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Published: August 26th 2015
Friends & Mountains
If you have ever felt daunted by the idea of taking a road trip in a foreign land, such as Switzerland, you are not alone. At first, I didn't know what we were getting ourselves into! There weren't that many useful resources explaining step by step how to take a road trip around the Swiss mountain range. Most message boards warned against the idea of driving here, especially in the winter when the roads are covered in snow, so we really didn't know what to expect. I'm glad we listened to our intuition and did it anyway, because we got to experience the most magical land with unbelievable landscapes, guided by an innovative route system that is very driver-friendly. We even got a chance to jump off a mountain paragliding! The surprising fact about Switzerland is that almost all major towns and cities are within an hour's reach, which means you can cover tons of travelling here and get to see the whole country easily by car. From Basel, we visited Lucerne, Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen, Murren, Gimmewald, Lake Geneva, and many smaller towns along the way.
“We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us.”
― John Muir The Road Trip Begins
to start the road trip in Basel
because we found cheap airline tickets there from London, and also it was the perfect starting point for our route heading south. The best way to decide which routes to take is by first choosing specific places you want to see, and then connecting these places with their common route. The route system here is very straight forward and easy to navigate using GPS, signs, or a good old fashion map. We picked up our 8 seat rental car from Eurocar
, squeezed all our bags into the back, and happily began our road trip adventure. Dividing a car rental between six people makes this a more budget friendly transportation option versus purchasing Swiss railway
tickets individually. Although there are great things about riding the Swiss railway, it is held to an almost luxurious standard and only has first or second class seating options... the more stops you make on the train the more tickets you have to purchase, so the costs add up. Our rental car, on the other hand, worked really well for the six of us and allowed us the freedom of limitless stops so that we can take in the
scenery wherever and whenever we wanted. And trust us, you are going to want to stop and admire the scenery!
The reason you cover so much travelling when you drive here is because the Swiss motorways are like super highways, also known as autobahns
. Victor is an adrenaline junkie and was especially excited to be driving at limitless speeds on the autobahn. On these long stretches of road you'll get to see gorgeous mountains, alpine forests, scenic villages, farms, and herds of roaming cows on rolling green pastures. The tunnel system
is also something to take note of. Did you know that Switzerland is known for their road, water, and train tunnels? The longest and deepest railway tunnel in the world is set to open in Switzerland in 2016, and it tunnels through the Alps. They are ingeniously engineered to help drivers bypass mountains and loop around forests, and they offer speedier transits. We were in awe of the strategic placements of these tunnels, and how clean and operational they are. It might not sound like much to get excited over, but they are drilling through mountains after all, and that's no easy feat! Picturesque Lucerne
From Basel in the north, it only took us one hour to reach Lucerne
which is located in central Switzerland. When we reached the town it was an early Sunday morning. We unloaded our things at Ibis budget hotel
where we were staying over night, then we all decided to go into town to eat lunch. By noon the town was bustling with people, and we think it's because noon is the time that most travel buses are scheduled to arrive here for touring. We were immediately struck by how expensive the restaurants are. It was a wake up call to how truly expensive Switzerland is. We walked a couple of blocks away from the touristy restaurants in the town, to a two story shopping center where we found more reasonably priced food for around 20 Francs per person.
After lunch, we walked around Lucerne and discovered many charming and colorful sights around the old town. One of the most interesting sites is a monument of a lion, which is a famous carving situated in the rocks of a small park. Nearby is a pretty catholic church, and is one
that survived Switzerland's protestant/catholic revolutions. There are wooden bridges everywhere with historical beginnings. The prettiest and most iconic bridge is called the chapel bridge
, which dates back to the 1300's! This bridge shows up in a lot of Lucerne's post cards and travel books because it is a landmark, so we did our best to capture it's beauty in our own photos as well.
But I have to say, the most beautiful site to see here is truly Lake Lucerne
, with the snow-capped mountains in the background. This was our first taste of Switzerland's surreal natural beauty, and there was still more to come. The guys decided to surprise us with a one hour boat ride, to go out into the lake and enjoy the surrounding nature. From here we also got the full view of Lucerene town and Mt Pilates
, which is one of the gorgeous snow peaked mountains that is laid out in the distance. Taking a tour to go up this mountain is a highly recommended activity when the weather is cooperating. After enjoying the lake ride, we sat by the ridge of the lake with some snacks and watched all the
ducks and swans on the lake. The swans
here are also part of what makes this place so beautiful. They are so graceful and they are not afraid to swim right up to you if they suspect you have food. Their bright white colors contrasted nicely against all the surrounding dark blues of the lake.
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped by a little food market and purchased some fruits, snacks, and drinks. Something I found very interesting is the Bio label
that the Swiss use to mark organics. We were told that the Swiss standards for organics is of the highest quality, and they don't even allow organics to come in from any other country unless it's stamped with the Bio Swiss label approval. "Swiss standards for high quality" became the recurring theme on our trip. The Swiss have high standards for everything imaginable, and as you probably know, their impeccable standards have led to trademarks such as the well known Swiss Watch
and Swiss Army Knife. Amazing Interlaken & Dramatic Lauterbrunnen.
