Saturday, 28 May 2011

Switzerland, land blessed with nature grandeur. It's an amazing country nestled in between high peaks which remain snow capped through out the year. It's a joy to drive around tarmac noodles. This was my virgin trip to the country and as per recommendations from close friends I chose to drive around the country. It is the best way to experience the country and local residents are no in real rush. Roads to touristy places are normally quiet and the scenic routes run parallel to the train lines. 

Places visited
Zurich, Interlaken, Grimsell Pass, Zermatt, Stechlelberg, Schiltorn, Gimmelwald, Grindelwald, Engelberg, Mount Titlis, Lucerne, Trummelbach Falls, Susten Pass, Zug

Currency Used
Swiss Francs. However at major tourist attractions/shops Euro's are accepted as well.

Travelling around in Switzerland
Public transport especially the trains are ideal way to travel around. There are provisions in-terms of Swiss Pass, Swiss Half fare card etc. Advantages of having the cards are they entitle the cardholder discounts on the entrance tickets in major tourist attractions. Entrance tickets are pretty expensive and if the sole purpose of your trip is to visit all such attractions and as well use public transport, buying a Swiss pass would be ideal. For the tourists on wheels (two or four), there is Swiss half-fare card. Please lookup Switzerland tourism website for more information.

Day 1 - Zurich, Lucerne, Lungern, Wilderswil
Landed at Zurich airport and drove towards Interlaken. Made a choice of driving the scenic route as we had the whole day to explore before checking into the hotel in Wilderswill, Interlaken. There were some stunning scenery as we traversed through the small villages. On the way we passed Lucerne, which is one of the recommended cities on a tourist map. This place has a very big lake along with some history. Passed through this town and drove towards Wilderswill. Reached the hotel by 5pm as the sun was at it's best and we decided to settle down for the day having drove for some 150km.

Day 2 - Grimsell Pass, Zermatt
It was one of those dreadful days which looked gloomy from a tourist point of view. However not even the dull weather could deter our spirits and we set off to explore Zermatt. This Eco-friendly city is some 150km from Wilderswill in Interlaken. If you believe the GPS device, it would take you around in the longest and boring routes.

Grimsel Pass (2165m)
Lookup the map and you will find another scenic route that passes through Grimsel pass. You will have to cheat the GPS device by asking it to give directions to point which deviates into route 6/11. This route takes one through Grimsell pass and believe me it's worth the drive. The temperature drops from some 20 degrees at the bottom to -1 degree at the top. This should give the magnitude of change in altitude.
A view from top of Grimsel Pass

Once having defeated the altitude, it's another 80km drive through scenic routes enroute to Zermatt. One can drive upto a town called Tasch and then either hire a taxi or take the train into Zermatt. It's a small and cozy town which allows only electric vehicles to be driven within the city. Streets on this city are dominated by pedestrians and tiny electric taxis. As we were in the town when it was pissing with rain, we couldn't see much except for the old town. It's worth a visit.
Return Train Tickets to Zermatt from Tasch: 15 Francs per person
Parking in the Train station: 11 Francs for 8 hours

Day 3 - Schilthorn, Gimmelwald, Grindelwald
Met office had predicted a clear sunny day and boy it was one. The majestic snow capped peaks were once again visible through the hotel window. Done with breakfast we headed out to see one of the recommended peaks in Interlaken. It was the Schiltorn that we chose to head unto instead of Jungfrau, as the views from the top did not differ from either, except the Jungfrau is marketed well by the tourism board. Schiltorn offers the same beauty at much cheaper price.

Schilthorn (2970m)
Schilthorn is a 2970 meter high summit in the Bernese Alps in Switzerland, above Murren. It provides a panorama, which spans from the Titlis, Jungfrau, Monch and the Eiger. To get to the Schilthorn from the valley floor, a series of cable cars make up the ideal transport. It begins from Stechleberg leaving to Gimmelwald and then onto Murren. From Murren another cable car is taken to Brig, which is the final change before the Schilthorn. This cable airway is the longest and was the most technically challenging airway to be built and was completed in 1965. It is also possible to hike to the peak, however it takes having right equipment and good fitness. Experienced hiker would take 5 hours to reach the summit. There is a panoramic revolving restaurant at the summit, which is where 007 movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service was filmed. We spent close to 2 hours on the top taking pictures and gazing the natures beauty. Once having exhausted the appetite for snow covered peaks we wanted to shrug the awesomeness by walking down to Gimmelwald from Murren which is a cool 30 min walk downhill. Alongside the walks are the most beautifully located households and anyone would envy the residents who wake up to this awesome landscape. After having walked 30 minutes we felt the little peckish and it was lunch time as well. We settled down at Mountain hotel, which is right next to the cable car station at Gimmewald. The hosts are amazing and served freshly cooked food, made in authentic Swiss style. After having enjoyed the hospitality and tasty gastronomy, it was time to head down to the car and get to other viewpoints along the way.
Trip to top of the peak: 71 Francs per person
Parking: 5 Francs for a day

Grindelwald (The Upper Grindelwald Glacier - Oberer Grindelwaldgletscher)
This is one of the villages from where a cable car can be taken to head to Jungfrau peak. However we were there to trek up and catch a glimpse of what a glacier would look like in peak winter. The trek was strenuous with a very gradient walk up the mountain. It's about 30 minute climb up from the bottom. It would help if the walk is done late in the evening. After having reached the point, one can walk across a suspension bridge made of steel wires and wood platform, which bridges the gap between the glacier path. It sways when someone walks over and is a bit nerve racking when standing over a trench which is couple of hundred meters below. Water was gushing down the trench at full flow and the whole place had a feeling of "ghost town". After having snapped a couple we made our way down as it was close to getting dark.

