SWITZERLAND, COMO + MILAN, ITALY
We absolutely loved Switzerland. It is a must see, and has numerous places that are unlike anything else we've ever seen. The most amazing mountains, valleys, waterfalls, lakes, food, charm. This country has it all.
Day 1/2: Chicago, USA to Zurich, Switzerland Nonstop (9 hours). Train down to Como (3 hours). Como, Italy
Day 3: Milan + Como, Italy (1 hr to Milan)
Day 4: Travel to Lavaux Vineyards/Lausanne, Switzerland. Explore Lausanne/Lavaux and Montreux. (4-5 hours travel time)
Day 5: Cully/Lavaux/Lausanne, Switzerland.
Day 6: Travel from Lavaux to Zermatt, Switzerland. Exploring Zermatt + Seeing the Matterhorn (3 hours travel time)
Day 7: Traveled to Interlaken/Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. (2 hours to Interlaken, another 30 to Lauterbrunnen)
Day 8: Interlaken/Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland
Day 9: Travel to Lucerne for Lunch and then back to Zurich-exploring Zurich, Switzerland (2.5 hours to Lucerne, another 1 to Zurich)
Day 10: Zurich, Switzerland a Chicago, USA (10 hours)
DAY 1/2: CHICAGO, USA-->ZURICH, SWITZERLAND + TRAIN TO COMO, ITALY
Fortunately, when taking this trip, we lived in Chicago. 2 Airports, non-stop or quick 1 stop flights everywhere, better prices.
Whenever we go internationally we always explore flying to a big city like NYC, Atlanta, Dallas/FW, LA, etc. to get a cheaper international flight. You can also build a mini-stay for each stop or layover into your trip wherever that international hub may be (ex: we did this with our Italy/Greece Trip).
We took a flight with Delta that was overnight with the time change, so we got to Switzerland early that morning. Delta’s food and service are always great, especially on international flights. It was a really long couple of days, but completely worth it. You can ride the adrenaline of being there + drink some espresso to stay awake.
On a trip like this where we traveled across majoirty of the country, I think it’s an absolute must to have a swiss travel pass. It’s about $400 per person for an 8 day pass. (There are shorter & cheaper options depending on how long you are there). This article helped us get a grasp on it all. It gives you access to pretty much all transportation in the country. That includes trains, boats, busses, and even some gondolas. It enables you to walk onto a train for example and not have to worry about buying tickets or anything (they will come through and look at your pass and you may have to show your passport). On a long trip, it will save you money.
Our ticket was the second-class ticket. Be aware of first vs. second class. First-class is supposed to stay quiet and you can tell it’s a little bit nicer. It’s okay to walk through them. Most of the transportation has a bar or restaurant, or someone that will come around and wait on you.
The train station is connected to the airport in Zurich, so we just went straight to the nearest train headed south. I would recommend looking up some routes on Google Maps before going, or it could be a bit overwhelming. Worst case, someone will be around that can help you.
It’s a bummer to be traveling again, but the trains in Switzerland are so nice. You can relax, sleep, get food/espresso if you want, and start to take in the beautiful country that is Switzerland.
You’ll start at the airport, moving through the city, then around Lake Zurich, and before you know it you’re in the Swiss countryside with incredible mountains and the bluest lakes you’ve ever seen in your life. I’m getting a smile on my face just thinking back on this. We remember traveling through Lugano with our jaws dropping by the dramatic scenery. It looked fake. A common happening in Switzerland.
This was a 3-hour train ride. When you get to Italy some police may come around and check your passport/pass again. You’ll need to buy tickets for the Italian trains, they aren’t included on the swiss travel pass. At the border, we had pizza with prosciutto on top, and there is a place with an English speaker that can help you get the right tickets and all of that. People spoke English everywhere, but on the west side of the country towards France, it became a little bit less common. On the trains, they often announce things in English, Italian, German and French.
When we got to Como, we started by checking into our Airbnb. It was just outside of the center of Como.
