Tag Archive | "Switzerland"

Swiss Trains & the Italian Lake District with National Geographic Expeditions

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Swiss trains?

The best in the world.

National Geographic Expeditions?

A guaranteed way to enjoy group travel with an expert who takes you inside a destination.

So I’m thrilled that National Geographic Expeditions has asked me to take two groups of travelers on National Geographic Expeditions trips to Switzerland next summer.

On Swiss Trains and the Italian Lake District, you’ll experience the Alps and the beautiful lake of Northern Italy, as well as ride on some of Switzerland’s legendary trains, including the Glacier Express and the Bernina Express.

From the twisted peak of the Matterhorn to the breathtaking vistas of the Bernina Pass, you’ll soar high above Zermatt in a gondola, and enjoy a choice of hikes, walks, and tram rides through beautiful mountain landscapes. Then cross the Alps into Italy and cap off the trip on the shores of stunning Lake Como.

Departure dates are July 10-19, 2015 and July 24-August 2, 2015.

Visit National Geographic Expeditions to learn more

Lausanne’s Night Watchman

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Smart Deals: Swiss Pass

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The Bernina Express, one of the trains you can ride with your First Class Swiss Pass from Rail Europe

The Bernina Express, one of the trains you can ride with your First Class Swiss Pass from Rail Europe

What’s the Deal:  From Lake Geneva to the slopes of the Matterhorn and the streets of Zurich, Switzerland is the best country in the world to ride the rails. This summer, Rail Europe is offering a First Class 8 Day Swiss Pass that includes free WiFi and and Luggage Service amenities.

Details: The First Class Swiss Pass gives you unlimited travel on the Swiss Travel System including trains, buses and boats with scenic routes such as the Glacier Express, Golden Pass Line or Wilhelm Tell Express, public transportation in 41 Swiss cities, a 50% price reduction off most mountain railways, and free admission to more than 400 museums in Switzerland.

Fine Print: You get free Fast Baggage Service and free Swisscom 8 days WiFi Pocket Connect device per booking of the First Class 8 Days Swiss Pass Summer Promotion from June 13 through July 30, 2013. Fast Baggage service provides same-day luggage delivery within Switzerland between 46 cities and holiday destinations. In addition to a luggage-free ride, travelers will have access to free mobile internet anywhere within Switzerland through the Swisscom Pocket Connect which will never include roaming or WiFi charges.

Cost: Prices begin at $679 USD** for the First Class 8 Days Swiss Pass Summer Promotion.

Booking: Visit Rail Europe’s website at RailEurope.com

Entranced by Switzerland’s Appenzell

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Hiking routes sign at the Kronbergs summit

Hiking routes sign at the Kronbergs summit

Story and photos by Monique Burns

Just two hours’ east of Zurich, Appenzellerland is Switzerland’s most traditional enclave.  Think cows and cowbells, farms and meadows.  City folk who appreciate good food, cozy lodgings, pristine mountain scenery and colorful primitive art will be entranced by Switzerland’s most bucolic region, just across Lake Constance from Austria and Germany, and bordering Liechtenstein.  No fewer than four cable cars glide up the Alpstein range, where visitors can enjoy easy walks through rolling meadows, or hunker down in mountain lodges for long leisurely lunches.  Foodies can learn the art of sausage-making at a local butcher shop, visit a cheese factory, or taste traditional pastries at bakeries and cafés.   When the day is done, there are superb restaurants serving farm-fresh fare, and hotels ranging from quaint country inns with hand-painted furniture to five-star resorts with luxury spas.

From Zürich HB, the Swiss capital’s central station, trains depart regularly for the town of Appenzell, with a stop in the city of Gossau.  Or take the train from Zürich to the pleasant metropolis of St. Gallen, known worldwide for its centuries-old textile and embroidery industry.  From there, change for the little red train that chugs its way through the countryside to the town of Appenzell.   Either route is scenic and takes just under two hours.

Bucolic mountain road in the Alpstein

Bucolic mountain road in the Alpstein


Tiny Appenzell is a peaceable kingdom of fountain-adorned squares, narrow cobblestone streets and wooden chalets with colorfully painted facades.  A five-minute walk from the train station, check into an “Appenzeller-zimmer,” with old-fashioned canopy beds and painted wardrobes, at 28-room Hotel Löwen.   You’ll also find a traditional wood-paneled dining room, a spacious breakfast room, a bar and a sunny courtyard garden.   Stay three nights in any area hotel and receive the Appenzell Card, offering such discounts as free cable-car rides and museum admission.

Right outside your hotel door, on Hauptgasse, Appenzell’s main street, the Löwen-Drogerie, a bright-red chalet adorned with paintings of herbs, sells its famous herbal liqueur, Innerrhoder Kapuzinerbitter, as well as herbal teas and tinctures.   At nearby Spezialitäten Metzg Wetter, taste traditional cold-cuts like mostbröckli, thinly sliced dried beef, and alpenklüber, cervelat and schüblig sausages.

Amble a few blocks west, past souvenir shops selling wooden milking pails and leather suspenders adorned with brass cow medallions.  At Drei Könige bakery and café, sample fresh-baked birnweggen pear bread and biberli, traditional gingerbread stamped with images of farm scenes and town landmarks.

Steps away, several restaurants, cafés and hotels ring Appenzell’s historic main square, the Landsgemeindeplatz, site of the annual open-air assembly where direct democracy is still practiced.  If you’re in town on the last Sunday in April, don’t be surprised to see grown men strutting around with swords clanging against their hips.  Centuries ago, that’s how the Appenzell’s men folk proved they were old enough to vote.  Today, many still do.

Farm fresh meats at Specialitaten Metz Wetter butcher shop, Town of Appenzell

Farm fresh meats at Specialitaten Metz Wetter butcher shop, Town of Appenzell


A few blocks farther west, at Metzgerei F. Fässler, butcher Fred Fässler and his family give monthly classes on sausage-making.  Even if you’re not in town for the class, you can still tour the facility, and sample various dried meats and sausages, including the house specialty, siedwurst, a traditional beef and pork sausage.


Beers and other wares at the Appenzeller Brewery Town of Appenzell

Beers and other wares at the Appenzeller Brewery Town of Appenzell


At the other side of town, across the River Sitter, visit the new Brauerie Locher AG visitor center to learn how Appenzeller bier is made.  Sample the various brews, but don’t forget to taste the intriguing (and delicious) malt whiskey made from recycled hops.  The nearby Appenzeller Alpenbitter Distillery produces a famed digestive liqueur crafted from 42 local plants and herbs, as well as a chocolate candy blended with herbal liqueur.


Cheese making, the old fashioned way, at the Appenzeller Volkskunde Museum, Town of Stein

Cheese making, the old fashioned way, at the Appenzeller Volkskunde Museum, Town of Stein


Appenzeller cheese, another local specialty, is made from the milk of the tan-colored Braunvieh cattle and aged in herbal brine.  Take a bright-yellow PubliCar van to the nearby town of Stein and the Appenzeller Schaukäsereishow dairy to watch cheese-making, and buy a half-dozen varieties of Appenzeller cheese.  At the homey restaurant, with wood-paneled walls and carved wood furniture, lunch on local favorites like macaroni-and-cheese with applesauce.   Next door, spend an hour or two at the Appenzeller Volkskunde-Museum, housing folk costumes, painted wardrobes, and Switzerland’s finest collection of primitive paintings, many depicting local farmers, dressed in traditional red vests, yellow breeches and black hats, leading cattle on the annual pilgrimage to the high pastures.

If a day of sightseeing stirs up an appetite, you’re in luck.  This is farm country, and the food doesn’t get fresher than that.  In Appenzell, on the Landsgemeindeplatz, be sure to book a table at the four-star Romantik Hotel Säntis, with its colorful red, white and yellow painted façade.  In the upstairs gourmet restaurant, sample well-prepared appetizers like smoked duck breast with brioche and fig port wine, and entrees like deer entrecôte with glazed chestnuts and pears in red wine.  Just off the square, Restaurant Marktplatz serves such well-prepared dishes as pork steak with polenta and veal schnitzel with fries in a cozy dining room whose wood-paneled walls are etched with playful farming scenes.

For a splurge, take the train from Appenzell two stops to the town of Weissbad.  A stone’s throw from the train station is four-star Hotel Hof Weissbad with 136 rooms and a world-class wellness center in a grand yellow-and-white building.  Feast on innovative dishes in your choice of three dining rooms, including a glass-walled black-and-white space overlooking the hotel herb garden and craggy, snow-capped Hoher Kasten peak.  Then work off those extra calories with after-dinner dancing to live piano music in the graciously appointed lobby.


