Vacation Highlight Reel: Switzerland


You would be forgiven
if you looked at this picture and didn’t believe it was real. Today, a little over a month after my family has returned from a vacation in Switzerland, I’m wondering if it was all a dream myself. Before we left, a lot of people asked us why we decided on Switzerland, specifically the Bernese Oberland, and the answer I gave was usually something along the lines of We thought we were ready for some epic hiking. After a ten-day vacation (two days in Zurich, three in Lucerne, four in Oberhofen/Thun and one in Bern) we have a lot to add to that list — a lot, settle in! — including the food, the exploring, and the swimming (yes the swimming). Here are are my top 14 highlights…


#1 The Water 
I saw pictures of the Switzerland lakes in brochures and travel magazines, but I don’t think I fully realized how special, almost extraterrestrial the color of the water was until those lakes were right in front of me. How? We kept asking. And we almost didn’t want to know, because any time we had a view of Lake Thun or Lake Zurich or Lake Lucerne or the Limmat or Aere River (above, in Interlaken) it felt like we were in some far away fairy tale. The electric turquoise glow is apparently the result of glacial deposits.

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Here’s a shot of the Reuss River in Lucerne, taken from Kapellbrücke, the covered “chapel” bridge. Not even the eight thousand tourists could ruin it for me.

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And this the view from our Airbnb in Oberhofen. We woke up to it every morning…

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…and stared at it like a movie screen during cocktail hour every night. In between, we’d say things to each other like “How can we move here?” and “How can we live a life where a water view is our main priority?”

#2 The Markets I think it was because I hadn’t done enough research, but I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect in terms of the food. Everyone talked and wrote about the sausage and rosti, and the fondue and raclette and Ementaler and cheese and cheese and more cheese, which was, of course, amazing, but it didn’t exactly sound like light summery fare. What I had shamefully failed to realize was how robust the farm and farm market scene was. We planned our eating itinerary in Lucerne around Wochenmarkt, the massive market that takes over both sides of the Reuss river in the center of town. There were vendors selling fruits and vegetables, fish from the lakes, handmade pastas, hard and soft cheeses, sausages, jams, marmalades, honey, breads…whoa the breads.  A week later in Bern we hit Bundesplatz plaza for the Saturday market and it was a similar case of sensory overload. I just loved the vibe there. All the locals brought their dogs, and wheeled their rollie bags to stuff them with enough fresh food to last for days.


#3 Market Meals 
It stands to reason that the next highlight on the reel would be the meals we made with our market scores. We, too stuffed our totes with enough food to get us through lunch in Bern, i.e….

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…tomato-cheese sandwiches on challah with fresh berries, apricots and figs for a picnic lunch.

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While exploring Thun, we hunted and gathered various items for a crostini dinner at home. The cheese came from Käsekeller and my favorite thing about the shop is that when you pick your cheese…

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They write the name of the cheese right on the wrap…

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We finished that meal with an assortment of sweet treats and our spectacular view.


#4 Local Wines 
I don’t necessarily know if all Swiss wines are like this, but we drank a few local whites and they were low alcohol, light and eminently drinkable. Bonus: We could sometimes find the castles on the labels right outside our window.


#5 Grindelwald Hike 1: Bachalpsee > Waldspitz > Bort (Three Legs) 
And now, to head into the main portion of the program, the hiking. We saved this hike for our first beautiful day because we wanted to optimize our vistas. All I can say is that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to go on another hike again. The whole itinerary took us about 2 1/2 hours, so it was long, but it was not arduous. From Grindelwald, the central resort town, we took the gondola up to First Station. Then for the first leg hiked to Lake Bachalpsee.

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At the top, it was cloudy. Mount Eiger teased us a few times and we held on to whatever we could get. (Doesn’t that look like a painting?)

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…and so many cows.

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…and walked around the perimeter of Lake Bachalpsee. For the second leg, we followed the red signs (only slightly more difficult, but way less crowded) to Waldspitz and this is where things got insane…

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The sun broke through the clouds and we had two hours of uninterrupted vistas of the three monster mountains, Eiger, Mönch and occasionally Jungfrau. And yes, when I storied this on instagram my DMs blew up with Sound of Music references.

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After a lager and some cheese toasts in Waldspitz (more below), we headed off on the third leg of our hike, from Waldspitz to Bort. Then we took the gondola back down to Grindelwald.


#6 Grindelwald Hike 2: Schilthorn on the North Face Trail, Mürren 
Even if it wasn’t the launching town of so many world-class hikes and ski trails, Mürren would be a fun place to explore. It’s a quiet car-free village high above the Lauterbrunnen valley, only accessible by cable car or railway (we took the train from Lauterbrunnen) and the views are stunning from literally every corner of the town. 