It was a bit hot and they didn’t have AC (common in Europe). We stayed above a bar that was open until like 3 am. With the jetlag and heat, it wasn’t ideal. However, the host was extremely nice and helpful, the Airbnb was secluded and safe, and pretty close to bars, restaurants, and the lake. This Airbnb was called “Como Kiss”.
In retrospect, we probably would’ve gone up to Bellagio or somewhere else that is nicer on the lake. Como has history and is a very cool place, but it’s not the Lake Como George Clooney is going to. That being said, we still really enjoyed Como and you can get out/around the city pretty easily and the food is Magnifica! (que dramatic Italian accent)
Our first day, we explored the cathedral, walked around the center of Como, had a drink on the lake, got gelato at Guidi’s (cash only), and grabbed dinner. Per our Airbnb hosts recommendation, we went to a Michelin Guide restaurant Osteria L’angoio Del Silenzio. We weren’t sure if it was open, the entrance is kind of weird. Just walk in if the door is unlocked and someone will take care of you. Really good meals. Veal ossobuco, some good wine, and we were able to eat on the back patio that had lights hanging over top and lots of trees. Here it started setting in that we were on vacation, the best feeling.
We finished dinner, grabbed some wine, and drank it in our Airbnb to cap off the night.
By the end of the second day you should start to get adjusted to the time change. We usually start to adjust the normal times we eat a day or two ahead of the trip, along with that we like to take immunity shots to avoid getting sick. Bring some emergen-c too. This might seem extreme, but the last thing you want to be is sick on a vacation.
Another tip: In Italy, be sure to get large bottles of water. You’ll need to hydrate and it is the worst when you wake up thirsty and don’t have any to drink. In Switzerland, most of the tap water is good to drink if you're American, because it’s coming from Glaciers. Note: Most of Europe still does not have safe drinking water so always be aware, the servers usually tell you.
DAY 3: MILAN + COMO, ITALY
Feels amazing to get some sleep, but we still got up relatively early to see as much as we could.
We started by going to the farmer’s market in the morning. There’s everything from clothes to produce. These kinds of markets are a great place to get some gifts, or things like sunglasses if you forgot to bring some. Daily markets are also the best places to talk to people and try local flavors first hand. Come on now don't be shy, learn about the culture. Indulge yourself!
We headed into town and ate at a place called Bar Carducci that was in this little plaza. The atmosphere was amazing. There was a table of 5 or 6 older men that clearly meet up here often for espresso. Listening to them talk with each other in Italian enhanced this experience further. Our favorite thing to do when traveling is to get as much of a "local" experience as possible.
You’ll notice the trains aren’t as nice in Italy, but they’re still efficient and a great way to get around. From Como to Milan it was 5 euros each way per person, so 20 euros round trip for 2. It only takes an hour.
Milan is a big city. Be aware of your surroundings and be prepared for people to come up trying to force you to buy a wristband or something. Especially in touristy areas like Duomo and Castello Sforzesco. We usually just repeatedly say no.
We just walked everywhere. Many of the places we went ended up being on shaded, and quiet streets. Sometimes it didn’t feel like you were in a big city, and it was very cool to see the incredible doors/entryways that some of the homes had. The architecture was so intricate.
Another thing we thought was interesting was how expressive and competitive Italian people are. There would be food places with waiters trying to get you to eat there, and I remember one had a sign on it that said "the place next door’s chef was a microwave."
We went to Duomo di Milano and saw the outside of the cathedral, along with the shopping area Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Really cool. We didn’t end up going inside of Duomo, because the line was huge. We decided to just walk around town, get focaccia at a stand and bubble tea at a place that seemed to be pretty popular among locals. Then made our way back to Como.
Upon arrival, we went back to the Airbnb and drank a glass of prosecco to relax for a bit. Then we walked towards and along the lake to Funicolare Como-Bunate. It takes you to the top of a mountain (only like 5 euros). Brunate is the name of the village at the top. We found this tucked-in little restaurant Trattoria Dei Bracconieri Brunate with a patio that overlooked the Italian alps, swiss alps, and Lake Como. If that weren’t enough, we got some rose and fresh Caprese salad there. They had planters right next to our table that we took basil off of for the Caprese. One of those moments we just wanted to take it slow and soak it in.
