Look at this pot of cheese. Look at this fashionable cow. Look at those lush green mountains. Guys, Switzerland is fake. It's a fake fantastical milkmaid's dream. It is too beautiful to be true, except it is and you can go there. And then you will eat bricks of chocolate and buckets of cheese while you pet cows and you won't want to go home but then you'll be broke so you'll need to. Only to plan your return.
My dad visited recently and while planning our trip, suggested we go to Switzerland. And okay, let me preface this by saying I'm not a spoiled brat, but I was kind of relieved because my husband and I hadn't visited yet because we heard it was very expensive. But, a visit from the folks usually means a little help on the expenses here and there, so um, yeah dad, let's go to Switzerland. I was in.
And I'm so glad we did go. My father and I, accompanied by his girlfriend, had a beautiful trip full of indulgent food, breathtaking views and cool, refreshing mountain air. We were so impressed by the efficiency of the Swiss, with their clean roads (they were literally scrubbing moss off rocks while we were there) and seamless public transportation, that it was a marvel almost as impressive as those gorgeous Alps.
We stayed in the Bernese Oberland, a region of Switzerland with higher Alpine altitudes like the Jungfrau peak, beautiful lakes (Lake Thun and Brienz) and all the dairy cows your heart desires. We were nestled between the larger cities of Lucerne and Bern, but had no desire to venture into the city, preferring to enjoy the Swiss countryside, which was kind of the whole appeal of Switzerland in the first place. If cow-watching and chalet-sittin' sounds like your thing, 1) let's be friend and 2) this is the guide for you.
WHAT WE DID:
- Ate every piece of Swiss food we laid our eyes on: I kind of forgot about all the amazing things that the Swiss make before we arrived across the border, and then I was greeted by pots of fondue, windows of beautiful chocolate and all of the gruyere my heart could desire. Seriously, that pot of fondue could've fed me for 3 days, and I would've been satisfied with every bite. I mean, the Swiss make great watches and knives, but their food is understated but fantastic. I was also surprised to find a lot of really yummy hash browns (for dinner! Who'da thunk?), plenty of brats, and lots of meat slathered in gravy. We ate well, my friends.
- Stopped for a picnic at Valle Verzasca: We drove through Italy to get to Berner Oberland, and the perfect halfway point was the gorgeous Valle Verzasca. The road follows a river along, and the hot spot to park is where the bridge is (we just used the Google maps point for Valle Verzasca). We brought some sandwiches and drinks and hopped out of the car to stretch our legs, dip our toes in the water, and admire the intensely blue water and incredibly smooth, marbled rocks. There's also hiking in the area, but it was a perfect place to just stop right off the road to admire some nature before hopping back on the autostrada.
- Avoided the city of Interlaken: I'd heard mention of Interlaken before we went to Switzerland, and actually looked in that area for our lodging, since it sits literally between the two beautiful lakes in the region. However, I'm very glad we didn't stay there, as the town was incredibly overrun with very wealthy tourists, leading the town to feel very stale and without any of the lovely rustic Swiss charm we'd come to love. I'd honestly recommend skipping the town completely, as it was mostly luxury shops, tourists and casinos, with nothing authentically Swiss about it.
- Fell in love with Lauterbrunnen: One city I was totally pleased with and glad we visited was Lauterbrunnen. I saw some travel blogs from the region just in my regular internet perusing and randomly threw out the suggestion as we were developing our itineraries, without much thought. It ended up being my favorite city of the trip, as it's so lovely and beautiful, with intense green grass, little wooden chalets and located right in the valley. I know a lot of tourists were there, but it didn't feel touristy, plus it's got a gorgeous waterfall running into the town. After I returned from our trip, a friend asked me if I visited the Trummelbach Falls while we were there, and I totally didn't (I didn't do much research for our trip — my bad!), but she raved about it, so one-up me and go.
MORE STUFF WE DID
- Literally partied until the cows came home during the alpine cattle descent: Lauterbrunnen was also amazing because we happened to arrive in the middle of the alpine cattle descent — where the cheese-making dairy cows come down from the tops of the mountains into the valley for the winter, so they won't get stuck in so much snow. It was such a lovely tradition, watching the farmers walk their cows into the city, the cows decked out in gigantic bells and beautiful floral wreaths. Many of the Swiss folk wore their traditional clothing, and we even heard yodeling, you guys — it was a dream. Some of the farmers apparently also carry wheelbarrows of their cheese behind their cows, to basically show off how superior their cows are. I could not get over how lucky our timing was or how lovely the entire tradition was. If you can, go to Switzerland at the end of September/early October to see the cows come home. You won't regret it.
- Took the most expensive, but breathtaking, train ride ever: My father was dying to take a train while we were in Switzerland, but our Airbnb host told us that train travel was actually ridiculously expensive. I was skeptical at how expensive it could be, but found the prices to be shocking — around 50-80CH (almost the same in dollars or euro) for a short round-trip ticket for one person. He recommended that if we did really want to spend our money on a train ride, that we should take one of the cable cars up to an Alpine peak. We decided to take the train from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen, and then a cable car up to Männlichen. We really enjoyed the views, but unless you're a train enthusiast with money to spare, driving would definitely be cheaper and also possible. For my father, it was the highlight of his trip, so for him it was worth it. Watch the weather too, so you can make sure if you go up to one of the peaks, that there is actually a view to be seen!
- Took in the Alps and the sounds of cowbells at our own chalet: We loved our little chalet in the town of Spiez just off the lake, about a 30 minute drive from Lauterbrunnen. Our Airbnb hosts, Andy and Julia, rent out the top apartment with two bedrooms and a kitchen, which is what we stayed in, but also run a bed and breakfast for three standalone bedrooms. We totally loved the place, with it's gorgeous wooden interior, but our favorite part was just sitting on the porch and listening to the clink-clink-clink of the cowbells of the dairy farm on the property. The property also had a gorgeous garden, a firepit and a big, friendly Bernese mountain dog, Sofie. You can also book the apartment for a bit cheaper through a separate Swiss website, so we'll be using that for our return stay! But if you haven't used Airbnb before and want to go that route, feel free to use this coupon code for $25 off your first night. If your accomodation needs can't be met here, I would suggest staying near Lauterbrunnen or along one of the lakeside towns, but not in Interlaken.
- Came home broke: Switzerland was lovely and honestly, I kept commenting on how fake it looked, it was so beautiful. The entire country was like a caricature of itself — it was stereotypically Swiss in absolutely the best way, with the cows and the sheep and the chalets and lush valleys and intimidating mountains. However, it's an incredibly expensive country, though it's maintained impeccably. So, come prepared to shell out for food and transportation, and definitely consider lodging with a kitchen so you can make some food yourself to cut back on expenses, if you need to! Our Airbnb even came with a fondue pot, so we could've had a homemade cheese party for every meal! But views are free, so if that's why you're going to Switzerland (which is worth it alone), you'll be plenty happy.
Photos and text © copyright Katie Currid, 2016. All rights reserved.