above the town is a fabulous old castle, built in the 12th century by the Duke of Zähringen. Getting there by a covered staircase from the village is half the fun. From the turrets, which are open as a museum, there is a ravishing panoramic view of Thun, the lake, and mountains beyond.
Brienz: Nestled along the waterfront at the east end of the Brienzer See, the picturesque village of Brienz has a web of narrow streets shadowed by wooden chalet-style houses and shops. Brienz is a woodcarving center and most of the carvings available for purchase throughout Switzerland come from here. Brienz is also famous for its violin-making school. There are many excursions you can take from here, including a fun ride on a little red train, the Brienz Rothorn, which climbs to the mountain top for a breathtaking, panoramic view of the Bernese Alps and Lake Brienz. The train leaves from the heart of Brienz, across from the train station and boat dock. This wonderful old steam locomotive traverses some exceptionally beautiful scenery on its three-hour round trip journey to the 2,350-meter summit of the Rothorn. (www.brienz-rothorn-bahn.ch.)
Ballenberg: Nearby Brienz, on the Syssensee, there is an outstanding open-air museum called Ballenberg, offering a delicious taste of the culture and architecture of the various Swiss cantons. More than seventy buildings have been brought to the park and reconstructed. Crafts and old ways of living and working are brought to life by people dressed in local costumes and the interiors of the houses are furnished with appropriate antiques. When it’s lunchtime, purchase a bounty of bread from the baker and sausage or cheese from the farmer and have a picnic-or settle in at the village inn for a meal. A path weaves through this park of over 80 hectares and travels a course that takes you through the various cantons of Switzerland. You can tour the park on foot or, for a fee, by horse and buggy. Due to the vastness of the park, even if you decide to selectively visit just a few cantons, plan on allocating at least a half day here. Bus service is available from Brienz to the park (www.ballenberg.ch).
Iseltwald: If you are exploring the towns around Lake Brienz, one of the cutest of all is the tiny village of Iseltwald, located on the south shore of the lake. This would make a good stop one day for lunch or a cup of tea.
SIGHTSEEING HIGHLIGHTS IN THE JUNGFRAU REGION
Grindelwald: If you want to take the Jungfraujoch excursion, Grindelwald is the closest mountain village along the route to which you can drive. The setting of this glacier village is spectacular, with views of three giant mountain peaks, the Eiger rising to 3,970 meters, the Wetterhorn to 3,701 meters, and the Mettenberg to 3,104 meters. From the little station in town the train departs for the dramatic Kleine Scheidegg and on to the Jungfraujoch. Not only is Grindelwald a convenient place to take a train ride up to the base of the Jungfrau, but it is also a haven for hikers and climbers.
Grindelwald is a draw for sport enthusiasts year round. In winter the focus is on the snow conditions, terrain, and the best adventures in downhill and cross-country skiing. In summer the same lifts that take skiers up the mountain give hikers a head start along trails that climb in the shadow of the Eiger. There are also trams that operate only in summer and make hikes to glaciers and high meadows feasible in the span of a day.
Wengen: Part of the charm of Wengen is that it can be reached only by train. You leave your car in the parking lot at the Lauterbrunnen station and take the train for the spectacular 20-minute ride up the mountain. As the train pulls up the steep incline, you catch glimpses through the trees of the magnificent valley below. When you reach Wengen, you will be entranced: it has one of the most glorious sites in the world-high on a mountain plateau overlooking the breathtaking Lauterbrunnen Valley, a valley enclosed with walls of granite graced with cascading waterfalls. A backdrop for the total picture is the awe-inspiring Jungfrau massif with its three famous peaks, the Jungfrau, the Mönch, and the Eiger. This is a center for outdoor enthusiasts and sportsmen, while tourists come from all over the world to soak up the spectacular Alpine beauty. Summer is my favorite time of year in Wengen when the marvelous walking paths beckon. Along these trails there are new vistas at every turn, each more beautiful than the last. If walking is too gentle for your spirit, you can take climbs into the Bernese Oberland. If you are going to do some serious climbing, you should hire a local guide to accompany you. In addition to being a Mecca for the mountain enthusiast, Wengen is also an excellent base for the excursion to the Jungfrau. This is a circle trip taken by a series of little trains to the summit of the Jungfraujoch. Dominated by the Jungfrau, this boasts the highest train station in Europe and from its vantage point you will marvel at the spectacular vistas of the surrounding, awe-inspiring peaks. Known the world over, this trip is probably the most famous mountain-sightseeing adventure in Switzerland-one you will not want to miss.
