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Spectacular Switzerland and Magnificent Maggiore ~  

Swiss alps with village below

When it comes to travel smaller is bigger in my opinion.

     When I cruise it is either on a river cruise or a yacht, no mega ships for this girl.

If touring, I prefer small group events, I favor boutique hotels over sprawling resorts.   

I had been thinking about doing a trip focused on Switzerland, Globus's small group adventure was visiting the places I wanted to see.

The intimate size made it a great fit.

Zurich here we come!

     I always go in at least a day early for any cruise or tour, too much can happen with flights, especially this year.

A transatlantic flight can be wearing on your body, misconnections and lost luggage can disrupt your entire trip.

Having a buffer of a day to recuperate from the flight (or reach your destination) is something I would never overlook.

There are a few things one can do to help stack the deck in your favor when it comes to flights and luggage issues.

     1. If you have a connection always book the earliest outbound flight of the day to leave yourself multiple hours for delays and cancellations. 
     The days of a one-hour connection are long gone.
     Many travel insurance policies will not even cover you if you do not have at least two hours for an international connection.
     It is far better to sit bored at the airport than to be in a panic when there are no substitute flights to get you to your destination.

     2. Before you leave home make a list of alternate flights so that if you are cancelled you can give them to the person at the desk. 
     If you are prepared with back up flights that will make the difference on how quickly you can get reaccommodated.
     Have the airline's telephone number preprogramed in your phone and their app loaded as well.
     If your flight is cancelled call the airline while you are standing in line, and you can message on the app at the same time.

     3. Use packing cubes, color code them for each traveler and then split them up evenly between the checked bags.
     This way if a bag is lost at least, you each will have a set of clothing while you are waiting for it to be returned to you.
     Keep one full set of clothing in your carry on as well.
     Use Apple AirTags so you can tell where your luggage is should it be misdirected.


     We arrived in Zurich and checked into our hotel then headed out to explore.

Spectacular Switzerland montage ~ video

 

           A short walk brought us to Lake Zurich, it was a beautiful blue color, not like any lake back home, it looked like the Caribbean Sea!

Initially I wanted to take a lake cruise all the way down to Rapperswill and then take the train back, but we were tired from flying.

We decided to do an hour and a half lake cruise which showed us some of the villages which was perfect.

You do not have to make reservations in advance to do a lake cruise, just walk up to the ticket counter and purchase them.

Be sure you have Swiss Francs with you, they do not take the Euro in Switzerland, you can pick some up at any ATM machine. 

Make sure you notify your bank in advance of your travel plans or access to your funds can be frozen!


     The next day we explored on our own before heading to the hotel where we would meet up with the group for dinner.

The tour kicked off with a formal walk through of Old Town with our guide and then we headed out of the city towards Biel/Bienne.

The city has two names as it lays on the border between the French and German speaking regions of Switzerland, it is a bi-lingual town.

Did you know there is no "Swiss" language?

Inhabitants speak one of four languages depending on the region they live in.

72% of the country such as the cities of Zurich and Bern speak German.

21% of the country speaks French like those who live in Geneva.

6.5% of Swiss residents speak Italian, like those in Lugano, and there is a minority language Romansh spoken by .5% of Swiss inhabitants.


     Biel/Bienne is a watch city, Rolex makes the movements for its watches there.

In fact Rolex is the largest employer in the city.

Swatch, Omega, Tissot, Glycine, Movado, and Mikron all are manufactured in this small area.

I have never seen so many time pieces in windows in one town, and interestingly enough Swatch and Omega have their boutiques open 7 days a week.

In Switzerland, the law says all stores must be closed on Sunday except in airports and train stations.

Watch city must have found a loophole!


     We departed without purchasing any Rolex's and headed onwards.

We arrived in Geneva in the afternoon and checked into the hotel for our two-night stay.

Many people had signed up for the optional French dinner, but I don't care for French food, plus we already had plans to try out some real Swiss delicacies.

My husband and I went to a small restaurant known for its fondue and raclette to dine like a local.

Something that is very important to know if you are going to be eating this type of food.

Do not drink water when consuming it or you will end up with some serious stomach distress!

You should have beer, wine, or hot tea while eating it, some say schnapps as well.

The reason is water will cause the cheese to solidify into a hard ball in your stomach and feel quite uncomfortable sitting there. 

Our meal was delightful, feel free to message me for the name of the restaurant.


     We had an interesting walking tour of Geneva the next day which included a visit to Parc des Bastions where the "Reformation Wall" is found. 

This is a gorgeously detailed bas-relief sculpture that honors the leaders of the Calvinist movement who reformed the church in Switzerland.

The largest figures in the center are William Farel, John Calvin, Theodore Beza and John Knox.

Afterwards we had a delightful cruise on the Lake Geneva.

