Swiss road trip + French skiing

March 18, 2019 – March 25, 2019

Switzerland is home to a few of my very favorite things: cheese, chocolate, mountains, yodeling. It’s been on our travel bucket list for a while to take a road trip through Switzerland, and we finally made it happen. The route went a little something like this: Fly into Zurich -> Drive to Lucerne for the afternoon -> Drive to Bern. Spend 2 nights there -> Drive to Lauterbrunnen -> Drive to Interlaken. Spend 1 night there -> Drive to Zermatt. Spend 2 nights there -> Drive to Chamonix (this is in France). Spend 2 nights there. Whew. It was an exhausting itinerary, but so worth it to see some of the highlights of what Switzerland has to offer.

Day 1 – Lucerne and Bern

We woke up before the rooster crows to catch a 6:55am flight to Zurich to start off our jam packed trip. Renting a car at the Zurich airport was way more efficient than our experience in Italy, and even though there were about 10 people in front of us, we still had our car in about the same time it took the Italians to process one person.

A small village near the lake, set in the valley of surrounding mountains, Lucerne is rumored to be the most beautiful place in Switzerland. We arrived around 10am with plenty of time to explore the small town. Wandering with no real agenda, was our game plan. Of course we hit up the number one attraction, a covered bridge with a view of the lakes and mountains.

We headed along the lake and peered into the many stores lining its shores. Most of the stores sold watches or clocks, no wonder the Swiss are always on time. It seemed like no matter where you were in the city, every 15 minutes you would be reminded of the passage of time by the chiming of a clock tower on a nearby building.

After moseying through the town, we decided to see it from above and headed to the Musegg wall. This was my favorite view of Lucerne. You could see the city, the lake, the mountains, all in one spot. It’s a bonus that we saw a beautiful kitty walking along the edge of a steep drop off. He was a crazy color pattern, super friendly, and a great subject for my mountain portraits. We soaked in the views for quite some time, just chilling up on the hill.

Soon enough, it was time to find some food. A nearby Mexican place had really good reviews, so we headed there. This was my first taste of how expensive Switzerland is. We paid CHF 18 for a guacamole. The Franc is about equal to the Dollar right now, so we paid $18 for a freaking guacamole. Ridiculous. The rest of the meal was fine, but nothing to write home about.

I think we saw most of the city within about 4 hours, so after lunch we got in the car to head to Bern, the capital of Switzerland. It was a pretty peaceful drive, since the roads in Switzerland are excellently maintained and the scenery through the countryside was varied and beautiful.

Our hotel in Bern, The Bristol, was right in the middle of the town, super convenient for walking everywhere. We checked in and set off to explore the city. It was a bit cold, so we really only saw the parliament building, some clock towers, and some fountains, before heading towards the warmness of a pub.

We found a craft beer bar called On Tap that was in an underground cellar, and it had some great beers. We sat for a drink, but soon got tired in the basement with no light coming in. That was an interesting thing about Bern, there were so many restaurants and bars in the basement. We’d find a place to eat on Google Maps and then would walk to it and realize that it was actually underground. I’ve heard rumors that the basement used to be the actual level of the city, but over the years the city has sort of shifted. Not sure how this works.

After resurfacing, we realized it was still daylight so we did a bit of window shopping, seeing more watches and Swiss army knives than anything else. We hopped into a cocktail bar called Department 66 which was decorated all in red, and kind of had an in your face vibe. Good ambiance, but we were the only people in the bar. I could tell it was the kind of place that would be hopping later on in the evening, but maybe not the best atmosphere for pre-dinner drinks.

Instead of having another cocktail, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. My main priority for food in Switzerland was to get as much fondue as possible. Upon extensively researching fondue restaurants, I decided on Lotschberg, a semi casual place where the locals go. I couldn’t convince Tyler to get fondue this time around and because you usually have to have at least 2 people to fondue, I settle don a roesti – basically hashbrown with raclette cheese and bacon – a gourmet version of Waffle House’s covered and smothered. It was amazing, although very filling. The service was also very good and I was digging the vibe, definitely recommend.

For a night cap, we went to the Bellevue Palace, a fancy 5-star hotel. Apparently the embassy was putting on an event and the concierge asked us upon entering if we were with the embassy. I was flattered, although we were way to casual to fit in with the embassy crew. I assured him we were not, and we headed to the normal people bar. Although it seemed like a cool place to hang out, our early morning start had me struggling to keep my eyes open, so we called it a night.

