In late August, we embarked on a 3-week trip to Europe – Switzerland, and Italy specifically. While there, we experienced diverse climates and landscapes, saw old friends, and celebrated a family wedding! Copious amounts of cheese, carbs, and wine were consumed which we balanced out with days full of walking and sightseeing. We did quite a bit in those few weeks and my attempt to fit everything in one post was a bit over – ambitious. So here is part one of a two-post series, where I cover our travels through Switzerland!
We flew out of Miami airport to Zurich airport and our trip began with a one-night stay in Lucerne, Switzerland. A charming city delivering on views from the medieval architecture to the snowcapped alpine vistas to the incredibly striking Lake Lucerne…it was certainly a perfect way to kick-off our trip! From our research, we felt comfortable staying in Lucerne for one day, confident that we would be able to see everything we wanted to see during our quick stay. I would have to say, our hunch was correct, and I don’t think that you need to spend more than one or two days in this city. The city is pretty compact (especially Old Town), sights were in walking distance from each other, and there were only a handful of main attractions that came recommended.
Length of Stay: 1 Night
We shied away from staying in major hotel chains during this trip. We had ideally hoped to book some Air BNB’s, but we didn’t find any that we were in love with and that were available during the dates needed. This boutique hotel offered a unique style, some history, and proved to be a perfect location right across from Lake Lucerne and only a 10-minute walk to the city center. One thing you must know when traveling abroad… rooms are very simple unless of course, you stay with a well-known hospitality brand (think Marriott or Hilton) or if you spring for a more luxe experience. We are rarely in our room when we travel, so we usually choose an option that falls mid-range in price. Beau Sejour was charming with its old elevator, whimsical décor, and room keys that took you back to a time when electronic card readers were non-existent.
- Pros: Incredible breakfast buffet from freshly squeezed juices, to garden fresh fruits, meats, cheeses, baked bread, you name it… they had it. You can dine in their banquet space or on the terrace overlooking Lake Lucerne with the alps in the distance. The coffee bar was a fabulous touch too! The hotel also offered complimentary Wi-Fi which is great for someone like me who works in a digital space. The staff was all English speaking which is always helpful when communicating and the hotel provides all guests with a free transportation pass upon check-in (it was nice to have that when we checked out and had to go to the train station with luggage in hand). And last but most importantly, the location was hard to beat! It was far enough away from the bustling tourist areas but close enough to walk there. It was perfectly situated across from Lake Lucerne and a large, gorgeous park where people sunbathed, swam, played, and had picnics.
- Cons: Despite the location, as mentioned, there is a two-lane road in between, which means you do have to cross a street and it can be a little noisy. In our experience, we didn’t think the noise was an issue at all but I also think it could depend on the time of year. The only other criticism I have is that there is no air conditioning. We had our windows open and it still felt quite warm. This discomfort really only applies during the warmer months, and the hotel readily supplies fans if needed.
We didn’t have any incredible dining experiences on our short visit to Lucerne. The hotel did provide us with some recommendations, but we chose to find something on our own. We ate a casual gelato from a stand located across from the Lion Monument (Swiss chocolate, yes!) and dined at Hotel Zum Rebstock for a late dinner. To be honest, we didn’t even think to eat until later on because we were so busy strolling through the city and lost track of time. I would recommend this restaurant, as the food was good, seemingly authentic to Switzerland, and it is positioned right at the foot of a striking cathedral.
As stated previously, only a handful of must-sees came recommended, including:
Lake Lucerne (you can take the walking/running trail and even go swimming/boating)
Kunstmuseum Luzern (we didn’t make time to go to their well-known art museum, but it did look impressive from the outside).
We took a couple of trains from Lucerne to Wengen, a village in the Bernese Oberland region. Popular in winter as a ski in/ski out town donning lots of Swiss chalets and connections to numerous hiking trails, gondolas, and trains. It was the ideal location to rest our heads after being active all day in the mountains. You have so many options when it comes to exploring the Swiss Alps. Many people use Interlaken as their base, but I could not recommend our location enough! It was closer to a lot of the sights in the Alps. Worth noting: we splurged and bought the Regional-Pass Bernese Oberland (4-day pass). It was expensive but well worth the investment. You utilize the trains and gondolas A LOT in this area, and this pass provided unlimited access to trains, gondolas, boats, and buses! It even covered the train to Bern (that we needed to get to Murten, our last leg of travel in CH) and gave us 50% off the Jungfraujoch train tickets (that can be pretty costly).
Length of Stay: 3 nights
We were drawn to this hotel not only because of its stellar location, pretty Swiss features, and complimentary breakfast, but its focus on wellness providing guests with full access to their saunas, steam rooms, and salt spa.
