Ever since I read Heidi as a young girl, Switzerland has been on my bucket list.
It is doubtful that my husband ever read this iconic children’s book, but Switzerland has held a lot of fascination for him as well.
Chris and I began planning our 2019 trip to Switzerland in December 2018 following the steps outlined in Plan a Trip with the Ultimate Travel Guide suggestions; booking our flights to leave just after high school got out for the summer in May.
If you want to know all that goes into planning an international trip for Chris and me, I highly recommend my more in depth eBook “Plan a Trip to Europe: Essential Advice to Begin Your Travel Adventures.” It outlines even more steps that we follow whenever we plan international vacations.
Hey, you can even download a FREE Chapter of my eBook here.
Our girls always get excited prior to a big trip and some of them even start packing their Luggage days in advance! Is this you? Do you need to invest in some new bags? I share some of my Favorite Travel Things from clothing to electronics to luggage here.
For me, I always keep my Carry-on Backpack packed and ready to go with all of my 21 Best Carry-on Essentials for Travel. If you are an organizer such as myself, you’ll appreciate these lists and ideas of what to pack.
After months of planning and anticipation, we finally landed in Geneva, Switzerland around 9:30 am on the last Monday morning in May.
We found our way to the French sector of the airport in order to pick up our rental car. If you plan to fly into the Geneva International Airport and want to rent a car, make sure you inquire about rentals from the French side versus the Switzerland side. The cost of the rental was significantly less in France for us.
We planned to spend the day touring Geneva before driving to our hotel in Evian-les-Bains, France. You may be wondering, “If you’re traveling to Switzerland, why are you staying in France?”
We planned our trip using reward points for our air travel and hotel stays.
If you want to know more, read 6 Steps to Plan Travel with Reward Points to learn how to maximize your funds and points while traveling.
When we first started brainstorming where we wanted to travel in Europe for 2019, Switzerland was at the top of Chris’ list. We began by searching for the Hilton Hotels in Switzerland. There were only two Hilton properties in Switzerland and then the Evian property in France (but still along Lake Geneva).
We were happy to drive through the French and Swiss countryside on day trips to Switzerland.
And the view from the hotel was outstanding.
Want to know how to maximize your experience as a frequent traveler? Read A Frequent Traveler’s Guide to the Most Important Travel Tips.
Staying in Evian-les-Bains meant traveling each day to Switzerland, however, we found the savings in lodging outweighed the cost of renting a car and driving each day.
First stop after leaving the airport? The Jet d’Eau. If you land at the Geneva Airport, it only makes sense to spend time visiting the sites around Geneva. Drive to the lake front in downtown Geneva. You should easily spot the Jet d’Eau on the water. The Jet d’Eau, literally meaning ‘water jet’ is an impressive fountain in Lake Geneva that is a featured landmark of Geneva.
The fountain, one of the tallest in the world, was originally built “to control and release the excess pressure of a hydraulic plant at La Coulouvrenière. It quickly became a remarkable symbol of the city and so it was amplified and relocated to the center of the Lake.” (http://www.geneva.info/jet-d-eau-fountain/)
If you would like to get a close-up view of the fountain, there is a pathway along a stone jetty from the left bank of the lake.
Our family walked along the jetty, posed for a few pictures, and then tried to find a place for lunch.
Some of our girls were not thrilled with the Mediterranean selection we made—Mediterranean in Switzerland—but I think in the end it turned out to be better than they anticipated. We were all a little jet lagged and grumpy at this point after a long day of travel.
If you plan to tour the United Nations while you are in Geneva, drop someone from your party off at the tour ticket line to wait while you try to locate a place to park. When our family visited, I waited in line with my oldest daughter and the wait took long enough that Chris, Misha, and Kristen were able to join us in line before we reached the front of the line.
You won’t need your passports or ID for purchasing the tickets, but you WILL need identification once you enter the building. Take note: student ID’s are not acceptable.
Here’s a tip: Save a copy of your passport (your whole family’s too) on your phone in a secure password manager such as LastPass. The electronic version was acceptable.
The United Nations tour takes about one hour. If you have just landed from a very long flight, beware that every time you sit down to listen to the tour guide, you might just have to fight to stay awake. There were a lot of bobbing Kline heads and closed eyes during our tour.