Day 2 – Bern

Trying to stay in a healthy routine while on vacation can be pretty hard, but this was the first vacation where I tried to exercise every morning. I started the day off with some yoga and a meditation. It was helpful that the hotel had a pretty amazing fitness center. After getting ready for the day, we walked out of the hotel and right into a market full of veggies, fruits, cheeses, breads, tacos, Chinese handbags, antiques, really anything that you could think of. We walked around a bit and decided to snack on some pastries with nuts and cinnamon that we ate while walking to the Einstein cafe where we had some lattes.

Right next to the Einstein cafe was a museum of the house Einstein used to live in while he was working on his Theory of Relativity. He had an apartment right in the city center of Bern. It was interesting to learn about his life and know that he wasn’t successful in the beginning. He couldn’t even get a teaching position at a local school, but he kept trying. He was also extremely well traveled, visiting many European countries, the US and even Japan. After Hitler came into power, Einstein refused to travel back to Germany and became an activist. Very surprisingly, after getting divorced from his first wife, he married his cousin…to each his own. Although the museum was pretty small, I did learn a lot about the life of a very intelligent man.

Next we explored a bit more of the city, getting lost in the beautiful architecture. We went to a big church in the city center, which was ornate from the outside, and spectacular on the inside. Colorful stained glass decorated the walls and the ceiling was also full of designs. Outside the church was a little courtyard park area where people were enjoying the sunshine and kitties. The views overlooking the river and mountains were my favorite part. We enjoyed the sunshine and kept walking, pausing every once in a while to enjoy one of the many fountains adorning the city streets.

Because Bern is named after bears, it did not surprise me that in the middle of the city, they had a little park area where 2-3 bears lived, depending on the season. You can see them from above, and we spotted the big male just laying on the ground and digging a whole. The bears are fed by workers who hide the food throughout the enclosure every day so that the bears still have to work for their food. We watched the bears eat berries and dig for a while, also admiring the view of Bern from this vantage point.

Luckily, right next to the bears we found a brewery and we were starving. It seemed like it could be super touristy because of the location, but the food was actually better than expected. They also had those beer tower things that hold several liters of beer, which I think is really cool. We did not get one of these, though. Our server told us that we had to go visit the rose gardens, so that’s where we headed next.

The rose gardens were about a 10 minute walk uphill from the bears. As we walked higher, the views got better of the sprawling city. We reached a cafe at the top and had a coffee while chatting and admiring the views. This was my favorite part of the day, even though the rose gardens were not yet in bloom.

We enjoyed the afternoon in the sun up on top of the hill.

Before dinner, we wandered through the town one last time, soaking in the architecture and getting some delicious treats.

For dinner, we had reservations at Wein & Sein, a fancy-ish wine bar in town. Wine pairings were the specialty here, and I really enjoyed a particular wine from Sardinia. The food was very good as well and we enjoyed each other’s company while sampling the delicious grub.

Day 3 – Bern and Lauterbrunnen and Interlaken

Bright and early, we headed towards Lauterbrunnen, a small town nestled in the valley of the surrounding snow-capped mountains. Although it was extremely picturesque, and I enjoyed soaking in all of the beautiful natural scenery, we saw the entire city within 5 minutes. In hindsight, we probably should have taken the cable car to the top of the mountain, but it cost CHF 22 pp, so we decided against it.

We just hung out for a bit and then got in the car and drove further into the surrounding area. Basically, we got to the base of the mountains and you couldn’t go any further, so we turned around. I’ve seen so many beautiful pictures of Lauterbrunnen on Instagram and have heard from people who really enjoyed it, but I thought there wasn’t much to see/do.

Interlaken is about a 15 minute drive from Lauterbrunnen, and this is where we based ourselves for the night. We stayed at the Chalet Maria, a small family owned B&B that was definitely an interesting experience. I think they had opened recently and were still figuring a few things out, but they upgraded us to a bigger room with a better view for free. They also had free parking which was a bonus.

After checking in, we drove to the top of the nearby mountain to try this place for lunch that supposedly had great views, but they were closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the slow season… so we got out of the car to see the views, but I imagined they were better from inside the restaurant.

At this point we were starving, so we dropped off the car and picked up some bikes to head into the town. It was a weird time during the day where everything was closed for lunch, but not yet open for dinner so we sat outside in the sun while waiting for things to open.

The Bier Huis is where we decided to go for lunch/dinner, a super cozy place with an outdoor area. We played some cards and had some burgers and beers. A perfect late lunch.

It was still light outside afterwards, so we walked around the town a bit. The mountains surrounding the town are beautiful, but the two lakes that the city is famously named after being in between, are even better. We watched some paragliders land in the park, and Tyler informed me that he would be going sky diving the next day. I already feared this was a possibility, and there was no talking him out of it.