Entrance to the Glacier: 6 Francs per person

Day 4 - Mount Titlis, Lucerne
This peak is placed in Engelberg and its located some 90kms north-west of Wilderswill, Interlaken. Lucerne is another scenic town with a touch of history. This town is close to Zurich and has caught up with 20th century.

Mount Titlis (3238m)
Its one of the highest peaks to which tourists can get upto, courtesy of modern day engineering. This is the only peak which offers final leg of journey on a rotating cable car. The internal floor of the cable car rotate enroute to the peak, which helps the tourists to get a 360 degree view of the approach to the summit. Its a nice experience. From the valley in Engelberg, the journey starts with a old fashioned simple cable car which can seat a maximum of 6 people. This cable car takes tourists through 2 stages of climb. Third stage of the climb up has a bigger version of the simple cable car, which takes more tourists. This leads to the final stage of climb, which is completed in Rotair (rotating gondola). After reaching the summit, there is plenty of space outside in the ice for tourists to get their hand dirty. However there is a IceFlyer which takes tourists to a snow playground, where tube-slide/slides are made available for free. The IceFlyer does cost 12Francs which can be included in the total price of the ticket to the top. Once having reached the playground, it is total fun to experience the slides. After having enjoyed the slides, whilst taking the IceFlyer back, a money making trick of taking pictures on the IceFlyer is layed out the top(starting point). Its not mandatory to buy the photographs however there is an option. Small frame costs 12Francs and a slightly bigger one will set you back 17Francs. The view of Junfrau, Schiltorn and many other peaks are amazing from the top of Titlis.
Trip to the top including IceFlyer: 98 Francs per person

This German speaking part of Switzerland has come a long way since its incarnation but has managed to retain its historic values and sites. Yachts and modern train station on the bay of Lake Lucerne give this  bustling town a modernistic touch. On the other side of the modern bridge, there is the famous Chapel Bridge which is built out of wood. Its lined with colourful flowers which gives this bridge a beauty to awe. At the end of the bridge is a chapel, which suggests why it was named so and both are majestic.

Lion Monument
This monument is in remembrance of the bravery, loyalty and sacrifice by Swiss soldiers during 17th century.  Its a dying lion which is protected by a shield during its dying moment. This monument is a 10 minute walk from Lake Lucerne/Train Station. Its clearly sign marked and its just the monument that is located at this place, surrounded by souvenir shop.

Day 5 - Trummelbach Falls, Susten Pass, Zug, Zurich Airport
Its the final day of our stay and we had planned to drive through one other alpine passes enroute to Zurich airport. Susten pass is one of 7 passes which is recommended for a drive and its 80km from Zurich airport. Zug is one of the picturesque town close to Zurich and ideal drive through alongside lake Zug.

Tummelbach Falls
This is located close to Wilderswil and a must visit. This is the only glacier waterfall which is accessible to tourists and paves way to 20,000 litres of fresh water every second, from the snowy peaks of Jungfaru and Eiger. The noise created by the water gush is so loud inside the caves, once outside of it, one does feel the sense of being deaf. Outside the falls is a very tranquil place which birds chirping and snowy peaks bordering this valley. Its amazing to see how the trenches have been carved by one of the forces of nature. Tourism has given a bit celebrity status to the falls by illuminating the dark walls of interior and the points at which the waterfall is visible. From the entrance of the fall to mid-way, there is a passenger lift. From mid-way to the top, its all stairs to the cave. It is a wonderful experience and a visual treat.
Trip to the top of the falls: 11 Francs per person (There is no discount offered for any type of Swiss pass)

Susten Pass (2264m)
There are 7 alpine passes which is recommended for tourists to drive and one amongst them is Susten pass. This is roughly 90km from Widerswil, Interlaken enroute to Lucerne and Zurich. The drive is amazing and route 6 leads the way to Susten pass. The dwindling way is most popular with the bikers and cash rich homo sapiens having expensive roadsters. The most expensive car I came across whilst climbing up the hills was Mercedes CLS. Its pure exhilaration when driving up and down these passes. The views along the way are indescribable and only personal experience can quench the awesomeness. I wasn't blown away by this as I had already done Grimsel pass earlier in my trip. If you are driving through Switzerland then drive through one of the passes is a must.

This is a old historic town very close to Zurich and and ideal pitstop before heading to the airport. Its less popular with tourists who resort to public transport / guided tours. Only tourists on four wheels would end up in this town and its location along Lake Zug is surreal. Old historic towns and narrow roads dominate the centre of this town.

Link to more pictures which were taken during my trip. Click here