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The Perfect Switzerland Lake and Garden Getaway

A 6-day itinerary including hotels, where to stay and eat, and what to do in Switzerland: Lake Lucerne, Lake Zurich, and Lake Geneva

Where else would we have eaten at least two chocolate bars, and pounds of the best cheese and prosciutto every single day? Switzerland of course! In my previous blogs I shared that my husband Tommy and I have been planning a quick getaway and in my blog “Apps and Tips for Travel Abroad” (link) and “Carmen’s Packing Essentials and Travel Hacks” I shared some tips to help you become your most prepared traveling self. Today, I want to tell you all about our trip! From drooling over all the beautiful baked goods I couldn’t eat to falling in love with the Swiss Rail system, our getaway was magical in every way! This blog post is going to contain the first leg of our trip with the second half coming soon! Let’s head to Zurich!

For every trip I take, I spend a lot of time researching the cities we travel to. I’ll watch tons of YouTube videos, read blogs, look at Instagram hashtags for the various cities and of course I love classic Rick Steve’s travel books. I don’t typically find this task daunting, in fact I love the I challenge of trying to find best of the best in every city. Because of this, I am huge planner and normally have every minute and detail planned of each and every trip.  But, we have been so busy with work and have a very busy fall ahead of us so decided to just do some research and then go with the flow. This was a very hard thing for me to do,  to let go and try to meander and discover, but it worked surprisingly well for us on this trip!

We flew into Zurich Airport which is a super easy airport to navigate. We then spent Friday and Saturday in Zurich.  We always try and leave on a Thursday before a trip to give us a long full weekend if possible.  We stayed in Zurich at the Hilton by the airport and they have an incredible shuttle twice every hour and the hotel was very friendly and very helpful. Now of course I love boutique hotels as I think they are a part of the traveling experience, but because I travel a lot for business as a Hilton Honors member, we usually plan our trips around Hilton locations because of the points we accumulate. We stay at Hilton hotels but always hunt down the gorgeous generational family hotels in the cities we visit to eat dinner and enjoy cocktails! Often times the boutique hotels will have recommendations for local events taking place so I am sure to always ask as we travel around.

Another way we save costs while traveling is by finding local grocery stores to buy food and plan many of our own meals. We love to picnic and also pick up unique foods or gifts and local grocery stores are the best place to find them. In Switzerland, this store for us was The Coop. It’s a large chain of retail and grocery stores across Switzerland. Normally, when we go on vacation, we go out to eat for many meals to experience local culture and cuisine but Switzerland was so expensive we ate breakfast every morning at the hotel because it was free. We chose to do a cocktail hour with hors d’oeures in the early evening, so we saved a ton of money. I think we only ate out four times the entire trip!

One last tip before I get in to our daily adventures- the Swiss Rail Pass! I just adore the Swiss Rail! We purchased our eight-day Swiss rail pass on Saturday at the airport (I strongly recommend doing this on site and not in advance). They are very helpful, and it saved us a ton of money as we were able to use it on all of the ferries, busses, trains, and other transportation and it was super easy to get around by using their app.  Make sure you have your passports when you buy these as they will ask for identification.

DAY 1

We took an uber into the city and walked around the Old Town to see the famous walkways lined with Swiss Flags.  We walked along the Limmat River with its incredible blue/turquoise color to the Lake Zurich Promenade to see the beautiful swans.  Old Town is filled with cobblestone streets and we were so tired and suffering from jet lag since we did not sleep on the plane and honestly, we were just trying to stay awake.  After walking around old town we headed up to the Dolder Grand Hotel via uber for a cocktail. Sitting on the veranda at the Dolder Grand, I was introduced to the Hugo cocktail which is reason enough to grow mint everywhere in your garden! We had decided we wanted to have fondue for dinner and after speaking with your server who explained in broken English that we could find a great fondue place after following a path through the woods. After walking for what seemed like forever, we did stumble upon a gorgeous restaurant decorated as a Swiss chalet. It was such a great local spot, not on any map, and it was a perfect end to our first day.

DAY 2

We took the easy 50-minute train ride from Zurich to Lucerne on our second morning.  Saturdays are market days in Lucerne with lots of market stalls filled with local fresh veggies, cheese, plants, and antiques. We strolled around the beautiful chapel bridge and the entire thing is like one large gorgeous window box! As you exit the train station you have arrived in the heart of Lucerne and the ferry terminals are not too far away and very easy to find.  After a quick morning stroll, we hopped on a ferry to the 1873 famed Burgenstock Resort that towers 500 meters above Lake Lucerne. The views from the ferry were just spectacular! At the ferry terminal we purchased our tickets to ride up to the Kehrsiten-Burgenstock. Once the ferry lands, then you take the train to the resort. The train runs every 45 minutes, so you want to time it just right. You will arrive at the hotel but there is also an incredible and very easy paved walking path along the entire top of the mountain with easy to follow signs.  We followed the path and as soon as you start walking you hear the infamous sounds of the swiss cow bells! Everything is so green, and it is exactly what you would imagine of the Swiss countryside.  If you leave the hotel and take a left and follow the path for about 45 minutes, you come to another famous hotel, Hotel Villa Honegg.  A must see for the views and cocktail on veranda!  Are you starting to see a theme in our adventures? We just walk miles and miles then stop have a cocktail and a snack and enjoy the view. 