Did you know that the land for the United Nations was donated by the Revilliod de Rive family, and in the giving, they stipulated that peacocks should roam freely on the grounds? We happened upon one in all of its glory.
If you have time after your United Nations tour, spend some time at the Geneva Botanical Gardens and Conservatory located about a mile from the United Nations building. Our family was still battling a giant case of jet lag when we stopped and our girls were too tired to wander around much. Chris stayed with them while I took a little stroll through the gardens with my Canon 6d Mark II Camera.
What will you find at the Gardens?
The Enchanted Forest playground for Children, including sandpit
The Carrousel of Fairy Tales
The Botanical Shop
Library (currently in works)
Cafe & Restaurant
Adapted for disabled guests except for limited parts of the Greenhouses.
Drinking water tap
12 free WIFI hotspots
Free toiletsGeneva Botanical Gardens and Conservatory
After spending the day touring Geneva and then getting a sufficient amount of sleep at our hotel in Evian, our family was excited to begin exploring different cities and villages in Switzerland. It was a short distance around the lake from Evian to Montreaux.
Here’s a tip. I always lay a Tote Bag flat in the bottom of my suitcase for day trips. While it doesn’t take up much space, the bag is perfect for carrying Rain Jackets, Snacks, or Drinks and keeping things organized in the rental car.
Our first stop of the day was the Chillon Castle. It had some pretty amazing rooms. But you know, I’m just really glad that I live in the 21st Century.
As we walked past the sword room, Misha announced, “You can tell it is the sword room because of the way it is.”
The “indoor” latrines were an interesting piece of work. One was a double seater where Amy joked as she posed next to Kristen, “How’s thou’s day?”
Leaving the castle, the girls were thrilled to learn of a Freddie Mercury Statue along the lake front. We snapped pictures with our iPhones and my Camera and posed as much as we could with other tourists and fans trying to do the same… fans who were also calling out and loudly singing Queen songs.
Patience is a virtue when trying to take pictures without other tourists filling the shot.
We opted for a quick lunch at McDonald’s. Not cheap, but quick. You will find that everything is spendy in Switzerland.
We also found and toured the Queen Studio Experience which is now housed in a casino. Forty years ago the casino, with its great acoustics, was the recording studio.
Lausanne was a little further down the road and our next stop. The city was set on a hillside, and our research suggested parking further up the hill. We arrived just after 5 pm and had to take a bus then the metro down to the main town. The rain continued throughout the day.
We walked around the Old Town of Lausanne, walked through the church of Lausanne, and passed by Swiss banks. We joked about setting up a Swiss bank account. We didn’t.
Lausanne, Switzerland housed the headquarters for the International Olympic Committee in the Louis-Bourget Park. It was late in the day when we stopped by and the building was closing so we weren’t able to tour it.
We told the girls we wanted an earlier start the next day and made sure they were up around 7 am. They weren’t delighted but found the two-hour drive to the Interlaken area a perfect opportunity to have a nap.
Chris drove through the mountains to Ballenberg where we spent the morning exploring the Ballenberg Swiss Open Air Museum. The creators of this museum have been buying, carefully deconstructing, moving, and rebuilding houses from all over Switzerland. The mountainside museum was covered with roads, homes, churches, cheese huts, and barns to show what life was like (and probably is still like) for many living in the region.
The Open-Air Museum Ballenberg, a paradise for families, covers an area of 163 acres. It is not only interesting for adults, but great fun for children too. There is so much to do here: for example, make friends with the 200 farm animals, have a ride on the old carousel and try out our playground and some traditional toys.
You can discover how your great-grandparents lived, watch fascinating displays of handcrafts and in the «hands-on-house» feel free to touch whatever you like.https://www.ballenberg.ch/en/joining-in/children-and-families
We toured some of the homes, watched cheese being cooked over a fire in a huge kettle drum, smelled the wonderful smell of wood being cut at a saw mill, and watched a woman give a weaving demonstration.
For lunch, we purchased a loaf of bread and some cheese from the cheese-making shed and enjoyed a simple lunch outside on a bench.
Amy, our oldest, was particularly thrilled by the Air Force based located close by and the F18s that kept taking off and landing. The sound was awesome and could be felt all the way to our toes. The workers at the museum weren’t quite as enthusiastic about all of the planes and the noise.
