Previous experiences, in addition to the advice of fellow travelers, had led me to believe that there was no way to travel through Switzerland without sustaining trauma to my wallet. Feeling somewhat hopeless about what was to come, I drove towards the border (from Germany) and prepared to pay premium prices for my short stay in this beautiful nation. Using some basic “road trip” tactics, we were able to enjoy this country and keep it surprisingly affordable.
If you are traveling by car, you need to stop at the border and purchase a vignette tag for your car. It is about 40 francs. They take US dollars as well as euros. If you drive past this vignette purchase lane, you will end up paying about 200 francs when you are on your way out of the country.
Just like the rest of Europe, the highways are spattered with exits to small towns and rest areas as you make your way to your tourist destination. Use your GPS and look for grocery stores. We found that driving through small towns was a wonderful experience. We stopped at local cheese shops and small groceries and visited with the friendly town folk. Note: You will need a grocery bag when you purchase edibles, grocery stores do not provide disposable bags (but they do sell fabric bags at the register). The prices at the food stores are reasonable and it is a great opportunity to buy fresh fruit as well as to eat like the locals do.
Stocked up with provisions, we parked at a nice looking rest area and enjoyed a picnic in the Swiss countryside on the way to our major stop. We also stopped to take photos at some lovely lakes. Switzerland truly has some awe inspiring scenery.
Our stayover was in Lauterbrunnen, which is a valley town in the alps.
It is a quick train trip to Wengen, a well-known ski town in the mountains. Lauterbrunnen is best known for its abundant number of waterfalls, and you’d be hard pressed to find a room that doesn’t include a view of the majestic alps.
We hadn’t made reservations in advance and had to stop at a few places to find one that still had vacancy. Our room was 160 francs for the night, it came with a private balcony and bathroom, as well as a complementary breakfast. It was nothing spectacular for certain, but it was cozy and had the amenities that we sought.
In the evening, we took the train up to Wengen. The tickets were about 6 francs each way per person. The ride (before sunset) was very scenic and worth the ticket fee.
We walked around Wengen and admired the views. Similar to other tourist towns, the restaurants displayed their menus at the entrance, so we could compare prices and offerings. Once we had made our decision, we went inside and were stopped by the wait staff declaring that the kitchen had just closed. Using the small amount of German I had remembered from previous trips, I said, “bratwurst un pom fritas?” (“bratwurst and French fries?”). The employee agreed to opening the kitchen to accommodate our request, and we enjoyed a tasty, if not basic, dinner for about 15 francs per person.
After a modest breakfast at the hotel, we stopped at Tremmel bach falls and paid our admission fee to walk within the water carved tunnels of the mountain. It was very impressive and is a recommended stop for any nature lovers.
Speaking of nature enthusiasts, though we didn’t have time, there were many hikers in Lauterbrunnen, taking advantage of the temperate summer climate.
Our drive out of Switzerland was designed to take us through the western part of the country, but our GPS routed us north and we ended up backtracking a bit until we turned west right before the German border. Again, we took advantage of grocery stores and rest areas to save money on our midday meals.
All told, we were able to keep our spending to a reasonable level, and had a great time. Using these road trip techniques throughout Europe yielded some great stories from some lesser known spots.