Land of happy cows
One of the things that has been most challenging about our move to Switzerland is the lack of high quality, detailed travel and activity information in English. A very surprising discovery considering the number tourists visiting the numerous sites of interest throughout this country.
I finally got so fed up with the lack of easy-to-access, detailed content that I tried to order a few books on Amazon before our last trip to the US only to discover that the ship date for what seemed like the best books is 4-5 months out. Baffling!
Back to the Internet. Given the time I’ve spent online looking for information, I thought it would be useful to use a resource list to kick-off a series on the blog about my best Switzerland discoveries.
SBB Home – This is the one page that is not difficult to find. It is, however, essential to have readily available as the trains go everywhere here, even to the small villages high up in the mountains (versus a country like Italy where you really need to rent a car to explore the countryside).
MySwitzerland.com – Produced by the Swiss tourist bureau, this is one of the few sites that is efficient to navigate and fairly comprehensive. The clickable map is useful with a ready list of top destinations within each region, although the detail provided is sparse and in many cases the referral websites are not in English. The hiking page excited me at first as a best of resource (there are even family-friendly hikes listed); in practice, however, the information is limited if you want and need a complete hiking directory with review-oriented content for a specific destination.
There is also a child-friendly hotels page that showcases hotels offering family-focused amenities and programs, although at this point until I experience a few of them, this is an unqualified list and you know how that goes with kids.
LonelyPlanet.com – An solid overview of highlights and the main tourist attractions although it is not family-specific.
Joy of fondue
Geneva Local Resources and Activities
Since this is my home-base I’ve spent time trying to find good local resources. There is a tourist site for Lake Geneva that is glossy and inspiring to review, although again in practice (sense a theme here?), you need additional information embark on any of the excursions or events listed, i.e. this is a good high level guide only.
Hot Tip: When you need to drill down on any information around a destination, there is likely to be a website using the town’s name followed by .ch. A quick google search using the town’s name plus .ch yields quick results, although at the local level not many of the sites are in English.
One of the first resources I found while searching for information is knowitall.ch. The site targets families living and working in and around Geneva, but it is an excellent resource for visitors too with a current events calendar and a weekly summary of what to do in the area. The author of the site, Lisa Cirieco-Ohlman, also produces a book that provides fantastic fantastic tips and advice for families. See the website for instructions on where you can buy a copy.
LausanneMom is another good resource meant for expats but useful for visitors seeking parent-specific content.
Boat Tours of Lake Geneva
The website for boat cruises on Lake Geneva is cgn.ch.
Some of the best hiking in the world
Hiking in Switzerland
I haven’t tackled skiing yet, but I’ve definitely spent a good amount of time deciphering where to find family-friendly hiking. I’ll report back as we find great hikes on the blog (the Chemin de Narcisses near Montreux is one) and a post is coming up with highlights from our trip to Zermatt.
Walking and hiking is a prime tourist activity here — yellow Tourisme Pedestre signs can be found everywhere noting the walking time to various destinations. On rural hikes, despite the yellow signs, we’ve still managed to get lost (or at least feel like we weren’t taking the best path) — so again — having additional resources on hand like a map and a trail outline is best. Be sure and stop by the local tourist office before heading out for the day. A good description of the sign system is available on the Walking Switzerland website.
Wanderland.ch has a hiking trail search engine. It is useful for a top level search of routes, although there is not a family-friendly filter and the Travel Reports with reviews and photos default to German. There is a page that leads you to hiking guide books, although only one is available in English.
One of the aspects of Swiss hiking that is so fantastic is the plethora of huts where you can sleep for the night and/or get a hot meal and a cold beer — an outstanding combination after a mountain work out. The Swiss Alpine Club website has a search engine where you can find huts by location and other extended search features (including family-friendly). Although a brief hut description is provided, there are so many it is hard to distinguish between the options so you need to spend quite a bit of time here looking at all available options or find an alternative best of list.
I was featured in a Budget Travel article last summer with Gregg Witt, the operator of a hiking guide service called Alpenwild. See the review of the Swiss town of Binn — I’m certain that if you looked up “idyllic landscape” in a dictionary a picture of this place would be front and center. It’s on my list!
Biking in Switzerland
Veloland.ch is a comprehensive directory site with a route search engine (same interface as Wanderland.ch). Like the Swiss Alpine Club site, it is difficult to create a short list of the options without knowing the destinations, but this is a good place to start a search. There is no family-friendly designation here, although I do see some kids in the photos so that is a good sign.
This is the best of what I’ve come up with so far — I’m on the hunt for quality filtered content in English. If you know of such a website, please comment on this post. It doesn’t need to be family-specific, although that would be a plus of course. I do have Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, and Cadogan travel guides in hard copies. Stay tuned for an assessment of differences between them.
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