Day-to-Day: Family trip to Switzerland, winter edition

We went to Switzerland for February break this year and here are the highlights:

Friday, February 13- Saturday, February 14: Travel to Switzerland

We departed from SFO on Friday, February 13, and arrived in Frankfurt, Germany on Saturday, February 14. Our flight from Frankfurt to Zurich was scheduled to depart at 12:30pm, and at about 12noon, because the flight was oversold, they started offering deals for people who would take a later flight. When they got to 250€ per person, we decided that was a pretty good deal, especially since we could take the train straight to Luzern!

Turns out our bags were not that quick off the plane, so we ended up taking the train to Luzern without luggage. Switched trains in Basel and were in Luzern by dinner.

We did not realize when we booked our trip (almost a year ago, we used frequent flier miles!) that we would be traveling to Luzern right at Fasnacht/Carnival. It was very busy in Luzern, lots of marching bands and people in costumes with masks. Very festive.

Hotel: Stern Luzern, less than 10 minute walk from train station, included free WiFi and breakfast. Centrally located, close to Altstadt. Four person room, with 4 beds.

Dinner: Best Western Hotel Rothhaus. Because of Fastnacht, our choices were limited however this turned out to be a good choice. Typical Swiss menu, prices not out of this world, and the food was tasty. Weinerschnitzel, hacktätschli (meatballs) and rösti with tomatoes and cheese.

Sunday, February 15: Luzern

The hubby and I had a morning walk up to the train station to check things out. We were supposed to have our luggage by noon and we wanted to see what the deal was to go up to Pilatus mountain. After breakfast, we got the kids going and walked around Luzern, visiting the old town wall, the lion monument, plus time carnival people watching.

Luggage did not arrive by noon, so we decided to bag trip to Pilatus, and instead went chocolate shopping at Läderach. We tried mini mousse, flavored slabs of chocolate and little truffles. All tasty. Luggage finally arrived at 5:45pm, with little explanation about the delay. But our afternoon also involved card playing with beverages, so that was a good time and we did not miss our bags too much.

Dinner was at Stern Luzern, a special Fastnacht menu with Swiss specialties. Dishes included veal sausage with mashed potatoes, star-shaped meat ball with mashed potatoes, pork chop with roasted potatoes and beef with French fries. Warm chocolate cake for dessert.

Hotel: Stern Luzern, less than 10 minute walk from train station, included free WiFi and breakfast. Centrally located, close to Altstadt. Four person room, with 4 beds.

Monday, February 16: Luzern to Grindlewald 

Took advantage of jet lag and woke up at 5:30am to chase the Fasnacht parade which started at 6am. Lots of people, lots of drums and bands and noise. One in our party was drawn to a hot dog about 6am, then a crepe at 6:30am. I tried raclette, which was tasty although odd at 6:30 in the morning.

Back to hotel and breakfast with a visiting band which included practice and a Fastnacht badge. Packed up our bags and fought through the crowds to the train station for the trip to Grindelwald.

Arrived in Grindelwald about 2pm and headed to hotel, about a 10 minute walk through town. Unfortunately, the snow was a little slushy, but the wheels on the rolling suitcases held up well. Our room was ready at the Hotel Alpenblick and we dropped our bags and headed out for a little walk to orient ourselves. Lunch was at a nice little cafe up the hill from the hotel, Harmonie Holz Cafe 3692, Terrassenweg 61. Menu included soup and bread, lamb burger and plates of local cheeses and meats, Eigernessplättli, with a beer a piece.

Dinner was at the Hotel Alpenblick, a casual dinner, inexpensive. Nothing to write home about, but it meant we did not have to leave which was relaxing.

Tuesday, February 17: Grindelwald

Today’s adventure was a big sledging trip from Faulhorn down to Grindelwald. Gondola to First, where we rented sledges and began the 2.5 hour hike to Faulhorn, basically mostly uphill (note to self, you cannot go down until you go up). Made it to Faulhorn, then started the sledge trip down the hill. Some of us were better suited to to thrilling, fast ride on uncontrollable sleds with no breaks and difficult steering. Others were not. Sledge rental 15 CHF per person per day, plus refundable deposit.

Had lunch in Busslap, which was lovely, outside on the patio with a beautiful mountain view. I tried the local macaroni and cheese, others had Weinerschnitzel and chicken nuggets with fries. Also for me, hot chocolate with rum!

Following this big sledging adventure, our family tried curling lesson at the Grindelwald Sports Center. We booked a private lesson on the curling courts, and met our instructor Renee at 4pm. He took us through the basics, then we played a short game. Much more complex game than we expected, but everyone enjoyed learning. The hardest part was trying this after our big sledging adventure. Private curling lessons for family 144 CHF.

Wednesday, February 18: Grindelwald

After yesterday’s big adventure, the plan was to play it a little low key. We took the bus from outside our hotel to Männlichenhof where we caught the gondola up to Männlichen. The idea was to hike down the mountain to Holenstein and take the gondola back to Grindelwald, but we discovered instead that we could rent sledges for the same trip. We hiked to the Männlichen-Gipfel, which had a lovely view of the mountains and valley below (with a little fog). Then a little lunch out the outdoor cafe before heading out on the sledging trip. Chili, bratwurst and mountain cheese bread (which looked a lot like raclette, without the pickles and onions) were on the menu today.

Half of us went down the fast sledge path, while the other two (me included) went on the slower path. We could have had many rides on the gondola and sledge route, but a mix-up with communication meant we had one nice run. Gondola tickets discounted with Swiss pass, kids free. Sledge rental 60 CHF.

Afternoon snacks at C und M Cafe to try their well advertised Apfelstrudel with vanilla sauce. And hot chocolate of course!

