Travel through the Swiss Alps and cities by car, exploring landmarks, interesting places in the Swiss Alps, historic cities, castles, and mountain lakes. Description of the route and other useful information.
The journey through Switzerland had long been a blank spot on the map of our European road trips until this summer. The format was unusual — no hotels for the entire trip. Instead, we stayed with friends and friends of friends, as well as in a camping car, details of which I have already written about. This decision played a crucial role in planning, as the prices in Swiss hotels are a nightmare for budget travelers.
More than half of the locations on the route deserve a separate article, so here is a brief overview of absolutely every point of our journey.
Contrary to popular belief, Switzerland is not a small country, and covering everything in a week was physically and financially impossible. Therefore, we tried to diversify the route and fill it with attractions of different formats.
This included Lake Geneva with the slightly pretentious and beautiful Montreux, beautiful mountain passes, a glacier, an underground lake and cave, a hiking trail along the river at the bottom of the canyon, stunning lakes near Interlaken, the site of Suvorov’s crossing through the Alps, the resort for the rich and famous — Gstaad, the capital Bern, the medieval castle Gruyere, and the amazing mountain trail up to an altitude of 2300 m.
And now, let’s go into more detail with a short description and a location on the map.
Brief Description of the Route in Switzerland
For those who prefer brevity, here’s the route with correct names of locations and cities, along with an embedded map of our movements.
Petit-Villard (France) – Vallorbe – Vernayaz – Cascade de la Pissevache – Gorges du Trient – Saint Leonard (Lac Souterrain, Cave du Lac) – Furka Pass – Source du Rhone (Gletsch) – Gotthard (Suvorov Statue) – Andermatt (Pont du Diable) – Grimsel Pass – Aare Gorge – Interlaken – Bern – Gstaad – Lac d’Arnon (hiking trail) – Gruere Castle – Montreux
Detailed Description of the Route in Switzerland
Traditionally, all stops on the route will be marked with “Michelin” stars.
* — worth a short stop for a snack or a brief walk
** — worth including in the route and making a prolonged stop
*** — a must-visit place, a key point on the route, something that is essential to see
We flew into Geneva from Krakow, starting our journey from there with easyJet. The total cost of tickets was just under 60 Euros round trip per person.
The travel format involved me, Tanya, and friends from Switzerland/France, using a car plus a camping car. There was also a French part of the trip; read about it — there’s a lot of interesting and non-standard experiences in that less-explored part of France.
For traveling on Swiss highways and roads, a yearly vignette is required, costing 40 francs. Unfortunately, there are no shorter-term vignettes available in Switzerland. Additionally, there is a fee for using certain tunnels.
Start of the Journey – Petit-Villard Village
We started from the French village of Petit-Villard, just 40 minutes’ drive to the Franco-Swiss border. It’s a typical village, conveniently located, and accommodation here is significantly cheaper than in Switzerland. I recommend it for both circular trips and radial trips with departure and return.
Switzerland – Vallorbe Village*
The first stop here is by the river for breakfast with a classic Swiss view — almost like from a Switzerland tourism brochure. Depending on the time, you can spend from half an hour to two or three hours here and feed the local ducks.
Cascade de la Pissevache Waterfall*
This is the translation of the name of our first waterfall in Switzerland — Cascade de la Pissevache (“Pissing Cow”). It’s located along the road not far from the town of Vernayaz. There was plenty of water at the end of June. The highlight of the waterfall is the ability to enter a cave behind it and view the falling water from the inside.
There are almost no tourists near the waterfall, at least in late June. It’s a less-known spot, and there’s a small hotel with the same name nearby. Entrance is free.
Gorges du Trient Gorge*
A beautiful gorge with good infrastructure, wooden walkways with railings on the sides for easy viewing. A river flows at the bottom of the gorge, while a highway passes high above it. It was the highway that led to the decision to cover the pedestrian walkways with awnings. The reason — a tourist died from an empty glass bottle thrown from a passing car on the highway. Irresponsibility of a random car tourist led to tragedy. All safety rules are written in someone’s blood — remember that, travel responsibly!
Entrance to the gorge — 8 Swiss francs (about 7 Euros). Few tourists.
Lac Souterrain Underground Lake*
The underground lake was included in the route to diversify the journey. We love contrasts and different formats. Although we had seen something similar in the Slovenian Alps, we believe it was worth the stop.
Located in the town of Saint Leonard, there’s parking for camper vans, and you can recharge and fill up with water if needed. Nearby are scenic benches and tables for a snack or lunch with a view of vineyards and mountains.
Locals have introduced river trout into the lake, which, in the darkness, can barely see anything but grow to impressive sizes. It’s a more touristy place than the previous ones, but not critical.
Entrance fee to the lake area and boat ride – 10 francs (9 Euros).
Furka Pass and Glacier – Furka Pass – Source du Rhone (Gletsch)*
The weather and precipitation in the Alps are unpredictable. Many passes were still closed from May to the end of June. Glowing signs at intersections and important road junctions inform about this. Our goal was the famous and beautiful Furka Pass. Luckily, the pass was open for traffic, although the snowdrifts reached the roof of the car. However, the weather was sunny-cloudy and very photogenic, creating a stunning atmosphere.
