Where: Zermatt and Wengen, Switzerland
When: June 2013
Hotel: Unique Hotel Post in Zermatt and Hotel Belvedere in Wengen
Why Switzerland: One of my co-workers told me he wanted to go on a road trip for his birthday and a plan started to roll from there. Two places were thrown out when we started talking about heading south to Switzerland: the first was to Zermatt to see the Matterhorn before circling back to the Eiger North Face. It was a bit overwhelming to plan, mainly because each of these locations is accessible only by train. That’s right – no cars allowed, mainly due the location. So logistics included getting down there, deciding which town to park in and the best way to see both locations in the 3-day, 2-night time frame that we had! The good news? It all worked out and was an absolute blast. It also doesn’t hurt that Switzerland is hands down one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.
The Trip: The first logistical “nightmare” was finding a hotel that had one room for three people and four rooms for four people – seven of us were taking the trip, one was my co-worker and his two daughters that were visiting for the summer, and the second was the four of us that all kind of wanted our own room. Luckily, as expensive as Switzerland is (seriously, the rumors are true. That is one expensive country!), thanks to the go-to travel website, http://www.booking.com, we were able to find the number of rooms we needed in the location we wanted at a price that was more than reasonable!
Next was figuring out the best path to take, and it was decided that we would first drive from Stuttgart to Täsch, park the car and take the train to Zermatt (remember, Zermatt is car-free, so you have to park in a separate town and take the shuttle train in to the town.) On day two, after spending time exploring the Matterhorn, we would drive to the Lauterbrunnen Station to take another train to get us to Wengen. It is another car-free village that took us right to the back of the Jungfrau-Eiger-Monch mountain range. Wow – it took a LOT of logistical planning.
But it was totally worth it when we went driving by Lake Lucerne (3 hours into the drive) and were afforded this view:
I have never seen water that color before – but it was gorgeous…everything was so beautiful! Although, there is a good chance it was freezing cold water – it was so incredibly picturesque! We definitely had to get a few pictures in before climbing back in the car and continuing on. Now, Google Maps said the trip would take a little over 5.5 hours – which is probably true, except when you miss an exit thanks to poorly positioned construction signs. But when you miss the exit, as is the case in most of Europe, the next exit isn’t just a mile away. In this case, it wasn’t until after we found ourselves going through the third-longest tunnel in the world, the Gotthard Road Tunnel, that we were able to make the turn around. And at that point, we had no interest in going through the tunnel again and then opted instead to take an overpass – which helped us see beautiful sights we would have never seen but also tacked on about four hours on to the trip.
But we got to see this:
Being as it was June, and the sun doesn’t set until around 9:30 p.m. (or later), we were still able to make it to Zermatt with a little sunlight left. Although we were starving and tired and just needed a beer – thankfully, the Hotel Post provided a restaurant that was able to provide solutions to two of the three problems!
Well-rested and up early the next morning, we opted against taking a tram to the top of the Matterhorn, which proved to be a good choice as the clouds collapsed around the top of the mountain which meant we would have seen nothing. Instead, we decided to take one of the many hiking paths around the Matterhorn. And a hike it was – definitely up a mountain as suggested but so pretty that it was worth it! (Honestly, if you really want to travel up the Matterhorn plan for an early morning and/or check the weather report…it’s not easy to find the perfect time when the clouds aren’t covering the view!)
After a quick bite to eat, we made our way back to our car for the 2.5 hour car ride to the Lauterbrunnen Station for our second adventure of the trip! Switzerland has a hand full of driving passes that go over the mountains but for the most part, tunnels are a vital part of traveling through the country by car. And sometimes, those tunnels aren’t even accessible with car – so you may find yourself driving the car onto a train and sitting in the car as the train takes you to the other side of the mountain. This happened on our trip – and it was definitely a first!
It took some researching to determine which village would be best to stay in for a trip to the Jungfrau-Monch-Eiger mountain ranges as there are several choices. But Wengen was one of the closer ones and a main stop on the Jungfraujoch – the train that takes you to the top of the mountains – not to mention, the hotel was once again perfect in terms of price and availability (and had a bar that proved cheaper than most other options!)
We decided to wait until the morning to take the train and instead enjoyed the Wengen village – another peaceful, not too touristy town that was car-free. It was very relaxing to sit outside and take in the view!
The next day, there was no question, we were taking a train on the Jungfraujoch Railway to the Jungfraujoch, which is where you find the “Top of Europe” building that is a five-level visitor center that includes the opportunity to walk out on the Aletsch Glacier and has an ice-scultpure museum inside the glacier. The Jungfraujoch is the highest railway station in Europe and is more than 100 years old! Not to mention, it allows views of the Eiger-Monch-Jungfrau mountain range that is considered one of the most symbolic of ranges of all the Swiss Alps. It was for sure an experience! (It should be noted, however, that it is NOT a cheap experience – the cost of the train ride was around $180, although there are discounts for families. Don’t let the steep price deter you – it’s definitely worth the cost!)
Final Impressions: From Wengen to Stuttgart is only about a 4-hour drive…allegedly! Just watch out for faulty GPS’, rush hour traffic and multiple tunnels that only aid in the malfunction of the GPS! We made it back before sunset – tired but definitely happy from the experience! Overall, I still believe that Switzerland is an amazingly beautiful country – the prettiest I have seen. Away from the larger-known cities such as Zurich, the villages are quaint and have remained mostly untouched by over-commercialization. It is well-worth a stop – if only to admire the unbelievable natural beauty of this country. Oh yeah, and the chocolate really is that good! 🙂