A Quick Dash Through Switzerland

See what you can before you empty your bank account

Initially we wanted to spend a week or more in Switzerland, we’d heard amazing things. However, our plans quickly changed as we began looking into accommodations and the corresponding nightly rates. We started stripping down our trip, trying to maximize what we thought would be highlights, and trying to stay in places that wouldn’t damage our wallet too badly.

Ultimately, after a few days in Paris, we headed into Switzerland via Basel (the northwest corner of the country) and went directly to…

Bern

We’d read that Bern is many travelers’ favorite city in Switzerland, and it was quickly apparent why. Despite being the capital of Switzerland, it’s an incredibly relaxed city that feels fairly small. In fact, it felt more like a college-town than anything else due to the University of Bern looming over the historic part of the city.

There’s plenty to see and do in/around Bern, however, we ended up taking it pretty light. We had walked close to 35 miles over the course of the previous three days in Paris, so we were feeling incredibly sore and exhausted. Considering we arrived in Bern in the early afternoon and would be leaving the next morning, we had to choose carefully…

Our host had recommended a few things, but one that stuck out to us was her suggestion to take the bus to the Rosengarten which supposedly provided great panoramic views of the city. We saw it was just under two miles away and figured “why spend money to take the bus if we can just walk there?”. There’s a great reason our host had suggested taking the bus- we’d be going up 233 feet in elevation during that “short walk”. Had we been fresh, it probably wouldn’t have been so bad, but we were exhausted and the sun was beating down quite uncomfortably.

Luckily for us, our pain was not without gain, as the views from the Rosengarten were STUNNING. This would be our first taste of the unique beauty found in Switzerland.

Also, there were bears… According to the city’s official website:

Countless bears can be found throughout the city

I guess Bern is named after bears? A bear is now on the flag of the city.

Our walk took us through the historic center of town:

On our way back, we stopped to glance at some restaurant options for dinner… which made us glad we’d packed ourselves a lunch of baguette, cheese, and fruit from France prior to getting on the train- food in Switzerland was unbelievably expensive. Let’s just say my dinner that night was a bowl of cereal in our Airbnb.

The next morning we stopped for a quick cappuccino.

After which we left Bern and headed to Interlaken, where we took a short train ride to the…

Lauterbrunnen Valley

We had wanted to spend three days in Lautembrunnen Valley, a place so idyllic that J.R.R. Tolkein drew from it as his inspiration for Rivendell - a dwelling place of elves in The Lord of the Rings. However, availability was incredibly limited, and the price of accomodations in the area were eye-watering. We adjusted accordingly by turning this into a day trip as we traveled from Bern to Lucerne.

It became immediately apparent why it was such a popular and expensive area. Pictures simply do not do justice to the incredible beauty of the Lauterbrunnen area. Here are a couple anyways:

Normally, people here take the Jungfrau Railway going from Kleine Scheidegg to Jungfraujoch. However, when we went to buy tickets, we were told it’d be somewhere around $70 per person. It doesn’t sound like that much, but given that the weather was questionable (it had been raining in the morning and stayed fairly cloudy), and we’d already paid over $1000 per person on three-month Eurail passes that didn’t include some of the trains in Switzerland, we were hesitant to shell out more. When we asked the railway employee selling the tickets what she recommended, she said it was raining and snowing at the top that day, and we wouldn’t see anything anyways.

In the end, we opted to take a far less expensive train (only $6 per person- one way) up the mountain a bit to…

Wengen

Arriving at Wengen, it became even more apparent that Switzerland looks pretty much exactly how you imagine it to look.

We took some time walking around Wengen, which is fairly small, but charming. After a short lap we decided to head down.

We’d read that the walk from Wengen back down to the Lauterbrunnen Valley was a pleasant downhill jaunt with great views. We were quite glad to have taken that advice, rather than hiking up to Wengen and taking the train back down. Rather than a 1621 foot ascent (which would have been brutal), we had a 1621 foot descent, which admittedly left me very sore. Turns out, you use a lot of glutes and calves when making your way down steep paths.

The path provided great views of the valley below:

At that point we figured it probably made sense to begin our journey to Lucerne. It felt like a very long train ride due to the fact that the only food we’d had was the aforementioned coffee, along with a previously pictured bag of 14 bag of chips. However, the misery of our hunger was offset by the beautiful scenery- which was difficult to photograph effectively through a somewhat reflective window at high speeds, though we did our best:

Lucerne

As can probably be just inferred at this point, like the rest of Switzerland, Lucerne is magnificent.

We stayed in what used to be the prison of Lucerne, but has since been beautifully renovated and turned into a hotel. The rooms were a bit small, as expected, but they were quite nice with comfortable beds and a nice bathroom.

