Geneva & An Epic Swiss Road Trip!
Just before Christmas I had a few days to spare, a break in between my travels around the UK and Ireland, a gap in my diary which was just screaming out to be filled with an adventure! I began looking at where I could fly to from my local airport, Birmingham, and up popped Geneva, Switzerland, somewhere I had never been…and for around £70 return…Interesting! I have been using the TripAdvisor App on my Iphone more and more recently whilst planning trips as well as during my trips, it is massively convenient and useful. There are so many features I’m discovering which have proven so useful and filled me with inspiration.
I began looking for hotels on TripAdvisor in Geneva, a notoriously expensive destination. During my recent trips around the UK and Ireland I have been trying to stay in unique different types of accommodation and really wanted to continue this. Places where the stay itself was an experience, places full of personality. I rely on TripAdvisor reviews when picking hotels, many of the other booking sites use their reviews and ratings as well, it has pretty much become the industry standard, and knowing they are from regular visitors like me fills me with much more confidence. I searched for my dates and began scrolling through the hotels filtered by price and found one with a photograph which looked just like an alpine ski chalet! The Hotel Edelweiss was ranked 29 of just over 100 hotels available for my dates, I looked at the ratings and the majority were either excellent or very good, plus most of the reviews pointed out how helpful and friendly the staff were and spoke about the amazing restaurant. I checked out the users photographs and it looked just like the type of unique and interesting place I was looking to experience, it was within budget, decision made! I booked through the app as well, easy and secure and the booking is automatically stored in the app, another convenient feature. The app also brings up price comparisons with other sites prior to booking , like on the website, so I knew I was getting the best rate, which was actually by booking with TripAdvisor.
I pulled up the Switzerland destination guide on the TripAdvisor App and was met with a list of the Top Destinations…top of the list was Zermatt, accompanied by a picture of the unmistakable shape of the legendary Matterhorn mountain reflecting in the calm waters of a lake…how I would love to see this. I read the description about the village of Zermatt being car free, full of old fashioned brown chalets and winding alleys…amazing! I tapped on the map and realised that it was going to be a bit of a mission from Geneva…but then I started seeing the names of other places I had seen pictures of and read about, Grindelwald, Lauterbrunnen, Sion and the Rhone Valley…all places on my bucket list…that was it…decision made…ROAD TRIP!
When we arrived at the hotel it was just as the photographs I had seen on TripAdvisor, wood everywhere! They had really made a good job of making inside feel like you are away in the alps somewhere…the warm welcome from the staff on duty was as warm as the fire in the lounge area. Ok so the decor may have been slightly tongue in cheek in places, but it was certainly different, and fun! We were given free tickets for the public transport system and a map was explained, we were told which busses to take to get into the city centre, brilliant!
We were lucky enough to be upgraded to an executive room and it carried the chalet style theme through. The room was lovely and spacious with some nice extras like a Nespresso Machine and tea and coffee making facilities. The bathroom was really lovely, modern, spotless…just right. Once we had settled in and unpacked we headed for the centre of Geneva to explore and find somewhere to eat. We decided on walking to the city centre, it was easy from the hotel, about 10 minutes later we were on the shore of Lake Geneva.
By this time it was dark but the city was a pretty amazing sight at night, the buildings were lit up reflecting on the water, swans floating by, the colours were really cool. The city was quiet, peaceful, tranquil even, I guess this city is linked closely to business and with the United Nations Headquarters being here it is a city which is swollen in numbers mid week, as we were visiting so near to Christmas I got the feeling that so many of these people who swell the population had left or gone home over the festive season giving the city this peaceful feeling, an air of calm had descended!
We moved onto the historic centre, I loved exploring the narrow cobbled streets around the cathedral, this is more what I had imagined when thinking of Geneva, not the designer label topped buildings surrounding the lake! Old buildings with shutters around pretty squares, it is a lovely area to discover.
We found ourselves in Bourg-de-Four Square, Geneva’s oldest square lined with restaurants! We were hungry and spoilt for choice, a little travel weary, finding ourselves unable to make a decision on where to eat! I relied on the TripAdvisor App again and searched for restaurants near me and found the Brasserie du Bourg-de-Four, the reviews again on the whole were either excellent or very good with reviewers enthusing over the cosy atmosphere and the speciality Rostis! We went inside and the calm exterior hid the chatty lively but cosy atmosphere inside, we were lucky to get a table, a very popular little place, and no wonder…the food was great, and the Rostis were definitely worth the hype!
The Road Trip!
After a good night sleep back at the hotel we got up early and were ready for our epic adventure…the mountains were calling! Our route would take us around the northern shore of Lake Geneva past Lausanne, northeast towards Bern before sweeping southeast passing Interlaken arriving at our first destination Grindelwald. We would then retrace our route west with a quick detour to Lauterbrunnen, then turn south heading towards Zermatt. Once finished in Zermatt we would again retrace our route for a short distance north before heading west for Sion through the Rhone Valley then turning north back along the shores of Lake Geneva and back to our base in Geneva!
Driving in Switzerland was easy, the sat nav in our hire car worked perfectly. There are some toll roads, however, if you hire a car it comes with a pass, a small round token attached to the windscreen, which allows you access to these roads. On some routes, especially during winter months when some roads become impassable car trains are ran to get you through mountain passes.
Grindelwald is one of Switzerland’s oldest resorts and it is not surprising that it has been drawing the crowds for such a long time. The setting is just unbelievable, surrounded by some of the highest, most spectacular peaks in Europe… it is jaw dropping stuff. It is up there with the most breathtaking scenery I have seen. After stepping out from the car park in the middle of Grindelwald I just could not stop looking around me staring at this rugged beautiful world, it was hypnotic.