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It was a little overwhelming trying to pick our hike, but we settled on the Schilthorn trail which promised vistas and not a super high degree of difficulty. One thing that I really appreciated was the unbelievably clear signage along every trail. At the b
eginning of each trail, signs tell you exactly how many hours or minutes it will require and then along the way, there are painted rocks and more yellow signs and arrows so you never felt lost or confused.


Along the trail which took us two-and-a-half hours, as advertised.


#7 Mid-Hike Lunches 
I guess this shouldn’t have been much of a surprise to me, but the voraciousness of the hunger I felt after a 2 1/2 hour hike, breathing in all that mountain air, reminded me of how I feel after I ski. All I want is a stick-to-my-bones lunch, the kind of meal that on any other day of my life would sideline me for the afternoon. There’s some sort of vacation magic at work I think that prevents this from happening. We were logging 20-30 thousand steps every day, which I think had something to do with it.

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These were cheese toasts we ordered at the tiniest inn in Waldspitz (accessible only by hiking). Our waiter was also the innkeeper and the bus boy. We demolished the two toasts that came out of the kitchen in sizzling pans. 

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Here’s the slightly fancier Hotel Bellevue in Mürren, where we ate after hiking the North Face trail. We ate rosti and sausage boards and made excuses to keep going inside to check out the beautiful lobby.


#8 Harder Kulm – Top of Interlaken 
As Abby, our head research and travel planner, told me when I asked about this hike, “This one is all about the lakes and the views of the lake.” (Could’ve been the tagline for my entire vacation, actually.) We rode the cogwheel from Interlaken station to Harder Kulm, then did a leisurely stroll around the main loop while admiring distant views of the big three: Jungfrau, Mönch, and Eiger. This hike was easy and very popular — we saw a lot of little kids on the trails and the lookouts.


#9 Summit to Pilatus 
This was the only hike we went on while we were based Lucerne, but it was a good one. I hesitate to even call it a hike because it was essentially a cogwheel ride straight up to the top of 6,000+ foot Mt. Pilatus, and then some poking around at the hotel, gazing at Lucerne below, and gaping at the paragliders launching themselves from unthinkable heights.


#10 Pier 17 
In Oberhofen (on Lake Thun) we couldn’t believe our luck. Pier 17, a lakeside spot with all-day cafe vibes, was a five-minute walk down the hill from our house. They served acaí bowls with hemp-heavy granola, green smoothies, and fresh fruit for breakfast, and for dinner there was hummus and guacamole and fresh salads and, yes cheese plates. Was it traditional Swiss food? It was not, but it sure was nice to break up the sausages and rosti and thick-cut melted cheese toasts with some fresh familiar friends. Plus, did I mention it was on the water? I got to eat all of this while ogling Lake Thun.

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We went back for breakfast, of course.

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I’m surprised we didn’t just move in. (Here’s a view of the restaurant from the pier.)


#11 Bircher Muesli 
I’ve written about our family’s love of Muesli, but I definitely have not chronicled our family’s love of overnight Bircher Museli, which in Switzerland, is served way more like a porridgey yogurt than I am used to. My favorite kind was tangy (as opposed to sweet) and contained a generous amount of shaved apples. They sold little to-go cups of it in every backeri and Phoebe declared the most recent one her favorite every time. Naturally she gave the blue ribbon to the last one she ate in Zurich, at Sprüngli, a fancy destination spot more well known for its chocolate and pastries. Eventually we will try to make our own, but for now we’re doctoring European-style muesli from Bob’s Red Mill. The night before we combine a half-cup of muesli with milk (enough to cover but not submerge), then stir in a tablespoon of Greek yogurt and a squeeze of honey. In the morning we throw in shredded apples or whatever fruit is lying around.


#12 Local Swim Clubs 
I love a good swim, and this is particularly true when I’m on vacation. It just feels like the most indulgent way to optimize summer, especially when it’s early evening. The light is gold, the water looks soft somehow, and when you’re done, it feels like you’ve washed off the day. When I can make this happen on vacation, it’s optimum everything for me and in Switzerland it was so easy. There are public bathing clubs (known as “badis”) on the banks and beaches of seemingly every lake and river. And yes, ok, the water is cold — mid-60s — but it’s not dealbreaker cold and it’s a small price to pay for water that clean and clear. I have to say I think it was the most memorable part of the trip for me.

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This was Seebad Luzern. We paid about 20 CHF (a little more than $20) for the whole family to spend a few hours jumping off the dock, sitting in the sun, reading on the deck, and later, enjoying some snacks and spritzes on the deck.