The following day we took it pretty easy; we walked around the city of Lucerne, explored the medieval walls and towers, and checked out the Lion of Lucerne.

We also found an AWESOME coffee shop named Cafe Tacuba. We wrote about that experience here.

We spent much of our afternoon working on our blog, which is actually when I first created the Coffee section I just linked to. We opted to have dinner at a nearby Korean restaurant, where a group of Australians struck up a conversation with us.

We had a fanstastic time chatting with them for well over an hour about all sorts of topics. It cemented what we already knew: Australians are some of the friendliest people on Earth (maybe second place, since the Scots have definitively claimed first place- something these Aussies agreed with).

The following morning we headed to the train station, taking in some last looks of Lucerne:

We took the train to Chur, and from there began our journey on the…

Bernina Express

The Bernina Express is one of the more famous train routes in the world. We’d read some advice on how to break up the journey, it was suggested to allocated time to check out the Landwasser Viaduct, take the hike down from Preda to Bergun, and hike to the Morteratsch Glacier.

We opted to break it up into a two day trip. The first day we planned on heading to Bergun and dropping our stuff of at the hotel. Then hopping back on the train to go back one stop, get off at Filisur, and then take a short hike to see the Viaduct. Then we would take the train one stop past Bergun, to Preda, and take the hike back to Bergun over a 1400 foot descent.

The first day went… mostly as planned. We dropped off our stuff at the hotel, then doubled back and checked out the Viaduct.

We then took the train to Preda and started our walk down to Bergun, but we quickly began to have doubts. Fog had begun to roll in, and it was clear there was a storm headed our way (and we would be walking straight into it). About 15 minutes into our hike, we figured our best option would be to abort, head back to the station, and take the train back to Bergun.

While disappointing, this was definitely the right call, as it started to pour as soon as we got on the the train, and the visibility all the way back to Bergun was completely obscured.

However, since it was my birthday, we decided to find somewhere nice to eat dinner; we found a fantastic BBQ place tucked away in the corner of the tiny town of Bergun where we were served our best meal in Switzerland. The staff was incredibly friendly and our server spoke great English- which was helpful since my Swiss German is somehow worse than my nonexistant German.

Our second day’s plan was to take the train to Pontresina, pay to store our backpacks at the train station, hop back on, take the train one more stop to Morteratsch, hike to the glacier, hike back, take the train back to Pontresina to get our bags, then take the rest of the Bernina Express all the way to Tirano, at which point we’d catch the train to Lecco (on the banks of Lake Como) where we’d be spending the next night.

We were a bit conflicted though, as we weren’t quite sure how the weather would be at the glacier… the weather report kept changing- shifting between rain, sleet, and sun. We also had the option to do the hike from Preda to Bergun that we’d had to abort the day before. As we were discussing it over breakfast, it began to rain a bit, and we figured we would stick to the original plan and hope the glacier would have clear skies.

We stopped briefly at Pontresina to drop off our bags at the Left Luggage counter. The attendant was incredibly nice and told us not to worry about paying 😮.

Luckily for us, the weather was mostly on our side. Despite it being somewhat cloudy, the temperature was great and we got some great views. The glacier hike was a bit more populated than we would have liked, but that’s to be expected as it’s one of the more popular hikes in the area. The truth is that someone could spend a couple of weeks just doing hikes along the Bernina Express and have a fantastic vacation.

After the hike, we doubled back for our bags, then continued our journey along the Bernina Express which took us over the Alps and began the long descent towards Italy.

The ride itself is phenomenal, and was made all the sweeter by the fact that we got an entire rail wagon to ourselves. Of course, the views as we headed down the mountains into Poschiavo were beautiful.

At one point, we encountered this cool railway corkscrew that was somewhat disorienting to experience:

Eventually we crossed the border and thus our journey along the Bernina Express ended in Tirano.

At that point, as planned, we got onto an Italian train headed to Lecco. The train departed late, and was further delayed, eventually arriving over 20 minutes late, for which I was charged a 10€ late fee at the Airbnb we were staying at- goodbye Switzerland, hello Italy.


DWNTGB (Do We Need To Go Back) Rating


Ryan -

Switzerland is stunningly beautiful, incredibly clean, and everything seems to run just as it should. The main problem in Switzerland are the preposterously high prices for everything. I can’t wait to get back and spend more time there, as we left much of the country unexplored, but I think I’ll wait until I’m fully employed… or win the lottery.

Mollie -

WOW Switzerland is like a fairy tale. We definitely did not get enough time here. I look forward to coming back one day, with a proper budget.

Conclusion: Take Us Back



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