We came back down and ended up going to dinner at la Cucina di Stella. The food, wine, service, and atmosphere were outstanding. It was in a small plaza near the center of town, with umbrellas and lights strung up everywhere. Everyone is relaxed and having a great time. Ray started to get used to Italian phrases and with Google Translate, so he was making jokes with the server and table next to us.
We had a bottle of “Lugana” white wine. Really, really good. Maddie got the Carbonara, and Ray had the mussels + clams linguini. (but of course we share everything!)
What a day.
DAY 4: TRAVEL TO LAVAUX VINEYARDS/LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND. EXPLORE LAUSANNE/LAVAUX AND MONTREUX
Como was awesome, but we were excited to get into Switzerland. We went to the train station early and got on our 5-hour train journey back up through Zurich, Bern, and into Lausanne.
This basically took us across the country, and we saw more of Switzerland’s northern countryside. We really wanted to see Bern, but it didn’t quite fit into this trip. We at least had a stop there, so you could see some of it from the train.
Arriving on the west side of Switzerland in Lausanne, you can see the shift to more of a French influence and more usage of the language. The town was beautiful, right on Lac Leman, or Lake Geneva. We had “fast food” pizza and pasta in Lausanne, and then hopped on the train to Cully/Hotel Lavaux, in between Bourg-en-Lavaux and Chexbres.
When researching what parts of Switzerland to go to, we decided on Lavaux for multiple reasons: It's Switzerland's wine region, it sits on Lake Geneva, and you get the French aspect of Switzerland. The cool thing about Switzerland's wine region is even though their wine is very similar to a French wine, it only distributed throughout Switzerland. You can not get Swiss wine anywhere else in the world besides Switzerland. How cool is that?
Our hotel was set in the UNESCO World Heritage site, with vineyards all around us, overlooking the French Alps. Stunning place and really quiet, easy to relax and disconnect.
We did a hike along the hillside through the vineyards, stopping and seeing some winemaker villages, taking it all in. Maddie saw someone with a cherry tree and went and grabbed a few fresh ones for us.
The train was a short walk away and came often. We took it into Montreux for dinner. We sat on the water for dinner at La Rouvenaz. We had tuna tartare and frito misto, really good.
We walked along the lake and explored some of Montreux. A lot of French influence. Then we headed back to the hotel. The front desk sold a really good bottle of local wine so we grabbed a few of those to have on our balcony and watch the sunset over the French Alps.
DAY 5: CULLY/LAVAUX/LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND
On a rainy morning we ate breakfast at the hotel. A good variety of meats, cheeses, yogurt, and even scrambled eggs! (in Europe, eggs aren't a common breakfast food like they are in the states) The food was tasty. Although a bit touristy, there is a place called Vinorama that was recommended to us. It carries wine from the 200+ winemakers/vineyards throughout the region. There, you can watch a Sundance movie on the region to learn more about how much time it takes to grow wine and the process. It’s truly incredible. They also serve little breadsticks, cheese, and more to compliment your wine and cleanse your palate. We had a great time there.
When we were done, we noticed a dock nearby for a boat, and a boat approaching it. We waited for it to come to the dock, and boarded it for a ride on Lake Geneva (included in our swiss pass-you just show it.) Truly unbelievable views, we were able to get some wine on board, and we rode it all the way to Lausanne. This allowed us to see Lausanne a bit more, before heading back to our hotel area.
Once we returned, we hiked for a few hours in the vineyards. Some of the best views we’ve ever seen and probably will ever see.
We cleaned up, then had dinner at the hotel. Maddie got gnocchi and I got seabass. Our server spoke really broken English, but he was super nice and got us everything we wanted. He really appreciated our attempt to speak Italian for him. (this goes a long way in other countries, it shows respect to their culture)
After dinner, we walked down to the water to see how cold it was, and we saw a swan. Then we could see a storm coming across the lake, so we went back to the hotel and drank wine on the balcony until bed. We needed to get some rest ahead of traveling to see the Matterhorn.
