When I worked in Paris many moons ago for 6 months, one of the neat weekend trips I took was a rather rushed visit to Switzerland. More than anything, we just wanted to leave France. Having visited Heidelberg and worked in The Netherlands during that period, we opted to go south: Switzerland (or Schweiz or Suisse, depending on which language you prefer).
We left work, grabbed our backpacks, and rode to the car rental offices in Paris to get our car. We decided all this within i a day or two from leaving so had no big plans nor hotel reservations anywhere. All we had identified was some target cities based on the easiest drive-around route. This was when the Internet was not yet matured so even if we had had the time we would not have gotten too much info on what to see and do. So drive we did.
That Friday night, we overnighted in a French town named Besançon, a town of about 200,000+ residents, somewhat east of Dijon, and not far from the Swiss border for all practical purposes. The town had an old casino which we thought we’d check out except it was all very smoky and we pretty much just walked right back out, opting for dinner at some non-descript café before going to our small hotel to rest for the night.
The next morning we crossed the Swiss border where we had to buy a permit to drive in Switzerland. I am not sure if that is still needed but make sure you find out before driving into the country. We felt that to aim for Geneva would put us to far west and that we would have to backtrack on the same road to head eastward so we opted for passing on Geneva (much as it is definitely worth the visit). We drove straight into Lausanne as our first stop though we made it a quick one to get info on the roads (i.e., get maps). We spied the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee facing Lake Geneva, no doubt paid for by money the sponsors of the Olympics pay the IOC for their monopoly. It looked like quite a pleasant city to live in, I must say.
Since we learned that Bern (Berne) and Interlaken were really the must-sees in the western half of Switzerland (we were not going to have enough time to explore the other half in one weekend AND return to Paris on time to show up at work Monday AM), we decided to not spend more time in Lausanne. The map below highlights in yellow the route we decided out which would take us close to Zurich but with no time to spend there, and would have us exit Switzerland at Basel, thereby minimizing backtracking in our route.
Instead we took off and decided the best route was along Lake Geneva (instead of heading back north of Lausanne and along Lake Neuchatel) where we were rewarded with views of the lake on one side and views of vineyards on the other (who knew!) before turning inland to head to Switzerland’s capital, Bern. The weather, as you may notice, was not the best for awe-inspiring photography (as you can tell) but the sights were still beautiful.
We arrived in Bern and sought the tourist information office – which you could count to be well-organized being a Swiss operation. And it was! The young woman helped us find a place to stay in the center of town – nothing fancy needed, just a clean bed and bathroom. We checked in but immediately took off to our main target: Interlaken.
The drive to Interlaken (“between lakes”), as the name alludes, requires you to drive along a lake. The road was curvy and fun to drive. We arrived at Interlaken and walked around, admiring the beautiful town and setting, with the ice blue waters flowing between Lake Thun (Thunersee) and Lake Brienz (Brienxersee) going right through town. We found a neat spot to eat at and enjoyed a great late lunch admiring the view.
After some more walking, we headed back to Bern (wishing we had not found a hotel yet in Bern so we could stay at Interlaken instead… ) to have dinner and see some of the town.
The next morning we continued our drive (which took us back past Interlaken; the dreaded re-tracing of a route…) on our way to Lucerne, another Swiss town on the shores of the same-named lake. We parked, walked around town, had lunch and started the long drive back to Paris.
One thing about driving in Switzerland is that there are never ending things to admire whether they be structures, lake, our mountains. You could say we barely scratched the surface on this beautiful country – clearly there are other great driving routes awaiting but for one weekend’s worth of sampling, I am pretty pleased!