If you are ever pressed for time, and only have one place to
go, I'd personally recommend you visit Interlaken. I feel that it encompasses everything that makes this region so beautiful: the snow capped Alps, luscious greenery, water falls, quaint villages, Swiss cows, and beautiful lakes. You can also sense the pureness of the air here with each breathe. It's considered a "resort town" so to save money we rented a cabin in Lauterbrunnen
to share together, and we also cooked most of our own food which we bought at the local food markets. I also noticed a big hostel nearby, which is another budget friendly accommodation option as well. The drive from Lucerne to Interlaken was one of the most gorgeous drives I've ever taken. We had to stop several times to take it all in. On one of the stops, we parked right in front of a huge valley with the most serene and peaceful lake. There were also Swiss cows here, and probably sensing my gentleness, they came right up to me so that I could pet them. Of course, my "vegetarian pro-life" stance was kicking into overdrive after meeting these incredibly sweet sentient beings. My heart was swooning. There was a silly bet made by our friends that
Our Dreamy Cabin in Lauterbrunnen
Complete with views of Waterfalls & Mountains
the fence surrounding the cows was electric and someone actually had to touch it to prove the theory right or wrong... let's just say someone lost the bet and got slightly electrocuted (but it wasn't me!) hahaha. These silly bets, or "apuestas" as we say in Spanish, were the only thing the boys could talk about during the whole trip!
-apartment in Lauterbrunnen was a nature lovers dream, and was set in between a dramatic U-shaped valley in the Bernese Oberland. The reason this area is described as "dramatic" is because it sits on one of the deepest valleys, with the height of the mountains being one of the highest in Switzerland. From the outside, our cabin had a chalet appearance, and on the inside it had many modern and practical amenities, but the views of the waterfalls and snow capped mountains from every window were priceless. Best of all, it was cozy and comfortable. The location was perfect as it's only ten minutes from Interlaken, and has easy access to many fun outdoor activities, such as hiking, skiing, canyoning, water rafting, and paragliding. It's also close to the cable car that takes you
Traditional Swiss Food
to Murren. Everything surrounding us here was green and pure, even the locals here had strict laws in place for how much trash was allowed per household and how everything else had to be recycled. The trash containers had locks on them, to ensure that everyone adhered to the trash/recycling laws. And since leaving a car idling on for 2 minutes wastes as much gas as driving one whole mile, cars here can not be left on idle, they must be completely turned off when parked. The Swiss are very serious when it comes to promoting environment preservation, no doubt this has been taught to them for generations.
On our first day in Interlaken, we ate at Ox Restaurant
, where we had a traditional Rosti
. Rosti's are grated potatoes that are fried (like hash browns) and usually have some other toppings like eggs, cheese, meat, or veggies. Our's was vegetarian
of course, and we thought they were quite tasty. Afterwards, I ordered a schokoladenkochen
, which is chocolate cake with raspberry sorbet on top. Our friends didn't think I could pronounce such a long word, but I did it and the waiter understood me!
We took a trip to Trummelbach waterfall
one day, which was really cool but it's an activity that will leave you cold and wet so it's best to take a few ponchos and warm clothes. We spent the rest of the day playing games in our cabin because it was drizzling outside. Naty and Victor prepared a delicious dinner that night for everyone to eat. Jose, Victor, and David all had Birthdays that fell within days of this trip. So us girls had planned in advance to surprise all three of the boys with some cakes and candles out on the porch to sing Happy Birthday. Once everything was secretly set up, I was assigned the task of getting the boys to come out to the porch for the surprise. I tried to think of a good way to have them come out for the surprise but the only thing I could think of were the lambs that were "baaing" in front of our cabin. So I ran inside and declared to the boys that they must go out to the porch because "a lamb just died!" When they all came out and saw what was really going on,
they were truly surprised. We sang "Happy Birthday" and had a mini celebration afterwards inside the cabin. They also laughed at my silly lamb comment haha! Paragliding in Breathtaking Interlaken
This was such an incredible day, and should be a "must-do" on everyone's list of things to do in Interlaken! Although the idea of jumping off a mountain might sound terrifying at first, it's actually one of the most peaceful activities you can ever do. Trust me, this is my second time paragliding, and I'm actually afraid of heights! The initial "run and jump" is all the work you have to do, then afterwards you are simply sitting as you calmly glide amidst the breathtaking views of the Alps. We did this on the most beautiful day when the sky was blue and the sun was shining down. We met our pilots in Interlaken where we were briefed on what to expect, then we took a 15 minute drive up to the jumping point. There were already tons of people gliding off the mountain; as tandem and as singles. There was even a Colombian pilot which we met before our jump. My pilot's name
