Following on from my trip report posts in the trip report forum of MySwissAlps, based on my last holiday and previous holidays in Switzerland, I have pulled together some tips which I hope you find useful on your current or future Swiss adventures.
Do – as much research (websites like MySwissAlps are an invaluable resource) as you possibly can before your holiday so you get the most out of your trip, if you can’t afford the time then get a professional to do it for you i.e. a travel agent but at least have a clear idea of what your interests are i.e. mountains, lakes, hiking, food and wine etc or you may end up with a holiday that doesn’t meet your expectations. I am a crazy planner/researcher and enjoy it thoroughly but everyone isn’t me but there is nothing worse then coming home from a holiday feeling like it wasn’t worth the money/time travelling (and in my early travelling days I certainly had a few of those!!!).
Do – the maths, swiss travel passes are an economical (believe it or not) and a hassle-free way of getting around Switzerland without lining up for tickets every time you want to catch a train/boat or visit a tourist attraction. MySwissAlps has a terrific travel calculator, yes it does mean having to use the SBB website to calculate the costs of travel and a bit of forward planning on the part of the traveller, but the savings add up – from my last trip I calculated I saved around $500 AUD by purchasing a Swiss Travel Pass flex 15-day travel pass, even though I only used it for 13 of the 15 days.
Do – set reasonable expectations when it comes to the weather, particularly when it comes to mountain trips, I appreciate it is difficult if you have 5 days in one country and you want to see as much as you can but the weather isn’t always cooperative so it is helpful to have a back up for rainy or cloudy days i.e. visit a museum or do an indoor activity on a rainy day or take a boat trip on a cloudy day rather than heading to a mountain summit and seeing nothing as the view is obstructed. For example, on my most recent trip, we had 6 days in Vitznau and save for one day which we took advantage of to do the Pilatus Golden Trip, we had cloud cover for the remainder of the trip. On one of the cloudy days we elected to travel to Mt Rigi and on reaching Rigi Kulm, it was so clouded in we couldn’t hardly see in front of us, so we headed back down the mountain to Rigi Kaltbad where the weather was much better, still a great view and it gave us the opportunity to take a horse and carriage ride which was terrific and just as enjoyable as being at the summit.
Do – bring clothing that spans all seasons as the weather in Switzerland is very changeable even in summer, layers are a great way of keeping warm, particularly in the mountains. This year, I found I didn’t bring enough summer clothes and ended up having to buy 2 dresses (though I had many summer dresses in my wardrobe at home) so ultimately this became an added expense that I didn’t really need.
Do – check hotel facilities and see what they offer, for example 2 of the 4 hotels we stayed at on this trip did not have irons and ironing boards we could use therefore ironing had to be sent out and this was at a considerable cost. Outside of packing a travel iron (which I really would not want to take with me), it is worthwhile to ask the question before you book. Also, if you are arriving from overseas in early in the morning after a long trip (ours was 21+ hours), confirming whether you can get an early check-in (at no cost) or alternatively confirming whether the hotel has shower facilities i.e. in the gym or spa if you can’t get early check in is a good way to freshen up particularly if you are planning a same day activity (we went straight from the hotel to a city tour and I don’t think I would have been keen on going if I could not have changed/freshened up).
Do – speak to the locals, the best way of finding out information about a village, town, city is through having a conversation with someone who lives there. Though my last trip was with a friend and was bit more touristy than my normal holidays, I tend to seek out local guidance, so I can see the location through the eyes of a local which can make it more endearing than through the eyes of a tourist. This trip I did get some great information about Zermatt and Ticino from locals that I will definitely incorporate into my next trip (hopefully I will be back in Switzerland in the not too distant future).
Do – if you enjoy music, take advantage of the many summer music festivals Switzerland (and Europe for that matter) have to offer. I am partial to Montreux and the Swiss Riviera however there are a lot of music festivals that can be enjoyed throughout the country, from Jazz (Montreux, Ascona, St Moritz), Blues (Lucerne, Rapperswil), Classical (Gstaad, Verbier) and Rock/Pop (Nyon, Locarno) etc etc. Not all of them are expensive, as I noted in my trip report Montreux holds free concerts in the park so there is something for all budgets and musical tastes.
Do – visit ski resorts in summer, if you are looking for a cost-effective holiday, some (not all), ski resorts that are open in the summer months offer good deals (coming from Australia, Switzerland is not the cheapest place to visit) and the opportunity to take in wonderful scenery that is blanketed in snow in winter months – Davos, Andermatt, Grindelwald, Arosa, Zermatt (just to name a few). Note that a lot of ski resort towns now have a lot of activities taking place in the summer months i.e. Gstaad has an international beach volleyball tournament, international tennis tournament and the Menuhin Music Festival throughout summer so it is about picking and choosing times to visit (we managed to get a room at a 5-star hotel for 390CHF ($530AUD) on dates where there no activities taking place, whilst it is certainly not cheap, it compares favourably with winter rates 635CHF ($930AUD).
Most of all, do have fun and enjoy yourself, I have spoken to so many friends and colleagues over the years who have told me they need to take another holiday just to relax after their hectic travel schedule, holidays should be (on the whole) stress free and a way to wind down, so hopefully some of my tips will help you plan your holiday so you get the maximum enjoyment from it.
Other parts of this trip report: