This episode goes out to Terry Romp, who taught us kids that even the sketchiest travel moments turn out to be funny stories when you look back on them. And once this is learned, you can find the funny in any moment. Happy birthday Terry, the only guy I've ever fought a scorpion with.
After back to back weekends hiking in Cinque Terre, Italy and admiring tulips in the Netherlands, we decided to use a long holiday weekend to drive south from Luxembourg into the Swiss Alps. We last visited Switzerland in 2004 when we were studying abroad in college. We spent our time canyoning and exploring Interlaken, Bern and the tiny Alpine towns in the surrounding areas. This time, we decided to have Lake Lucerne as our base. We booked a traditional Swiss chalet that sat just at the water's edge.
We headed out of Lux midday Friday and made it to Lucerne in just under 5 hours. We hadn't driven this far south from Luxembourg before, so most of the drive was new scenery, which, along with a few podcasts, helped the drive pass quickly. While looking at the map on our route, Dave realized that our old favorite towns of Interlaken and Murren were only an hour away, so we shifted our plans for the weekend and made a pact to retrace our steps the next day.
We checked into our chalet room, known as "Unterwalden" and were delighted to see we had a balcony overlooking the lake. We checked out our spacious room and then headed outside to walk out on the long lake piers and watch the sun set over the surrounding mountains. We were buzzing with the crisp, cold air and mountain beauty. We called our families on FaceTime to try to give them a glimpse of the dynamic natural views. We then went back inside to the family-run chalet restaurant and enjoyed good wine and a strange interpretation of a veggie burger, which was more like friend potato patties over steamed cabbage. Then we hopped up to our room to watch the stars from our balcony.
The following morning, we woke up at sunrise and drove for an hour up into the mountains and through miles-long tunnels to Lauterbrunnen, a gorgeous valley town at the foot of the Alps, with mountain waterfalls and crystal-clear streams in abundance. We boarded a gondola that lifted us high above the valley floor past the tree line and then we took a traditional train along the snowy mountainside to Murren. When we first visited Switzerland, we stayed in Murren for a long weekend, so we enjoyed reminiscing on our old spots and taking in the traditional Swiss architecture and towering mountains surrounding us. We walked through Murren on the way to our next gondola, which took us midway up to the 10,000 foot Schilthorn peak. The first gondola stopped at a tiny plateau that included an outdoor cliffside "adventure walk" that we would check out later. We boarded one more gondola that took us vertically up to the top of the Schilthorn.
We first visited the mountain because it was the home of the villain's mountaintop lair in the Bond classic "On Her Majesty's Secret Service". After filming the movie, the filmmakers turned the helipad into a viewing platform and the lair into a rotating restaurant with constantly changing views of the jagged Alpine peaks as far as the eye can see. We spent some time just taking in the views and amusing ourselves with Asian tour groups posing with the James Bond cut out before heading up for a champagne breakfast. We feasted on a traditional Swiss breakfast and counted our blessings to be back again completely immersed in the Alps. Before making our descent, we checked out a James Bond movie museum and played around in a helicopter used to film the movie on the mountain.
We took a gondola a couple thousand feet down to access the "adventure walk". The walk featured a grated narrow metal walkway wrapped around the mountain cliff. Within the walkway there are portions with glass floors, wire tightropes and a woven tunnel to crawl through that hovers hundreds of feet over the ski slopes below. We played around on the course for a while and then took another gondola down to Murren. From there we hiked on gently sloping mountain paths down to Gimmelwald, a traditional Swiss farming town. While checking out the town, we came across cows with bells, baby sheep, pigs, cats and goats. We had the whole town seemingly to ourselves and we felt like we were characters in the movie "Heidi" as we drank Alpine glacier water from a hollowed out tree trough lined with wildflowers.
From Gimmelwald, rather than take the final gondola down to the valley floor, we decided to attempt a hike on the summer trail down a couple of miles in elevation. We assumed as we moved further down, the snow lining the trails would dissipate, but it ended up being just the opposite: as we headed down the seasonal path, we realized that it hadn't been used for months and the winter snows were still fully intact. Although we were both wearing trainers and the temperatures were in the 50s, we ventured through drifts of waist-deep snow across rock slide and avalanche areas and over mountain streams for nearly 2 hours. We were thousands of feet from the ground surrounded by snow drifts with no people in sight. As we pressed on though and the valley floor became visible, we felt joy breathing in pure oxygen and scanning the streams and mountain walls surrounding us.