Furka Pass is located on the border of the cantons of Valais and Uri. On this pass, you’ll find the Source du Rhone Glacier (source of the river). Swiss glaciers are facing challenging times due to global warming. Many areas are covered with white sheets to prevent excessive melting in the sun.
In general, it’s an incredibly cool place. If you have the time and money, you can stay overnight at the iconic high-mountain hotel, Belvedere. The place is exceptionally beautiful and less crowded until the peak season in late July.
Near the glacier, there’s a short hiking trail to a lake and a river that cascades down with a small waterfall.
Entrance fee for the glacier, trail to the glacier, and the glacier itself – 8 francs (7 Euros).
The beautiful San Gotthard Pass was chosen as a place to spend the night. It’s famous because Suvorov’s army once crossed it. However, we didn’t come here for Suvorov, of course. The pass offers incredibly panoramic views, and you can stop at a free parking lot for overnight stays.
You can reach the pass via an ancient mountain road paved with cobblestones. The road quality would make modern highways envious, and the views are so breathtaking that it’s hard to close your dropped jaw for a long time.
Andermatt and Devil’s Bridge*
A short drive from Gotthard Pass brings us to the beautiful town of Andermatt, where one could easily linger for a few days. I highly recommend an extended stop here, both in summer for hiking trails and in winter for skiers.
Devil’s Bridge is a place where Suvorov’s army in Swiss territory settled differences with the French. Again, remembering the historical fact, we came here simply because it’s incredibly beautiful.
Pont du Diable (Devil’s Bridge) is devilishly attractive in the Swiss Alps, and I highly recommend visiting it at any time of the year.
Not far from Andermatt is the Reichenbach Falls, praised by Conan Doyle. Remember where Sherlock Holmes died. It’s a very touristy place, and following the locals’ advice, we skipped it in our route. The “Pissing Cow” waterfall we visited at the beginning of the route turned out to be much cooler and more attractive.
Chalets and Apartments in Andermatt
- Privatzimmer / bed & breakfast – a classic B&B for a short stop, the most budget-friendly option in Andermatt.
- Gasthaus zum Sternen – a chalet not far from the center of Andermatt, can be called budget-friendly for Switzerland while maintaining service quality and coziness.
- Alpenhotel Schlüssel – an excellent chalet in Andermatt, the top option in terms of price and impeccable quality.
- Haus Alpenhof – if you want something even cheaper, choose accommodation farther from the city center. This option is 8 km from Andermatt, great for a one-night stay to see everything and relax.
After the impressive Andermatt and Devil’s Bridge, we head to conquer another steep pass – Grimsel. Considering the weather in the mountains, it could be closed, and this slightly disrupted our plans, but everything turned out fine. The pass was open for traffic, though the best views from it were obscured by a “milk” of fog. Three-meter snowdrifts lined the sides of the road.
Despite the weather, we made a stop for lunch and waited for the weather to clear. It didn’t take long. Within an hour, the sky opened up, and we indulged in visual pleasures, cementing what we saw with a strong Swiss liqueur made from alpine herbs. I hope, dear reader, you have better luck. It’s devilishly beautiful and famous, loved by both the Swiss and tourists.
Grimsel is another recommended pass to visit, but be prepared for weather surprises—it is, after all, over 2 kilometers in height.
Aare Gorge — Canyon
An interesting canyon of the Aare River in the most picturesque place in the Swiss Alps. Fighter jets of the Swiss Air Force fly overhead — in the canyon area, there’s a secret military base hidden in the rocks.
Tourists are unaware of its existence and happily take selfies against the backdrop of Swiss idyll — river, snowy peaks, cows, and green meadows. Generally, hiding military power deep in the mountains is a tradition of the Swiss army. It’s worth reading or watching something about it; it’s very interesting.
Entrance to the canyon – 10 francs (9 Euros), the route is approximately 3 kilometers long, with the same wooden walkways and stunning views from bottom to top. The height of the canyon is about 200 meters. The canyon winds, changing its width; in the narrowest places, you have to snake your way through to pass between the rocks. It somewhat resembles Antelope Canyon in the United States, but there it’s much more colorful.
Interlaken is a beautiful and highly touristy city, literally swarming with tourists—a large and beautiful tourist anthill in the Alps. I wouldn’t recommend it for those who, like us, try to avoid highly touristy places. Nevertheless, it deserves a solid 3 stars, meaning it’s a place around which you can plan a route and visit intentionally. Much of this is thanks to its location. Interlaken is situated between two stunning mountain lakes – Lake Thun (Thunersee) and Lake Brienz (Brienzesee).
While 75% of tourists are busy examining shop signs and hotels in Interlaken, we head to the shores of these lakes, where the serene lake surface competes in beauty with the background of snow-covered Alpine peaks. This is something you must see.
