Travel Mom Emily, a nonprofit executive in the humanitarian relief space, joins us on this episode to share her family’s vacation in Switzerland details. She, her husband, and her eight-year-old son spent eight days on a hiking adventure.
Many think of Switzerland as a skiing and winter paradise, but as you’ll discover, it’s an incredible summer destination too.
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Tell Us About Your Summer Vacation in Switzerland.
Our trip was a total of eight days. We flew from Tampa to Zurich, and the minute we hit Zurich, we hopped on a train and went to Lucerne. We spent three days in the Grindewald and Bernese Oberland region. Then we went on to Zermatt so that we could see the Matterhorn. And we finished with a day in Chamonix and then to Geneva, where we flew home. We did a big horseshoe of the region, and it worked out really well.
The trip was inspired by my childhood and young adult knowledge and interest in mountaineering and thinking that the Alps is the ultimate place to go. The hiking was challenging but in a very inspiring way. It’s hard not to fall in love with the vastness of the landscape there.
And the Alps are more accessible to families and non-mountaineers than people might realize. There’s a way for normal people to enjoy the outdoors and the mountains. You don’t have to be a super athlete.
How did you plan this incredible hiking vacation?
I like to listen to Rick Steves, and I looked to him for some guidance. I also found the Swiss Family Fun website with a lot of good information, and it gave us great inspiration for day hikes that we could do.
We used the trains to get around as Switzerland’s train system is amazing. It truthfully is on time. There were some days we barely looked at a train schedule. We knew something would be coming in five or 10 minutes that would ultimately take us to where we wanted to go if we missed our planned train.
You’ll want to figure out if you need to buy day passes for the trains or if you should buy the family pass, which kids travel free. The other benefit of the family pass is that all the mountaintops that we took a cogwheel or gondola are quite expensive, and oftentimes you get 50% off if you have a rail pass. So it’s something to consider when budgeting for this type of trip.
This can be an expensive trip. It was expensive for us because of our last-minute planning. But I think with the right planning, looking at the right rail cards, etc., you could affordably do this.
We did a lot in eight days, and the one thing I would have done differently is to add one day of rest to the itinerary.
And I will mention, and maybe this isn’t the case for all families, all the hikes took us longer than it said they would. We took lots of breaks and enjoyed it all. If it said it would be a two-hour hike, it took us three hours.
Vacation in Switzerland: Grindewald & the Bernese Oberland
We spent three days in Grindewald and the Bernese Oberland region.
The first hike we went on was the Panorama Trail, in Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg, which was a great 5K hike. It’s very flat but has beautiful views. We often took gondolas up to the top of the mountain and hiked down, and that worked out really well. Many of the hikes on the Swiss Family Fun website were designed that way. I think it’s a little easier for children.
And if you’re traveling with children to Switzerland, especially in the Alps, one of the things to really relish is their amazing playgrounds. This trail has an amazing one on the top of the mountain with the most beautiful views.
The next day we went to the Jungfraujoch, which is a little touristy but fun. This is a gondola plus a train ride up. The Eiger Express takes you to the top of the Aletsch Glacier. This is the longest glacier in Switzerland. It was amazing, and there were many things to do for kids inside the mountain when you get up there. They have an ice palace inside.
We spent most of our time outside in the snow. Our Florida kid was very, very interested in this. At the top of the mountain, they have a snow park outside so he could do some sledding. My kid was afraid of heights, but apparently not in Switzerland. He did an amazing zip line across the glacier. And we wound up just taking the gondola back down that day.
One of my favorite things in Grindewald was the hotel we stayed at, Hotel Alte Post. It was a lovely family-owned place in the center of town and very well placed next to the First gondola.
What I didn’t realize is this hotel didn’t allow children. A consistent challenge we ran into in planning was finding a hotel room for the 3 of us, as we didn’t need a big family-size room. They were surprised when we showed up with a child, but they were very gracious about it. We paid more, and my seven-year-old had to be on his best behavior. He did great, and they were lovely to him.