- Pros: Wellness center access. After long days of trekking in the bitter cold and rain (the weather was all over the place during our visit), winding down in their wellness area felt so rewarding. Our room view was unbelievable. The rooms were pretty standard, but ours was larger than most and we had breathtaking views of the Swiss Alps! Waking up to that view every morning, even if it was a little foggy and rainy, was perfection. Complimentary breakfast every morning was convenient, and they had a decent selection. Sitting by their oversized windows in their dining room, enjoying a cup of coffee and croissant while looking at the mountain range is hard to beat! The service and staff were all great as well!
- Cons: Honestly, no reservations about our stay here. It truly was a great experience and we would happily book Hotel Spa and Victoria again!
Every morning we had breakfast at the hotel. We started our days very early and they had a well-appointed assortment of cuisine, so it worked well for us. During our hikes, we typically had snacks on hand. Because we were visiting in the off-season, dinner service ended early in Wengen. A couple of times, we had to resort to a pub with a very limited menu because the food service had ended at some restaurants. Switzerland is known for being very expensive, especially when it comes to dining out. So be aware of the prices, as they can sometimes be quite steep.
Day 1: Resorted to a pub for pizza and drinks – very cute and cozy atmosphere with Swiss rustic design and sheep/cow hides lining benches. I couldn’t locate it in my research, unfortunately.
Day 2: We took the train to Interlaken to dine with friends in the city. We ate at a very cool restaurant, Restaurant Stadthaus, that seemed to be a hotspot in Interlaken.
Day 3: I was most excited to try Bernerhof Tavern, a restaurant that looked just as charming from the street as it did inside. They prepare Swiss specialties such as fondue, raclette, and Rosti.
On our last day, we had lunch at the top of the mountain at the ski lift where we enjoyed a jazz band with our beers and lunch! Later, we got some sandwiches and other pairings at the train station and dined on the train en route to Murten!
As explained, we used Wengen as our home base and ventured to different areas in the Alps.
Day 1: When we arrived in Wengen, it was clear skies and sunny, albeit cold. We knew that Jungfraujoch, known as the Top of Europe, is best seen with good weather conditions. We figured we would leave our luggage with the front desk and hop on the next train to take advantage of our good fortune! I am so happy we did that because the weather for the next few days was cold, rainy, and snowy! Jungfraujoch needs to be a must see on your list when visiting this area. You take a very scenic train ride and quickly are transported to an icy world of wonder. Dress warm and prepare for snow! It was freezing when we got to the top and it is quite windy on the Sphinx Observation Deck. You have breathtaking views of the Bernese Alps and the Aletsch glacier, Europe’s largest glacier. At the top, you will find numerous activities (you can actually zip line!), tours, and an extensive ice sculpture display. It can be quite touristy, but the views are not one to miss! We opted to sip hot chocolate and meander outside in the cold and snow, taking in the sights around us. We were enveloped by a sea of white! Day 2: We set out early that morning to hike! We trekked through the Grindelwald Region, taking numerous trails and stopping for so many photos along the way! We walked till we couldn’t stand the cold and our feet grew tired. There is not one trail better than the other. I say just go out and get lost! Our entire hike was picturesque! Later that afternoon, after a quick pit stop at the hotel, we ventured out to do the First Cliff Walk, a suspended metal walkway on a cliffside that takes you to a glass viewing platform at a dizzying height, where you can see the alps and valley. Sadly, it was all fog, which made it that much more frightening. Walking along the cliff and out into the distance, not knowing how far up you were, and truly being in a cloud of fog made the trek mysterious and eerie. I would love to go back and see the breathtaking views you can get on a clear, sunny day! Day 3: Another early morning as we set our sights on chasing waterfalls in a village called Lauterbrunnen. In the rainy season, you can see the 72 waterfalls cascade into the Lauterbrunnen valley. Staubbach Falls is the most well-known and serves as the backdrop to the charming village! We took the trek to see the Trummelback Falls which are 10 glacier-fed waterfalls inside a mountain. That was pretty crazy to witness! After the falls, we decided to hike the Kleine Scheidegg trail. It turned out to be a very wet adventure as it began storming mid-hike. We were soaked and freezing but laughing the whole way. It’s about enjoying the journey, right!?
Day 4: On our final day, we decided to head out and take on that same trail, this time it would be sunny. Luckily, it was cold but clear skies and we were able to see the 3 peaks, Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau – a marvelous sight! Pictures truly just don’t do it justice. After our hike, we took the train to our final stop in Switzerland…
3 years ago, we took our dreamy honeymoon to South America. We visited Rio de Janeiro, Iguazu Falls, and Mendoza. Mendoza not only introduced us to amazing wine but to an incredible couple. We met our dear Swiss friends on a wine tour and we have been drinking wine together ever since! We could not wait to see our friends in their home country and meet their new baby boy as well. Their hospitality goes unrivaled and we are so thankful for their friendship. They are exceptional people who we are blessed to know, and we got to live like a local for a few days. Our friends graciously opened their home to us and every night consisted of delectable homemade Swiss meals with, of course, a lot of wine. It was the perfect ending to our trip to Switzerland!