Kleine Scheidegg: Kleine Scheidegg is the jumping-off point for the final leg of the Jungfraujoch excursion. Located above the timberline, the town is just a cluster of buildings hugging the windswept plateau. The wide, sweeping vistas of the rugged peaks of the Eiger, the Mönch, and the Jungfrau are overpowering. If the day is sunny, it is great fun to sit out on the open terrace with a beer and a bratwurst while soaking in the splendor of the mountains and watching tourists set off on the tiny train that soon disappears as it tunnels into the glacier.
Mürren: Mürren is a village clinging to a ledge high above the Lauterbrunnen Valley, with a startlingly steep granite wall dropping straight down from the village to the valley far below. The only access is by cable car from Stechelberg, tram from Lauterbrunnen, or, of course, for the true outdoorsman-by foot. Across the valley the Jungfrau towers into the sky, incredibly close, incredibly powerful. The Jungfrau circle of towns (Grindelwald, Wengen, and Kleine Scheidegg) is on the opposite side of the valley. If you don’t have time for the Jungfraujoch excursion, there is a thrilling mountain adventure right from Mürren. Just step again onto the cable car, which will whisk you ever upward (with a change from one cable car to another en route) and get off at the icy barrens at the top of the mountain, the Schilthorn. Here you are treated to an awesome view of some of the most incredible mountain peaks in the world, right at your fingertips. Plan to have lunch here. There is a dramatic revolving restaurant with walls of glass called the Piz Gloria, which slowly circles so that you can savor the view while you dine.
Lauterbrunnen & Trümmelbachfälle: Lauterbrunnen, a popular place to leave your car and climb aboard the train for the Jungfraujoch excursion, is nestled on the floor of the valley. Before parking in Lauterbrunnen for the train trip, drive south for a few more kilometers, watching for a sign on the left side of the road for the Trümmelbachfälle, one of the most unusual waterfalls in the world. Park you car at the designated area near the road. From there it is just a very short walk over to the entrance to the falls-yes, “entrance.” In the side of the mountain a steel door opens to an elevator that ascends within the mountain. When you get out, follow the path that winds down the hillside, snaking in and out of the mountain en route. Along the way you see ten dramatic waterfalls, gigantic, powerful thrusts of water gushing down from the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau glaciers through twisted fissures in the rock. As you walk along the roaring water, there are balconies at various levels, strategically placed for photos and viewing. In the darker recesses, the falls are illuminated, increasing even further the magic of the experience. The whole outing should not take more than about an hour. However, if you are in a hurry and there is a line waiting for the elevator, you can easily walk up the well-marked path for the same view.
The Jungfraujoch excursion is a journey on a series of small trains, synchronized to provide you with a perfect prize-the Jungfraujoch, with the highest train station in Europe sitting 92 meters below the summit of the Jungfrau. The most popular starting points for this outing are any of the following train stations: Interlaken Ost, Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald, or Wengen. Although the trip can be taken in segments or as a side trip from one of its starting points, most tourists prefer to squeeze the ultimate enjoyment from their outing by taking the complete circle trip from Interlaken.
The Jungfraujoch excursion is one of the highlights of Switzerland. Unless you have traveled the route, it sounds quite complicated, but it is not. We explain, step-by-step, how this fabulous mountain adventure is put together and then you can tailor the trip to suit your special needs, beginning and ending at the town you have chosen to spend the night. The diagram on the following page demonstrates how the journey and options coordinate.
The complete circle trip begins at Interlaken Ost (Interlaken East) train station. However, you can also climb aboard at any of the stations along the route, for example, Lauterbrunnen, Kleine Scheidegg, Wengen, or Grindelwald, and the fare adjusts accordingly. Assuming Interlaken as your departure point, it is a 25-minute train ride to Lauterbrunnen where you change trains for the 45-minute ride up the mountain to Kleine Scheidegg (stopping en route to pick up passengers at the little town of Wengen). You have to change trains again at Kleine Scheidegg for the final ascent to the Jungfraujoch. For last thrilling leg of your adventure, the train creeps up the steep mountain and disappears into a 6½-kilometer tunnel through the glacier-reappearing at the Jungfraubahn, the highest rail station in Europe. It is possible to take an elevator even higher through the mountain to a vista point from where, on a clear day, it seems you can see the whole of Switzerland. You will also find an ice palace carved into the glacier, dog-sled rides, shops, a post office, and restaurants. For this journey, be sure to take sturdy shoes for walking on the glacier, gloves, a warm sweater or jacket, sunscreen, and sunglasses. When you leave the Jungfraujoch, it is necessary to retrace your journey to Kleine Scheidegg. For scenic variety, many travelers prefer to return to Interlaken from Kleine Scheidegg by a circle route. To do this, board the train for Grindelwald where you connect with another train that takes you directly to Interlaken.