The cows on this mountain enjoyed a lush diet of grass, flowers, and clover. They each had a cowbell around their neck, which would get annoying for me to have to listen to all day, but allowed them to be found and identified by the cow herder.
And in case you wonder, the boundary fence which just looks like string, is really electrified. Amy didn’t realize it as she backed up to it and it gave her back side a bit of a zap.
We bought chocolate from the Chocolaterie before leaving the mountainside museum. And unlike other European countries we have visited, our experience in Switzerland thus far offered an abundance of WCs (bathrooms)—at no charge even.
You don’t want to miss the amazing waterfalls in Trummelbach in the Lauterbrunnen Valley of Switzerland. We were able to take a funicular up to the 10th waterfall.
The magnificent glacier fed Trümmelbach Falls (Trümmelbachfälle), a series of 10 waterfalls in a cave-like environment, is hidden inside a mountain in the Lauterbrunnen Valley. It’s a natural UNESCO World heritage site, and rightly so.https://www.swissvistas.com/trummelbach-falls.html
The waterfalls were mighty and roaring down the inside of the mountain. I would recommend that you bring your Rain Jackets as the spray from the falls was like a shower at times along with the moisture dripping from the ceiling. I had to tuck my Camera inside my jacket to keep it from getting soaked as well.
Instead of a return trip to the base on the funicular, we took the stairs down and were able to see waterfalls one through five with small lookouts along the way overlooking an amazing view of the whole valley.
We wandered around the small town of Lauterbrunnen and took pictures at the base of the Staubbach Falls. Misha jumped at the chance to buy an authentic Swiss Army Knife and had her name engraved on it.
We only spent an afternoon in this area, but its beauty demands a return trip for hiking and scenic train rides.
We drove from Lauterbrunnen to Interlaken and drove a short distance around the lake. Spying some picturesque vistas on the lake, Chris backtracked to a parking area so I could take some pictures.
Another day trip from Evian-les-Bains had us driving again in the direction of Interlaken toward Broc, Switzerland (pronounced Bro with some throatiness) for a chocolate tour of the Cailler Chocolate Factory. Our girls were all for this factory tour and the option to taste the chocolate at the end of the tour was a huge bonus.
We toured the Gruyere Cheese Factory next in Gruyere as it wasn’t too far from the chocolate factory. Sadly, the tasting here was not met with as much enthusiasm. It was not particularly my favorite cheese. We got samples that were 6 months, 8 months, and 1 year old. The older it was the harder it became. I prefer a softer cheese. However, we did buy a loaf of bread in the factory store and made a nice lunch of bread and cheese plus some soda we had brought along from the hotel and packed in our Cooler.
We made the most of another day in the Interlaken area and visited the mountain resort of Moleson, Switzerland. If you are fans of alpine slides, you might enjoy riding the “Bob-luge” at Moleson. Chris and the girls purchased a book of four tickets. I was thinking it would be similar to the Alpine Slide that used to be in Golden, Colorado. The ride up the mountain in Colorado took about twenty mountains, so when Amy came zipping down on her bobsled a short time later, I wasn’t quite ready to take pictures of her. The Chris, Kristen, and Misha followed in quick succession, so I snapped some hasty pics.
We bought one-way tickets on the Moleson Funicular and rode half way up the mountain.
The funicular connects Moléson-sur-Gruyères to Plan-Francey, a departure point for many hiking trails. If you chose, you can then walk back down the mountain. It took our family about an hour and a half to hike down, but it was a beautiful day and a delightful walk that we all thoroughly enjoyed.
Check out my husband’s The NorthFace Recon Backpack. (I travel with The NorthFace Recon Women’s Backpack which is made specifically with a woman’s frame in mind.) As with any hike that we go on at home or abroad, we pack it with Energy Snacks, M&Ms, and a Camelbak Water Reservoir. Read about the Camelbak Water Reservoir in this post: The 10 Essentials for the Best Day Hikes.
Since we were staying in Evian-les-Bains, it only made sense to plan a few day trips into France.
One destination was Chamonix and Mont Blanc (the tallest mountain in Europe). As we were leaving Evian, Chris missed the exit in the roundabout and joked, “The advantage of a roundabout is that I get multiple tries to get it right.” We circled around again.
