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Holidays to Switzerland Travel Podcast Episode 71 Transcript

May 18, 2024 Last Updated on May 18, 2024

A winter family vacation in Switzerland

You can see the full show notes and listen to this episode > here.

Hi Nicole. Welcome to the Holidays to Switzerland travel podcast. It’s really lovely to have you here and to hear about your recent trip to Switzerland. Would you like to start by introducing yourself and telling our listeners a little bit about your trip and who went and what it entailed?

Sure. Well, hello, Carolyn. My name’s Nicole Riede. I’m from Sydney, Australia. We went to Switzerland with my family of four. My husband, who’s an engineer, I’m a schoolteacher in Sydney, and my two teenage children who were 15 and 17 at the time.

Great. Was this the first visit to Europe for all of you?

It was mine and my children’s first trip. My husband’s been there for work, so not really traveled or saw any sites in Europe when you’re doing a work trip. For all of us, though, it was our first trip to Switzerland.

Okay, lovely. Why did you choose Switzerland as the destination for this trip?

We were going over there to the UK to have a traditional English Christmas with my husband’s best friend, who’s been living in the UK for 10 years. We wanted to see Paris, and we were finishing in Milan in Italy. Switzerland, when we looked on the map, seemed a logical place to go in between all of those. I’d listened to your podcast and seen a lot of the Facebook photos and everything. Switzerland just seemed like a really pretty country to visit, especially during Christmas and the wintertime.

Great. It’s a logical destination, too, being in the middle of France and Italy. It made it very streamlined, I guess, for you. You didn’t have to backtrack or anything either.

Yeah, it was just one line, and we definitely wanted to finish with the Bernina Express on finishing in Milan. It just made perfect sense.

Okay, excellent. All right. Can you give us more of an inside look into your itinerary and how many days you were in Switzerland and what you did when you were there?

I would listen to your podcast actually every day that I was driving to work. And after listening to those, there was such great advice on there from travel experts. We decided Switzerland, we are people who like hiking and mountains. And we just thought, we’ll eventually go there one day to see the greenery and hiking. But we definitely wanted to go and see all the mountains.

My kids, we have done Canada and a bit of America, and we love nature. So we ended up basing ourselves in the Lucerne region. Although we looked at the Jungfrau region and thought that could be for another trip in a different season. So we caught the train from Paris to Basel and then into Lucerne and based ourselves there for five nights, rather than packing up suitcases every two nights. We just thought that would be a really good base.

Yeah, okay, great idea. So what are some of the things or some of the places that you visited whilst you were staying in Lucerne?

So we wanted to see all three of the mountains. Now, most people try and just choose one of the main mountains. We decided to do all three of them. So on day one, I think we went to Mount Titliss. We looked up the webcams and the MeteoSwiss app. And the night before, we just looked at the temperatures, and we decided day one, the best temperatures were in Mount Titlis. So that’s where we headed. We got on the train using the SBB app, and we made our way there, I think, to the base. Is it called?

Engelberg.

Engelberg, which was absolutely beautiful. We stocked up on some groceries, and that was my kid’s favorite grocery store actually. It was quite inexpensive. We just bought some bottles of Coke and some snacks to take on that trip up to Mount Titlis.

Okay, good. So you had one day there, and then you returned back to Lucerne for the evening. What about the next day? What else did you do?

So the next day, we went to I think it was Mount Rigi, where we again, we walked to the train station. But this time we caught a boat over to Vitznau, I think it’s called. And because my husband is an engineer and he volunteers on the Zigzag Railway in New South Wales, I wanted to show him all the different types of transport. We actually caught a cogwheel up to Rigi Kulm at the top and the snow started and everything on our way up there, but we could still see all the beautiful lakes.

We got out up the top and still, even though it was quite snowy, we walked around to the top station, had a look at the lakes, and then just had some food, a quick bite to eat, and got back on the Cogwheel. And that was just unbelievable. Nothing we’d ever been on before.

Yeah. For someone coming from Australia, we don’t see snow that often. And to be on a cogwheel train going up a mountain with it snowing, that would have just been magical.