The Jungfraujoch is an expensive excursion, but a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, especially when the weather cooperates and blue skies color a magnificent backdrop for these majestic peaks. There are numerous daily train departures and tickets are available for purchase at hotels, campsites, tourist offices, train stations, or travel agencies.
FROM INTERLAKEN & THE JUNGFRAU REGION TO ZERMATT
Zermatt: As you travel from Interlaken to Zermatt, we suggest more places to see along the way than you could possibly accomplish in one day. We have squeezed in a wealth of exciting things to do en route to give you a platter from which to choose your favorites. A bit of your decision will probably be based upon the weather since we recommend two side-trips that involve twisting roads up narrow valleys, one of these is the Lötschental Valley and the other the Val d’Annivieres. If the sun is out both of these are unforgettable, but on a rainy day you might not be able to see a thing. So, study the itinerary, map out your personalized route, and let your final decision be governed by the weather.
When it is time to continue on to Zermatt, take the road that runs along the southern shore of the Thuner See that goes from Interlaken toward Thun. Just before reaching the town of Spiez, turn south on a road leading to the Kandersteg Valley. Continue on this road to Frutigen. Where the road splits, follow signs going left to Kandersteg (not right to Adelboden). About 8 kilometers beyond Frutigen, watch for a sign for the Blausee (Blue Lake). Park your car near the main road and walk along a wooded path through a forest of twisted, mysterious trees. You begin to wonder where in the world you are going when suddenly you come upon a tiny, gorgeous lake-a photographer’s dream. The incredibly blue, clear lake is set in the forest with a jagged Alpine horizon. There are usually many people here, as it is a favorite excursion of the Swiss who like to come to eat lunch lakeside in a little chalet-type restaurant. This is also a popular stop for families with children who enjoy taking one of the boat rides or just circling the lake on the twisting path through the gnarled forest. The effect is rather like a scene from Hansel and Gretel.
Kandersteg: From the Blausee, continue to Kandersteg, a small village tucked at the end of a box canyon where the only means of further transportation is to put your car onto one of the trains that tunnels through the mountain. Although this suggested itinerary goes on to Zermatt, if you have time to linger, Kandersteg is an idyllic place to spend a few days. There are some exceptionally charming hotels here, making a stay here even more enticing. Kandersteg nestles in a flower-strewn meadow dramatically embraced by towering Alpine peaks. This is a great destination from which to take walks or just sit and enjoy the breathtaking scenery. Nearby trails (with benches strategically placed so you can stop to enjoy the view) cater to all levels of athletic pursuit (from a leisurely stroll to a high-powered mountain ascent). If you stay longer in Kandersteg, there is a chairlift at the end of the valley that takes you up to Lake Oeschinen where rugged cliffs jut dramatically into the sky, forming a backdrop to the clear mountain lake. The lake lies below the terminal of the chairlift and is reached via a path through mountain meadows. On a clear day it is especially inviting to walk down the mountain rather than take the chairlift.
As you continue on your way to Zermatt, look for signs to the Kandersteg train station where agents will direct you where to buy your ticket and line up for the next train. When it arrives, you are instructed where to park “piggy-back” on the train. You stay in your car as the train rambles on through the dark tunnel and pops out once again into the light on the other side. The first stop on the other side of the tunnel is Goppenstein where you drive off the train and are on your way.
Lötschental Valley: From Goppenstein, a very special mountain adventure awaits-the Lötschental Valley. Instead of continuing south toward the Rhône Valley, follow signs to the Lötschental Valley and the towns of Blatte and Fafleralp. Take the narrow road as it goes east along the side of the Lonza River and winds up through one of the most beautiful valleys imaginable. On a clear day, the views are unsurpassed. Along the way you pass through ancient little villages, untouched by time. One of the prettiest of these is
the town of Blatten, where there are several simple (but very nice) hotels with spectacular views. If you have the luxury of a few extra days, this would make a wonderful place to spend some time. From Blatten the road continues on to where the valley dead-ends at the base of the majestic Breithorn, a 3785-meter-high mountain masterpiece. At the last town along the route called Fafleralp there is a small restaurant where you can get a snack or a cold drink.