was Benjamin, but I called him Benny for short. He lent me a jacket and a helmet, and then secured my harness on tight. Once I was buckled in, and the canopy/parachute was laid out, then it was time to start running. Once we run, the canopy gets hold of the wind, and opens up. Then the air gives you height and you are instantly in the air softly gliding. I sat back in the seat, and felt as the canopy caught the sail and the pilot guided the shoot into the proper warm air thermals. We were in the air for about 15 to 20 minutes, but usually when the air and wind conditions are right, you can actually glide for much longer, even for a whole day! The reason I prefer this activity over sky diving is because you don't get the scary sensation of free falling. There was a really cool moment when Victor and I found each other in the sky. I enjoyed every second as we glided, and felt blissful as I looked out at the incredible Swiss Alps in front of me, and the lake and the towns below. Up here I can forget
about everything else, and truly appreciated the pureness and beauty surrounding me. Our landing was really smooth, and I will copy the link to our paragliding video here: https://youtu.be/Lbq0o0Q0HCc Murren and Gimmewald
A set of connecting cable cars helped us reach two of the highest traditional towns in Switzerland: Murren and Gimmewald
. From up here you can get a clear view of the snow peaked mountains. Since it's so chilly up here, we ordered some soups to warm us up a bit, and the others ordered a cheese fondue
with bread, which if you didn't know, is one of the most traditional food items you can eat here. Our friends said they didn't like the taste or the smell of the fondue at all, and that it wasn't what they expected. We spent the rest of the day walking around, and admiring the views. This area was also the setting for one of the early James Bond
movies, and I can see why they chose this place for the movie, as both Murren and Gimmewald are very cozy and have lovely traditional Swiss homes. Before we went back to the cabin, the
boys had an adventure and visited Staubbach falls
, which is the second highest waterfall in Switzerland, and it's one of the prettiest sights to see in Lauterbrunnen. They got a little wet from the mist that sprays out from the waterfall, and Victor declared "I can feel the water, on my FACE!", which made everyone laugh. Our last day driving to Lake Geneva
It was really sad for us to pack up our things and leave our cozy little cabin. We cleaned everything up and tried to leave it as we found it. It was a very nice and clear day outside, which was perfect for our drive to Geneva. We got to see lots of hill country, villages, and green fields. As we got closer to Geneva, we also got to see vineyards and farms. Geneva is part of the French-side of Switzerland, where the language and culture is predominantly French. The other sides we visited were predominantly German. We chose to stop at Lake Geneva to visit the photogenic Chateau de Chillon
, which is an island castle that dates back to the 1000s! It's one of the most visited castles in Europe,
and I'm so glad we got to see it. My favorite view is of the west side of the castle, where you can get striking views of Lake Geneva as well. After our stop, it was about an hour driving to the airport in Geneva. Once we found the airport, we returned our rental car, checked in, and easily boarded our flight to Paris. Road trip success: accomplished! Impressions: The things we loved... and didn't love, about Switzerland:
This is a good place to add our general impressions of the Swiss people. I was in awe of their high standards for good quality, and I respected their strict rules for environment preservation. My paragliding pilot Benjamin was also a sweet heart, and was very kind to me. But here is the honest truth: we didn't get the sense that we were welcomed here. About 90%!o(MISSING)f the time we interacted with the Swiss, they were cold and somewhat indifferent to us. One of the worst rude moments for us was when a Swiss waitress literally threw the menus at us, and glared down at us with disdain in her eyes and annoyance in her
tone. We knew we were past the point of bad customer service... Most public restrooms were even locked and off limits to us, which was off putting. We attribute all of this to both culture and a general indifference towards foreigners. No matter how nice and polite we were, we were not commonly met with the same courtesy, not even a simple smile... so lets just say we won't be adding Switzerland to our "warmest countries to visit list" any time soon. Despite all of this, we still ended up having an amazing time here together... we simply "brushed off" any rudeness or coldness we encountered.
We took advantage of everything that Switzerland had to offer: nature, amazing scenery, fresh air, and all the other outdoor activities. The road trip was a great way to learn more about Switzerland and it's landscapes. I would happily do a road trip in Europe again, and I've already starting thinking of places we can do it with our future family (will I ever stop mentally planning world travels, probably not!) We got the opportunity to see some truly special places, and we owe so much of
this experience to our wonderful friends; we all helped each other whether it was driving, cooking, or planning our itinerary. Paragliding in the Swiss Alps will probably be the most memorable part of our trip for me, and it's something I hope many of you travelling to Switzerland will get a chance to do. I have copied the link of our paragliding experience here: https://youtu.be/Lbq0o0Q0HCc . I hope it proves what a safe and relaxing activity it truly is. The mountains in general will take your breath away. I loved their ability to calm me and remind me that we are small in comparison to their infinite landscape. We need more moments like these to reconnect with nature, to disconnect from technology, and simply feel the wind, the trees, and the energy of pure nature all around us. Nature heals you from the inside out and makes your spirit truly happy 😊
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