Appenzell countryside framed by the 8,000-foot-high Alpstein range

Appenzell countryside framed by the 8,000-foot-high Alpstein range


Or just head for the hills.  This is Switzerland, after all, and everyone should spend at least one afternoon, and preferably more, walking in the mountains and breathing in the fresh air.  As Swiss mountains go, the 8,000-foot-high Alpstein range is low-slung, but it’s very accessible, with a pastoral beauty of velvety meadows dotted with farm houses, grazing cows and rustic mountain inns.

The Kronberg rises in Jakobsbad, three train stops northeast of Appenzell.   Near the mountain’s base, take the bobsled run, or explore the climbing park, a favorite with children.  Then hop the bright-yellow cable car to the summit, and bask in dazzling sunlight at the terrace restaurant.  West, in Brülisau, another short train ride from Appenzell, a gleaming-white cable car ferries visitors to Hoher Kasten’s revolving summit restaurant.  Or hike three hours from Brülisau to Berggasthaus Ruhesitz, a traditional mountain lodge just below Hoher Kasten’s summit, for well-prepared local dishes, including a fitness-teller salad with fresh herbs, greens and berries, and grilled chicken or pork.


Cowbells in Appenzeller Volkskunde Museum, Town of Stein

Cowbells in Appenzeller Volkskunde Museum, Town of Stein


It takes a little doing to reach the 8,208-foot-high Säntis, Eastern Switzerland’s highest peak, but it’s worth the effort.   Hop a train to Urnäsch or Nesslau, then a post bus to Schwägalp.  If you’re not in a rush, Schwägalp has several attractions: the Säntis Nature Discovery Park, the Schwägalp Demonstration Dairy, the Geology Rock Park.  Or have a hot meal or a cold drink in the three-starBerghotel Schwägalp.   From Schwägalp, catch a blue-and-white or green-and-white cable car to the Säntis summit where you can see nearly a hundred peaks from various restaurants and terraces.   Folkloric evenings, with traditional fiddle and dulcimer music, are held here year-round.

The Ebenalp lies 3,000 feet below the Säntis.  From Appenzell, take the train to Wasserauen, then ride the bright-red cable car to the top.  Wedged precariously  into a rocky crevice is the Berggasthaus Aescher.  Come for a hearty lunch with superb mountain views, or brave the shared dormitory rooms for a once-in-a-lifetime overnight experience.  Just below is the Wildkirchli, a cave “chapel” once inhabited by religious hermits and, legend has it, a bear.



The following list includes first-class and deluxe hotels that also serve excellent meals, as well as a traditional Appenzell restaurant:

Hotel Löwen, Hauptgasse 25, 41-71-788-87-87, CH-9050 Appenzell.  Doubles, with breakfast, start at 160 CHF (about $165).  www.loewen-appenzell.ch

Romantik Hotel Säntis,Landsgemeindeplatz(Town Square), CH-9050 Appenzell, 41-71-788-11-11.  Doubles start at 240 CHF (about $260). www.saentis-appenzell.ch

Hotel Hof Weissbad,Im Park 1, CH-9057 Weissbad, 41-71-798-80-80.  Doubles, with two meals daily, start at 270 CHF (about $280) per person.  www.hofweissbad.ch

Restaurant Marktplatz, Kronengarten 2, CH-9050 Appenzell. 41-71-787-12-04. www.marktplatz-appenzell.ch

For more information, visit Appenzell Tourism (www.appenzell.ch) and Switzerland Tourism (www.myswitzerland.com).  For Switzerland flights, contact SWISS (www.swiss.com), the national carrier.  For the Swiss Pass rail pass, contact Rail Europe (www.raileurope.com).


Monique Burns, Journaliste  Monique Burns is a longtime travel writer and editor, and a European Correspondent for Jax Fax Magazine, a travel for U.S. travel agents.  A former Travel & Leisure Senior Editor, she travels frequently to Europe, but can sometimes be found in far-flung locales like India and Asia.  After more than 30 years in the travel business, she still appreciates the world’s many cultural differences and can honestly say that she’s never met a place she didn’t like.

Gstaad Journal

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Grand Hotel Park Gstaad


By Everett Potter

Even among Swiss ski towns, Gstaad gives fresh meaning to the term “rarefied.” Located in the Saanenland of southwestern Switzerland (famed for its ceremony crowning the most beautiful cow), Gstaad has been attracting the über-rich to its Alpine air, skiing, and Olympic-class socializing for more than a century.

In the 1960s, they were known as the jet set, a roster of winter residents like the Aga Khan, David Niven, Peter Sellers, and Elizabeth Taylor. Now it’s the private-jet set, including the beleaguered Roman Polanski, Formula One owner Bernie Ecclestone, and Mercedes Benz heir Mick Flick …

You can read the rest of this story at Forbes Life


Everett Potter is Editor-in-Chief of Everett Potter’s Travel Report.