DAY 6: TRAVEL FROM LAVAUX TO ZERMATT, SWITZERLAND. EXPLORING ZERMATT + SEEING THE MATTERHORN
This train ride is about 3 hours in total, and you have to make a couple of switches. At a point when heading into Zermatt, you can see a parking lot where traffic stops. You can’t take cars into Zermatt. We met a mother and son who live in Germany who were ready to visit Zermatt too. They were telling us how much they loved Colorado, and how they’d lived all over the world because the father was in the army. Then our conversation slowed as we started to take in the dramatic views from the train ride into Zermatt, and the Matterhorn came into sight.
When we arrived, we had lunch at a place called the Brown Cow Pub. We both got burgers and a big beer. It was warm in there and had a German influence. We started to get those mountain town vibes and were really excited.
From there we checked into our hotel (Le Petit Charmin) to drop off our bags. We walked through town and paid like 60 swiss francs to go higher up in the mountains, to hopefully catch a clean glimpse of the Matterhorn, it was a bit cloudy and raining off and on.
When we got to the top, there was no one around and the sky started to open up. Eventually we got a clean look at the Matterhorn before a stream of clouds came up and all of a sudden it was cold with low visibility, and we headed down. When the sky was open, it was surreal up there. It felt like you were looking at Whoville below and the mountain where the Grinch lived. There wasn't anyone else around.
Back in town we stopped at a chocolate shop and indulged in some swiss chocolate. So good! We capped off the day with dinner at Café du pont and got cheese fondue. Super rich and heavy, with a ton of meat, potatoes and bread. We didn’t even come close to finishing it. The place was halfway underground, small, and made you feel like you were in a little mountain village. Really great experience.
It was a short stint in Zermatt, but it’s a small town. A day or two there will suffice.
DAY 7: TRAVEL TO INTERLAKEN/LAUTERBRUNNEN, SWITZERLAND
We got up and took the train into Interlaken and from there Lauterbrunnen. And then up the one side of the valley to Wengen where we checked into our hotel-Hotel Victoria.
This was arguably the best part of the trip. the most dramatic mountains we've ever seen!
Fun fact: Switzerland is the reason we fell in love with mountains. When we came back home from this trip, we decided we needed to find the closest place in the US to Switzerland and that's how we ended up moving to Colorado!
We took the train back down into the start of the valley and just walked around from shop to shop, and eventually walked into the valley a bit-going under waterfalls, and just soaking in the surroundings. A local family had a vending machine selling salami and cheese they made fresh on their property. Really unique. It was raining for most of the day, so we didn’t do too much.
We went back up to Wengen, and enjoyed schnitzel at a restaurant near our hotel, and decided to get some rest for a big day tomorrow.
DAY 8: INTERLAKEN/LAUTERBRUNNEN, SWITZERLAND
This was probably our favorite day of the trip.
We woke up and ate the breakfast that was included with our hotel (meats, cheese, cereal). We walked halfway through the valley and then hopped on a bus closer to the end of it. From there, we were able to take a gondola up above the clouds around 9,000 feet, otherwise known as the Top of Europe. It was literally a gondola on a cable from our point to the top of Europe, insane!
At the top of the platform you could look at all of the surrounding mountains, and there were glass/see-through platforms you could stand on. Ray is not huge on heights, so he was kind of shaking standing there and getting his picture taken. (those glass bottoms were a hard NO for Maddie haha) Then we walked up to an area that felt more secure, had some espresso and a donut, and soaked in the incredible views.
We took the gondola halfway back down to Murren, where we started a walk/hike along the rim of the valley. We passed wild cows, we could see vineyards and farms, and the views were spectacular. They even had stops along the way with water taps coming down from glaciers on the top of the mountains. If you didn’t want to hike, you could take a train, but we would strongly recommend the hike. Stunningly beautiful and peaceful.
