The drive into Switzerland was epic to say the least. Picture this: the brightest green fields with the tallest, steepest mountains and beautiful serene blue green lakes in any direction you look. And that’s only scratching the surface of the beauty of Switzerland!
We were completely mesmerized by the scenery! We even stopped over at one of the blue lakes on the side of the highway just to soak it all in. Gorgeous blue water contrasting with the bright green, fluffy looking grass. Dean even met a little friend who was there to soak it all in too!
We only had a few day in this gorgeous country, so we had to pick our stops strategically. We heard that Zurich was more business city, and that we shouldn’t waste our time, so we made Lucerne our first stop. The first thing we learned, Switzerland is expensive! The second thing we learned, 1 night was no where near enough! Because we made the decision so late, the hotels in our price range were VERY slim pickings. Figuring 1 night was better than none, we checked into the hotel we found on hotels.com through Ebates for all our rewards and cash back and were out to see the gorgeous Lucerne lake and to check off a must eat in Switzerland, fondue!
Lake Lucerne was beautiful and again, swans! This time, some of them were right up on land begging for food! A gorgeous lake at the base of a super cute city. Once you get into the old town, it’s all small streets made for walking. While there were, of course, some big brand name stores, the streets held their charm and walking around them made for a beautiful evening. It was shockingly quiet for a Saturday night! Maybe it’s because we were out past the Swiss’ normal dinner time, but it seemed as though we had the town to ourselves.
We’d done some preparing as to where to go for fondue and realized quickly that this was a great way for the restaurants to make their money off the tourists! We’d narrowed it down to a few places and ended up at what we can only describe was a Disneyland like iteration of everything Swiss. Picture a large dimly lit dining hall with a brightly lit stage, women dressed in Dirndl(they looked like the girl on the Swiss Miss hot chocolate ads), the large Swiss Alphorn(riiiiiicola comes to mind) with singing, and yodeling. Everyone was in character to say the least. The crowd was a variety of people from around Europe, the United States and China, they all proudly proclaimed their origins before heroically blowing on the alphorn. We of course were in search of good authentic fondue, we are not sure that we really received that, and at a steep price tag we were in a hurry to get out as fast as we could. The fondue was good, but not mind blowing. Take the reviews of these places on social media with a grain of salt, going out for fondue was fun, but not authentic in anyway there.
The rest of the night we spent just meandering around the tiny town taking in the beautiful sights of the unique Swiss style churches, the cobbled streets and of course grabbing some Kebabs because a small pot of cheese isn’t enough to keep us happy!
The next day brought about the rain and fog, which added to the beauty and mystique of this beautiful country. There are so many beautiful towns dotting the country side, one in particular that we wanted to see was Lauterbrunnen, a small village known for its amazing waterfall right in the center of town. Lucky for us, the relentless rain made sure that the waterfall was full, unlucky for us, the view was less than ideal. We waited in the car watching the radar hoping for a break in the action. When it cleared, we made our way to the waterfall. Dean wanted to climb the steep stairs to a lookout under the falls and I decided it was better to look at from the bottom. From the ground it doesn’t look far up, and they even have walking sticks so it must be easy enough right? Turns out, it’s a pretty brutal hike when you aren’t expecting one, especially if you’re like Dean and have 1 pair of shoes that have a slick sole! He trudged up though, first through a steep gravel laden path then through a cave and finally up the slippery rocks. He said he was pretty sure he climbed up at least 3/4 of the way, in reality it was about 1/4 up the waterfall. While apparently it didn’t offer a gold view of the waterfall itself, It still offered great views of the village. Surely it would’ve been even more stunning if the valley wasn’t blanketed in clouds. It was fun to grab a picture of him at what thought was the top, but nevertheless tucked into the rock on the side of the mountain.
One our way towards Geneva we saw signs for Emmental, which is what most Americans know as “Swiss” cheese. To give them credit, it does taste very similar! We passed a few signs and by the time we decided a stop would be fun, we were already 45 minutes away. Totally bummed! But fear not, we also saw signs for the other famous cheese of Switzerland, Gruyere! This time we made it a point to stop. We are both huge fans of Gruyere! Think fondue, Quiche Lorraine, on a Croque Madame, broiled on top of French Onion soup or simply eaten with wine… yum! The town is about halfway between Bern and Geneva, a bit off the beaten path, but surrounded by lush green pastures with bright blue skies to make happy cows that make amazing cheese! A quick google search showed us that there is a cheese tour and a museum and we knew immediately we needed to go! Sadly, the production for the day had stopped, but they made up for with with those fashionable handheld cellphone looking audio tours. The tour was fun, starting out with learning the story of happy Swiss cows, the fragment grasses and alpine herbs they eat and the history of the famous cheese. The best part though was eating our admission tickets, which were 3 types of different ages of Gruyere. The second best was the gift shop! They sold every type of gruyere, and Gruyeres/Swiss related gifts. Sausages, Swiss chocolate, fondue sets, stuffed cows and more. Anything you could want to take home from Switzerland.