We toured some of the local bars in Interlaken, stopping at a really nice hotel bar with fancy cocktails and then a whisky bar for Tyler.

And then I got what I had been waiting all trip for, some fondue. We arrived just before they closed, so I was afraid they would hate us, but the servers were so nice and made the experience even more fun. The cheese was so gooey and plentiful, and we had bread, pickles and potatoes to dip in it. We didn’t even come close to eating it all, but I left with a full belly and we went to sleep.

Day 4 – Interlaken and Zermatt

Because it was now Thursday, we went back to the restaurant on the mountain, called Luegibruggli to see if we could have breakfast with a view. Although the food was pretty standard, bread, jam, cheese, meat, the views were what I had been looking forward to. Both lakes, surrounded by mountains. It was incredible. The clear blue lakes were almost an iridescent color with the white snow capped mountains reflecting in the waters. We ate our breakfast and took some pictures. I loved it up there and wished we would have been able to go to the top of the other mountain to Harder Kulm, but we were a few weeks too early for it to be open.

After breakfast, Tyler went skydiving. As the bus came to pick him up for his adventure, I got nervous. What an insane thing to do, jump out of a plane. Since it would take a while for him to get setup and learn how to safely jump, I went down to the lake for about an hour until it was time to watch him. The lake was so serene and beautiful, really reminding me of Lake Bled which was one of my favorite places we’ve ever visited.

I got to the skydive place right as the helicopter carrying Tyler was coming into view. It was so high up (14,000 ft to be exact). One of the skydive employees was watching with me, and the next thing I knew there was one white dot high up in the sky and then another. A few seconds later the first white dot burst into color and then the second did as well. The employee breathed a sigh of relief as the second chute opened, and that made me a little nervous that she feared there was a chance the chute might not open! The whole experience was pretty quick, and soon I could see Tyler coming into focus. He had a huge smile on his face as he landed on the ground. He couldn’t stop talking about how amazing the views were of the two lakes and surrounding mountains. I’m so proud of how brave he is.

He chose the picture package with his dive and so I got to see secondhand the views he experienced while falling back down to the earth.

Post skydive, we headed to Zermatt, about a 2 hour drive. The drive was beautiful through these crazy, windy roads along the mountains. We cruised through the turns and admired the scenery. At one point, we ran into a toll road and were confused when it cost CHF 27. We told the lady we were just trying to get to Zermatt, and she said this was the way. So we bought a ticket to get on a train in our car. We waited in line for the train to arrive and one by one, we boarded. Being ever so efficient, the Swiss squeezed as many cars as could fit on the train and we were basically bumper to bumper. We turned off the car and got ready for the ride, which lasted about 15 minutes… straight through a tunnel. We couldn’t see a thing, and the car just kind of shook on the tracks. It was a weird experience, but kind of nice to not have to drive for a while.

When we got out of the train car, we drove down a steep windy mountain, but there were really nice views of snowy mountains. It wasn’t too far to the town outside of Zermatt that you have to park in called Tasch. Zermatt is a carless place. After parking in Tasch, you take a short train into Zermatt. Our hotel in Zermatt was amazing, and our balcony had a perfect view of the famous Matterhorn. It was so BIG and snowy and really just a presence in the skyline. I sat on the balcony marveling at it while Tyler caught up on some work. There were so many people hustling and bustling around town in their ski clothes below, and I was kind of sad to not be joining!

By the time we got around to checking out the town, it was already late afternoon. As we do, we checked out some of the local bars. We went to one that’s supposed to be on the top 10 list of Zermatt apres ski and weren’t impressed, so we headed back outside and heard loud music coming from a courtyard. Even though we hadn’t participated in the skiing, we joined the big apres ski party for a beer.

Since everyone but us was in their ski clothes, we were a bit cold and headed indoors for the next stop on our pub crawl. We went to the Zermatterhof hotel, a fancy place with cocktails.

For dinner, we ate at an authentic Swiss restaurant, Schaferstube, that sourced it’s lamb locally. The ambiance was quite incredible, feeling like you were in a chalet with cowbells and lambs skins for decoration. I got the lamb burger and Tyler the lamb sausage, which were excellent choices.

Day 5 – Zermatt

The main event for the day was lunch up on the mountain, supposedly with amazing views. Tyler had to work in the morning, so I took it easy and had some breakfast before exploring the town. As I searched for a souvenir store, I passed by hoards of skiers. It seemed like everyone was about to hit the slopes! I guess that’s what you get when you come to a ski town. When Tyler was able to join me, we had a coffee while gazing up at the Matterhorn, and were thankful of how great of weather we were having. A perfectly sunny day, and not too cold.