The cruise took is directly past Geneva's trademark Jet d'Eau fountain.

The geyser started out as a pressure relief valve for the hydraulic power network but soon the locals saw the value of how it drew people in.

It was moved to its new location where the size could be increased and now it is able to shoot about 460 feet in the air.

Although impressive it is still dwarfed by King Fahd's fountain in Jeddah Saudia Arabia that shoots about 853 feet in the air.

Our sailing trip brought us to a little French village called Yvoire which was picture perfect with flowers everywhere and a small castle.


     The next day we were on the road again.

We walked the path to find the source of the Evian spring and filled our water bottles with the cold water right from the source.

Our guide explained that the minerals get destroyed in the bottling process and that we were getting the "real product". 

It was quite interesting all through Switzerland no one purchases water.

They fill their bottles from public fountains where the water comes from springs or down from the glaciers.

I was a bit hesitant on that after my run of dysentery in November, so my husband and I bought water, everyone in the group seemed fine though.


     My favorite part of the trip came over the next two days while we stayed in Grindelwald.

You really could not imagine a more picture-perfect location; we were at the foot of the alps and Eiger mountain looming behind.

Upon arrival we did a quick bathroom stop and headed right back out to Trümmelbach Falls.

The melt from three glaciers, Eiger, Jungfrau and Monch cascade through the mountain at a rate of 20,000+ liters per second. 

There are ten spots you can experience the thunderous power of the water, some inside the cavern and other viewpoints are on the exterior.

It is wet and slippery so wear good shoes and don't rush if you visit.

Deep inside the temperature drops quite a bit so a jacket is probably a good idea.

Trümmelbach Falls ~ Video


     Our hotel was like nothing I had stayed in before, a chalet, which was cute and fit right in with the area.

We had a balcony that looked out over the town and a view of Eiger.

One thing to note is that there is no air conditioning, it is cooler in this area, they provide a fan.

The balcony door can open two ways, first as a regular door, alternately you can crack the top only like a big window which did cool the room down.

I always bring a travel fan with me which was very helpful as well.

     There was a festival in Grindelwald the night we arrived, they closed off the street and had many performers and exhibitions.

It was like a different world than my own, simpler, more wholesome, such a fun time.

There was a fantastic yodeling group, I had no idea that yodeling is beautiful harmonizing singing.

My only experience with it was what I saw in cartoons growing up, this was no cartoon show!

Even though we had an early morning we stayed up to see their second set, who knew I would be a yodel fan?

 

Yodelers in  Grindelwald Switzerland ~Video 


     The next day was the main reason I booked the trip, the journey to Jungfraujoch, the Top of Europe!

We headed out at 8am, I had on two shirts and two pairs of socks and my fleece jacket, earmuffs, and gloves in my backpack. 

We took the gondola up to the landing where we boarded a cog wheel train for the assent. 

Our guide wisely had people disembark around 6500 feet and walk around for a bit to get used to the elevation.  

I have been to Mt. Etna in Sicily many times and thought I would have no altitude challenges and 6500ft had no issues at all. 

We walked around and the mid-level and it was not too chilly yet, maybe 55 degrees, the views were stunning.
 
We boarded the next train and as we passed 9000 feet, I did feel pressure in my ears but not bothersome. 

When we reached the top station, 11,782 feet, I noticed I was getting winded when walking upstairs which normally does not happen. 

We were smart enough to know to take it slow.

We headed to the “Sphinx” first, it was a few floors over the train station but once you saw the view any minor discomfort left. 

Once we stepped outside the fresh air felt great and it was not that cold, maybe 35-40 degrees cold enough that the snow wasn't melting. 

We stayed up there for over an hour, the clouds would flow in and out changing the view constantly.

When the wind blew it did feel quite cold, but then the sun would shine and warm up, I kept taking my earmuffs and gloves on and off.

The view was quite mesmerizing.


     We went out and walked on the glacier which really felt like walking in the snow in my back yard in the winter.

I don't know what I was expecting that walking on a was going glacier to feel like, I guess icier.

There is an ice palace up at the summit, but we skipped that, I have been in ice bars before and my shoes did not have the best tread on them.

The last thing I wanted to do was slip and break my leg up there.

I will say that in the 3.5 hours we spent at the summit there were a couple of times we both felt momentarily dizzy. 

Not enough to be concerned about but we were glad we took the stairs slow; they do have elevators available. 

To put into perspective the height of this mountain at 11,782 feet it is more than twice the altitude of Zermatt which is 5276.

Mt. Pilatus tops in at 6982 feet and Machu Picchu is 7972 feet high. 

We took the scenic train down the mountain getting back to Grindelwald about 3:30, a long but great day.

 

Jungfraujoch, The Top of Europe, Interlaken Switzerland Alps~ Video

 

On to Lucerne.