DAY 3

We wanted to experience Lake Geneva and the cities around it and I always try to the find the cities where the locals’ vacation so Evian les Bains, France was the perfect spot.  We took a train from Zurich to Lausanne then from the main train station in Lausanne it was a short walk to the city subway metro (a railway that links the lakeside to the center of Lausanne). Then we walked maybe 15 minutes to the ferry terminal (everything is marked very well and very easy to find) and then ferried across (using the CGN ferry and they have boats that travel from each city on Lake Genenva) to Evian les Bains, France. All this travel was included in our Swiss Rail pass. If you find yourself waiting for a ferry, pay a visit to the bar and restaurant above the ferry terminal. It is a covered outdoor area with a casual rooftop bar.

The ferry ride was about 30 minutes each way but very relaxing.  Be sure not to travel on the ferry between 7-8:30 AM and 5-6:30 PM because a lot of people live in Evian les Bains and work in Lausanne so the ferry was very busy during these times.  Evian les Bains is actually the source of Evian water! The locals literally drive up to the fountain and fill all of their water bottles for free in a beautiful tile mosaic and you can too! 

DAY 4

On our fourth day we met our private tour guide in Montreux at the nearby train station and took a spectacular train ride with terraced vineyards on each side of the tracks.  Our guide took us on a behind the scenes tour of Queen’s recording studio and downtown Montreux, also known as the Swiss Riviera.  It is a colorful little city tucked away at the foothills of the alps. It employees 40 gardeners a year to maintain the flowers everywhere! What a dream job! Be sure to walk along the Quay – a path by the river filled with florals.  After a quick tour we headed to the vineyards of Lavaux, one of the best 10 best wine travel destinations for 2019, for wine tastings. The vineyards cover 2000 acres and have been there since Roman times!  There is a walking path but it was nice to have our tour guide Karla take us to all of the hidden spots like Le Deck, a great stopping point for lunch and wine.  This area is known for their white wines made from the Chasseles grapes.  After our tour we enjoyed a peaceful afternoon back in Montreux at the Grand Hotel Suisse Majestic enjoying the cooler weather and breathtaking views.

DAY 5

We explored Evian les Bains walking for miles and miles enjoying this lakeside town and the old homes.  I found the most interesting planting combinations in this town.  Every street was planted with colorful combinations and all very unique.  For the second part of the day we took the ferry to Les jardins de l’eau du Pre Curieux. It is must see and extremely inspirational…and they only way you get there is by ferry.  We listened to a lady tell us about the garden in French for two hours, but the funny thing was that we could only somewhat understand what she was telling us!

DAY 6

We day trip to Gruyere, Switzerland. Yes, where the famous cheese comes from! We left Evian early in the morning and took the ferry to Lausanne and used the trip to watch the sunrise over Lake Geneva and the alps. It made waking up early so worth it! After the ferry we hopped on the Golden Pass Train to Gruyere.   The views from the train were idyllic and the view of Montreux and the vineyards as the train climbs the mountain were beautiful.  It took maybe 1 ½ hours and drops you off at the small train station in the middle of Gruyere.  Across the street is the touristy tour of the cheese factory. We popped in for a second to grab a bite to eat (they have a fabulous bakery and grocery store) and watched a quick demo of how they make the cheese. It is an extremely clean process and so interesting.  We then took the bus up to the Gruyere’s castle.  The medieval town around the castle is somewhat touristy but we truly enjoyed the castle. In the foothills of the alps is a medieval fortress from the 13th century.  It houses prestigious collections of china, antiques, and of course an incredible French parterre garden filled with roses and dahlias…oh my heavens!  We purchased an audio guide that did a fabulous job explaining the castle.  It took about 2 ½ hours and we explored every room and it was very well laid out.  This is a great day trip and we finished off by watching the sun set over Lake Geneva as we traveled back to Evian les Bains.

If you haven’t yet made it to Switzerland, you must go and put it at the top of your bucket list immediately! Everything is so clean and neat, the views are absolutely breathtaking, the fresh air is so crisp, and the trains are the best in the world and super easy to navigate, making it very easy to get around the entire country.  And of course, since it was the end of summer everything was in full bloom. The streets are filled with flowers, the window boxes are brimming with red geraniums, and the bakeries are just full of goodies waiting for you! Tune in soon for the second half of our Switzerland journey!