We weren’t really sure how to get to the Chez Vrony, so luckily we gave ourselves ample time to figure it out. Taking the funicular up a mountain through a tunnel to Sunnegga was step one. We got to the top and were very confused about where to go. It seemed like there were only snowy ski paths and not really a place to walk. We ran into two American women who were also going to the restaurant, and they had an email with directions that said to go where the skiers were. So we did. We literally walked down the blue ski hill while skiers tried to dodge us. I was wearing boots (now ruined) and kind of slid the whole way down. We were thinking this was crazy and no way that it was the only way to the restaurant. After 30 minutes of this near death experience, we made it down to the restaurant, and saw the walking path that we did not take. Oh well, it was definitely something to remember.

The views from the restaurant were incredible. The Matterhorn just loomed in front of us and we had front row seats. We could also watch people ski as we sat, which I really enjoyed. It was so sunny and bright, just brilliant weather. Unfortunately, I did not wear sunscreen and was totally roasted by the end of the meal.

The food we had was really incredible, especially the flammkuchen and the coffee with Baileys.

A vast majority of the patrons had skied into the place, which was apparently the wise thing to do, and then ski back out. But after we were done with lunch, we had to walk back up the damn mountain. This time using the footpath. It was less snowy on the path, but just as steep and we were really struggling, especially after all of the food we ate. We eventually got to a point where the footpath connected to the ski path and we had to walk uphill in the snow. A snowmobile drove by, and I was hoping they would give us a lift, but no such luck. We finally made it to the top, exhausted and rode down the funicular back into town. Although it was such a hassle to get to, I think the views and the food certainly made the experience worthwhile, but take my advice and go there by ski instead of on foot!

After making it back into town, we spent the rest of the evening going to different restaurants and bars around the town. We visited Boat Bar (bar in shape of boat), Hexen (bar with witches everywhere), Stephanies (crepes, yum), Hotel Alex (live music, lots of older people dancing, card playing), and finally McDonalds (self explanatory).

Huge dance party

After looking back on the trip, Zermatt was probably my favorite spot. Although it was pretty pricey, I really enjoyed the mountain town vibe and the snowy peaks. Everything was beautiful.

Day 6 – Zermatt and Chamonix

After spending almost a week in the Swiss mountains and countryside, we headed to France to meet some friends for a skiing adventure. The drive from Zermatt to Chamonix was about 2 hours through the mountains. Such a beautiful drive, through the windy roads. I think I made Tyler a little carsick during the drive, but I was enjoying it so much. The crossing point into France was very unassuming, there was just a little building and a stop sign. I stopped and no one came out, so I kept going. The quality of the roads, was really the only way you could tell that we had crossed into France. Lots of potholes.

Even though we started our journey to Chamonix fairly early, it took quite some time to get off the Zermatt mountain and through the other mountains, so we arrived around noon. Our friends had already ran off to the mountain for the day, so I rented skis on my own and decided to ski the green right by our hotel. It was so warm and sunny that I didn’t even need a jacket, and I was very concerned about making my face burn worse than the day before, but I was so excited to ski, I just went for it. I built up my confidence a bit on the really flat baby slope, before riding the lift to a longer run. Although it was only my second day EVER of skiing, I picked it up again pretty easily and fell in love. I couldn’t get enough of the snow and spent hours going up and down the same hill.

Apparently Chamnoix is known for not being very beginner friendly. The blues are more like reds, the reds more like blacks, and I don’t even want to think about what the black diamonds are like. Our friends, a mixed level of skiiers, went down a blue and some of them came back terrified and joined me on the greens for a few runs. It was so much more fun to ski with friends! We closed out the slopes and headed to our hotel which was conveniently located right at the bottom of the hill. Earlier in the season when the snow isn’t so melted, you can ski right into the hotel.

It took a while to collect everyone from the various mountains, but then we headed into town for apres ski – aka the best part of a ski trip. Still dressed in our chic ski apparel, we rocked the apres ski with jager shots and Heineken. A very disgusting combination. I will say, the apres ski in Chamnoix has nothing on the apres ski I have experienced in Austrian ski towns. Maybe it was because it was late in the season.

Finding dinner options for the whole group of 10 was tricky, but somehow we weaseled our way into a nice restaurant in the city center. Lots of wine, steaks, fish, and veggies were had by all. Post dinner, was spent bar hopping around the town. Always a fun time with this crew.

