The format of the tour was another reason for going for it. As part of the package tour, Swisstours provides
- Return tickets on Swiss Air
- Accomodation (2 nights in Hotel Simi at Zermatt and 5 nights at service apartment in Lucerne
- Swiss Rail pass
With this, you have the necessary resources for travel in addition to having the freedom of scheduling your journeys as per your convenience, which is not possible with group/guided tours. In addition to this you get the thrill of exploring the country on your own which is absent for guided tours. The suggested itinerary for the tour was as below
- Matterhorn Glacier Paradise ? World?s highest Glacier Palace
- Jungfraujoch - Top of Europe
- Harder Kulm - A ride to the best views!
- Grindelwald First - 84 kms per hour on the First Flyer
- Stanserhorn - World?s first open double decker cable car
- Mt. Pilatus - World?s steepest cogwheel railway
We were guided well by the staff at SwissTours which enabled us to make fine adjustments to the tour.
On landing at Zurich airport we got our vouchers endorsed and went by train to Zurich railway station. We bought a SwissCom prepaid sim at the post office. This turned out to be invaluable during our travels. Since we had time on our hands we dropped off our luggage in the lockers and started for Rheine Falls. These are the largest falls in Europe. Here, you can buy tickets to the special viewing platform which also gives you access to the Schaffhausen Castle. This is highly recommended. Seeing the falls from this platform makes your realize the majestry of the falls The castle has been converted in to a museum. It has paintings on display which show the history of the castle. The air was nippy and we had some noodles, hot coffee and croissants at the shop near the ticket counter. The croissants were divine.
We came back Zurich station and had burgers at Mc Donalds. (You get veg burgers here!). With more time on hand, we decided to take a tram tour of the city.
Do check train timings before you plan your travels at http://www.sbb.ch/en/home.html. Google Maps is extremely helpful. It provides details in terms of timings of the trains, platform on which they will arrive, stations to change trains at, etc.
We then took the train to Zermatt. Don't sleep during the journey. It is very beautiful! We stayed at Hotel Simi for 3 days. Review of the hotel here. Zermatt is a combustion-engine car free zone which adds to its charm. You can travel around the town in electric shuttles. The hotel is around 350 meters from the railway station. We still managed to get lost and called up the hotel. The manager very helpfully sent across a shuttle to our rescue.
The next day we came to know that Matternhorn Glacier Paradise had not opened yet and we had a unscheduled free day on hand. We decided to go to the Chillon Castle. This is a beautiful castle on the banks of Lake Geneva. If you are interested in history, do take the audio guide which is available in multiple languages.
The original plan was to also do Vevey where Charlie Chaplin had spent a considerable number of years. But by the time we were through with the Chillon Castle, we were tired and hungry. We were unable to locate the Indian restaurant that we had identified before had. We headed back to station,, picked up our "lunch" at Migros and started back home.
The next day we packed our bags and kept them at reception and started for Matterhorn Glacier Paradise. It has the highest cable car in Europe with the station at 12,533 ft. From here you get beautiful views of the Matterhorn which "lends its shape to the legendary Toblerone chocolate". From Hotel Simi you can either walk to the cable car station or take an electric taxi. We took a taxi while going but thankfully decided to walk during the return journey. The town is verrry beautiful and the walk through it was pleasant.
Lucern was the base of our tour. The journey from Zermatt to Lucern was a long one and a bit tiring after the Matterhorn excursion.
We stayed at service apartments in Lucern. These are a fair distance from the railway station but the bus stop is just in front of the apartments and getting to and back from the station was not a problem.
One suggestion here is to check if you can get accomodation in Interlaken. Jungfraujoch, Grindelwald are nearer from here and you would get to stay in this beautiful region as well.
The next day we started off for Grindlewald. We experienced the First Flyer here which is highly recommended. You sit in a special harness and glide downhill at speeds up to 84kpmh. We then proceeded to Jungfraujoch which is called the Top of Europe. It has Europe's highest railway station at a height of 3454 meters. This along with Mount Titlis are the most popular destinations for Indians travelling to Switzerland. Check out the Bollywood restaurant there!!
For the trip to stanserhorn the next day, we first had to travel by a wooden funicular and then by the world's first double decker open air cable car. Do check out the marmots at the tops.
The next day we decided to do Mount Titlis. This was originally not a part of the itinerary. Hence we decided to drop Harder Kulm and do this trip. In retrospection, it was not a wise decision. Not, that it is not beautiful. Just that it was very crowded. And after reading the description of Harder Kulm, we felt that we missed a good thing.
Engleberg town at the bottom is very beautiful. There are shuttle buses from the station to the cable car station. We missed ours because of the crowds, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The walk takes you along a stream, past some farms and lots of beautiful wild flowers. At the cable car station do check out the vendor selling samosas and masala tea! Once you are back from Mount Titlis, check out the monastery in Engleberg which also has a cheese factory. Factory is open till 4:00 in the afternoon. So time your journey properly.
The next day was for Mount Pilatus or the Dragon Mountain. You reach the top by riding the steepest cogwheel railway in the world with gradients reaching as high as 48%. The return journey was via Panorama Gondola. There are some good walking trails at the top with some spectacular views of the Alps.
The last day was reserved for seeing Lucern which included the Lion Monument and Kapellbrücke. The Lion Monument, as the wiki mentions it, "commemorates the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution, when revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris, France. Mark Twain praised the sculpture of a mortally-wounded lion as "the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world." The Kapellbrücke is the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe and diagonally spans the Reuss river.
After 8 days of travel in this wonderful country it was time to head back home. This was not our first trip to Switzerland and while leaving we were pretty sure it would not be the last.