The next day we took the First gondola, and it was beautiful up there. There’s a neat skywalk you can walk on. There’s fun stuff to do up there. But the true reason we did this is not just the hiking but also to ride the Trotti bikes down.
They are the size of a bike but function like a scooter. You take it downhill. There’s no pedaling. But it has big wheels, and it was hilarious. You’ll find them on almost every mountain. It’s a more fun and interesting way to come down the mountain than the gondola ride you went up on. Ollie would tell you it was his most fun day.
Vacation in Switzerland: Zermatt
Then we went by train to Zermatt. We stayed at a hotel there, Europe Hotel and Spa, which was really lovely. It was very sheep-forward with sheep wallpaper and soap. The owners of the hotel apparently have quite a large flock. It was right in the center of town, and we had a quiet evening and fondue dinner in their restaurant, which was delicious with a beautiful view of the Matterhorn.
The next day was our best day and most inspiring hike.
We did the Gornergrat hike from Rotenboden down to Riffelsee, and you have a view of the Matterhorn the whole time. The weather was beautiful, and the Matterhorn was not clouded in. They encourage you to start earlier in the day because you’re likely to get clouds in the afternoon. The beginning of this hike was very steep, and there are cliffs off the side, so we had a good talk with our seven-year-old about being extremely careful.
It was great and had the most beautiful views. We walked through so many different things. We saw glaciers and rock formations. We went through lakes. My son found his echo for the first time. Just all these really fun things.
The path runs very near a train the whole time. So we did the longer hike, and then we hopped on the train to finish it out.
It was the most physical hike for us, which gave us a sense of accomplishment, and the vistas were just amazing. And we spent that night again in Zermatt, and the next day we headed to Chamonix for a day.
Vacation in Switzerland: Chamonix
Since we were so close to France, we thought we should go and check out Chamonix.
You take a gondola and cogwheel ride up to a beautiful view of Mount Blanc. It was similar to the Jungfraujoch experience, so you may not want to do both. Then we enjoyed spending time in Chamonix. It was a rainy day, but we walked around, and if you’re an outdoor person, even the outdoor gear stores alone, it’s like going to Disney World.
We spent one night there, and the next day we went to the Aguille du Midi. I just figured we’re probably never going to hike Mount Blanc so this was our way to see it.
Then from Chamonix, it was an easy train ride to Geneva. We headed there, did a little exploring then headed back on a direct flight.
How did you pack for the trip?
Our goal was to pack light as we were training everywhere. We each took one pair of normal shoes and took our hiking boots, daypacks, and water bottles. We’re big fans of using field pants or hiking pants with lots of pockets.
And as we did carry-ons, we couldn’t take our hiking poles. We purchased those there. They were very helpful with the undulations and hiking down all the steep sections.
And remember your sunscreen.
Why do you think it’s important to travel with your kids?
I think it’s very easy for us to become centric in our thinking, not understand the plight or positions of other people, not only internationally, just sometimes even in our own country. I want to make Ollie aware of the world that’s out there. It wasn’t until I got involved in humanitarian relief that my understanding of geopolitical and social issues expanded. I want him to experience the same kind of thing.
I want him to be inspired by travel. I want him to know there’s more out there. And I would love for him to learn from other cultures and, hopefully, he’ll be a lifelong traveler and love the experience.
We’re blessed. He’s a very easy traveler, the type of kid who does the direct flight and hits the ground running when you land. I know that’s not everybody’s case, but I feel like the more travel you do, the earlier you do it, then you end up with a travel hearty child.
What’s the next trip you’re planning or dreaming about?
I don’t know where we’re going next. This trip was just so inspiring. Whatever it is, you can bet it will involve some outdoor component.
And we’re potentially doing a small trip to Boston over Thanksgiving to follow in the footsteps of some of our history, explaining some of the rights and wrongs of that. I used to work for the cranberry industry, so I spent lots of time in Massachusetts in the cranberry-growing region. There are so few cities like that in the United States that are so rich in history.