Europeans have known the advantages of renting an RV and touring for decades. Every year, hundreds come to enjoy our National Parks and campgrounds. We wondered, How easy would it be to fly to Europe, rent a motorhome, and make a carefully planned 10-day tour of Switzerland, one of the most beautiful and tourist-friendly countries in the world? It was easier than we ever imagined!
We immediately found the Web site www.ideamerge.com, where we were able to select the type and size vehicle we needed, mark the dates we would travel, check off any special equipment we wanted, and pay in United States’ dollars with a credit card. The comprehensive Web site also lists many books and excellent sources of information for RVing in Europe.
We visited www.MySwitzerland.com next and discovered virtually everything we didn’t already know about Switzerland. Admittedly, we had an advantage, since we had traveled extensively in Switzerland by car, train and with our own motorhome. Our route this time was designed to hit some of the must-see places.
Our flight from San Francisco touched down in Munich, Germany, five minutes early. We then took the train and then bus to the huge RV sales and rental facilities in Sulzemoos, just northwest of Munich.
Peter Schütz at Reisemobilvermietung (McRent RVs) had our Dethleffs Globebus T clean and waiting for us. After a brief introduction to its various locks and functions, we were on the road. The McRent RVs come with a long list of necessary equipment, including electrical cords and adapters, cooking utensils, dishes and silverware. Camping table, chairs, bedding and towels were available at a small charge. There was a very complete camping/RV/outdoor superstore adjacent to the rental pick-up office where we found several items to make our
trip more fun.
We had previously loaded a Lowrance GPS iWay 250 with the detailed maps for all of Western Europe. Entering our first destination, we headed south on the German Autobahn. The little Fiat turbodiesel hummed right along at 80 mph, with power to spare.
We zipped through the German/Austrian border near Bregenz, and crossed into Switzerland at St. Margrethen, stopping only to buy the mandatory Swiss Autobahn sticker. Our first night camp on Lake Constance gave us time to arrange things and study our proposed route.
Getting an early start, we drove on the high-speed Autobahn, missing most of the
congestion around Zurich, and arrived in the medieval city of Lucerne. Just outside the downtown center we joined other RVers in the modern Camping Lido RV Park, right on the shore of Lake Lucerne. From there we walked down the path to the dock and boarded one of the elegant steamers that ferry people around this beautiful lake, the fourth largest body of water in the country.
The scenery was breathtaking, and after several stops at small towns and villages, we arrived at our destination, Alpnachstad, the lower terminal for the Mount Pilatus cogwheel railway, the steepest in the world with a 48-percent gradient. The panoramic view from the top of Mount Pilatus, (6,994 feet) encompasses Central Switzerland and no fewer than 73 mountain peaks.
Founded in 1178, the historical city of Lucerne has fortress walls and museums that are so fascinating you can spend days exploring. With our limited schedule, we took time to sip a glass of wine at one of the Reuss River outdoor cafés that overlooks the famous Chapel Bridge. Built in 1333, the bridge is adorned with paintings by St. Mauritius and St. Leodegar, its patron saints, and is one of the most treasured landmarks in the country.
Just a short drive south of Lucerne, we came to Ballenberg. This is a wonderful place to get a feel for both the traditions and the diversity of Switzerland. Actually a huge open-air living museum, typical houses from all corners of the country have been painstakingly dismantled and rebuilt here. Many of the original breeds of farm animals have been retained, and the making of bread, sausage, cheese, chocolate, baskets and other crafts are ongoing, just as they were hundreds of years ago.
Driving along the shore of Brienzer Lake, we arrived at our camp for this night at the scenic Camping Manor Farm on Lake Thun, the second of the twin Interlaken lakes.
Tearing ourselves away from the postcard scenery of Interlaken, we headed still higher into the Alps. Arriving in Lauterbrunnen, we were in for a special treat. Locals were bringing their livestock down from the summer pastures in the mountains, a traditional pageantry that dates back centuries. Cows were decorated with flowers and each proudly wore a bell. Men and women came in their traditional dress as they paraded though the streets.
We found safe parking a few blocks from the train station, and climbed aboard the Wengen railroad, which took us to Kleine Scheidegg, located beneath the towering peaks of the Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau and Gspaltenhorn. Here we boarded the Jungfrau railway, Europe’s highest cogwheel train, climbing to Jungfraujoch and the Top of Europe (a UNESCO
World Heritage site).
The tracks make a 180-degree turn inside the mountain. From the Sphinx observation platform at 11,760 feet, the views of the Swiss, French and Italian Alps were as breathtaking as the thin air.
No visit to Switzerland can be complete without tasting the chocolate. The Cailler factory in Broc was our next stop. The tour and chocolate museum were extremely interesting, and the limitless tasting room was scrumptiously
delectable and fattening.
