Here is our detailed report in chronological order of Switzerland trip. (CH - stands for Confederation of Helvetica)
July 2. Flew on Swissair from NY. Flight was comfortable and on time, although my husband George complained that the crew is not friendly enough. But they were very efficient - an introduction to Swiss nation. Arrived to Zurich, validated our swiss pass. We bought 8 day first class pass in US and this year Swiss railroad gives extra day in summer to celebrate their 150 anniversary of this fabulous transportation system. Since we wanted to concentrate on smaller towns, we skipped Zurich and took a train to Lucerne - our first stop where we stayed for 3 nights. The trip was about 1.5 hour and the scenery was very nice. The First class was comfortable. Many people ask me - what is the preference of the first class? Very little, except that there are more space, better chairs and it is less crowded. Also, the swiss pass includes boats as well and on the boats it is the top deck. We really liked the first class since you can rest more comfortable there, there are fewer families with kids traveling, (don't get we wrong, we have kids too, but we just wanted peace and quiet) or student groups.. Also, if you plan to take long train trips, it makes sense. However, if you plan to ride a lot of mountain railroads (for example,in Bernese Oberland), these little mountain trains do not have first class. So, it's your call.
Anyway, we arrived to Lucerne and walked to our Romantic Hotel WildenMann which is right in the center of town on the left side of the river. It is located on pedestrian square, next to the church and it is one of the oldest hotels and restaurants in town. I've read about this hotel in Karen Brown book. It was very comfortable but small room, impeccably clean, down comforters (later we found out that all hotels are clean and have down comforters). The staff was very friendly and helpful. Every evening there was a newsletter with suggestion what to do on next day and trip suggestions and weather. On arrival there was a fruit plate. Not really open view, but our windows faced the other old building. Very nice. The restaurant was excellent as well as service. All stores sell watches and swiss army knives, laces, woodcarving things and cow bells. We walked the pretty compact town, visited Lion monument, Swiss Transportation museum (very cute and humorous exhibit from SNTO), next day went on boat ride on the lake and to Rigi. Unfortunately, first 3 days the weather was changing all the time and it was a lot's of rain. Somehow we were lucky as the rain seemed to start when we were inside the train or boat or a restaurant. When we went to Rigi, it was on and off. It was cold in the mountain and kind of foggy but the clouds moved so for an hour we've been there, we had chance to have a better view.
But Lucerne and the lake was even pretty in the rain. We were wearing LL Bean anoraks and walked anyway. To Rigi we took the boat to Fluelen and then cogwheel train and on return gondola to Weggis and boat back. We were surprised how schedules are set so 2 min connections are the norm. BTW for Rigi you pay extra with your Swiss pass (about 40sf per person). If we knew, we would probably skip it since the weather was not good, but we found out only at Fluelen with 1.5 min to make decision :-). Their clocks on the station show seconds! Unbeleivable!
Last day in Lucerne, we took advantage of our passes and took a train (2.5 hrs 1 way) to Lugano - Italian region of CH. The views from the train were gorgeous, and weather was much better in Lugano. The town was pretty, we took some boat rides around the lake and in the afternoon we headed home. Very relaxing trip. We found some Lucerne people friendly, some less, but most of them were speaking English. Lucerne is very touristy, unfortunately, there are groups of Japanese and Americans. We saw Trafalgar bus at the Lion's and listened to their guide's explanation of the monument. Then we sat at the fountain to relax. The tour group was going to disperse but the guide said: 10 min for the bathroom and we don't have time for any shopping today. The crowd rushed to the bathrooms creating lines. That's why we don't take escorted tours :-). Just MHO. Of course, I spent about 6 month planning ours and made all bookings.
Restaurants in Lucerne and Lugano:
we like gourmet cooking. We also like rustic local cooking so we will associate the places we've been with food and smell. All breakfasts were included in our stays and were excellent. It is extended continental bkfst, unlike in other European countries. They eat cheese (was my favorite), some cold cuts, cereal and also my favorite - Swiss Muesli with yougurt and fruit. Very tasty.
