If you’re looking for a European vacation that hasn’t been covered extensively by Instagram yet, I highly recommend a trip through Switzerland. Perfect for a honeymoon or a family occasion, Switzerland is a trip you can do basically any time of year, though it will look a lot different depending on when you go. Everything in Switzerland is more expensive from December to March, which is considered “the season”. However, if you go during this time, the Lake Como extension of the itinerary doesn’t really work, as many hotels there shut down in the winter. So if you still want to do a Northern Italy leg in winter, other options would be Milan or the Italian Alps for skiing.
I went on a mother-daughter trip in mid-October, so I have to make a disclaimer that some of this itinerary reflects mom-is-paying prices. But we’re not *that* fancy, so we tried to go a step up from a millennial budget and a step down from the most expensive options. One caveat is that the food in Switzerland is pretty expensive in general, and we had very few meals that were under 100 dollars once drinks were involved (every meal).
Switzerland is pretty small so it’s easy to fit in a few cities in one trip. Driving wasn’t horrible, although some of the cliffside roads can be a bit windy and intimidating if you’re not a great driver.
We organized the trip so we could stay everywhere two nights, giving us a day of travel where we would stop and see cool sh*t along the way (never more than a four-hour distance in one day), and then spend one full day without traveling in the place we were staying. I would characterize a Switzerland trip as mostly walking around looking at sh*t and eating, so it’s not like you need a ton of time everywhere unless you purposely want to settle down and relax for a more lengthy stay.
We flew direct into Zürich and rented a car without spending any time there, but these are some recommendations I was sent in case you want to vary this itinerary.
Activities: Lindenhof Park, boat ride on the lake, walk along the Bahnhofstrasse (shopping street), Great Minster Church, Sukkulenten Sammlung (botanical garden), try Rosti (a Swiss potato dish which is kind of like potato pancakes and hash browns combined); go to rooftop bars (Widder Hotel Bar, OOO Rooftop, Old Crow, CLOUDS Bar, Skybar, Griederbar rooftop, Quai 61) and Laderach (for homemade chocolate).
Hotels: Glockenhof Hotel (central location, not horribly expensive); more expensive options would be Savoy Baur en Vile, Park Hyatt, Widder Hotel, Dolder Grand, Baur au Lac
Restaurants: Brasserie Lipp (classic), Sprungli (also a chocolate place; expensive), Klingers, Caninetta Antinori, Bindella, Kronnenhalle (old school and famous), Lindenhofkeller (steak), Saltz at the Dolder Grande, AuGust at the Widder Hotel
We spent two nights in Lucerne and stayed at Chateau Gutsch, a castle built in 1859. For such an old building they take great care of it, and even though our original room had kind of a musty smell, they upgraded us to a suite that was really nice and smelled totally fine. The hotel was extremely clean and was recently redesigned by Martyn Lawrence Bullard, who also designed Kylie Jenner’s living room.
When we got to Lucerne, we were pretty tired from traveling so, for dinner we just had drinks and appetizers at the Gutsch Bar outside on the patio overlooking the city. Not cheap, but a nice atmosphere and they had a huge cocktail menu.
We spent the next day exploring the city, walking around the Old Town mostly and along Lake Lucerne. There are a ton of cute places to eat along the river; we went for fondue at Restaurant Schiff which was great (plus other options below). The city is very pretty and you can easily get a feel from walking around for an afternoon. See the Chapel Bridge, a hyped up statue of a lion (kind of an icon in Lucerne tbh), and a lot of stores that sell watches.
Other hotel options: If you’re looking to splurge on a hotel for Lucerne, the most consistent recommendation I got was for Buergenstock Resort, which is actually several hotels on one property and slightly above/outside the city, meaning amazing views; also Villa Honegg (next door to Buergenstock), Hotel Montana (city), Grand Hotel National (city), Park Hotel Vitznau (outside city).
Other restaurants: Ammos, Little Swiss House, Hotel Des Balances, Olivio, Barbatti, Scala, Hotel Schweizerhof
The next day we drove from Lucerne to Adelboden. On the way we stopped at Lake Lungern for literally the most gorgeous lake I’ve ever seen, both in real life and on the explore page.
We also stopped in Interlaken (approximately an hour from Lake Lungern) because we heard there was a cute chocolate shop we had to go to…and also because we wanted to check out what the town was like. I wasn’t particularly obsessed with the town but the chocolate shop (Funky Chocolate Club) was the world’s most perfect abroad-girl trap.
Adelboden is a low-key tiny town with incredible views, so the main draws are the mountains and outdoor activities. It’s a ski town in the winter with schnitzel-y vibes. We stayed at The Cambrian, an adorable, modern hotel that wasn’t insanely priced, which the owner claims “really took off due to Instagram.” Overall, I’d highly recommend this hotel.
When we got there, we spent some time at the pool before dinner at Alpenblick Restaurant and then spent the rest of our night sitting on the deck at the Cambrian having drinks.
The next day, we had reserved outdoor activities and hiking (aka leisurely walking). We took the cable car up Tschentenalp (one of the Alps) for some even more incredible views. Then we drove about 10 minutes to Engstligenalp, an even higher Alp. They have golf and restaurants at the top of the mountain, as well as a hut with raclette, a food where you watch someone put a ton of melted cheese on top of bread and vegetables and then eat it. Different from fondue where you dip the things into the cheese.
Crans-Montana was sort of similar to Adelboden but felt a bit more ritzy, while still not at all pretentious. It’s also in a more French area of Switzerland, while Adelboden is more German influenced. Don’t I sound like I know what I’m talking about?
We stayed at LeCrans Hotel and Spa, which was literally a perfect mountain hotel with lodge vibes. It’s ski-in/ski-out in the winter and we’re already planning another trip back there. Not #spon, just loved it. The service was unreal and they gave us a double room upgrade so we ended up with a large balcony and fireplace in the room.