From the Lötschental Valley, retrace your way back to Goppenstein and turn south. After 9 kilometers you come to the N9, that traverses the Rhöne Valley. Turn west here and continue for approximately 15 kilometers to Sierre. Before you come into town, take the turnoff going south, marked to the Val d’Annivieres.
Val d’Annivieres: The scenery through the Val d’Annivieres is beautiful, but be forewarned that the road is narrow and twists and turns as it climbs higher into the mountains. Don’t attempt this side trip in the winter, but in the summer, if the day is brilliant and you are not intimidated by mountain driving, Grimentz makes a fantastic detour. When you come to Vissoie, the road splits. At this junction, take the branch that goes to the right toward to your sightseeing goal, Grimentz, a fantastic Valais village clinging to a mountain ridge.
Grimentz: The small mountain village of Grimentz is an architectural gem-so special it is protected by the Swiss government. This very old village is filled with marvelously preserved Valais-style homes whose heavy slate roofs are weighted down by chunky rocks to protect them against the winter storms. Park your car at the entrance to the village and stroll down the tiny streets that are closed to all but foot traffic. The lanes are lined by simple wood houses whose rough-hewn, age-blackened exteriors contrast dramatically with masses of flowers cascading from every window box. It is hard to believe that the Grimentz of old could ever have been as picturesque as it is today, for each resident seems to vie with his neighbor for the most stunning display of brilliant red geraniums. The effect captivates the senses: brilliant blue sky (with a little luck), snow-capped mountains, green pastures, blackened-with-age wooden houses, and flowers,
flowers, flowers. If the timing is right, after wandering through the village, stop for a cheese fondue lunch on the terrace of the Hotel de Moiry, located just at the entrance into the pedestrian-only zone.
After the side trip to Grimentz, return to the N9 and turn east. As you near Visp, take the well-marked turnoff south toward Zermatt. The only choice you have along the way is where the road splits: the left branch of the road leads to Saas-Fee and the right leads to Zermatt.
Zermatt: You cannot drive into Zermatt as no cars are allowed within the city limits. However, this is not a problem as there are car parks at each of the small neighboring towns. Täsch is as far as you can go by car, so park here, buy your ticket at the station, and board the train for the rest of your journey. After about a 15-minute ride, you arrive at the Zermatt terminal where you will notice a few horse-drawn carriages waiting in the plaza in front of the station. In winter, these convert to horse-drawn sleighs. In the past few years, electric golf-type carts have gradually replaced almost all of the horse drawn carriages and sleighs-only a few of the most posh hotels still offer this romantic means of transportation. During the height of the season, many of the hotels send their “carriage” to meet all the incoming trains-each hotel has its name on the cart or carriage or the porter’s cap. If for some reason you do not see your porter, there is a large panel in the center of the station with the names of all the hotels, listed with a corresponding code to call the hotel directly so that they will send someone to fetch you. This service is usually free of charge.
Zermatt is a city in the sky, not the sleepy little mountain hamlet of yesteryear. Yet, in spite of the hoards of tourist, new shopping arcades, countless hotels, and newly built condominiums, Zermatt is still an enchanting destination. How can you resist its weathered farmhouses, quaint little streets, unbelievable displays of brilliant flowers, charming hotels, and cozy restaurants? Plus, you just can’t go home without seeing the Matterhorn, one of the world’s most glorious mountains.
While in Zermatt there are two especially popular sightseeing excursions: the Gornegrat and the Klein Matterhorn, neither of which should be taken if visibility is poor. The Gornegrat ascent entails a ride on a cog railway up to the Gornegrat Station, which is located on a rocky ridge looking over the town of Zermatt and beyond to the Matterhorn. From the Gornegrat Station a walk down to the next station gives you views of the Matterhorn and the surrounding mountains. The Klein Matterhorn ascent involves a ride on a small cable car to a mid-station, then three or four rides on a large gondola/cable car. The station at the summit is at the highest altitude of any station in Europe (3,820 meters). The views are spectacular.