At Wildenmann they also cooked you egg on request (boiled), in other hotels there were hard boiled dyed eggs kind of we have in US for Easter. We bought muesli here in US now and we still eat it this way. Also, the assortment and quality of Swiss breads was so excellent so I even skipped my favorite croissants. They have a little garbage buckets on the table so you won't clutter your plate with wraps, leftovers. How's that for efficiency!
Lunches were sporadic and sometimes we skipped them because we had coffee and pastry in café or just bought open faced sandwiches and munched on them. However, I want to share my experience in the restaurant in Lugano La Tinera. There were a lot's of delicious munches on the street but we wanted to sit down so we found that rest. The service was horrible, the owner declared that he does not speak English (although his son asked for a payment in English). The decorations were cute. It looked like local pub kind of place. My risotto with gorgonzola was very good (but the plate was slammed on the table so the fork fell). My husband ordered chicken but because of lack of communication the chicken was not what we expected. The service was rude and rushing. To my surprise, upon exiting it, I noticed newspaper clips on the wall about this place qualifying it as authentic rustic experience and the clips were from NY and LA times! I don't know how this place got into US newspapers! Don't get we wrong, we try to blend with the crowd, and even in Paris we got along with locals. We lived in Italy for a couple of months and I know that Italians are friendly. We don't speak Italian or French, but we know introductory phrases. Everywhere else if the server was not speaking English, they would get someone who at least know some English. Our menu French/German/Italian I think was sufficient. This one was the only restaurant which negative experience.
Dinners. First night at Wildenmann mentioned above - excellent. Wursts, Rosti with chanterels, Shnitzel..Good deserts. Second night - hotel de Alps restaurant de Alps. Uninspiring dinner and service, but polite. We had cheese fondue, Shnipple (spelling?). Last night we were very cautious because of our experience at De Alpes and La Tinera. We walked to 5* hotel Scwhezerhof and they invited us to their continental restaurant. I was surprised since we were not dressed up, but they said we are welcome anyway. But the rest looked very stuffy with predominantly Japanese tourists.We asked concierge recommendations and he sent us to Rebstock. We had excellent dinner there with the waiter telling about swiss/german food and entertaining us as well. I had a grilled trout with small potatoes, and George could not get enough of his wursts and rostis. We liked the service so much that we gave them a extra tip which is not neccessary since in all Swiss restaurants tips are included everywhere.
July 6. We took a train to Interlaken to our next destination Murren - 5,600 altitude. To get there it takes 40 minutes from Interlaken, but the trip is an attraction in itself and is worth it. The views starting when you going up the mountain and continue in Murren just awesome! It is car-free village on a sunny plateau facing Jungfrau, Monk and Eiger. You can just sit at strategically located benches and look! The weather improved this day and the rest of our trip was excellent. We took a train to Lauterbrunnen. From there cogwheel train up the mountain to Gruetshalp (not first class, but free with Swiss Pass), from Gruetshalp another train (our bags transferred by train personnel) to Murren. The village is small and you can walk for 15 min all main street. Since in Lucerne we splurged on Wildenmann (280sf per night), I decided to economize in Murren. I found a great place - chalet Fontana right in the center of the town. The innkeeper, lovely woman Denise runs British ski tours in winter. Off season she rents out rooms for less. She has 3 rooms upstairs with shared bath and 1 apartment downstairs with private bath. We opted for apartment since it had separate entrance and bathroom, bedroom and kitchen. There is a co-op store across the street so we had our lunches 'at home'. Continental bkfst with yougurt and muesli was included. Denise asked us what time we need it and every morning it was promptly at our door. We could also eat it in her dining room to mingle with other guests, but at that time there was a group of US Girl Scouts, so we preferred solititude :-). It was very comfortable and cost only 90sf. However, she does not change beds every day as in hotel. Suited us well.