It was absolutely breathtaking. It was beautiful. And catching the cogwheel down to the different side of the mountain and seeing some other lakes on the other side was just amazing. My kids were looking out the windows, not looking at phones. So it was really nice to see my teenagers engrossed in the scenery around them.

Yeah, fantastic. And Mount Rigi, the views from up there are quite different to what you see from Mount Titlis, aren’t they? Because at Mount Titlis, you’ve got the glacier. Whereas Mount Rigi, you get the views over all those different lakes.

Yeah, Mount Titlis was different because we went in the glacier cave, the suspension bridge, and all of that. And it was more adventure. And the kids went on some toboggans. Whereas we liked Rigi, it was just such a contrast with the lakes and just breathtaking scenery, I guess.

Yeah. Also, you visited Mount Pilatus as well. So you said that you did the whole three. What did you do at Mount Pilatus?

So we decided to go to Mount Pilatus. Again, we looked at the weather app, and we decided it was going to be… Although it can be foggy down below, up in the clouds and everything above that, it can be really clear blue skies. We saw that it was a good day again. We actually caught a bus, I think it was. Is it Kriens?

Mmh.

It was Kriens. Then we went on the chairlift to a halfway station. We got out at the halfway station where there were some rope climbing activities for the off season, but obviously we were there in winter. So instead, we just went for a walk through the snow, which was absolutely stunning. You felt like you’re on a movie set with all the pine trees. Again, there were lakes there. It was just, again, breathtaking. Different, again, to the other two mountains, really pretty. Just getting out and walking about in the snow was just amazing.

Okay. Did you go right up to the top, or did you just wait at the halfway station?

No. Then we got the big gondola, which was, I didn’t know my son was scared of heights like me. We got on and we had to move where we were because it was a long way down. But once we got on it and it was moving, it was just, again, spectacular. You could walk around while you’re on the gondola. Again, views on the left of an amazing lake. We could see down to Lucerne because it was, again, another crystal clear blue sky day. And on the right, all the pine trees, just amazing.

And then we got to the top station. It was quite windy at the top station, so we sat, had a nice coffee, waited for the wind to go a little bit, and then we went outside. But I think it did get to minus four with some winds at the top station, but so worth it. Just beautiful, like sensational.

Great. I remember when we were chatting previously about your trip and doing this podcast, that you told me a funny story about when you were at Mount Pilatus and you’re walking in the snow. Would you like to share that with the listeners?

Sure. So when we went for the walk in the beautiful white snow, my daughter had her air pods on. I actually wanted to do a little bit more hiking through there, but my family wanted to make their way to the top, so we had to turn around. As we got on that next gondola, my daughter realized that she had lost her one air pod actually. My son, with his tech savvy ways, had a look at its location, and he could see that it was somewhere where we’d walked in the snow.

But as you can imagine, looking for a white air pod in pure white snow, that was a little bit of an adventure, and we did not think we would find it. We walked and I actually trod on it and found it. My daughter was so excited and I was extra happy because I got to do my extra hike in the snow. So it was a win win for everyone.

Worked out for everyone. How amazing to be able to find it, as you say, with technology these days, you can track it, but to find it in the white snow. Well done. Okay. Aside from the three mountains around Lucerne, what else did you do when you were staying there?

We did spend some of the afternoons just walking around Lucerne, looking at Chapel Bridge in the Old Town. We went across and looked at the Lion Monument as well. But we did buy just a… Because we had actually, we purchased the Tell Pass, we were able to go on the Interlaken Express to Interlaken, and we got out there and we did do a bit of a day trip to Lauterbrunnen because I couldn’t wait for another trip to do it. So I wanted a bit of a taster and to show my family. I’d heard amazing things about the valleys in Lauterbrunnen.

So we did do that one day as well with some spare time. And it was just phenomenal. I can see why it was like a movie set or something for Lord of the Rings inspiration, and I can just see why – there were waterfalls. Even though people had told me in Switzerland in winter, you will not see any waterfalls, they’ll be iced over. I think we saw Staubbach, is that how you say it, falls. It was just, again, very different, again, because it’s valleys and massive mountains, but it was phenomenal.

