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Switzerland 101: Into the Heart of Europe

Exploring the must-see Alpine peaks and villages of Luzern, Interlaken and Bern.

By Tanushree Desai

 

Sometimes no amount of words and pictures can paint the exact portrait of a place for others – travelers have no choice but to visit the destination in person.

Switzerland is just such a place. Although the country has one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the world, there is so much to experience beyond breathtaking views of the snow-clad and the green-carpeted Alps. Our family’s trip through the Swiss countryside was a most splendid journey – and one we won’t soon forget.

The ROAM Report: Switzerland

  • Travellers: Tanushree & Sandeep Desai and their 1-year-old daughter
  • Date: June 2018
  • Itinerary:Luzern (1 night), Interlaken (3 nights – with day trips to Junfraujoch and Murren), and one day in Bern
  • Cost: Approximately $2,000 for lodging and day trips

The Good Stuff

Luzern with Kids

Luzern is one of the most visited cities in Switzerland – and you’ll know why when you visit. We stayed at a beautiful vintage hotel, The Royal (approximately 200 Euros), up on the hill at Rigistrasse, which is at a walkable distance from the Luzern Bahnof. The uphill walk to reach it was quite daunting, but once we reached the top, the view was absolutely worth the hike. Our room was quite spacious with a balcony, facing Lake Luzern and its backdrop of snow-kissed mountains. It indeed is a great place to stay as a family with a good breakfast buffet and a super friendly staff.

Chapel Bridge There is always something special about the bridges and cemeteries in Europe. Chapel bridge, aka Kapellbrücke, is no exception. This landmark of Luzern is a covered wooden footbridge dating from 1365 and one of the most famous “truss” –  the oldest type of modern bridge – a superstructure of connected elements forming triangular units bridges in the world. It has triangular-shaped wooden paintings inside every block, many of which survived a 1993 fire and subsequent restoration. Most of these paintings depict the history of Luzern. The 113 ft. tall water tower on its right was built 30 years before the bridge but was predominantly used as a torture chamber and prison.

Lion Monument  Praised by Mark Twain as “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world,” Luzern’s mortally wounded lion is a rock-cut relief sculpture dating from 1821. It commemorates the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution. While admiring the work, I was particularly mesmerized with the atmosphere: It was quite hushed, covered with greenery on all sides, with only a handful of tourists sitting on the benches around the beautiful pond and water lilies.

River Reuss Taking a leisurely stroll along the river made for a lovely day with picturesque boats and the mountain playing hide-and-seek with the heavy clouds. Along the way, we found restaurants on the riverside and cafes opposite, as well as a host of families, friends, and couples sitting on benches, relaxing, and watching the fitness freaks run by. It was immensely satisfying to feel like locals for the day.

Mt. Pilatus  We chose to opt for the “Golden Round Trip” to Mt. Pilatus over Mt. Titlis (famous as “the mini Jungfraugoch”) which treated us really well. The trip is comprised of a one-hour fast boat ride across Lake Luzern, a cogwheel train ride, and a return via the Dragon Ride cableway, the Panoramic Gondolas to Kreins, and then a bus. You may also take the entire trip in the exact reverse order, as per your choice. The trip takes about 5-6 hours, costs per ticket is 106 Euros (covered under the Swiss Pass or the Half Fare card.) Get complete details here.

The boat ride to Alpnachstad is worth the entire one hour, giving you the most magnificent view of the landscapes that surround the Lake of Luzern. You won’t get enough of the serene beauty before the journey is over.

At Alpnachstad, you can grab a bite and then hop on to the cogwheel train to experience the most unforgettable ride ever. This cogwheel train was commissioned in 1889 and is the steepest one in the world, with a gradient of up to 48 percent and taking about 30 minutes to travel more than 4,600 meters.  It makes its way through the most scenic Alpine trees and flowers adorning the mountain streams and the vast green pasturelands. Try to sit in the top seat just behind the driver for the best experience.

After you reach the summit of Mt. Pilatus (6,995 ft.), you can take a stroll, or drink the afternoon away in the mesmerizing panoramic beauty of the Alps. The brief Dragon Trail holds many legends and myths associated with Mt. Pilatus because, in the Middle Ages, people believed that dragons with healing powers lived in the mountain’s rugged clefts and crevices. It’s a nice walk on the dark trail and makes for a great place to shoot some lovely pictures.

More in Luzern There is much more to see in the Swiss town, if you have more time, including the following family-friendly attractions:  Swiss Museum of Transport, Spreuer Bridge, Glacier Garden, Church of St. Leodegar, Jesuit Church, Museggmauer, Stiftung Rosengart, Bourbaki Panorama, Lido, Gran Casino, Meggenhorn Castle, Mt. Rigi, Burgenstock, Vogeligartli, and Hammetschwand Elevator.

Interlaken for Families

As the name suggests, the delightful and lively little Swiss city of Interlaken is quietly tucked away between two picturesque Alpine lakes – Lake Brienz and Lake Thun – and presided over by the three mighty mountains, Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.  On the way from Luzern, try to grab a seat on the right side of the train to enjoy the great views of Lake Brienz.

We stayed at Hotel Bernerhof (from $320 per night) right in the city center near the Interlaken West train station. With the hotel’s position facing the Alps, every balcony delivered a lovely view. And the proximity to some good eating joints from this hotel is unbelievable – you are spoilt for choices to treat your taste buds. We were also very impressed with the hospitality of the hosts – very warm, welcoming and extremely helpful in suggesting how to plan your day.  My daughter and I were most excited about the La Creperie shop, located just down the street when you leave the hotel’s front doors, to the left: The one with ice cream and chocolate sauce was the yummiest crepe I have ever tasted!