Length of Stay: 3 nights
Find cool friends who open their home to you AND give you a welcome basket filled to the brim with all treats from their country.
Each morning and evening consisted of incredible homemade breakfasts and dinners from our friends who were hosting us. They made sure to introduce us to some Swiss delicacies (such as horse and fondue) and were kind enough to try and teach me how to navigate the kitchen – cooking is not my forte. We had a lot of fun learning about their go-to dishes and the ingredients/products they use. Funny enough, Switzerland is quite similar to Wisconsin when it comes to their produce and meats.
Day 1: Museum Bar HR Giger is one of the most unique dining experiences I have had. Following the theme of the attached museum, this restaurant makes you feel as if you are in the womb of an alien, mainly because this was the artist behind the movie Alien. You have its skeletal structure surrounding you as you dine. I suggest you click on the link to get a better idea of what this place is, as it is impossible to describe.
Day 2: We visited Schwarzsee and grabbed drinks on the top of the mountain and fresh strawberries from a stand on our hike.
Day 3: After a long bike ride to the wine region of Vully, we dined at the most exquisite restaurant where we sat under grape vines and looked out at Lake Murten. We also did some wine tasting in this area, specifically at Le Petit Chateau, a family run winery.
Our friends were incredible tour guides, showing us so many surrounding villages and attractions in addition to their own. We didn’t have any set plans. We let our friends make the recommendations, and we were along for the ride. And what a wild ride it was! The village of Murten, where our friends reside, is a whimsical medieval town that has preserved its original appearance – it doesn’t even seem real until you head through its gates and see a fully operational and bustling village. The town still has a wall surrounding it and you can actually stroll along the wall and get pretty spectacular views of the town and Lake Murten in the distance. There is a great deal of fabulous dining and shopping in the area.
Day 1: We hit the pavement with the best tour guides around and the first stop on our visit was to the Cailler Chocolate Factory. We are all very familiar with Lindt Chocolate, but Cailler is actually Switzerland’s oldest chocolate brand still in existence! The tour was very interactive, and we sampled our fair share (aka consumed copious amounts) of chocolate!! Following this sweet experience, we headed to Gruyeres, for you guessed it, some Gruyere cheese! Well, that wasn’t the only reason to visit this medieval town. Aside from its numerous cheese shops and overall enchanting atmosphere, it is also home to the most peculiar exhibition – the HR Giger Museum. HR Giger was the artist behind the movie Alien, and if you know anything about his work, it is incredibly creepy, erotic, and controversial. I wouldn’t say it’s a must see when visiting the town (especially if you are conservative), but if you are looking for a weird experience, it would be this. We ended the day by visiting a couple more neighboring towns, including Fribourg, which is absolutely beautiful and would highly recommend visiting this area! Milwaukeans may notice a familiar bridge in a photo below.
Day 2: We decided to embrace a little more activity after indulging in chocolate, cheese, and wine the day prior. So off to Schwarzsee we went – a lake that is surrounded by mountains where visitors can partake in fun outdoor activities. Fun fact about this area… Schwarzsee actually means Black Lake in German and depending on the light, the lake can actually look turquoise blue or glistening black. We hiked around the lake and also took the gondola up the mountain only to take the most exhilarating ride back down by monster scooters aka Monster Trottinetts! We still had quite a bit of travel ahead of us, so I was definitely hesitant at first, fully aware of my lack of athleticism and balance. But I did it, and boy was it a ton of fun! We also did a toboggan shoot from the top of the mountain as well which was equally exciting. This was certainly a fun area that offered something for all ages, and I would definitely go back when given the opportunity!
Day 3: On our last day, our friends took us out on Lake Murten by boat where we jumped in the frigid lake for a quick swim and enjoyed the views of Murten and the surrounding areas by water. A long bike ride followed, giving us an even better look at the towns surrounding the lake. We ended our bike ride in the Vully region, well-known for their wines. It felt quite nostalgic wine tasting with friends that we had made while wine tasting 3-years prior! We sampled some incredible wines from the area and we look forward to visiting again to try more wineries. We ended our trip with a quick visit in Old Town for some drinks, a fabulous homemade dinner, great conversation and a nightcap with a couple more glasses of wine, raising our glasses to the promise of more travel, the beauty it brings, and the relationships that are created in far and away places. As they say in Switzerland, Prost! (meaning Cheers)
I hope you stuck around till the end! This was destined to be an extensive post because of the number of places we visited and activities we took part in. Stay tuned for the next article in this two-part series covering our trip to Italy.