Great. What about meals and eating out in the evenings? Did you just wander around Lucerne and find and find somewhere that looked appealing?

We did. Our first night there, we just found an Irish pub and it happened to be playing some basketball. With two teens, you can imagine they voted yes, let’s go in here. We just did some shared platters of tacos and things like that. That was a nice way to ease into Lucerne and to Switzerland. Other nights, because we did massive day trips, sometimes we would come back late at night and we would grab pizza, like a massive pizza. Even at the train station, we would bring it back to the hotel and there was a dining area at our hotel and we would eat that quite happily.

We just grabbed things on the go, went to some Coop supermarket, all those that I’d heard about on your podcast. They were just amazing. My husband was excited to find some 80 Swiss franc beer that he would grab and put out on our balcony to cool off in the night. He would have that sometimes back at the hotel. It was a few sit downs, but some on the go snacks. For us, it wasn’t about all the dining. It was about the adventure and the mountains and experiencing Switzerland.

Great. Okay. I’ll ask you shortly more about your accommodation and some of your highlights and things like that. But I know you said earlier that you really wanted to do the Bernina Express ride to get you down to Milan. Can you tell us a bit about that and if it lived up to your expectations?

Yeah. We did one night in Chur, which is where the Bernina Express leaves from, and we got up early. The Bernina Express, we’d pre booked the tickets and everything, and it surpassed our expectations. Even for my children, they were blown away by the scenery. Again, it was snowing, so snowcapped mountains. There were frozen lakes, and it was just breathtaking. I can’t even describe it. Nothing I’ve ever seen. I really think doing it in winter was really stunning. Just so different to anything we’ve ever experienced or seen before.

The beauty of the Bernina Express, you could get up and walk around. There was a window where you could pull it down and take photos and little videos. It was just amazing. Again, the panoramic windows were just amazing and let so much light in and we were lucky. Again, we had clear blue skies and we could just see everything. That’s stunning. Next level stunning. The switchbacks were amazing for my husband, who’s an engineer and works on railroads. There is nothing I could fault about the Bernina Express. On time, clean, quiet. Again, in winter time, there was hardly anyone on the train, so it was amazing.

Great. It sounds like Switzerland really turned on the weather for you when you were there. Were you there in January?

Yeah. We went around the sixth of January, and the weather, yes, was stunning. We were blessed every day. Every day we woke up, blue skies. I think we had a couple of hours of drizzle one day out of the six days. So someone was looking after us, that’s for sure, because it really put on a beautiful show for us.

Great. You talked about the Tell Pass before so I presume that you used that quite extensively when you were in Lucerne. What were some of the benefits of having the Tell Pass, do you think?

With the Tell Pass, because we were basing ourselves in Lucerne, everything I wanted to do with all the mountain excursions was included. The boat ride to Vitznau, all the mountain gondolas in Mount Titilis, there was an ice flyer chair lift, a glacier cave, everything was included in the Tell Pass for so us, it just made perfect sense. We downloaded the app onto the SBB pass, we’d show it to the train guard every time we were on, and we just used it absolutely everywhere. It was amazing. You can’t fault that at all.

Where else did we use it? Even to Interlaken Express, we didn’t realize you could use that to get yourself to Interlaken. It was just amazing. And we even ended up going half a day to a place called Stoos, because that was included as well. We had half a day left after Mount Rigi, and we went, “where else can we go?” And the Stoosbahn, we ended up taking the kids on, which they loved, but it wasn’t originally in my plan. But I went, “Oh, it’s included in the Tell Pass, why not?” So we did that as well.

Yeah, great. So the Tell Pass, for those people that don’t know, it acts like a hop on hop off ticket, doesn’t it? So you buy it for the number of travel days that you want, and then anything that’s covered, you just hop on as you like and show it, as you said, to the train guard or at the cable car station or whatever, and it just makes getting around so much easier.

Absolutely. I think we just bought the four day pass and used it every time. So easy to use. I would really recommend it, especially if you’re staying in the Lucerne area.

