Writing about the beauty of Switzerland is like trying to describe in great detail the depth and wonder of a sunset. Switzerland took all my expectations and threw them out the window, because it was so much more than I could have hoped for. I want to preface this with the fact that mountains are my heart and the high peaks of Switzerland gave me a new landscape to imagine what heaven looks like. I’ve traveled this world high and low and I always get the question “where’s your favorite place”? I have trouble with this question and still don’t think there is one good answer, but oh the mountains of Switzerland touched my heart in new ways.
I flew from Florence to Geneva on a little puddle jumper plane and got into Geneva in the early afternoon. There is a super fast, easy and efficient train ride from the airport to the main train station in Geneva. I met up with my mom in Geneva and hopped back on the train and made our way to Montreux. I planned the week in Switzerland with a lot of difficulty because I wanted to see and do absolutely everything. I would make one plan, see something new and change over and over again. After resolving that I wouldn’t be able to see everything that I had wanted I would just have to pick a few places and see what I could in the short time I had there.
I think Montreux was a wonderful choice and a great introduction to this lovely country. Montreux is on Lake Geneva, about an hour train ride from Geneva. Montreux is surrounded by vineyards and the breathtaking Alps. Montreux is also host to an internationally recognized jazz festival in the summer. The area has a mild climate and is surrounded with pines, palm trees, flowers and pines grow all around. There is even a wonderful walking path along the lake from town center along the “Quai des fleurs” to the Chillion castle.
The first afternoon in town I went for a run up hill for a view of the city from above. The view of the mountains and lake contrasting each was amazing. After a hard run uphill mom and I picked up Thai takeout and walked down to the water to have a picnic on the lake’s shore. Along the shore are public chairs and access points for a dip in the cool pleasant water. We enjoyed a perfect sunset with swans in the foreground and the Alps towering above.
The next day I practiced yoga in the nearby park, followed by a perfect breakfast of coffee and croissants at a mother-daughter run cafe which felt quite fitting. We walked the Quai des fleurs along the lakeside to the Chateau de Chillon. The castle on the water is the most visited historical building in Switzerland and for four centuries was the residence and toll station of the Counts of Savoy. The castle sits on the waters edge and is consists of a complex of 25 buildings and three courtyards.
The Chillon castle is also famous for being the subject of several nineteenth century writers from the romantic era. Most famously featured in Lord Byron’s poem, “The Prisoner of Chillon”. The lake and mountain views from the castle are wonderful and can be enjoyed from many windows, guard towers, and atop of the high dungeon. The castle is easy to get to and makes for a great half day trip. From the castle we caught the steamer boat back to Montreux.
Lake Geneva is the largest lake in Switzerland and France and one of the largest bodies of freshwater in Europe. So the multitude of boating options on the lake is no surprise. The pre-1930’s paddle steamboats run pleasure cruises stopping in Geneva, Lausanne, Evian, and many further ports on the lake. Tickets can be bought on board and you can hop on and off at different stops with the right ticket. This would be a great way to travel between the towns on the lake for a fun day trip in the area as well.
I spent the later part of the afternoon keeping up with my marathon training running down the waterside to the next town. Along the way I saw vineyards, locals picnicking by the water, swans, mountain vistas and so many other breathtaking sites. Afterwards, I spent the early evening lounging by the water in the public lounge chairs and cooled off in the clear waters.
The next morning we headed out of Montreux and made our way on the train to Zermatt. As a kid I remember a framed photo of my grandparents standing at the foot of the Matterhorn. Given my grandmother had countless framed photos on every square inch of her walls, I can’t be sure why this one in particular always stuck out to me. My grandmother had always always wanted to see the Matterhorn and she was finally able to go much later in life and you can tell by her wide smile in the photo is was as wonderful as she had always imagined it would be. Because of this I too have wanted very much to see this king of mountains and stand where my grandparents stood many years ago. So Zermatt was the top item on my list of destinations in Switzerland that I wanted to be sure to see.
The tricky thing with planning a trip to see the Matterhorn is the every changing weather. The conditions can change quickly and the entirety of the mountain can be swept away in a moment. I read many sites that said to be sure to check the weather before getting your hopes too high of seeing the Matterhorn’s peak. So we hopped off the train (which by the way is amazing and breathtaking in itself) I rounded the corner of the car free town and almost cried when I saw the Matterhorn cloud free and hovering above in its full wonder.
I love mountains. I been to many many mountains. I have never seen any mountain as breathtaking as the Matterhorn. It absolutely blew me away and I will never forget seeing the Matterhorn for the first time. My mom and I were so lucky to see the peak of the mountain cloud free in the first few hours we were there. We walked to the end of town and the start of one of the many trailheads and took photo after photo. We soon found a outdoor patio and enjoyed lunch and beers with the Matterhorn as our backdrop. Soon after the clouds rolled in and that was the last of the peak of the Matterhorn we saw the rest of the time in Zermatt.
We spent the evening exploring the cute ski town of Zermatt. A car free town filled with hikers and adventure seekers. Zermatt is surrounded by a range of unbelievable mountains, including the highest in Switzerland the Monte Rosa, but it is famous for the Matterhorn. Instead of noisy cars the town is filled with people on foot, electric taxis and horse drawn carriages. There are unless options for hiking and adventures and narrowing it down to one or two things to do while we were there proved challenging for me. The trouble wasn’t finding something to do it was a fear of missing out on the VERY best thing to do. Which in the end is silly because the view is so incredible even from town that you really can’t go wrong.
The next day I took the funicular and cable car up from Zermatt to Blauherd for the five lakes hike. The route starts in Blauherd and ends in Sunnegga and covers the five lakes in the area. Other options available are a 2hr hike from Zermatt to Sunnegga and 1hr 15min hike from Sunnegga to Blauhard. However, to avoid this uphill section there is a hiking ticket option for the return journey in the funicular to Blauhard from Zermatt and a one way cable car from Blauhard to Sunnegga.
An important thing when hiking in the area be sure to check the weather before you go. I got to the top and the cloud cover became so thick I could barely see in front of me. This was not ideal but the perk was the furry friends I met at the top while waiting for the clouds to clear.
After taking a million and a half photos of my new friends and finding myself solo and with a terrible sense of direction I started off on the five lakes trail. I made it to the first lake and somehow found myself back at the cable car and unwilling to get lost again I ended up doing the flower trail rather than the five lakes. The flower trail starts and ends in the same location as the five lakes trail but takes you on the other side of the mountain path. The trail has signs along the way describing the varieties of alpine flowers and their uses. http://www.zermatt.ch/en/Media/Planning-hikes-tours/Flower-Trail
The clouds made the vista views limited but added to the adventure. The path took about an hour and half and sweep around the mountainside, all downhill. The clouds finally broke towards the end of the trail and the long range views where some of the best I’ve ever seen.
The trail ends at the cable car station in Sunnegga and there is a restaurant with a large patio. I enjoyed a beer and took in the view of the Matterhorn teasing everyone flowing in and out of the clouds.
After taking the funicular back down to Zermatt I met back up with my mom and we spent some more time in town. I was lucky enough to be in Switzerland in the August while the flowers were all in full bloom in town. The gardens and flowers were so sweet and added a wonderful addition to the vast beauty of the area.
After a quick leg rest I was back on a trail heading up towards the Matterhorn. The matterhorn trail starts at the edge of town and weaves through the rich green valley. I’ll be honest here I am just not a good enough writer to describe the beauty so I’ll just insert some photos here so you can see for yourself.
The next morning we sadly left Zermatt and headed towards Interlaken…. to be continued in the next post, Interlaken, Bern and Zurich.