Our next stop, just up the road, was Gruyère, home of one of the country’s most delicious cheeses. Perched on a hilltop beneath an 11th century castle, this medieval town, with its cobblestone streets and Market Square, is well-preserved. We stopped in Pringy at the entrance to Gruyère, where an excellent cheese factory lets visitors watch the full process of making Gruyère cheese.
Continuing to Gruyère, we found ample parking in the lower lot. Strolling through the cobbled Market Square to the castle, we made our
mandatory stop at one of the cute cafés to dip strawberries into a little wooden tub of double cream.
One of the joys of exploring Switzerland is that everything is so close. Leaving Gruyère, we scooted around to Vevey on Lake Geneva to visit the stunning Château de Chillon, one of the most impressive and imposing castles in Europe. History dates its first construction to the 11th century. We could have easily spent the rest of the day soaking up the atmosphere, but we did have a march route.
Taking the Autobahn, we drove south through Martigny and northeast to Sierre and Visp, where we turned south again on a windy secondary road to the famous town of Zermatt, beneath the imposing ramparts of the Matterhorn. Arriving just at dusk, we pulled into the only campground available in Täsch, a rather shabby RV park by Swiss standards, but conveniently located right next to the train station from which we would depart in the morning to reach Zermatt.
France has the Eiffel Tower, Italy the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Switzerland has the Matterhorn. At 14,691 feet, it is the world’s most spectacular and most-photographed mountain, and the life’s dream of many climbers. The Matterhorn is unique, but it’s not alone. Zermatt is dwarfed by 37 other 4,000-meter-plus peaks.
We took the aerial tram and then two gondolas to the top of Klein Matterhorn, or the “Little Matterhorn.” This is the highest sightseeing platform in the Alps, at 12,739 feet. Here, too, is the jump-off for year-round skiing on several glaciers. We didn’t have our skis, so we settled for a walk into the Ice Palace. A tunnel has been bored deep into the glacier, with ice exhibits and even an ice bar.
We still had time to board the cogwheel train up to the Gornergrat restaurant and hotel complex. This is the classic viewpoint of the Matterhorn. The Kulmhotel is the highest in the Alps at 10,170 feet.
to Visp, we headed east to Brig, stopping only to make a little side trip over the beautiful Simplon Pass. There were dozens of ideal wild-camping areas, and many RVs like our own were parked and picnicking.
Back in Brig, we followed the Rhone River to the turnoff for Nufenen Pass, continuing down the Bedretto Valley along the Ticino River. At length, we came to Airolo and the southern start of the famous St. Gotthard Pass, perhaps the most historically important in all of Europe. We followed the original tortuous cobblestone route through the Tremola Gorge. The fascinating museum at the top is worth several hours. The setting was incomparable, and we decided to camp with other RVers. The couple parked near us were accomplished alphorn musicians, and they played several songs beneath a full moon. It was magical.
Staying on the more relaxed and scenic secondary highways now, we drove over several passes, finally winding our way over the Julier Pass, which dropped us into the spectacular Engadin Valley and the town of St. Moritz, site of the 1928 and 1948 Winter Olympics. There is a wonderful RV park, the Campingplatz Olympiaschanze, just outside of town, within easy access of the glitter and glamour.
Like many RV parks in Switzerland, there were no specific sites, and no hookups as Americans know them. We just picked a nice grassy place and ran our electrical cord out to the nearest junction box. There were very clean, modern restrooms and showers, a laundromat, a dump station for the universally used cassette toilets, a drain for gray water, and a water-fill station.
clock was ticking as we made our way down the scenic Engadin Valley. Our luck with the weather was running out. This was only late September, and we were seeing snow on the ground when we reached the village of Susch (4,680 feet). The 7,818-foot Flüelapass toward Davos was just ahead, and we didn’t have chains. No problem. We took the easy way, and loaded our motorhome onto the train for a relaxed trip through the Vereina Tunnel, under the mountain.
Heidi’s Village was our next stop just outside Maienfeld. The heartwarming story of the young girl who lived with her grandfather in the Alps is by far the most popular work of children’s Swiss literature and has been translated from German into 50 languages, and filmed more than a dozen times. The actual house where Heidi lived has been turned into an interesting museum.
In a light rain, we jumped on the Autobahn and took the turnoff to Appenzell, a land of rolling green hills dotted with small farms, which produce the rich milk to make the famous spicy Appenzell cheese. The picturesque town is a must if you’ve never been to Switzerland, and the excellent Appenzell Demonstration Cheese Dairy in Stein is fascinating. We found a peaceful RV park just outside Appenzell and settled in for our last night in Switzerland.
Back on the high-speed Autobahn through Austria and into Germany, we had dropped off our motorhome by noon and were on the way back to the airport. It had been an amazing whirlwind tour, and we knew that we had only scratched the surface of Switzerland.
Of course we’ll be back!
IdeaMerge, (888) 297-0001, www.ideamerge.com.
McRent Germany, www.mcrent.de.
Switzerland Tourism, (877) 795-8037, www.MySwitzerland.com.