     We stopped in Bern on the way to Lucerne, many people think Zurich is the capital of Switzerland, but it is Bern.

Bern means bear in German and there are bear references all over the city including some live bear residents that live there.

We visited their park; one was just so personable it was like he was posing for me.


      Lucerne was my favorite stop after Jungfrau on the tour.

It is full of history from the Lion Monument to the Chapel Bridge. 

What wowed me was the beautiful paintings on the facades of the buildings. 

Some of the murals dated back to the 1600-1800’s and told fascinating stories.

The old town was easy to wander about on one’s own, it is a city I can see myself returning to. 

While in Lucerne we visited Mt. Pilatus, we took the cog wheel train up and the gondola down, the opposite of Jungfrau.

Pilatus's cogwheel train is the steepest in the world with a gradient of 48%.

Once we reached the top, we climbed higher on foot to get the best views.

It was a very impressive sight, looking down you could see all the way to Lake Lucerne.

     Our Globus tour ended by my adventure was not done, my husband and I were headed over to Lake Maggiore, to spend four nights in Stresa.

People often think that Lake Como is the only place to visit when it comes to the northern lake district of Italy.

I personally feel that Lake Maggiore not only offers more value, but it also has less tourists, so it feels more "genuine".

I want to get away from crowds and chaos and just relax and have an authentic Italian experience. 

That is why I pick Ischia over Capri and Sicily over the Amalfi coast; I adore Italy and just wish to blend in and chill out not be in a tourist area. 

Price wise you will get so much more in Lake Maggiore than Lake Como. 

My hotel in Stresa, the Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées, could not be more luxurious, is also an amazing art museum with each floor dedicated to a different collection.

No detail is overlooked at this property, we had a direct lake front view room which I highly recommend.

Sitting on the balcony at night looking out at the islands was so relaxing.

The property is one of the most beautiful hotels I have ever stayed in and the staff go out of their way to please.

Video of the Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées

 

     A few minutes’ walk from the hotel is the water taxi to reach the three Borromean Islands.

Isola dei Pescatori which is the fisherman’s island is the only island inhabited all year long by locals. 

Isola Madre and Isola Bella, which are sometimes called the “sisters” were both favorites of Ernest Hemingway who also frequented my hotel. 

The islands are cute and won’t take up more than a few hours total round trip, the boat ride is nice, and you don't need a guide.

The cost for the ferry service is 15 Euros per person, there is continuous service from island to island, a lovely way to spend a half day or longer very laid back and easy.


     We spent another day at Lake Orta, the hotel concierge was wonderful and arranged a taxi for us, it is about an hour away.

I am never one to go the tourist route, preferring to visit areas where people actually live and exploring medieval borgos. 

Lake Orta’s town, San Giulio, is picture perfect, it would make a great setting for a romantic Italian movie. 

In the center of the lake is the island where you can take a water taxi out to visit like the Maggiore islands. 

The town has some nice frescoes, churches etc., but really it is just the charming feel of walking the streets that drew me.  

There is nothing I enjoy more than walking along with no purpose in mind in an authentic town without being pushed or crowded by tourists. 

We spent about three hours and headed back; it was a lovely day. 

Video Orta San Giulio


     Our last day at the hotel we spent at the spa.

The Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées is a destination spa resort, they even do medical spa treatments.

All the Spa circuit is free for hotel guests and massages are very reasonable, you would never expect pricing like this from a five-star property!

Again, that is because Lake Maggiore is a great value.

My husband and I each signed up for a “warm up” 30-minute treatment, for myself me feet, him neck, and then a 50-minute candle massage each. 

If you have never had a candle massage, they are great, warm wax is dropped from a candle and massaged to moisturize your skin and the great penetrates the muscles.

It is not super-hot and feels great, nothing like the burning wax torture you might be picturing. 

The spa circuit includes an indoor and outdoor pool with whirlpool beds, waterfalls for neck massage.

There is an ice shower, music pool, kneipp path, paradise path of experience showers, blue artic and orange tropic showers.

Also, a Turkish bath (aka hammam) a sauna, steam room, and snow cabin, there may have been more those are the things that kept us busy for about two hours.

Feeling totally relaxed we sadly packed up our things, the hotel had arranged a car service for us for the next morning back to Milan MXP airport.


     This was a great adventure, I am glad that I added on Stresa after the tour, I always like some time to decompress after running around touring.

Milan was a quick inexpensive flight from Zurich, and it was a great way to decompress before heading back to reality.

If you are interested in hearing more about Switzerland or Lake Maggiore, give me a call at 413-552-8941 or send an email to ydreamvacation@charter.net 

I always have great packages!

(247 Reviews)
99% Recommended

Ann Castagna Morin

Southampton, MA
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