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Backroads of Switzerland

Author: Stephen Goch (More Trip Reviews by Stephen Goch)
Date of Trip: June 2012

We had been looking at a tour from AFC Travel called “Backroads of Switzerland” for quite some time, but wanted to tie it in with a river cruise. This is actually a misnomer as there are no roads to the places we visited. Since neither Kathy nor I had been to Switzerland, we thought we could tie a Swiss tour in with a river cruise like we did with our Baltic cruise in 2010. That way we would do two tours and only have to do one Atlantic crossing.

Our task was to coordinate both trips so there are no overlaps. We found a French Waterways river cruise that fit the criteria and booked that also.

The AFC tour date did not meet our schedule, but we had the AFC itinerary for the Swiss trip, and Kathy in her wisdom said, “Why don’t we do it ourselves and not have to follow the yellow umbrella?” Thank goodness for the Internet, because I got all the train and hotel information, and laid out the trip schedule.

We planned to have an extra day in Nice, but I found out the hotel the river tour was putting us up in was in Monte Carlo, which is on Kathy’s “bucket list”.

To get from Switzerland to our river cruise, we will have to take the train from Wengen to Monte Carlo, changing in Basel and Geneva, but if we could make it from Wales to the Lake District in England changing twice, this should not be a problem. The difference was there were 5 changes of trains instead of 2! We were resigned to only taking 2 suitcases and 2 carry-on’s for this 22 day trip.

While visiting my mother before this trip, I suddenly had an idea! I could put the 2 carry-on bags back to back, and strap them together with a luggage strap, reducing our bags to four.

Because we had an overnight flight and would arrive in Zurich about 3 PM (midnight in California), we felt it would be wiser to stay overnight in Zurich and head out the next day. The hotel we picked was near the main Zurich train station, and was not too far from the airport. Getting to the hotel was an experience, as none of the traffic lights in Zurich seems to be synchronized. The hotel was very nice, but the restaurant was extremely expensive ($25 for a hamburger). I went out in the area and found a small kebab restaurant and brought back some gyros and salad that were great!

The next morning we awoke refreshed, and took a taxi to the train station.

Upon leaving Zurich we boarded the first of 3 trains and traveled through the rolling Swiss landscape past sparkling lakes up into the massive Swiss Alps. We had to take a train from Zurich to Bern, then one from Bern to Interlaken Ost (East), then one from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen. This was reminiscent of our Ireland trip, where it was taxi, ferry, 3 trains and a taxi!

As the trains rolled, the scenery is increasingly spectacular as we skirted Lake Thun, one of 2 lakes in the Bernese Alps.

We arrived in Lauterbrunnen, with its towering cliffs and fantastic waterfalls. It was very reminiscent of Yosemite, but without Half Dome. We also met the cog rail train that we would be riding many times during our visit.

Upon arriving in Wengen, we discovered we could look down on the beautiful Lauterbrunnen Valley with its cliffs, waterfalls, and charming Swiss chalets.

The first order of business was to buy our Berner Oberland Passes. The pass was good on all the trains, trams, cable cars and buses in the region. By the end of our visit, we had used them so much that the ink wore off. The stationmaster complained about that, and I told him he was the one who issued them to me in the first place.

The second order of business was to buy some softer toilet paper. The paper in the hotel reminded us of blank newspaper on a roll. I went to the market next door, and in sign language asked for the softest toilet paper they had. The clerk looked at me strangely, but my point was made. One of the true luxuries of the USA is our toilet paper.

The weather at the Jungfrau was overcast, so we boarded the cog-rail for an excursion to the glacier carved Lauterbrunnen Valley. We then continued by bus to Stechelberg to take the cable car to Murren. From there we took two more cable cars to get us up to the Schilthorn, to go to a revolving restaurant called Piz Gloria at the "top of the world” for lunch. It was featured in the James Bond movie, “On her Majesty’s Secret Service”.

On the way up we passed another beautiful waterfall.

The weather had improved, so we rode the rails up to the Jungfraujoch Mountain, traveling to an altitude of 11,133 feet through a tunnel built in the mountain of Eiger. Kathy was a little unsure if she wanted to do this because of the altitude, but saw a segment on TV where Matt Lauer ended up at the observatory on the mountain. She did quite well, even though she had never been at this altitude before.

There were two stops in the tunnel with viewing windows on the way to the top, and the first one at Eigerwand was socked in! When we got to the second stop at Eismeer, it was severe clear! We breathed a sigh of relief and got off at the top of the mountain. We then took an elevator up to the observatory at the top of the mountain called the Sphinx because of its resemblance to the one in Egypt.

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