Dinner tonight was at Memory Restaurant at the Hotel Eiger. We thought it was the best meal of our Grindlewald trip – good menu of Swiss specialities, good prices and good service. We sat in the Gespi bar while our table was being prepared and played whist. We tried Alper Makkaroni, the famous Horny Chicken, and Rosti with venison and red cabbage. Very tasty. Also had a elderflower soda in the bar, which the kids loved.

Thursday, February 19: Grindelwald to Zermatt

Up at a reasonable time to make it to the train station for the trip to Zermatt. First to Interlaken, then onto Spiez, then Visp and finally Zermatt. Beautiful ride. We had packed lunch and ate on the train. Arrived in Zermatt just about 1pm.

Checked into the hotel. Hotel Testa Grigia right on the Bahnhofstrasse, about a five minute walk from the train station. Tons of souvenir shops along the way, felt very touristy, like a Swiss Main Street Disneyland. The hotel was nice, we had two adjoining rooms and it was nice to have the space after the tight quarters in Grindelwald.

First order of business was taking the Gornergrat Bahn, the Matterhorn railway, up to Gornergrat 10,266 feet, the viewing point for the Matterhorn. Discount with our Swiss pass. The view of the Matterhorn was amazing, much better than Disneyland. Lots of photos taken for Instagram! 76 CHF to the top with our Swiss pass discount.

Decided against snacks at the top, mostly because they were ridiculously expensive (1.30 CHF per chicken nugget!) and headed back to town to figure out dinner. After cross referencing multiple guide books, found Old Zermatt Restaurant and headed over for early dinner. Found that they had a nice casual area where we played whist and had beverages, then dinner. On the menu was Wienerschnitzel with fries, Braised beef cheeks, and a good selection of kids meals including pasta with red sauce.

Hotel: Hotel Testa Grigia 5 minute walk from train station. Very nice hotel, beautiful spacious rooms, some with balconies overlooking the street. We chose a family set up, two rooms joined by a hallway, with a door to close off the entire suite. Most expensive hotel of our trip, but worth it! Free WiFi, beautiful breakfast including house-made Bircher Muesli. One morning I asked the dining room server to explain how she made it, and in halting English (I think she was Portuguese, and English was her third or fourth language) she explained a two-day process for building the muesli, which includes two kinds of cereal, citrus, apples, bananas, yogurt, raisins, ground nuts, and cream. Seems like the perfect make-ahead breakfast, this recipe for Bircher Muesli seems the closest to what she showed me.

Friday, February 20: Zermatt 

Today, after a nice breakfast we returned to the Gornergrat Bahn for a trip up to Rotenboden 9,246 ft, where we rented sledges for the ride down to Riffelberg, which we did over and over again for 4 hours. We timed it so that we could make the run and catch the next train, avoiding any wait time. My last run was the best, no butt slides (this is where I get too scared to stay on the sledge and go down the hill on my butt!), stayed on my sledge the whole way. Very proud. Had a little picnic lunch in the middle of the day at Riffelberg, so we did not impact our travel time. 92 CHF for the train plus 32 CHF for the sledges.

Back in Zermatt, we stopped at Baeckeri Fuchs for an afternoon snack – elephant ear pastry, blueberry pie, and lemon tarts. Fresh OJ, hot chocolate and Gluhwein too.

For dinner tonight, we decided to try to find something very typically Swiss, ideally where we could play cards with drinks before dinner. Ended up at Zermatterstübli, just down the street from our hotel. After drinks and cards, we ordered dinner. We tried the special veal with cream sauce and Rosti, housemade tomato soup and Bauernbratwurst with Rosti. Tasty, although the restaurant was busy with Friday night guests so we felt a little rushed.

Next time, we will try the Restaurant Whymper-Stube, supposedly the best fondue in all of Switzerland!

Saturday, February 21: Zermatt to Bern

On the 10:13am train to Visp, connected to train to Bern. Very crowded train, lots of people leaving the mountains on Saturday morning. Arrived in Bern about 12:30pm, took tram #9 to hotel, Hotel Alpenblick Bern, Kasernenstrasse 29, checked in and went out into the snow for adventuring.

Fasnacht was taking place this weekend in Bern, a much smaller celebration but still fun to watch. It snowed through the entire parade, but there was a nice covered walkway through the old town that we stayed under and watched the parade. Did a little window shopping, but did not buy anything. Pretty cold, even after a brief break for hot chocolate and coffee, so we went back to the hotel to warm up before dinner.

Old town was very beautiful, but the snow and carnival made it hard to enjoy. We walked through the rose garden to a nice panorama view. And we wished we could have visited the different fountains in town. Also, could not manage to see the clock tower do its thing, next trip.

Dinner was at Altes Tramdepot, a large brew pub near the bear area located in the old tram depot. Beer on tap, plus we could play cards and dinner was good – burgers, Bernerteller plates (different kinds of pork with sauerkraut) and Spätzli mit speck. All very tasty.

Hotel: Hotel Alpenblick Bern. Turned out to be a little further away from the train station than I usually like, but the location was peaceful and easily accessible via tram (free tickets for guests of the hotel). A good healthy walk into town via the Rose Garden with its panorama view of Old Town. The room was spacious for 4 people, had a nice room divider that afforded a little privacy, 4 beds, plus lots of room. And breakfast, included, was the best of the trip, with a self-service egg boiler. Only downside is that the restaurant is not open on weekends for dinner, so we had to go out and about on a snowy night.

Sunday, February 22: Bern to Zurich to Munich to SFO

Train to Zurich Flughof, about 1 hour, then a little shopping the Zurich train station before checking in for our flights – several grocery stores for last minute chocolate purchases plus a Victorinox shop for souvenir Swiss army knives. Also did some shopping in the airport before boarding the flight to Munich. One of the downsides of a short trip is less opportunities for shopping!