While in Zermatt you must take advantage of its well-marked footpaths and walks. You can follow one of the beautifully marked trails drifting out from the village core and suddenly find yourself in meadows of wildflowers, or take a chair lift, tram, or train up the mountain, from which point you can walk all or part of the way down. Numerous small cafés are scattered along the trails. It is truly the civilized way to hike when you can stop along the route for a glass of wine or cup of coffee and delicious pastry.
Saas Fee: If would like to experience another town in the same region as Zermatt, consider staying in Saas Fee. It is located at the end of the Saastal or Saas Valley, which branches off from the road to the much more famous resort of Zermatt. Ringed by more than a dozen mountains, Saas Fee perches on a shelf high above the valley. The town is closed to traffic-all cars must be left in the huge, modern, multi-story car park on the edge of town. If you are staying overnight, park in lot number one. Dial your hotel and tell them you have arrived and soon an electric cart will come to pick you up.
Saas Fee is primarily a ski town but is still bustling in summer with hikers and tourists. It has attractive shops (lots of watches, skiing and hiking equipment) and some delightful restaurants. Hiking opportunities abound, from gentle walks to “high routes” (challenging hikes in the mountains). Saas Fee offers some intriguing diversions, including rides on the underground metro to the Mittelallalin, site of the world’s highest revolving restaurant. Even more fascinating is the Ice Pavilion, the world’s largest ice cavern, where the exhibits include a crevasse within the Fee Glacier. If you are staying for several days, consider purchasing the seven-day Wander Pass, which covers fees for the Ice Pavilion, a day of skiing, Saas-Fee museums, buses, and cable cars along the Saas Valley.
FROM ZERMATT TO THE SOUTHERN LAKES
Leaving Zermatt, take the train back to the parking area in Täsch and retrieve your car. It is a long day’s drive from Zermatt to the Swiss-Italian Lake District-so try for an early departure. Head north to Visp where you join the N9 freeway going east in the direction of Brig. After about 8 kilometers, take the turn off that heads south over the Simplon Pass. The first part of the drive is over a four-lane highway that gently loops up the hill, providing a dramatic view of the Rhône Valley far below. Soon the road becomes two lanes, but although there are many twists and turns, the road is beautifully banked and not particularly difficult. Before you know it, you are in Italy and the road begins to wind downward through the Val Divedro. The first small town across the border is Iselle. Before you come to Domodóssola, the four-lane highway begins again and continues south to Gravellona where you turn east on the SS34 to Verbana, a journey of about 12 kilometers. When you arrive in Verbana, continue north on SS34 toward Locarno. This is a scenic drive that hugs the edge of Lake Maggiore. On weekends and during the summer months when everyone is on holiday, this road can be distressingly slow due to heavy traffic. If you want to stop, the most charming town along the way is the beautiful medieval village of Cannero Riviera. The oldest part of town, located to the north, is where you want to be. The lanes leading down to the waterfront in the old part of town are so impossibly narrow, that it is best to park your car a bit away from the lake and walk to the waterfront. There is a romantic promenade along the lake with lovely parks. The best place to stop for a snack or lunch is at the Cannero Lakeside Hotel. This has a beautiful outdoor terrace, just near the ferry landing. Stoll just a bit north from the hotel and you will discover a tiny, ancient, fisherman’s cove.
About 12 kilometers beyond Cannero Riviera, you cross once again into Switzerland and it is only about another 11 kilometers before arriving in Ascona on Lake Maggiore. If you choose Lake Lugano as your hub, continue on from Ascona to Locarno, and follow signs to Lugano. Note: see the following itinerary Swiss Treasures off the Beaten Path for more information on the Lake District.
Shortcut option: There is another option on your route between Zermatt and Lake Maggiore-a shortcut to the Swiss-Italian lakes on a truly a spectacular road that follows the Melezza River Gorge into the beautiful Centovalli. If it’s foggy or raining, don’t even think about this alternative. But, if it is a brilliant day and you are keen for back roads, you will be awestruck by the natural beauty along the way. For this shortcut, follow the itinerary as shown until you come over the Simplon Pass, the first town after crossing the border into Italy is Iselle. About 10 kilometers after Iselle, you come to Crevoladóssola, where you leave the highway and take a small road (S337) east to Locarno (a total of 43 kilometers). Just before you arrive in Locarno, take the road going south to Ascona.
FINAL DESTINATION-THE SOUTHERN LAKES:
This itinerary finishes in the romantic lake district of Southern Switzerland. If you want to extend your holiday, the following itinerary, Swiss Treasures off the Beaten Path, loops from the Lake District back to Zürich.