Jungfraujoch When you search for ” Things to do in Switzerland” on Google, the most popular result is “Jungfraujoch.” Known as the “Top of Europe,” this perch amid the Bernese Alps sits at an elevation of 3,466 meters above sea level. And despite the incredible mountains, the most amazing part of the trip is the route that you take to reach it.

There are two ways to reach Jungfraujoch from Interlaken. Both routes are extremely scenic, so it doesn’t matter which one you choose.

  • Route 1 – Interlaken West – Interlaken Ost (change train) – Lauterbrunnen (change train)- Klein Schedegg (Hop onto Cogwheel train) – Junfraujoch
  • Route 2 – Interlaken West – Interlaken Ost (change train) – Grindelwald (change train)- Klein Schedegg (Hop onto Cogwheel train) – Junfraujoch

But if you ask the locals, they will suggest taking a round trip so that you go by one route and come back via the other. You may also choose to stay at one of the villages on the way – Wengen, Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald – to spend even more time in the coziest lap of Alpine nature. Get complete details of this trip here. The trip is not a cheap one: With a Swiss Half Card, it is 100 Euros per person, and it takes a minimum of six hours to complete.

At the icy summit of the Jungfraujoch, there are many interesting things to do – see the full list  here. And as with many top tourist sights, the mountain is something you want to do in your lifetime, but it is expensive and a bit overrated, in our view. To make the trip as worthwhile as possible, follow these tips:

  • Check the weather conditions before you embark on your journey. A bad weather day would play a spoiler with making it impossible to enjoy any view.
  • Start as early as possible because you need to change trains three times from Interlaken. The connections are perfect but peak seasons may necessitate, reservation of seats, or else you may have to stand and travel.
  • Carry warm clothes. The temperatures at the top are always below freezing – obviously 🙂
  • Bring a power bank for your mobile or charge your DSLR batteries to full, because believe you me, you will not get tired of clicking! And the cold air depletes batteries extra quickly.

Mürren We loved our day trip to this traditional Bernese village. It is car-free, which is so wonderful as you can breathe in the fresh mountain air and wander around every nook and corner of the town, carefree. There are nonstop views of the three towering peaks, the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. We couldn’t get enough of the charming little wooden houses, and wildflowers in full bloom. We also appreciated that the town’s small population and combined with the tourists still didn’t overwhelm the feeling of Alpine tranquility. It cost about 22 Euros per person and took about six hours for the trip.

 

More Interlaken We had just 3 nights here and wanted to do the day trips more than the city itself. If you have more time, or choose to skip one of the day trips, you can very well enjoy seeing the following places in and around Interlaken: Harder Klum, Hohematte, Jungfrau Park, Schynige Platte, Seilpark, St. Beates Caves, Lake Brienz, Niederhorn, Lake Thun, Aare, Trummelbach Falls (minimum entry age is 4 years).

Bern

On the way back to our home in Germany, we made one more stop to see the medieval city of Bern. The picturesque UNESCO World Heritage Site is set on the Aare River. The cultural and architectural delights are most easy to see walking on foot.

Old Town of Bern It is most easy to see Bern’s medieval character in the old part of town. The cobblestone streets and arcade sidewalks that snake for miles give it a historic flavor.

The Einstein Museum  Einstein did some of his most impressive work while living in Bern in the early 1900s. This building focuses on the life of the great inventor, demonstrating how he lived, through dozens of old films, original objects, and letters.

The Rosengarten This park is simply one of the most peaceful and beautiful places in Bern with impressive panoramic views of the city. It houses roses, irises, azaleas, rhododendrons and even lotus flowers.

The Bear ParkThe bear is the symbol of Bern, and some bears are kept by the city in a large compound. The area is graced by an array of walking paths, many of which lead down to the river. Visitors can watch the bears as they play and relax.

The Clock Tower  The 800-year-old Clock Tower is one of the most famous of Bern’s landmarks. This 23-meter tower is decorated with an immense astronomical clock. Beginning at just three minutes before every hour, a circus of mechanical creatures (The Fool, The Knight, The Rooster, The Piper, and more) come out to put on a little show.

Good to Know

Get Local We were happy to skip some of the more touristy destinations to have more hours to “live like a local” – just strolling the streets, sitting in parks and enjoying cafes. This slower pace helped avoid some of the crowds and get a better feel for the towns and natural environments.

Rail Pass Get one – you will end up saving a lot of money! Aside from getting around the country, many cogway and boat trips to the mountaintops qualify for a 50% discount, as well.  There are several types of rail passes available, including the Swiss Rail and Half Fare cards. Buy the one that suits your needs best. Click here to get the details.

Check Age Requirements – Swiss attractions sometimes impose a minimum age for activities. Check in advance to be sure your children are old enough to enter.

 

 

Tanushree Desai – April 2019

ROAM Contributor   

 

A former inhabitant of the “corporate world” turned “digital nomad” mom, Tanu is an avid traveler, blogger, Instagrammer, freelance writer, photographer, vegan food lover and minimalist from India, who now lives in Konstanz, Germany. Follow her travels at footinstincts.com.

© ROAM Family Travel 2019 – All rights reserved

 
 

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