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I managed to squeeze in two glorious swims at the Strandbad Oberhofen, a 10-minute walk from our Oberhofen airbnb on Lake Thun, and the swimming was FREE. There were diving boards, a cordoned off section of the lake for babies and little kids, and a cafe where you could order spritzes and beer and snacks, a well-manicured green lawn, where locals played cards, read books, had picnics. At one point I looked around and realized that not one person was looking at a phone or listening to something on their airpods. A month later, back in the real world, I find myself trying to conjure the feeling of being at that spot, swimming in that crisp, beautiful water.


#13 Frau Gerolds Garten in Zurich 
On our last night in Switzerland, acting on the advice of a friend who lives in Zurich, we decided to hop on the 4 bus from the Helmshaus stop and venture out of tourist-heavy Old Town to Frau Gerolds Garten, a barbecue and drinks spot in the middle of what felt like a pretty industrial neighborhood. The restaurant was like an urban garden, with piles of shipping containers fitting together to somehow create the happiest, most high-energy vibe. Colorful string lights connected the picnic-table dotted space like a giant spiderweb, and the food was amazing. We ate pulled pork and fresh potato and beet salads, and I let the nice bartender convince me to order a Giselle — basically an apple-pear spritz. It was an excellent way to cap off a memorable vacation.


#14 My Planners 
At home, I am the control tower. I have the family calendar tattooed on my brain and it usually falls on me to figure out schedules and carpools and who gets what car when (yes, we now have a third driver in the house), and if there is an event or a game or a weekend away, it usually falls on me to bang out the logistics. I never chose this role, and I don’t necessarily mind it, but I will say, it’s really nice to have a break from it. That’s what’s been happening ever since Abby discovered her inner travel agent. The kid loves every aspect of the planning. Sometimes she draws up day-by-day itineraries for us (complete with hiking trails, restaurants., markets, designated “cook in” nights) and sometimes, like this vacation when weather can be a factor, she figures it out on the fly. Here she is with Andy putting in the work and I am so grateful for it. Good news, too for anyone out there who might be Switzerland-bound because I managed to convince her to type up day-by-day notes on the trip (including airbnbs) just like she did with Hawaii. If you are heading to Switzerland and are interested in receiving a copy, feel free to contact me: Jenny AT dinneralovestory DOT com.

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Also, as always, a good chunk of this trip was chronicled on instagram stories. Just click the Switzerland highlight button on my profile page. Thanks for reading!

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13 Comments

Laura

We hiked and ate in some of the same places in the Bernese Oberland 5 years ago and I WANT TO GO BACK RIGHT NOW. Thank you for the lovely reminder (said with only a very slight amount of bitterness ;)).

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Melissa

Thank you!! I was able to make the most of a two-day break in a conference in Geneva at the end of August based on your Instagram stories. Stayed one night in Lauterbrunnen, hiked to Mürren, ate at Pier 17 (twice), and swam at Strandbad Oberhofen. Back home now and on week one of Dinner, the playbook with our 5-year-old (she likes the grading, but not the refried beans I tried to pass off as “sauce”). So thank you for the master plan to get our family eating (roughly) the same dinner!

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Ashley Bradley

This trip looks amazing – curious how you traveled from city to city? Public transportation or rental car?

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Anu Kadam

Wow! This and the hiking with kids in Switzerland piece on Cup of Jo have inspired me to visit with my kids someday.

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Eliza

Thank you so much for this wonderful post and for emailing me the detailed itinerary! It is so inspiring and helpful! I am planning a trip to Switzerland next summer and have two teen daughters. This vacation looks very similar to our style of vacation. Can’t wait to dive into the details and show these highlights to my family! Thank you Jenny and Abby!

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Kate

What a wonderful looking trip! I have two small daughters — a five year old and almost three year old. I have really loved reading about your trips with your family. I’m trying to soak up as much as I can while the girls are little and snuggly still, but reading about hikes and “cook in ” nights make me really look forward to traveling with them as they get older. Thank you.

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Megan

Thanks for taking the time to post this re-cap! Our kids are still young, but reading posts like this makes me excited for what lies ahead as their attention spans expand. Hopefully, one of them gets excited about the art ofvacation planning.

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Erin

Oh man, Abby and I are kindred spirits. There is nothing I love more than creating a travel itinerary, and I pride myself within my family of making the best ones. 😉

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Lauren B

Just wanted to say thank you so much for post and for sharing your trip notes! We already had plans to go to Lucerne a few weeks after your post. Ended up mostly sticking near to there – had grand plans to hit some more of the spots you also went to, but had a wonderful time taking it slow in town. We went to your gelato recommendation twice!

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