The weather was so nice, so we stayed in mountains all the time. We walked to Gimmelwald (Ricke Steves favorite, so I wanted to see it) and took gondola back. We walked in Murren and to Gruetshalp (got lost only once and found ourselves on a road to Lauterbrunnen which would take us 4 hours! We had to hike back, but we made it!). We used Murren alpine sport center which is considered the finest in the Bernese Oberland. It has tennis courts, squash court, gym. We used swimming pool and jacuzzi. I wish they keep the water warmer.. The hot tub soothed our aching muscles... Due to the doctors precautions, we were not adviced to go higher then 7,000 ft otw we would go to Shilthorne (James Bond movie was filmed there at Piz Gloria restaurant) so we limited our trips to Shynigge Platte (6500ft) an hour old train - extra with Swiss pass, no first class. Nice walks around, alpine garden, nice outdoor restaurant. Great views and relaxing.
Went down to Interlaken. It is nice town but after mountains, we quickly went back up. Lauterbrunnen - mostly changing point, some walks, waterfalls. We did not visit famous waterfalls so can't comment. Next time if we will go I will just stay in Murren for a week and walk. For it's small size, Murren has amazingly a large number of hotels in all price range including price Eiger and many great restaurants. We never had a bad dinner! First night we went to hotel Jungfrau where we had a lovely dinner. We splurged for desert for 2 Crepes Suzette flambe which chef prepared at our table gathering applaude from the whole dining room. We were impressed how the dogs are well behaved in CH and are allowed in the restaurants. And dogs 'bathrooms' on the streets! I wished we had that in US!
Anyway, second night we wanted meat fondue and were recommended hotel Blumental. It was a long dinner. There was turkey, beef and pork slices cooked in a broth and served with condiments and 5 sauces. The waiter was excellent. After we finished fondue, he insisted that the best part is the broth and brought it in 2 cups with sherry. It was great. We finished with meringues. I will remember this dinner!
Last dinner we had at hotel Alpenruth and it was very nice. More Rostis! All restaurants in Murren serve Swiss white wine called Murren somewhere from Zermatt region and it was very good.
July 9. Last day in Mountains. We went to the train station and sent our bags ahead to our next destination Berne. 10sf per bag. I was jittery since I did not know if and when I will see them again, but on arrival to Berne in the afternoon they were there! (it ain't JFK!) Meanwhile, we went down to Interlaken. I was thinking about going to Grindelwald, but Denise said it is too commercial after Murren. Only if you take gondola up to First. But it was too high altitude, so we opted to go down and see lakes. We had 40 min to connect to Interlaken west, so we walked to Interlaken West instead and shopped on the way. Pretty Victorian town, expensive hotels. We took train to Thun and explored old town, castle and cruised the lake a little. Very pretty town.
Lunch was picnic food packed from leftovers from our Chalet Fontana kitchen and then we hopped on a train again to Berne. This time it was IC (intercity) train to Berne (first stop) to Amsterdam and it was very comfortable. nice. It was our last time we were using trains although we had 2 more days but we were picking up the car in Berne. The train and car overlapped because you can pick up a car only in a big town. But, with Swiss passes you can also use gondolas and lake boats and steamers. From Berne we planned to go to Murten and it was better to have car there.
Arrived to Bern and walked to our hotel Krebs right at the train station and in the center of everything. Again, squeaky clean, great breakfast, attentive staff. Small rooms. Owners on premises. We went to see Bern clock towers, fountains, looked at shopping arcades. We went for dinner to Italian Restaurant this time - Verdi. Excellent Italian wine and food. Risotto, lamb, excellently prepared. The waiter did not speak English very well, but we got along using signs and sounds (cow - mooo - beef - get it? :-). Looked at bears, but were exhausted to go up to rose garden and also were exhausted to figure out how to use these trolley ticket machines...Again, Swiss pasess cover public city transportation as well. Had coffee on a way back at the outside café, listened to street singers and musicians, communicated successfully with another yet non-English speaking waiter (American- Clinton? Yes!) Early to bed. Next day Europcar said the car will not be ready until 2pm, so we asked Krebs about later checkout. No problem.
We went again to explore town. By the way, the clock tower is cute, but the performance is not worth waiting. We went to Parlament since yesterday we were promised there will be an English tour at 9am and had a tour. Very educational, free tour. Can you imagine that their canton reps work part time? They all have other jobs! We highly recommend it. The rest of the morning was spent browsing thru food and flea markets on a MarketGasse, mucnhing on sandwiches on a bench and watching the crowd. Very relaxing. Then checked out from the hotel and left bags with them, walked to the car rental agency and picked up a car, got our bags and drove to Murten. It is about 30 minutes to Murten thru the pretty countryside.