This is why I had wanted to do this road trip, I had wanted to hunt down these views, some of the best in Europe, and experience them for myself, even if just for a short time. Everyone has seen these kind of pictures, but the pictures almost seem like a fantasy world, a place you might never actually go to, a place which in the past, I may have dismissed as unachievable but it really is very possible to see these sights, experience these places, even during a short break!
We were so lucky with the weather as well, during the drive to Grindelwald we had come through fog and cloud but it had cleared just as we pulled into the town to reveal everything. I really don’t consider myself any where near an expert in photography but it was so bright it made capturing the scenery a little difficult.
Once you have finished drooling over the scenery here there is so much to do in Grindelwald. Skiing in the winter, hiking in the summer, every kind of adventure sport imaginable, cable cars to view points. There is also this tin slide where you slide down over 600 metres! You can really make the most of the scenery here.
Grindelwald blew my mind, it’s dream like, I was so pleased to have been able to lay my eyes on these sights but I need to go back…I need to be in those mountains and not just staring up at them, they are begging to be explored, there is some serious fun to be had here. After a snack and taking what seemed like thousands of photographs we accepted that we needed to carry on if we were to see everything we wanted to…I left knowing I would be back one day to take full advantage of everything this area had to offer!
We swung south and visited Lauterbrunnen and the valley of the 72 waterfalls! (the picture at the top of the page) It is an idyllic setting for this little village which pulls in visitors looking to try adventure sports like paragliding and base jumping. The valley is beautiful, but if you really want to see this area at its most spectacular, Spring during the thaw would be the time to do it and see the waterfalls in their full glory.
Part of the journey to Zermatt included a car train. I had never been on one before, the sat nav was ordering me to “Board Ferry” the poor old thing had been working overtime and got a little confused I think. The land train was really cool, we drove onto the rear of a carriage with hardly anything between us and mountain walls. The train cut straight through the middle of the mountain, a pretty amazing feat of engineering.
Zermatt is a car free village in the shadow of the Matterhorn, we did make the mistake of driving further than we were supposed to which created a lot of hand gesturing and people waving telling us to turn round! (When I say further than we were supposed to…almost into the centre of the village…don’t tell anyone!). Somebody thoughtful told us that if the police caught us it would be very expensive as he rubbed his fingers and thumb together…luckily we didn’t get caught! We parked up in Tasch the last town before Zermatt and took the short train ride into Zermatt.
The ski season hadn’t really started yet, the snow was late this year as well, but even so Zermatt was a really bustling lively place packed with restaurants, bars, cafes, gift and souvenir shops…very expensive winter sports shops! It is a pretty upmarket place catering for the expensive tastes of some of its visitors, but saying that, there was a lovely atmosphere here. We enjoyed browsing the shops, picking up Swiss chocolates and some gifts for those back home.
The main street in Zermatt is Bahnhofstrasse and following it along away from the station eventually leads you to St Mauritius Church with the Matterhorn Museum located next door telling the story of the mountain and those who have looked to conquer it. It is here where the street widens and the view opens up and we got our first glimpse of Switzerland’s pinup boy…the legendary Matterhorn!
What a sight, mystical, spectacular….impossible.
The summit pierces the sky at 4478 metres high, although it is not the very highest in Europe is has to be amongst the most breathtaking. I thought back to that first picture I had seen on TripAdvisor when planning the trip, the image which had planted that seed in my brain…this was a massive “WOW Moment!”.
Again I was hypnotised. People actually climb this thing as well, when looking at it from Zermatt it is difficult to understand how! Around 3000 people reach the summit each year…but it also claims the lives of around 12 each year. It is not to be taken lightly, for all its beauty, it has its ferocious side. Reading into it I found how climbers have to acclimatise themselves first for a period of time and then the actual climb is 12 hours of hard work…one day maybe!
The light began to fade, I knew we should make a move, but I just wanted to let it sink in.
As we walked away I couldn’t help but glance back just to get that one last image in my head! Mother Nature…wow! All those times I had seen the pictures and thought, maybe one day…maybe…AWESOME!
We caught the train back to Tasch to where we had left the car and set off towards Sion, it was already getting dark…when we arrived in Sion it wasn’t till around 9pm. There was a pretty Christmas market here with activities going on and stages with entertainment…it was packed! It was lovely though everyone was having fun and was full of Christmas spirit! Sion is a spectacular place with it’s two chateaux perched atop two hills overlooking the town. At night they are lit up as well and really do look dramatic. We went for food and made a pretty quick move afterwards.
So we had maybe bitten off slightly more than we could chew with this road trip…but…I am so pleased we chose to take it on. We could have stayed and fully explored Geneva, who’s top highlights in most guide books list a jet of water and a floral clock (Lake Geneva aside), and I’m sure we would have enjoyed ourselves, but I would have left with that nagging feeling in the back of my mind saying “I wish we had of done more”. Well we did more and I have no regrets!! So often when travelling there is that feeling of “I wish I had more time” but on a short break, just two nights, we went all out and created some incredible memories!
Switzerland may well be one of the most expensive places I have ever been to, but the scenery, the natural beauty, those moments which take your breath away are definitely priceless.
Thanks for reading…and the next time you have 3-4 days free…ask yourself…”Why Not?” and have an adventure!
My Travel Mission received support from TripAdvisor for part of this trip, but as always all opinions are my own.