We stopped at a rest stop after an hour or so. Chris and I got out to use the facilities and check out the view of the mountains. As we returned to the car, our teenage girls were still sitting in the backseat. Chris had activated the child safety locks and locked the car and they couldn’t get out. Made for a good laugh for Chris and me.
Chamonix was packed with people. We figured it was so busy since it was the unofficial first day of summer, it was a Friday, and the weather was much improved from earlier in the week. We parked close to the base of the ski resort.
While Chris stood in line for tickets for the funicular up the mountainside, the girls and I looked for lunch food. We found a bakery for bread (and chocolate-filled beignets as a special surprise for Chris) and then a grocery store for sliced deli meat. We wandered in to a butcher shop and quickly exited when we realized they didn’t have cooked meat and it was stinky!
Finding the cute city center, Misha and Kristen bought some postcards and art. Lucky for Misha, the art fit in the back pocket of my Backpack.
We met up with Chris as he finished purchasing the tickets for the Montenvers Train, a little red train that offered a panoramic ride up to France’s largest glacier and ice cave, Mer de Glacé. Even though the ice cave and the gondolas were closed to the public for maintenance, we still opted to board the train for the 20-minute journey and enjoy a picnic lunch overlooking the glacier.
As we arrived and exited the train, the mountain vista opened up to a fantastic view of the glacier.
We enjoyed the lunch that was becoming our daily habit—bread, cheese, drinks, and sliced meet. We enlisted Misha’s new Swiss Army Knife (much to her chagrin) to slice apples and spread cheese, and it cut like a charm.
After lunch, topped off with the delicious beignets, we visited the Glaciorium. The small museum offered an interactive display on the formation of glaciers all over the world.
If you don’t bring your own picnic lunch, enjoy the café at the top or the restaurant at the Grand Hotel du Montenvers.
I had no idea that a hotel sat at the top of the mountain.
It was a little cool in the shady areas on the mountain top, but not as cold as we thought it was going to be. We brought our Puffy Jackets but ended up not needing them at all. If the ice caves had been accessible we would have appreciated the jackets; instead, we just tied them around our waists.
Even though the gondolas were “out of service” for the day, we set off on a hike down the mountain. As we hiked, we watched the gondolas going up and down as workers tried to fix them. We were pleasantly surprised upon reaching the bottom when the staff were allowing guests to ride the gondola back up the hillside. My feet were particularly grateful.
We boarded the return train to Chamonix and enjoyed some ice cream on our arrival.
Driving back to Evian via Martigny, Switzerland added a lot of extra time to our return trip. If you love a road full of twists and turns and hairpin curves this is the route for you. I was ready to be down the mountain when all was said and done.
Yvoire and Annecy, France
On our last morning in Switzerland and France, we drove toward the Geneva Airport via Yvoire and then Annecy.
I think Yvoire was one of my favorite villages of our entire visit. Check out a few of my other favorite Charming European Towns.
Yvoire sat nestled along the shore of Lake Geneva. With a population of approximately 800 people, Yvoire was a traffic-free village, boasting a medieval look with walls, gates, a castle, and cobblestone streets. If I had a chance to return to the area, my choice would be to find an Airbnb in Yvoire.
It was fun to just wander around.
We continued on to Annecy. I had read a lot about Annecy during the planning stages of our trip and looked forward to visiting. We arrived to find everyone else wanting to visit Annecy too. The city was packed with tourists.
I wandered around to capture the aesthetic of the Old Town (Vieille Ville) while Chris and the girls walked to Lake Annecy. I snapped one of my favorite pictures along one of the winding canals.
You will likely recognize this iconic photo of Palais de l’Ile. Standing on the Pont sur le Thiou (bridge) will give you the best view for taking pictures.
Switzerland, with a little bit of France on the side, did not disappoint. Chris and I were planning a trip back to the Lauterbrunnen Valley of Switzerland when Covid stomped all over our plans in the summer of 2020. As soon as travel to Europe opens back up, you can bet we will reinstate our itinerary as quickly as possible.
Final Thoughts on 5 Delightful Days in Switzerland
If Italy is my first choice, then Switzerland is Chris’ first choice for a travel destination. And, it was beautiful. I highly recommend that you make Switzerland a part of your next European vacation.