We made it to the ground level and took a local bus back to our car to return to Lucerne. We stopped along the way to marvel at wildflower-filled rolling hills, crystal-clear lakes and mountain vistas in Interlaken and enjoyed a Thai lunch. For dinner, we picked up snacks at a local grocery store and passed out early, knowing we had to wake up at sunrise again the next day.
On Sunday we woke up at 5am and drove around the perimeter of the lake, up several winding switchbacks to a luxurious hilltop hotel named Villa Honegg. After undergoing an extensive renovation that included a state of the art infinity pool overlooking the lake and Alps, the hotel invited an Instagram influencer to post a few pictures and the views from the pool became a social media sensation. Erin saw a picture on @natgeotravel almost a year ago, and immediately called to get an appointment at the spa, which includes pool access. There was a six month wait, so we scheduled our appointment to coincide with a 3 day Lux weekend and marked our calendars - today was the day.
The wait was worth it. We arrived just as the sky began to change from starry black to pink and orange, and we had the entire spa to ourselves, including steam rooms, saunas and Hermes bath and skin products, but the real treat was the pool. In Europe, it's very common for pools to have connected indoor and outdoor components, we started inside by dipping into the super heated Alpine water and ventured outside to the wraparound infinity pool that featured mountain and lake views in all directions. Within the pool, there were built in loungers and adjustable jacuzzi jets, so we lounged around and watched the sunrise in a perfectly clear sky above the mountains, turning the white snow caps bright pink. This was definitely one of our best travel moments, and the epic views combined with the luxurious surroundings and healing waters were a highlight of our move to Europe.
After milking the spa experience for a few hours, we headed back to our hotel for a massive Swiss breakfast of fresh bread, 3 minute boiled eggs, smoked salmon and warm chocolate and nutella croissants. We headed back on the road after chowing down to check out the Aare Gorge, a section of a pristine, neon blue river that cuts through a limestone ridge in the Bernese Oberland region of the country. We cut through tunnels dug into the limestone and climbed along elevated paths through the narrow ridges worn by glacial waters over thousands of years and had a picnic lunch at the base of a waterfall.
Stanserhorn Rooftop Gondola
A few weeks before our trip, Dave sent Erin an instagram post of a new type of gondola that allowed passengers to ride on the roof of the gondola as it ascended thousands of feet to the top of a mountain. It just so happened that this new gondola was 15 minutes from our hotel, so we had no excuse not to give it a try. We drove from the gorge through quintessentially Swiss villages and ended up at the base of the gondola station. To access the mountain, we first took a traditional cogwheel train and then hopped aboard the two-floor gondola. We entered onto the main floor and then took a spiral staircase to the top, which was surrounded with armpit-high safety bars but was otherwise wide open.
As we continued to climb in elevation, the town below became barely visible. We crossed the snow line and then the tree line and looked out to views of lakes and mountains for miles. Once we reached the top we observed some local Swiss dudes who somehow transported an inflatable hot tub to the top. They were drinking beers and throwing snowballs at visitors - definitely a sight to see. We took in some epic views along the 360 degree viewing platforms and enjoyed a mountaintop snack before pushing our way to the top for a rooftop ride down, which was a little scarier as the gondola careened forward a bit on the descent.
Random Observation: The bathrooms in Switzerland are immaculate, always - even in gas stations.
On our way home, we picked up a veggie pizza and camped out in our room, watching childhood movies like Happy Gilmore and observing the thousands of stars lighting up the sky from our balcony. We woke up the next morning, indulged in another deliciously naughty hotel breakfast and then hit the road to make it back to Lux in the early afternoon, as we were heading on a business trip to London the following morning. The combination of the classic architecture, spring wildflowers, wide open spaces and jagged, massive Alps makes Switzerland a must see spot in Europe.
Check out our Swiss Alps travel films below:
Expat Adventure Blog