After the pit stop we headed to Geneva, on the beautiful Lake Geneva and Rhone River. The dive there was nothing short of breathtaking yet again. Even stopping for gas provided some of the most gorgeous views!
Geneva is an expensive place, but we just so happened to unknowingly have planned our visit during their Fetes de Geneve or Geneva Festival. We used our eBates (link to sign up) and Hotels.com to find an affordable hotel that was still a good starting point. We found The Ramada Encore Geneva, not in the city center but that’s where going to Geneva pays off. If you use a hotel or hostel in the metro area, you get a free public transit pass! We got free bus transfers, tram rides and even their shuttle boats across the lake were included! Score!
We started our night there going to check out the festival and see what it was all about. One side of the river had the feeling of being out on the Côte d’Azur, trendy outdoor seating areas, loud pumping music and waitstaff dressed nicer than the patrons delivering $30 drinks in front of the Louis Vuitton boutique. We felt a bit out of place here, so we hopped on the included shuttle boat to the other side of the river. This was the more family friendly side with carousels, carnival games and pop up booths selling anything from knock off hats to Lebanese food to crepes. We had done some research and knew we wanted to eat at La Buvette du Bains (which we realized was the the refreshment stand at the beach!). This was one of the best reviewed and most affordable places for Fondue in Geneva. The setting was beautiful, especially in the evening. The moon rising over the lake and mountains, the elegant swans slowly gliding along the water and the electricity of the people have a good time at the festival or hanging out on the docks. The food was good, they were very busy so our fondue took a while but when it arrived all was forgiven. A massive pot of molten gruyere and emmentaller cheeses with white wine bubbling away in front of us with unlimited crusty fresh baked baguette. The friendly neighborhood ducks and swans immediately showed interest in the delicious baked bread. We ended the night by slowly making our way through the streets, taking the wrong trams (which always makes it more fun to reflect on!) and finally the right bus back to the hotel. Such a wonderful evening.
Day 2 was a day for a day trip to France! The beautiful country that we just can’t get enough of! This time was to go to the cellars of Chartreuse. A total bucket list item for us! The herbaceous famously green (or yellow) liquor that is said to have restorative powers. Maybe you’re a huge fan like us, maybe you’ve seen it at the bar and wonder what it’s all about, or you have no clue what we are talking about. No matter what you know about it, there is plenty of history and lore behind it and is sure to be a fun and interesting story. Being made since 1737 with a list of 130 herbs, flowers and spices by Carthusian monks in the Chartreuse mountains near Grenoble France(and for a time in Tarragona Spain due to French cracking down on religion) it has a long storied history with only 2 monks knowing the recipe at a time. Never more. We got a personal tour and were able to take photos, which isn’t something you can usually do, so lucky us, and lucky you! Touring the cellars consisted of seeing the process the monks use in the mountain distillery and the actual caves that are used to age the liquor. Lastly, some great videos (in French) to tie it all together. To us, the best part was the personalized tasting that we received at the end. There are quite a few variations that are available, we got to taste the vegetal elixir, a straight concentrate. Think like a vanilla or mint extract. We had it on a meringue cookie, it was amazing! There is then the classic Green and Yellow and then the V.E.P. (Extra long aged) varieties of both and we also got to sample the Genepi, a bitter appertivo made with roots and herbs and Noix, a Walnut liquor. With the tour finished, it was time to visit the gift shop! Any type of Chartreuse you could want was sold here. The classic versions, the V.E.P. versions, a 900th anniversary version of the green, the vegetal elixir, a 1605 version, the Walnut and genepi liquors, plus glassware, umbrellas and more. We loaded up and made room in our luggage for quite a few bottles!
Headed back to Geneva we discussed what to do for dinner. Only 2 other Swiss must haves left, first, Raclette, second Rösti Potatoes. We searched for a traditional style restaurant and came across Auberge de Savièse which seemed to be perfect, because if we didn’t like it, there was Thai and Chinese food nearby! Luckily though the charming decor and a menu that had what we wanted were there. Raclette is both a type of cheese and preparation style. It means “to scrape” in French, so classically you heat a large half of a wheel of cheese over a flame and scrape off a portion. At home, you just buy the cheese cut into portions and heat it over a raclette stove, then smother your boiled potatoes or bread in melty cheese and wash it down with beer or wine (water is a no no for Swiss melted cheese dishes if you are out with a Swiss person). Rösti potatoes are a Swiss version of a hash brown or latke. Very finely grated potato cooked in a cast iron skillet with plenty of butter. What makes it better and different is the toppings you can add. We opted for melted gruyere and a fried egg on top, but you can have it with ham, sausage etc. We loved the entire restaurant! From the quaint Swiss cabin feel in the middle of Geneva, the local beers and the largely Swiss clientele made it feel like a genuine place to eat, plus, you’d be surprised how full we got on just a few slices of melted cheeses and a Rösti topped with egg!
Next up, we drive out of the beautiful Swiss countryside to the equally beautiful Alsatian French countryside!