Okay, wonderful. What would you say were the advantages or perhaps disadvantages of traveling during the wintertime?

So many advantages. I think, firstly, it was less crowded than we’d anticipated. Again, the trains were really quiet and we could get a seat every time. We didn’t go first class. We just went in the second class. We always had seats with the four of us together. Being a family of four, I thought we might be separated on some trains, but we always got seating together. That definitely was a bonus.

Just seeing snow and just so different to Australia, such a contrast was really good. Just the fact that we had all the clothing and were prepared, I can’t fault going in winter. So many people told me it’ll be gloomy and depressing and miserable, and it was the complete opposite. I would do it again in a heartbeat in winter because it’s just so different to anywhere else at that time of the year.

Fantastic. What about taking clothing and things like that? Was that difficult?

To be honest, we’re a skiing family, so we do like the snow and that. But things I would recommend is that you buy layers. We packed thermals and we just rolled them up. They’ve become quite small. Some thick socks. We bought hiking boots that I actually sprayed with waterproof spray. As long as you have a puffer jacket that covers your hips and bottom, you’re pretty set.

One thing we really all used was the neck warmer, which I’d never bought before, so I did buy that rather than a scarf because that was really good on the gondolas and chair lifts. It doesn’t blow away like a scarf. It kept our neck warm. Then waterproof gloves and a beanie. But because you re-wore that puffer jacket every day, I wouldn’t say it made our luggage too bulky. So the packing of luggage for winter didn’t bother us either.

Okay, good.

How easy was it for you to find accommodation that was suitable for a family? Because I know sometimes families can struggle finding a room that can fit, say, four people in it. Was that difficult for you?

We actually got in quite early looking at accommodation. I think we booked nine months in advance. We had probably more options then than if you would book later. We went for Hotel Stern Luzern, which had family accommodation. It did have two double or two queen size beds, which some families may or may not like. But for us, it worked really, really well. It was centrally located near Chapel Bridge, near the train station, near bus stops, near the ferry port. It was really good. It offered a full breakfast. We could not eat all of the breakfast. It was perfect for us. But we looked, I think, on booking.com, different websites, and we just typed in what we were looking for. But I think getting in early is my greatest tip, if you’re a family, to try and pre book as early as possible.

That’s a great tip. You’ve told us what you did on your trip. What were some of the absolute highlights for you?

Definitely the Bernina Express, that was the highlight. Mount Titlis, we loved purely because of what it provided, especially for our teens when we got to the top. As I said, there was a glacier cave that we walked through, and then you had the option of going on an ice flyer chair lift, which you weren’t covered, but you got to see all the amazing valleys below and lakes, and going on a suspension bridge, Mount Titlis. Everything at Mount Titlis was amazing.

And the half station, Trübsee, we went and went on the little toboggans. Even my husband went on one, even though he’s a ski. He goes, I’m not toboganing, but he went on that. For adventure, Mount Titlis was a highlight, especially for the family. At the end, we had an apple cider because they had a DJ playing on the mountain, some music. It had a really awesome vibe. It surpassed our expectations. Mount Titlis was definitely a highlight.

Just all the different modes of transport, just very different to anywhere else we’ve been. The cogwheel, the gondolas, the Rotair in Mount Titlis as well that rotated 360 degrees, another highlight. Sounds like that one actually was our favourite mountain, doesn’t it?

How does someone like you, who is scared of heights, as I am, cope with a rotating gondola?

Well, I think you just immerse yourself in it all because I figured I’m either only ever doing this once, or I’ll love it and be back again. And I think you just forget all your fears once you’re on it. It’s like a ride on Disneyland, I guess. And you just do it. You give it a go. Although we did get some altitude sickness at the top of Titlis, which we weren’t expecting, but people were very, very helpful up there as well. But yeah, I just did all the gondolas. I forgot, well, I didn’t forget my fear of heights, but I just thought, I’m here. I’m throwing myself in the deep end here. You got to do it.

That’s right. Well, you don’t want to be the only one in the family that misses out, do you?

No. And there was one thing that I wasn’t going to do. And my daughter said, You’ve come all this way. You cannot miss out. And you’ve planned the whole holiday. So with that, I definitely did everything. Didn’t want to miss out.

