Heading off to an unknown destination can be daunting. It can be overwhelming. And at times, it may feel like the only option is to open a Lonely Planet guidebook and follow it to a “T.” I’m here to tell you that is not the way (well, it is one way, but not the way I would do it).
This last spring, Sarah Herron and I headed to the Alps – Switzerland and Italy to be specific – and we wanted to see as much as we could in 10 days driving through the Alps. There were a few things each of us wanted to do: Sarah wanted to see the Matterhorn and go to Lake Como, and I simply wanted to hike as much as possible and climb. What we put together was an Alps road trip, starting from Zurich, driving south to Lake Como and heading back north along a different route back to Zurich.
We landed in Zurich in the afternoon, picked up our car rental, and headed straight to our hotel in downtown Zurich. Sure, we rented a car, but we’re huge fans of parking it and forgetting it. In this case, forgetting the car was not an option, as parking fees are high in Zurich, and places to park are few. So yes, we were running back to the car every few hours. But still, we were downtown Zurich and it was CHARMING!!
**Pro tip: If you can drive a manual, you will save mega $$.
Right after checking in, Sarah passed out, and I found a bank to pull money. We only had 12 hours in Zurich, so as soon as we could overcome some of our jet lag, we set out, strolling the streets, and really just wandering aimlessly. The riverways of Zurich are magical, as are the main plazas. You really can’t go wrong just wandering.
**Pro Tip: Old town is the place to be!!
Once 5 pm hit, the locals came out and filled some outside bars, so this is where we took up shop, had a few pints of beer and a few sausages, and casually drank away our jetlag. That night we randomly found a restaurant away from the main plazas and had a mellow evening watching passersby and talked about the trip to come (after all, we were there for the Alps, not the cities).
The next day we woke when our jetlag allowed and hit the road. Our first “chosen” destination was Zermatt, the quaint little city nestled under the Matterhorn, but we wanted to take our way to get there, only taking back roads and avoiding the autobahn as much as possible. We looked at Google Maps, consulted Hotels Tonight, Expedia and Airbnb and chose the cheapest, best looking route with the cheapest accommodations. Surreptitiously what we chose was just down the lake from Interlocken, in a small town called Hilterfingen.
**Pro tip: Google maps make traveling by car a breeze and you can pre-download your routes before departing.
We arrived in time to take a hike. After discussing our options with the woman at the front desk, we decided to hike up to Harder Kulm, and then take the tram back down. We rode the bus to the trailhead, so we could potentially have a bottle of wine at the top. The hike was quite difficult. It was steep and consistent, but stretching our legs and charging up a few thousand feet was well worth the view. At top there was an amazing overlook and touristy restaurant to get that drink you just earned.
We rode the tram down and found a simple Swiss restaurant in Interlaken to fill our hunger.
The next morning we woke up to calm waters on Lake Brienz. We sipped our coffee and plotted our next leg of the journey. We decided to take as many back roads as possible on our way to Zermatt. Afterall, isn’t this why we rented the car in the first place??
You can’t drive all the way to Zermatt, but instead park at Tosch and ride the train in. Parking is very easy, the trains are very comfortable, and overall it’s a breeze to navigate – just follow the signs. The manager of our hotel picked us up from the train terminal and drove us to the hotel. It’s pretty cool, there’s hardly any gas vehicles – they’re all electric, hence not being able to drive all the way into town.
We did what we do best and wandered around the town, hopping in bars, checking out the menus, going to the visitor center and making plans for the upcoming evenings and days’ activities.
**Pro tip: Du Pont has the “classic” fondue and has been in the same family for generations.
The next day we rode the train up to the view Gorner Glacier, as well as get a “glimpse” of the Matterhorn (it was enshrouded the whole time). We walked down slope a few stations in the snow, and then rode a tram back to the top of town, where we walked the remaining way down, through mountain chalets and quaint homes.
That evening we heard rumor that the longest suspended footbridge in the world was only a few towns away. So yes, filling my need to hike, we decided to go exploring and headed down valley to see if the rumors were true.
We left Zermatt and headed for Lake Como. Sarah had found an Airbnb in the town of Lecco – mainly because it was close to good climbing, but also because this town was a little cheaper than other towns on Lake Como. We arrived late that first evening, and right away, we noticed a big difference between Switzerland and Italy – the PRICE!! Our first pizza with a carafe of wine was only 10 Euros!! Compare that to a 10 Frank beer!! We loved Switzerland, but we were glad to be in Italy.
The next day we woke up late, made breakfast and then drove to the town of Como, where we wandered around, took too many photos and enjoyed the shops, wine and food. It was a leisure day. And much needed.
The following day we decided to ride the ferry from Lecco to Bellagio. The ferry is wonderful and really gives you a beautiful tour of the lake. At Bellagio, Sarah had her fill of shopping and I enjoyed the walkways and a few pints of beer. We opted for dinner back in Lecco, where it was cheaper and closer to our homebase.
And finally, it was my day: climbing!! We went to a local climbing shop, got the beta on where the best beginner crags were and headed to the hills. The climbing around Lecco is world-class and there are crags EVERYWHERE!! If we had had more time, I would have liked to climb more. But one day was all we gave ourselves, and I was not complaining!
From the crag, we drove down to the coast of Lake Como and were lucky to find the best meal of the trip in the tiny world-renowned restaurant Il Cavatappi in the beautiful town of Varenna.
(Pro tip: Make your reservation for Il Cavatappi months in advance!)
BACK TO ZURICH
After nine days working our way south, it was time to head back north. We wanted to see as much of the country as possible, so we plotted our way back north on an entirely different route, over a new pass, and down a new autobahn. We knew it would take some time, so we got up first thing, and left our pitstops up to luck – after all, this is Europe, so the food and coffee will be good no matter where you stop.
We booked our final hotel right by the airport to make the next day a cake walk. We returned our car and boarded our flight home, satiated but not quite ready to leave.
This trip was made possible by Delta. For more Delta trips, please see my videos from Portugal and Aspen, CO, HERE.