The Guardian Angels of Train Travel

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Story and photos by Denise Mattia

A pale wintry light pierced the Vienna sky at dawn, revealing the tops of roofs and the silhouette of the Hofburg Palace Dome. I returned to my room ready for a journey by train from Vienna to the Wachau Valley in Krems, traveling on to Salzburg, Basel, Zürich and lastly Paris. Prior to this trip I’d reached all destinations directly by air and hadn’t traveled throughout Europe by train since 1964.

Thanks to the Internet, most transportation tickets can be purchased online from Rail Europe prior to travel. I bought the Select Pass, which allowed me to travel into each country over a one-month period. Still, the brochure, “Helpful Tips for Train Travel,” didn’t prepare me for the changes in the rail system.

To my disappointment, gone are the stationmasters who ushered passengers to the appropriate cars, helped them up the high steps and assisted with luggage. Replacing those guardian angels of train travel are computer boards specifying track numbers and arrival and departure times. Additionally, there’s no signage indicating where the first- and second-class sections are located when the trains come into the station. Doors don’t open automatically; they slide apart when a button is pressed. Locals have the knack and share information willingly. They also understand the difficulty of lifting luggage onto the train and provide assistance. Accepting an offer of help with my bag, I left Vienna for Krems.

Vineyard outside of Krems

Outside the window, wide expanses of snow-covered flatlands punctuated by church spires and farmhouses flickered by as the train sped past remote villages called Absdorf Hippersdorf and Kirchberg am Wagram. The noise this manmade predator made didn’t bother horses, which were busy nibbling grass in the snow, but it disrupted the peaceful winter scene and caused deer and rabbits to scamper. Nearing Krems, rows of grape vines cut through the snowy landscape uniformly. Once the harvest was over, vineyard keepers cut back the vines, leaving squat stumps topped with bursts of odd-shaped branches.

With impressive museums, wineries and spas, the Krems and Wachau valleys are anything but sleepy, even in winter. After an enjoyable stay in this region, I was off a day later to visit the Baroque city of Salzburg, a lively place where palaces crowd the skyline and where Mozart was born.

On the platform in Salzburg

In Salzburg, there are several dozen cafes where Mozart and Hayden were reported to frequent. When I wasn’t scurrying from the chill winter wind to visit museums, castles and crypts, I was ducking into a sweet shop to have coffee and the decadently delicious chocolate Venusbrüstchen (Venus breast) — Mrs. Mozart’s favorite. Several days and pounds later, I boarded the train to Basel via Zürich.

Not having reserved a seat, I was displaced by a couple who had purchased the one I’d assumed. Fortunately, the train was only half full and a conductor showed me to a private compartment, albeit a messy one. The restaurant car waitress bore no responsibility for cleaning the containers and papers left behind by preceding passengers, nor was she willing to find the appropriate personnel for the job. Since the detritus detracted from my enjoyment of the pristine turquoise-blue water cascading from the mountaintops outside, I tidied the compartment.

Before long, the crisp clear sky turned cloudy, enveloping the train in a white fog that nearly obliterated the towns from Bludens to Sargans. Although it was eerily beautiful, I imagined being caught in a snowdrift – the setting for a modern-day who-done-it. The next stop should have been Zürich. It wasn’t. Minutes away from the city, the train reversed inexplicably and returned to Sargans, which made making my connection from Zürich to Basel doubtful.

When the train finally did arrive in Zürich, my connection was at the other end of the station. A mad dash and a different kind of guardian angel of train travel – an unsuspecting young man – got me on board and into a seat. For the next hour my Basel friend and I talked about banking, European and American politics and the future of the world. Upon arrival, he escorted me to the appropriate tram and, when I couldn’t find my Basel pass, bought me a ticket and refused reimbursement. We parted, as people sometimes do when traveling, as happy companions, likely never to see each other again.

Having become enamored of a town that loves art, architecture and fun in equal proportion, I left Basel vowing to return. The impeccably clean ICE rail sped without a hitch to Zürich, a city that’s an amalgam of church spires, narrow, hilly streets, business and culture centers and Swiss watches (but not the cuckoo clock – that originated in Germany).

