News flash: Switzerland is beautiful! It’s no wonder this small country is famous (and famously expensive). In my short time hanging around in Zürich, surrounding areas, and the nooks and crannies of lovely Ticino, I learned that it’s not all about chocolate, cheese, and watches! The Swiss Alps are not only great skiing havens but are also extremely verdant in the summer and surrounded by lakes and river valleys.
I flew from Cologne, Germany to Zürich to visit a long-lost travel friend whom I met in Thailand in 2008. I was blessed to have a local guide (big shout out to the beauty of travel and the connections you make!) to show me around. The trip was my first stop on a longer journey that included Vienna, Bratislava, and Budapest. More on these adventures later…
I admit I didn’t visit a lot of the major tourist sites in Zürich – or any at all really – but while having drinks at one of the many restaurant/bars along the Limmat and watching people swim and lounge in the afternoon sun, I felt I got a pretty good vibe for the city.
We also visited the Rote Fabrik – a former factory which lies on the shore of Lake Zürich and is now a concert hall, restaurant, and cultural center. As I was enjoying dinner I spied a poster for an upcoming Kurt Vile show and I felt: this city seems like my kind of place!
Everything in Switzerland is quite clean and streamlined and well-functioning, but also very relaxed. So much so that it made my current home base in Germany (which is no dump!) seem suddenly gritty in comparison.
Switzerland Travel – Hitting the Road
After a few days in Zürich catching up with my lovely hostess, we headed out to see the country in a white bus (or “bus-li” as they say affectionately in Swiss German) called Lucy. Lucy is outfitted for sleeping and camping, so, naturally, I was in heaven.
Our first stop was a micro-festival at a farm outside of the city. We were barely 100 people, many of them connected through a circle of friends. It was a very unique experience and setting, with everyone camping, a pond of very loud frogs, themed tents for dancing and chilling, and a band that sang in at least 5 languages throughout their set.
Next, we made a quick stop in secluded Göschenen, which seems like it’s out of a fairy tale, thanks to steep and fog-laden mountains. Just after Göschenen when heading south is the Gotthard Road Tunnel, a 17 km long tunnel carved out of the mountainside and marking the entry to Ticino.
From Danke to Grazie – Entering Ticino, Switzerland
Ticino is a region in southern Switzerland with palm-lined lakes and sharp Alpine peaks. Its architecture, cuisine and culture are closely related to that of neighboring Italy. I highly recommend spending some time in the Valle Maggia (or Maggia Tal in Swiss German). The natural beauty here is over the top!
Most people in the region speak Italian. In Ticino you’ll find lakes galore, ice-cold rivers for swimming, and waterfalls. You’ll also find some really good grub!
One place for great Italian food in the area is Grotto America. As the story goes, the name symbolizes the 30,000-ish people who emigrated from the region to America during the California gold rush. We visited, appropriately for me, on the 4th of July.
Grotto America is an out of the way place, perfect for a day when you’re just driving around appreciating the beauty of your surroundings and being in the moment. They have a great menu and daily specials – I went for the gnocchi and it did not disappoint.
Switzerland on a Budget
It can be done! As I said, Switzerland is famous for being an expensive country, and for good reason. It is one of the most expensive travel destinations for tourists, with Zürich and Geneva in the top two most expensive cities. However, it is possible to save some bucks and come out of Switzerland without completely draining your travel budget.
For starters, go shopping! Grocery store prices are still reasonable and are, in fact, similar to prices in southern Germany and other nearby areas. When you go to bars and restaurants, however, you’ll definitely feel the sticker shock. I paid 9 Swiss Francs (almost 8 Euros) for a street hot dog – WTH!?
PROTIP: When you go to a restaurant – eat vegetarian. You’ll pay a lot less. Beers are also cheaper than wine or spirits. Again, grocery stores will save you a lot of money here.
Hostels will run you around 33 – 45 Euros per night.
If you’re travelling with a friend or two, camping might be a good option. We stayed at Camping Delta in Locarno for around 55 Swiss Francs (47-ish Euros). That was between the two of us, but for multiple people sharing a campsite, this can become quite economical! Prices vary from season to season, so be sure to check their price list. The location on Lake Maggiore was beautiful and amenities were great, with clean showers, wifi, a cafe, and a small grocery store on premises. They have camping plots for vans, RVs, and tents. Bonus – they are family owned!
There is much diversity in this small country and the people are also super friendly! So, get on the road, say hello to Switzerland and say Prost! Salute! Cheers to life!