For dinner our first night we ate at the restaurant in the hotel, Le Mont Blanc, which had a ridiculous tasting menu of foods I can’t even name. It’s Michelin-starred so it wasn’t cheap, but the overall price was relatively lower than many of the other restaurants we went to given what we got for the price. This is how I justify financial decisions to myself.
The next day I decided to chill at the hotel and go to the spa and pool, while my mom went into town for the day. We had dinner at La Desalpe, the classic spot in Crans village for traditional Swiss food. So good, so much cheese.
The next day we took a four hour drive from Crans to Lake Como. We drove through Passo Della Novena right on the Swiss border and finally got to see some snow. We didn’t realize we’d be driving through this climate surprise but it was so incredible and truly a highlight of the trip. Also, they do amazing snow maintenance on their roads.
On the way, we stopped at the Foxtown Outlets in Mendrisio, very close to the Italian border. It had amazing designers with genuinely worthwhile discounts. Like Gucci shoes for 200 dollars, plus you can claim the VAT, so I basically made money on this trip.
**An option if you want to continue in Switzerland and skip Lake Como would be to drive to Montreaux, a small city that’s famous for having a music festival and a castle on Lake Geneva. So, we spent an hour exploring the Chateau de Chillon for 25 Swiss francs pp (yes they are on their own currency because these neutral bitches are not in the EU). The castle basically looks like Kings Landing, at least according to the fellow tourist who kept screaming “GAME OF THRONES!” In addition to Montreaux, an alternative would be to visit the town of Gruyeres and do a tour of Maison Cailler, a v famous chocolate factory.
We were only there for one full day, but it was enough time for a fall trip when the weather isn’t great for lake lyfe. We stayed at the Palace Hotel in Como, which was a good price even with the George Clooney Tax, aka the premium for being anywhere your phone will pick up the Lake Como geotag. It wasn’t especially lux, but totally nice enough for the time we spent there. However, if you go in the summer and want a longer and more relaxing vaca, this is a destination where a hotel would be worth a splurge or total wipe-out of your Chase points.
We got to the hotel pretty late with post-outlet fatigue, so we had dinner outside at the hotel bar. The food was okay but still tasted amazing since we had pretty much only been eating squares of chocolate since breakfast. Had we not spent almost five hours at Foxtown (45 minutes of which we were just lost inside the mall trying to find the parking lot), we would have gone to the town of Bellagio to walk around and have dinner (recommendations for various Como towns below).
The next morning we woke up late and went to Villa d’Este, an iconic spot worth exploring because it’s gorgeous, but beware the pretentious vibes and excessive botox from the clientele. To get into the villa you need a reservation, so we made one for lunch at Veranda. The food was so f*cking good, but if you don’t want to spend 45 euro on 30 bites of penne, you can just as easily eat at the terrace bar (but still make a reservation at Veranda just in case so you can get in). We explored the gardens for about a half hour after lunch and waited for the boat tour we had arranged to pick us up at the Villa d’Este dock.
Boat ride: We were expecting it to rain the day we were there, but luckily it didn’t so we booked a last-minute boat tour. Having done no research prior, I just googled a boat tour and found a great guide through Lago di Como Boat Tour. The driver’s name was Giacomo, who was extremely nice and knowledgeable about everything on the lake, and also said he drove John Legend to film the “All Of Me” video. It cost 400 euro for two hours, though it’s completely possible you might find something cheaper if you don’t book totally at the last second and you actually put in the research. Many of the hotels on the lake also have boats you can take yourself included in the price.
Villa Balbianello: 16th century villa where Star Wars was filmed with gorgeous gardens. Costs 10 euro to tour the gardens only, or you have to book a guided tour to go inside. We just looked at it from the boat.
Villa Carlotta: Another villa with beautiful gardens, next to the Grand Hotel Tremezzo
After dinner we took the windy, very skinny roads up the mountain looking for dinner but nothing was open until 7, so we went to La Piazzetta in Cernobbio (v good, cute garden area). After dinner we stopped at Gelateria Sottozero for our one and only gelato of the trip. It was standard but amazing, though if you’re looking for “the best” gelato, I was recommended La Fabbrica del Gelato in Lenno.
Cernobbio: Il Gatto Nero, Albergo Pizzeria della Torre, Pizzeria Giardino (more casual), Ristorante Materia, Trattoria del Glicine, Harry’s Bar
Varenna: Il Cavatappi, La Passerella (gelato)
Tremezzo: Grand Hotel Tremezzo, Al Veluu
Bellagio: Bilacus, Babyaga, Ristorante La Terrazza, Bstyle Bellagio, Salice Blu (celebrity chef), Enotecca Principessa, Aperitivo et al (wine bar), La Punta
Como: The Market Place, La Colombetta, Caffè Teatro, Gelateria Lariana (near ferry)
Locanda Dell’Isola Comacina: a three-hour lunch experience on the only island in the lake; fixed menu with all-you-can-drink wine and they put on a show about the history of the island at the end
Transportation: If not driving, the best way to experience Lake Como is on the lake itself and to take the ferry between different towns. They only run every 30 minutes and be sure to get there early in case there are lines to buy tickets.
We flew out of Milan Malpensa. This is only worth the mention because if you rent a car, it would be criminal of me not to explain how to return it. There is no attendant, so you just leave it at Terminal 2 in a poorly-marked lot (which is impossible to find), then drop your documents and keys in a box nearby. Sounds simple, right? Well, no one is going to explain this to you beforehand. Then you have to take a shuttle bus (also hard to find) from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1, where you’ll be greeted with some of the longest airport walks you’ve ever known. Bon voyage, betches.