Day 7 – Chamonix

After whetting my appetite with skiing the day before, I was so pumped to get back on the slopes. Our friends who fell down the blues the day before wanted to try lessons, even though it was our last day, so I agreed, knowing that I could always use a lesson. Tyler even decided to join, and he spent the morning trying to make it down the baby hill. He definitely improved a lot since the last time we skied! We practiced on some greens in the morning, before riding the gondola up to the top of the mountain for our ski lessons.

Our instructor told us that once we got to the top of another lift, he would assess our level and put us into two groups. We got onto another gondola and started towards the top of the mountain. Quite unexpectedly, the gondola stopped mid air and we dangled for a while waiting for it to start back up. My nightmare. We made it to the snowcovered top where it was a bit more chilly, and put our skis on our feet.

The next thing I knew, the instructor took off and expected us to follow him. Straight down the steep mountain. I didn’t even know what came over me, but I somehow made it to him without falling. Tyler was lagging behind and when he got to the top, we yelled to him to turn around. There was no way he would have made it down the hill alive. Our instructor also sent another girl walking back up the hill who fell all the way down. My two friends and I decided that we weren’t fit for this lesson either and asked if we could join the beginners class. The instructor tried to persuade us that we would be fine and we should stay with him, but our minds were made up. So we made the walk of shame, back up the mountain with our skis overhead. It was so brutal to walk up the mountain in all of the gear, that we contemplated just doing the lesson to skip the agony.

Once we got to the top, we found our instructor for the beginner slopes. Tyler decided he was done skiing, and started on the apres ski. He rode a gondola up to the tippy top of the mountain and had some amazing views of the surrounding area including Mont Blanc.

Our new instructor took the three of us to a different lift and taught us more about technique and made us leave our poles at the bottom. The poles are not necessary when you’re a beginner, apparently. He also thought that we could have gotten by on the intermediate course because we were too good for the beginners lesson, but we actually learned a lot from him. After going down the mountain a few times, more focused on how to move my hips and bend my knees, I was really starting to get the hang of it. It’s such a shame that I don’t make it to the slopes more often because I really do like this sport!

Feeling accomplished as the slopes were about to close, we started making our way back down the hill. We met up with Tyler and a few other stragglers coming off the mountain. As a last test, Tyler went down the big beginners hill that he hadn’t previously tried. And he was a natural. I think now I can convince him that skiing is our thing. After returning our skis (my least favorite part because walking in ski boots hurrtttss), we had a quick apres ski in the town. No jager shots this time though.

The group had dwindled down to 6 for the evening, so we had an easier time finding somewhere for dinner, and settled on a fondue place. I was so excited to round out the last night of the trip with some more cheesy goodness. It was a proper feast with a huge pot of cheese and the boys got this meat that you grill yourself on some hot stones.

Day 8 – Chamonix

On our last day of a great trip, we had a late flight out. After having already seen most of the town, we pretty much just wandered around with Shannon and Noah who were on our flight back to Amsterdam in the evening. It’s really a cute little town, but aside from skiing, it doesn’t seem like there’s much to do. Since we had already been to the top of the mountain, we didn’t see a point in taking any of the cable cars up to the top of other mountains. We had seen Mount Blanc from many different angles already.

I’m not really sure how we filled the day, other than by walking around looking for souvenirs before it was time to drive to the Geneva airport. We lucked out that our flight to Amsterdam wasn’t cancelled due to winds. The flight before ours and after ours was and we had a bit of a scare!

I’ve always considered myself to be more of a beach girl, but after this trip in the Swiss and French Alps, I may have to reconsider. Switzerland is really the most beautiful place and has so much to offer in terms of mountains, lakes, cheese, chocolates, and wines. Here’s to hoping to make it back again to the Swiss Alps someday.

Recommendations:

Bern
Lodging: The Bristol
Eating: Lotschberg , Wein & Sein
Drinking: The Bellevue Hotel, On Tap, Department 66

Interlaken
Eating: Hotel Restaurant Luegibruggli for great views of the lakes, Hotel Interlaken for fondue
Drinking: Hotel Royal St Georges for fancy cocktails, Husi Bierhuis

Zermatt
Lodging: Hotel Admiral
Eating: Chez Vrony, Schaferstube
Drinking: Grand Hotel Zermatterhof, Hexen, Hotel Alex

Chamonix
Lodging: Les Balcons du Savoy
Eating: Cool cats

One Comment Add yours

  1. Susan Tomlinson says:

    Sounds like we need to put Switzerland on our bucket list!! Loved your pictures!

    Like

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