Towards the end of the hike, we stumbled upon a restaurant (Winteregg) where we decided to get some food and beers. It was set on the edge of the valley rim, with the biggest mountain in Europe right in front of it. We were so happy to be there. Then we got beef stroganoff and some German beer. Outstanding. It is a meal we think about often. It was one of the best things we’ve ever eaten with one of the best restaurant views of all time.
We hiked a little bit further afterward and took a gondola down into the heart of Lauterbrunnen, where we hopped on a train out of the valley back into Interlaken.
Interlaken literally means in between two lakes. There are a lot of restaurants, casinos, shopping, and activities on or around the lakes. A lot of paragliding and watersports. We strolled around for a bit and then saw a boat pulling in. We hopped on and rode around Lake Thun for an hour. It was beautiful. The bluest of lakes completely surrounded by massive mountains.
After our Interlaken experience, we headed back to Wengen and had dinner at an Italian restaurant that was one of the best meals of the trip. The standout one was an alfredo-like cream sauce with some prosciutto and peas.
After dinner, we walked over to an overlook spot under a clocktower and watched the sunset. Looking around the valley with its cascades and snowcapped mountains, we couldn’t help but smile and just be thankful that we were able to have this experience.
We capped off the night with drinks at the hotel bar. The GM came up to us, talked to us for a bit, and bought us a round of drinks! We hung out there for a bit not wanting the day to end, as we knew our trip was concluding and we’d have to leave Lauterbrunnen tomorrow.
DAY 9: TRAVEL TO LUCERNE FOR LUNCH, THEN BACK TO ZURICH. EXPLORING ZURICH, SWITZERLAND.
After breakfast, we walked outside of the hotel to take one last good look at the valley. Then we went into Lucerne (Luzern) for lunch on the water. It was a historic city and its character was evident. Absolutely beautiful architecture.
We then went to Zurich and checked into a really cool hotel called 25 hour hotel. We walked around parts of Zurich. It’s clocktowers, painted buildings, and unique walkways made you feel like you were in a different world at times. But then we emerged out to some water, with the Alps visible in the distance, and people were just hanging out. People playing music, drinking, food stands around, it was a really cool local experience.
We ate at Neni, a cool Israeli/Mediterranean restaurant attached to the hotel. Someone came up and played live music, we had an awesome meal and capped it off with vanilla rosemary ice cream with chocolate lava cake.
We went upstairs and unpacked, put on something comfortable, grabbed a bottle of wine, and then went to the roof at the top of the hotel. There was a balcony that overlooked the train tracks and some parts of the city. We had one of the best trips.
DAY 10: ZURICH, SWITZERLAND TO CHICAGO, USA
We got to the airport early and flew back with a quick stop in Atlanta. We planned to get back on a Saturday so we’d have a full day and a half to rest too.
PACKING LIST/TO DO'S
List of things to get ahead of the trip:
Your hometown to hub (if necessary) Estimate: $300
Hub to Zurich Estimate: $500
Zurich to hub (or home) $500
We kept an eye on flights and got a great deal from Chicago to Europe for $450 round trip. Look for those kinds of deals. Switzerland is a travel hub of Europe, you can find great deals
Get Swiss Franc + Euros + International Credit Card (your card may have international capabilities)
Estimated Total: $1200 or $600/person
Swiss Travel Pass: $400 per person
Save some money. We saved estimating we'd spend around $200 per day of the trip. If you have the money ahead of the trip, it really gives you peace of mind. You can do everything you want to, and know that it's essentially paid for.
Estimated Total: $2,500
TOTAL ESTIMATED TRIP COST PER PERSON: ~$3250 per person (that includes everything)
Some things to pack:
A range of clothes light/warm-weather can change quickly with the mountains
A blend of hiking/casual/dressy clothes
Reusable water bottle (great with glacier water throughout the trip)
Backpack (we have REI flash 22 pack)
Euros/Credit card with no international fees + ATM capabilities
Emergen-c (take care of your immune system ahead of and on travel days!)
Airplane headphones so you don’t have to buy them