"Guardian Angel" by Nikki de Saint-Phalle

On my last day in Zürich, I stopped off at the Stadelhofen to confirm a seat on the train to Paris (a must any time of year). With help, I’d gotten the knack of train travel and had avoided the “pat downs,” liquid checking, passport scrutiny and baggage invasion prevalent at airports. Looking up, I noticed that flying high in the rafters was a sculpture, which I learned later was by Nikki de Saint-Phalle. It was titled Guardian Angel. “They’re not gone at all,” I thought. “They simply take on different forms.”

# # #
Travel prices and tips:
Only non-European residents can purchase a Eurail Pass. I purchased a first-class adult select pass, which allowed seven travel days within a two-month period and cost $569.

Excellent public transportation systems make getting around European cities easy. Most cities offer discount cards or city passes (usually with unlimited rides and discounts to museums, shops, restaurants cafes and more), which go a long way. Once in Vienna, I purchased a regular 72-hour public transportation ticket (euro 13,50, about US $17). The 72-hour Vienna Card (about US$25) offered only 5- or 10% discounts to museums, cafes and restaurants and didn’t seem worthwhile. For more information, visit www.wien.info. Salzburg is small and many attractions are within walking distance of your hotel. For that reason, I chose the 48-hour Salzburg Card (about US $41), which offered free admission to all of the city’s attractions (museums, use of the funicular, cableway and transportation). Visit cards@salzburg.info. Warning: Control officers board trams and buses. Fines are steep for riders without a paid fare.
Since I was only traveling from Basel to Zurich, with a side trip into Germany to visit the Vitra Design Museum (about $US 5 roundtrip), I purchased a single, one-way ticket to Zurich, which cost about US$26.

For more information, visit Rail Europe.

Denise Mattia is a freelance writer and photographer (underwater and topside) whose works are published nationally and internationally and include all aspects of leisure travel: art and architecture, culture, resorts, spas hotels, food and wine and sports’ activities. Her outlets include print publications for upscale professionals, web e-zines and trade magazines. She holds two degrees in theatre and art and was awarded a grant from the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation in 1990 for her work in reef conservation.  Visit www.nytwa.info/DeniseMattia

Steve Jermanok’s Active Travels: Ski the Alps

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I had lunch yesterday with 12 ski resorts from the Swiss, French, Italian, German, and Austrian Alps. Travel to the Alps from America was up a whopping 50 percent this past summer and 30 percent last winter. Read the full story

Swiss Diary: Montreux

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Along the Quai in Montreux, looking toward the French Alps.

You can live lavishly and discreetly in Montreux, the centerpiece of the Swiss Riviera. Legions of pop stars (like Freddie Mercury and Robert Plant), former heads of state, and even literary figures such as  Vladimir Nabokov came here to do just that.

Read the full story

Swiss Diary: Zurich

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May 5. Zurich

Switzerland2010 751


just taken a SWISS flight from JFK and landed in Switzerland's largest
city. I'll be blogging daily this week as I explore the city of Zurich,
as well as Lausanne and Montreux in the French-speaking part of the
country. It's rainy and in the 40's here, a throwback to April weather.
But the profusion of flowering chestnut trees tells me that spring is
merely suspended for a few days. I'll be posting frequently this week,
so check back often for updates.

Zurich 001

Cafe Felix, Zurich.


my formula: a 90 minute power nap at the 4-star Hotel Engimatt, in a
quiet neighborhood west of the city center. A five minute ride on the
number 5 tram brought me to Bellevue, at the head of Lake Zurich, near
the Opera House and the center of the city.

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Lucerne: Simply N.O.P.E.

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The Chapel Bridge, Lucerne.

By Richard West

"I felt a desire to embrace, powerfully to embrace someone, to tickle him, or to pinch him." ("Luzern," Leo Tolstoy)

The great Russian writer felt a pinchable need (am I dreaming?) because he was at his balconied hotel window looking out at Lake Lucerne and the views beyond. My wife and I felt the same 152 years later, slightly stunned, gazing at the sea-green sheet of water, the pale-colored vista of the flanking mountains, the fantastic peaks, everything  bathed in a fresh atmosphere of bluish tint a pinch needed to reassure us we hadn't taken a wrong interstellar turn and landed in an ethereally beautiful spot N.O.P.E. — Not On Planet Earth.

Lucerne Palace

Luzern Palace Hotel.

    Knowing we would be exhausted to a sit-still halfway through a three-week tour of European cities last summer, Swiss friends wisely advised us to whoa up the team for a pampering stop at the luxurious 103-year-old Luzern Palace Hotel overlooking Lucerne's lake. How right they were: Rome-Venice-Vienna, always interesting, but hot-noisy-crowded.

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