Great Drive Series – A Switzerland Sampler

Interlaken, Switzerland, travel, tourism, Alps, ice cold blue, Canon EOS Rebel

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.

Lausanne, switzerland, city, lake Geneva, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Sitting on the northern shores of Lake Geneva is Lausanne

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.

Switzerland, map, route, driving, Bern, Lausanne, Interlaken, travel, tourism

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.

Swiss, vineyards, Switzerland, Alps, drive, driving, travel, tourism, Canon EOS Rebel

Some of the many vineyards we drove by along Lake Geneva

Swiss architecture, Switzerland, Alps, drive, driving, travel, tourism, Canon EOS Rebel

THE narrowest steps I have seen, right by the road and NO handrail!

clock tower, Switzerland, Swiss architecture, drive, driving, travel, tourism, Canon EOS Rebel

Clock tower

Swiss architecture, Switzerland, Alps, drive, driving, travel, tourism, Canon EOS Rebel

Typical Swiss home along the shores of Lake Geneva

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.

Interlaken, Switzerland, travel, tourism, Alps, ice cold blue, Canon EOS Rebel

Beautiful part of Interlaken

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.

Bern, Berne, Switzerland, view, vista, photo, travel, tourism, Canon EOS Rebel

Looking back towards Bern on the road towards Interlaken

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!

 

Switzerland: Lausanne and the Lavaux wine region

Guest post by friend and fellow traveler, Chris Sanders.

After a few tortuous days on the Tour de Mont Blanc (see my related post), my wife and I were looking for a place in which to relax and recover…and we wanted to stay in the region…it didn’t take me long to decide on the perfect place…”we’re going to Lausanne” I told Wendy.

 

Getting there and finding a hotel

Lausanne is nestled on the shore of Lake Geneva, about an hour by train from Geneva. The city is sort of like Nice in France – except its smaller, quieter, cleaner, more quaint, more sophisticated, and I could see myself living there…come to think of it, I guess its really nothing like Nice…except that both towns sort of slope downwards towards the water’s edge.

We didn’t book a hotel ahead of time – the prices were just too expensive online. Instead, upon arrival, we immediately found the Tourist Agency (adjacent to the station), where we booked a nice room at a clean little place called Hotel des Voyageurs http://www.voyageurs.ch/en/index.php. The hotel was more than adequate and it was situated off of a quiet and narrow street in the old part of the city – perfect actually. We were pleasantly surprised to find our room also had a balcony overlooking the small street – at night Wendy and I would have a few glasses of wine and watch people coming and going below us…

Out and about in Lausanne

The old part of Lausanne is great to explore on foot. There are several small cobble stone type streets to walk, and since the town is perched on a hillside, there are also plenty of ups and downs to navigate. We were treated to a large outdoor market one day we were there…the streets were so alive with locals strolling and shopping for fresh produce and antiques.

Another “must see” located in the old part of town is the city’s gothic Cathedral – Notre Dame. The church is located at one of the highest points in the city…as such, it is accessed by foot via a quite long and steep flight of stairs, some portions of which lie on the Camino de Santiago (see my related post). After an arduous 10 minute trek, we arrived to the top of the stairs.  Off to the left hand side was the large front door to the Cathedral…in the other direction was a landing area overlooking  impressive panoramic of the city – you could see all the way down to the lake!

Aside from the old part of town, another great aspect of Lausanne is the lake front, which was very nice indeed. A wide asphalt path runs parallel for miles and on good days, people walk about,   rollerblade, and just sit on benches. Out on the lake, sailboats and rented paddle boats lazily sweep across the water…against the backdrop of steeply rising mountains of the opposite bank – it really is the perfect place to relax.

As if it needed more, the lakefront also boasts the headquarters of the International  Olympic Committee and the Olympic Museum (http://www.olympic.org/uk/passion/museum/index_uk.asp). Wendy and I visited the museum and actually watched some of the Beijing games (which were going on at the time of our visit). Among the many treasures on display in the museum is a large Olympic torch collection – its definitely worth a visit.

 

A day trip to Lavaux

After recuperating in Lausanne for a few days, Wendy and I decided to explore the nearby wine region of Lavaux – a region knows for stunning landscapes of steeply sloped vineyards that extend all the way down to the lake.  It was easy to get to by train and there were several small villages to explore.  We took a train to Vevey, where we then boarded a smaller “wine train” that passed through several small villages.  We ended up in a small village called Cully, which was supposed to the an epi center of the region…unfortuntelyit was Monday and the place was empty and pretty much closed down. But all was not lost – we found a small cafe where we sampled a local white wine and asked the waiter what we might do to pass the time. His suggestion was a walk through the nearby vineyards, which we did over the course of about an hour – it was absolutely beautiful!! Wendy and I decided if we ever returned to the region, we would book into a countryside bed and breakfast so we could really take in the beauty of the region and have a full experience.

Incidentally, the Lavaux wine region was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007 http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1243. We were not surprised…

If you’ve been to Lausanne or the Lavaux region, please share your experiences and  recommendations. We welcome your comments!

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