Roadtripping Through Switzerland
A few months ago I was offered the opportunity to visit one of my favourite countries in the world and spend a week road tripping across the Swiss countryside as the autumn colours set in. After an amazing summer hiking in my backyard I was growing antsy and did not hesitate before saying yes to this opportunity. With a robust public transportation system in Europe that does not exist in North America most people opt to forgo the car rental and stick with trains, trollies, busses, gondolas and cable cars to get around. With my lifestyle of hiking, backpacking and photography the thought of not having a safe space to store all of my earthly possessions intimidates me. And so, for a week in October I packed everything I needed into the back of an SUV, invited my good friend Kelsey and set off to explore Switzerland.
Züruch is on this map solely as our starting and ending point because of our flight route. It is a relatively easy city to navigate (as soon as you realize that green signs take you to the highways and blue signs take you to the city centre) even without speaking/reading the language.
primary language: german
The first real stop on this trip was the furthest from our starting point, nestled in the south easterly corner of the country alongside the Swiss-French border this small alpine village features quintessential narrow cobblestone roads and three hundred and sixty degree mountain panoramas. The most famous of which is the Dents to Midi, a prominent mountain range consisting of seven distinct summits with a maximum elevation of 3,257 metres.
primary language: french
where to stay: Hotel Natonal Resort & Spa, this is not a budget friendly hotel (and the only not budget friendly hotel on the list) it is a beautiful alpine resort located in the middle of possibly one of the most picturesque villages in existence.
where to eat: Café-Restaurant Le Gueullhi - located in the heart of Chapéry, you will find traditional Valaisan specialties, seasonal French and European cuisine and a wide selection of pizzas.
must do: hike to France along the Col de Cou and further to the Pointe de Ripaille.
Situated just above Champéry, Barme is a hamlet consisting primarily of converted farmhouses. It offers spectacular alpine vistas and situated at the base of des Dents Blanches, another spectacular mountain range marking the French-Swiss border.
where to stay: Cantine des Dents Blanches. A former alpine farmhouse at the base of des Dents Blanches mountain range.
where to eat: have lunch at the Refuge de Bonaveau.
must do: hike the smugglers trail, a former passage of illicit goods between France and Switzerland.
where to stay: Helvetia Hotel, this classic ski lodge is owned by a former Alpine World Cup champion. With comfortable beds and one of the fastest wifi we found along our travels I cannot wait to come back in ski season and experience this hotel in it’s peak season.
where to eat: we drove into the nearby town of Val-d'Illiez and ate dinner with the owner of Le Communal. The food was delicious, but be warned that they do not offer traditional Swiss alpine fairs such as fondue and raclette.
must do: hike the Mont de Bellevue for sunrise
This was not a stop on our itinerary but rather a detour along the way, and one of my favourite stops of the trip. I don’t think I will ever get enough of these alpine villages. Lauterbrunnen was no exception, looking as though it popped right out of a children’s fairytale the village. The valley, carved by glaciers, features dynamic rock walls and sparratic waterfalls, the most famous of which is located in the middle of the village.
where to stay: we stayed in nearby meringen as this town is very small and in all honesty quite inconvenient to access by vehicle.
where to eat:
must do: with permission from the landowners, take photos of the idyllic alpine village with a waterfall as its town square. if we had an additional day here we would have also taken to tram up to Wengen, a small alpine village that hosts an alpine skiing World Cup and is also located on a plateau overlooking Lauterbrunnen.
As we moved further into the German side of Switzerland it was evident the architectural infllunces. Although much in the same way as our previous stops, Meringen’s primary industries are tourism and alpine skiing, the French mountainside chalets were replaced with more germanic style structures. We used Meringen as a gateway for adventure with nearly anything your heart could desire in terms of hiking, biking, climbing, alpine skiing and even water sports within a few minutes from town.
where to stay: we stayed at the hotel Meringen, it was a nice basic hotel, the wifi was not great. We would recommend booking an alpine hut if you do not need to be in town.
where to eat: Fränzi’s Bistro. This isn’t a restaurant, but it is the cutest café that I found in all of Switzerland. Order a cappuccino and a piece of the chocolate cake. For food, the Pizzeria Bahnhöfli has really great pizza and salad, and believe you me, you will be in search of good salads after a week of eating nothing but delicious melted cheese and bread.
must do: visit the trift glacier. It is accessed by a 10 minute cable car and then a (max) 90 minute hike. There is a beautiful suspension bridge that takes you above the teal green glacial lagoon and two alpine huts nearby for lunch!
Although not technically a town, this alpine valley is a UNESCO World Heritage site and features primary alpine huts open year round (for hiking in the summer and ski touring in the winter). It is known for it’s team blue river gorge, one of the most beautiful hotels (which does not allow any images) and a short hike will lead you to vitas overlooking the nearby town of Grindelwald and the ever amount North Face of Eiger.
where to stay: alpine huts! there are so many beautiful alpine huts in this UNESCO World Heritage site that staying in hotel would not make any sense.
where to eat: again, the alpine hut is your go-to. we had the most amazing fondue lunch after our hike (traditionally fondue is a winter offering but they also have a full food and drink menu to order from as well).
must do: Visit the Rosenlaui River gorge, have a cup of coffee at the Hotel Rosenlaui and take the bus up to the pass between Rosenlaui and Grendelwald (the Gross Scheidegg pass).
We only spent a morning here to hike the ever famous saxer lucke, driving in long before the sun rose we had to wait until after our hike to fall in love with this town. Pulled out of a fairy tale, Appenzell is what I imagine when someone mentions the word Switzerland. Set to the melody of gentle bells from nearby cows grazing, the fresh smell of mountain sir and an underlying sense of gentle happiness fills the air.
canton: Appenzell Innerrhoden
where to stay: we did not stay in Appenzell, but wish we did, we also wish that we spent more time in the town and/or found a Swiss husband so that we could stay together. airbnb features some really beautiful and affordable options.
where to eat: Revolving Restaurant Hoher Kasten - one of the most unique restaurants this requires a hike or cable car to the top of a mountain where this restaurant is precariously perched.
must do: hike to saxer lucke for sunrise - there are several alpine huts along the trail that you are able rent out (and by alpine hut I actually mean hotels in the middle of the mountains) if you would prefer to have a longer sleep. Alternatively, if sunrise is not important there are also two cable cars that being operating at 8:30am and will take to nearly the entire way to this viewpoint.
This stop was the first and only time that having a vehicle was inconvenient, but when Air Zermatt offered me a helicopter ride over the Matterhorn I was determined to make it work. If you do have a vehicle you will need to leave it somewhere along the train line and take the train to Zermatt proper. We left ours in the village of Täsch before the roads begin having tolls. Skip the train parking and instead opt for a nearby hotel parking lot. It is far less expensive. The train roundtrip is around 16CHF per person and takes around five minutes. Zermatt looks as if it were ripped off of the face of a postcard, the face of the Matterhorn over one of the most beautiful villages in the world. Also note that there are small electric “taxis” that are able to help you around the town as well as a robust gondola system to get up up close and personal with this giant.
language: German and French
where to stay: we rented a small airbnb which was a fraction of the price of the hotels (even in the off season).
where to eat: we didn’t eat anything other than a TOblerona McFlurry from McDonalds in Zermatt. I promise I will come back and have more recommendations next time.
must do: take a helicopter ride with Air Zermatt. if we had an additional day we would have hiked to the Riffelsee lake to capture the reflection of the Matterhorn in the lake for sunrise.