How much time do you need for these places? As much as you can afford, and this is not an exaggeration.
Interlaken is administratively part of the Bern district, speaking in our bureaucratic language, and it is to this city that we are heading.
Chalets, Hotels, and Apartments in Interlaken
- Apartment Flüehblüemli – GriwaRent AG – new modern apartments, with a kitchen and everything you need for short or long-term stays.
- Hotel Alphorn – budget-friendly by Swiss standards, a 2* hotel, excellent for a short stop on a road trip.
- City Center Apartment – mid-range budget apartments in the city center.
Bern is the capital of Switzerland, possibly not in the sense we’re accustomed to thinking, as Switzerland is a confederation, and formally, it doesn’t have a capital. However, all administrative management and government bodies are located in Bern.
For me, Bern is like an illusion from a Soviet series about Shchors. In Bern, during wartime, it was quieter and more peaceful than in the stormy 21st century. I will definitely write a separate piece about the capital of Switzerland. It’s worth spending at least two or three days here to explore everything leisurely. I highly recommend Bern.
Tip — avoid trips to Bern on weekends and holidays, as well as during the peak tourist season in July and August. It’s crowded. We were there during the Formula E race – the electric car equivalent of Formula 1 – the city center was the most hellish place in Switzerland.
The only way out was to run away. Far from the central streets and away from the tourist hustle, we found our piece of paradise in the restaurant Terrasse on the Aare River, overlooking the old town, a small dam, and a peninsula. Here, Swiss cuisine and reasonable prices, of course, by Swiss standards and taking into account the views and atmosphere, which are top-notch!
Hotels and Apartments in the city of Bern
- Backpackers Hotel Glocke – budget apartment hotel in Bern, suitable for a short stay, shared bathroom.
- ibis Styles Bern City – a foolproof option for a mid-range budget, like all hotels in this chain.
- Il Cubo – an excellent budget option in loft style, a top choice for its value.
- Moderne Altbauwohnung mit Pool und Sauna zentral in Bern – a 4* business-class accommodation option in the center of Bern, at a reasonable price for Switzerland.
After the bustling Bern, arriving in Gstaad is like going from a student campus to an elite reception. Gstaad, a resort town in the Swiss Alps, is part of the Tops of Alps and is considered a destination for the rich and famous.
Expensive restaurants, boutiques, five-story chalet-hotels with numerous stars on the facade – everything is immaculately polished and picture-perfect.
In the surrounding areas, there are thousands of hiking trails, which were the real goal of this part of the journey.
Hotels and Apartments in the town of Gstaad
- Posthotel Rössli – one of the optimal options not for all the money in the world in one of the best resorts in Switzerland, a top choice of medium level.
- Geniesserhotel Le Grand Chalet – a 4* chalet in the center of the resort, comfortable, with a view of the Alps, and business-class service.
- Hotel Alphorn – a budget 2* hotel by Swiss standards, excellent for a short stop on a road trip.
Track to Lac d’Arnon*
This was a surprise trail; our local friends showed us this place, warning that the most beautiful part awaits us at the top. The starting point is in the vicinity of the town Les Diablerets, parking near Lake Lac Retoud.
The coordinates for the starting point and parking are 46ᵒ21’33.89”N 07ᵒ12’00.01”E. Follow the signs and the trail, with an intermediate finish near a cheese dairy. You can buy cheese, and bring wine with you – essential components of alpine trekking. Chill the wine in the snow, which appears after 2000 meters. Hike up to an altitude of approximately 2350 meters, enjoy the views, have local cheese and wine.
Another reward will be the panoramic view of Lake Arnesee (Lac d’Arnon). Look for it – take a walk around the summit, and you will definitely see it. Descend along another trail to avoid repetition. Return to Lake Lac Retoud, where you started.
No real medieval route would be complete without an authentic medieval castle. Gruyeres is the best place in the Bern and Montreux area if you want to step into a medieval movie. The area around Gruyeres Castle is a national park. Entrance to the castle costs 10 francs, and it’s worth every penny.
I would give all five stars not so much for Montreux itself but for the program organized by our local friends – a boat trip with a picnic on Lake Geneva, overnight stay in their home with a view of Lake Geneva, and trips around the surroundings.
You can read more about Montreux and the surrounding areas in the provided material.
Hotels and Apartments in Montreux
- Apartment Montreux – Panorama by Interhome – located in the city center, near the railway station and all major attractions, the city promenade, and a view of Lake Geneva. Luxurious accommodation with Swiss comfort and Swiss prices, but these apartments are very cool. Highly recommended. They are often booked, in which case you can look nearby using the map integrated into Booking.
- Eurotel Montreux 4* – an excellent business-class hotel with a view of Lake Geneva and a wonderful panoramic restaurant with a garden. Approximately 400 euros per day. This is a mid-range budget for quality business class.
- B&B Guest House Du Lac – excellent budget apartments, less than 200 euros per day. For Switzerland, this is top-notch, considering the location. There is a terrace, barbecue, and a kitchen.