Good. So have the kids mentioned anything that they were really impressed with, or what were the highlights for them? Do you think Titlis is one of those?

I think it is. But they did love the Bernina Express. They loved it when we went on the long train trip. They just put their own music. They created a Switzerland playlist for themselves. It was downtime for our family on the trains, and that was the other good thing. You go on these great adventures, but at the end of it, you might be on a one and a half or a two hour train, which was your downtime. They listened to the music. Even when they hear those songs now, it takes them back to Switzerland.

They loved how polite and friendly the people were. The town was so clean. They comment on all of it, but they loved the Coop stores and the Migros supermarket. They became supermarket lovers over there, which over here, they don’t really care where I shop and do my grocery. I just think the whole experience and Lauterbrunnen, and again, amazing. They just loved the whole experience, to be honest. Even though it was a bit of a nature holiday, which you would think nature and teens not necessarily go together, they still rave about it, and they would like to go back maybe in another season and do it again.

Fantastic. That’s great to hear. Was there anything about Switzerland that surprised you, or anything that you weren’t expecting?

I think, again, just the people. There was no language barrier. We’d just come from Paris, where there was a bit of a language barrier. I know they speak different languages in Switzerland, but once you would greet them with, they spoke English. The other surprising, just how clean it was. My kids kept commenting on how there was no graffiti, and the teenagers seem to respect the train stations and the trains. I think that surprises.

And just how stunning. I mean, you see photos and you think they’re photoshopped and on Instagram and that. And when you go there, it’s like, no, this is real. No one needs to Photoshop or add any filters to this. This is what Switzerland is like. It’s just truly stunning. The people, the culture, the surrounding, just everything about it.

Excellent. Before I let you go, do you have any tips for other travelers who are thinking about visiting Switzerland in the wintertime?

I would say try and book your accommodation a bit in advance. If you want to stay at a particular area. Definitely pack the right clothes. Packing the clothes we had just made the experience really comfortable. If we had a skimped on thermals or not taken woollen socks and things like that, it might have been quite uncomfortable, and we probably wouldn’t want to stay in the mountains as long as we did. But having all the right gear just allowed us to really stay up high in those mountains for as long as we wanted because we weren’t saying, Oh, my jacket’s wet, or My shoes are soaked through. We had waterproof boots and all the right equipment. That would definitely be my tip.

And taking water with you and things like that, if you’re going to do the mountain trips. To base yourself in only one or two places, don’t move around every day or every second day, because I think it’s better that you do something well than just try and see too many things. That’s why we were going to base ourselves in three places, and we ended up just basing in Lucerne and doing the day trips from there. And it’s the best decision we ever made, to be honest.

Yeah, great. That’s a really good point because moving hotels takes time. You lose time in the morning when you’re checking out, and then you lose time again in the afternoon or the evening when you’re checking in again. There’s a good chunk of your sightseeing time gone. If you’re traveling in winter, the days are shorter anyway. So you don’t want to waste any time if you can help it.

No, that’s right. We really only had to pack up and pack again on the last night where we went to Chur to base ourselves for the Bernina Express. Again, with teens and family, that was a really good decision.

Okay. How would you sum up your Switzerland trip in a couple of sentences?

Breathtaking, just sensational, something you have to see to believe. People talk about the expense. There is a way to do it. If I can do it as a family of four, you really can do it. Even on a bit of a budget, if you think about where you’re eating and cut some costs by shopping at grocery stores, I would do it all again just to go back there.

Fantastic. Well, I’ll be eagerly waiting to hear when that next trip might be, and if it’s the Lauterbrunnen and the Jungfrau region that you head back to.

Yes, I’m looking forward to planning the next one. I’ve got all the resources, thanks to you. So looking forward to the next one.

Fantastic. Well, thank you very much, Nicole, for sharing all that amazing information with us. I’m sure it’s been really helpful for anyone listening who’s planning their own winter visit to Switzerland.

Thank you. It was nice to share it all.

You can see the full show notes and listen to this episode > here.