July 10. We arrived to Murten to stay at hotel Schiff. Murten (Morat in French since the town is half French half German). It is medieval walled town located on the hill above small lake with the same name Murtensee. From Murtensee you can take boat on a river up to Neuchatel lake. We just cruised the lake (1 hour cruise, again free with our passes). There is a nice beach club with 2 indoor pools, one outdoor, children playground and a beach. We went to the pool. Indoor pools had too many kid groups, outdoor was cold but refreshing.
Schiff is on the lake with an excellent restaurant Lord Nelson (again, from Karen Brown book). We had a lovely room with a balcony overlooking the lake and a pier. We had a nice dinner (they called an English speaking waiter for us) at Lord Nelson and then had a nice flat walk around lake. It is a resort town as well as historical. Can't say enough about hotel owner msr. Pierre Lehmann who is quiet, unobtrusive but always was there with his help from carrying the bags upstairs to handling such stupid questions why remote control does not turn the sound on :-). Why do these remote controls are different in every hotel? To me, I was happy when we did not have TV (Murren and Gruyers). Great breakfast but no muesli. We are getting picky. Murten town is pretty like Berne but only 3 arcade streets. There is a castle and watermill. Walk the ramparts for better views. Next morning we went to Avenches - roman archeological site with museum (not in English). Heard it glows at sunset. But unfortuntely, efficient Swiss turned Roman amphitheater into opera in summer, built some decorations and seat sectors (temporary, of course) so if you want to see sunset, you have to pay for opera tickets. There is also medieval town. We also visited Payerne which has nice with interesting 11 century church. Came back to Murren - hang out there for the rest of the day. Had pizza with chanterells (yum) for lunch, had dinner in Murtenhof inside the walls overlooking the lake. Nice view but food is not outstanding. There are great view of pre-Alps across the lake with vineyards where they produce Vully wine. We drank it with dinner.
July 12. Off to Gruyers - cheese!!!! George was complaining that he had too much of medieval towns. But, when we came to Gruyers, it was so magical! One tip - Gruyers is very touristy and there are busses during the day. If you want to savor it, arrive in the afternoon or for dinner time, and stay overnight. This way you will enojy sunset and early morning. It is quiet and just picture perfect 1 small street town. We stayed at Hostellerie St. George - excellent hotel inside the town with views of the valley. The view was incredible. In the morning we woke up see the balloon sliding next to our windows.
As for food: this region is famous for cheese, so make sure you have fondue or raclette and fresh cream with berries or meringues for dessert. It is specialty. Or, better, yet, pig out like us and take whole sampler dinner which included smaller portions or fondue, raclette, rosti and dessert. Just one warning - we did not like Le Chalet restaurant and their attitude. We waited and never were invited to sit although there were tables. So, we came back to our hotel which turned out to be a great restaurant. The breakfast was also delicious. We also visited Fromagerie where they show how to make cheese and drove to Moleson resort village nearby. You can take gondola up the mountain, but we did not. So, Gruyers was a fairy tale town and don't miss it. A car is recommended. Also, try to park at the higher parking lot to minimize walk up the hill. There is a castle at the end of the main street but it was rated by Rick Steeves as mediocre and we saw many castles already, so we skipped it. A lot's of walks around.
Next day we went to Geneva to stay our last night before flight. It was Sunday. We drove to Geneva , saw some vineyards, Vevey. After the rest what we saw, Geneva did not impress us. Walked the parks, played large chess in one of the parks, visited monument J.J Russeau, walked old town.
Obligatory picture with jet d'aue (Geneva landmark). Surprisingly, many restaurants were closed on Sunday night, so we had to eat at our hotel Sofitel. The dinner was uninspiring, but hotel was very good and comfortable. The buffet breakfast was huge and looked more American then Swiss. We were ready to go home! Drove to the airport, returned the car and flew back. Again, the Swissair flight was excellent, a lot's of food, snacks, good service and on time. Farewell Switzerland, we will come back sometime!