This summer we took a wonderful driving vacation in Switzerland and Italy. I hope this serves as a guide to your trip planning. I have added feedback of places we stayed and ate in. Generally speaking we always have to reserve two rooms for our family of four in our European travel since so few rooms come with two queen or two double beds. Sometimes the rooms are interconnecting other times they are not. Sometimes family suites are available that can accommodate extra beds or have sofa-beds. We also try to research the restaurants we eat in since we love food so much.
We use sources like Yelp, Tripadvisor, Google restaurant reviews, and hotel recommendations. Word of caution, many restaurants in Italian cities we visited close at 2 pm and reopen for dinner so plan accordingly. We designed our own itinerary. My husband researched what special roads to take such as the Furka and Splugen mountain passes. We did have a travel agent help us narrow down our hotel choices. Right now the Swiss Franc is very strong and that makes everything in Switzerland especially in the large cities very expensive. The scenery of driving through the lush Alps both on the Swiss and Italian side in the summer is absolutely breathtaking. This was also a trip of mountain lakes, Lake Zürich, Lake Lucerne, Lake Maggiore, and Lake Como. And most importantly for our family, this was a trip of eating delicious food!
- Day1: London Heathrow to Zürich Airport / Zürich Airport to Zürich Center via Swiss Rail
- Day 2: Zürich
- Day 3: Zürich to Zürich Airport Car Rentals via Swiss Rail / Drive from Zürich Airport to Lucerne
- Day 4: Lucerne to Rhône Glacier via the Furka Pass / Rhône Glacier to Stresa, Italy (Lake Maggiore)
- Day 5: Stresa, Italy (Lake Maggiore)
- Day 6: Stresa, Italy to Tremezzo, Italy (Lake Como)
- Day 7: Tremezzo, Italy / Day trip to Bellagio, Italy
- Day 8: Tremezzo, Italy to Zizers, Switzerland (near Chur)
- Day 9: Zizers and Chur
- Day: 10: Zizers to Zürich Airport / Return to London, UK
Total driving time: 9.5 hours – Total distance: 730 km or 453 miles
Day 1 – 2
Upon arriving in Zürich we took the Swiss rail from the airport station conveniently located below the airport making it a very easy and inexpensive way to get to downtown Zürich. Our hotel, The Hotel Opera, was conveniently located walking distance from a train stop. The hotel was very beautiful, comfortable, and contemporary in style. We stayed in Zürich for 2 nights.
Zürich, the largest city in Switzerland, is very easy to explore by foot and offers beautiful views of Lake Zürich. We spent time meandering through the Old Town. We tried traditional Swiss fondue at Le Dézaley and rosti, a potato and cheese dish, at the Weisser Wind. We enjoyed a delicious Italian lunch at Tre Cucine.
We took the amazingly efficient Swiss rail back to the airport to the Hertz car rental desk. We had reserved a 4 wheel cross over vehicle ahead of time through the US AAA and got an amazing rate compared to what our travel agent was offering. We left the airport and drove to Lucerne. We arrived in Lucerne and checked into our beautiful hotel, The Montana, located in town but perched up on the mountain. The views of Lake Lucerne were spectacular from our rooms.
The hotel boasted a modern Art Deco style. The Montana had its own funicular to bring its guests down to the lake level. From the lake we were able to reach all the sights by foot. The first order of business was finding lunch. We found a wonderful Italian restaurant name La Fenice.
After lunch we went to see the most amazing sculpture I have ever seen in my life, The Dying Lion of Lucerne Monument. The sculpture of a dying lion commemorates the Swiss Guard who was massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution, when the revolutionaries attacked the Tuileries Palace in Paris. Another major site in Lucerne is the Kapellbrucke or Chapel Bridge. It is a wooden footbridge over the River Reuss built in 1333 to help defend the city. We spent the rest of the day walking through the Old Town. We had a surprisingly delicious Chinese dinner at Li Tai Pe.
The next morning after eating delicious pastries from the famous Bachman bakery we left Lucerne and drove south to pick up the Furka Pass road. The Furka Pass is a mountain pass in the Alps that stands at 2429m/7969ft.
The pass is closed certain times of the year due to bad weather conditions. James Bond drove the Furka Pass in the movie Goldfinger. Driving the Furka Pass is not for the faint of heart, it requires skilled driving and no fear of heights. One of the highlights of driving the Furka Pass is that you visit the Rhône Glacier, the source of the Rhône River. There is a rest stop conveniently located at the Rhône Glacier.
We paid an admission fee and were able to hike to the ice cave that was carved inside the glacier. The Rhône Glacier covered most of Switzerland during the last Ice Age (110,000 to 11,000 years ago). Although, the glacier has retreated significantly in the last 150 years due to Global Warming, it is still a very spectacular sight.
After the visiting the Rhône Glacier we continued our drive south southeast to reach the town of Stresa, Italy on Lake Maggiore in the northern region of Piedmont. We stayed at the Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees right on the edge of the Lake. The views of Lake Maggiore and of the Borromean Islands on the lake were beautiful.
The hotel was a rococo extravaganza bordering on museum-like, somewhere where beautiful meets tacky but still pleasing to the soul. We were also very centrally located. The first night we dined at an excellent Italian restaurant, frequented by locals, Ristorante Pizzeria MammaMia.
We purchased an all day ferry ticket that allowed us to island hop the Borromean Islands located in Lake Maggiore. The islands are: Isola Bella with its grand palace and gardens, Isola Madre with a 20-acre park, and Isola dei Pescatori with its typical fishing village. The day included a good pizza lunch on the mainland in the neighboring village of Baveno at Ristorante La Trappola. Our favorite of the islands was Isola Bella with its amazing palace and gardens. The gardens looked like a wedding cake from the ferryboat.
After a long day exploring the islands we returned to the hotel swimming pool. A highlight for our children and my husband was diving off of the two diving boards in the separate diving pool. We enjoyed yet another wonderful Italian traditional meal at Taverna del Pappagallo in downtown Stresa.
After breakfast we drove from Lake Maggiore to Lake Como. By lunchtime, we arrived in Tremezzo located on the western shore of Lake Como across from Bellagio. We stayed in the Grand Hotel Tremezzo in a family suite.
The hotel was absolutely beautiful as were the grounds. The decoration of the hotel was very classical with a playful blend of contemporary.
The hotel had 3 swimming pools. Our family’s favorite pool was the floating pool on the lake.
We spent hours jumping into the floating pool and diving into the lake. The first night we had a wonderful dinner at a small family restaurant called Trattoria del Prato.
After swimming in the morning we took the ferry across the lake to visit Bellagio for lunch. Bellagio is located in the Lombardy region of Italy. We ate an amazing lunch at Bilacus.
We then explored the town of Bellagio before returning to Tremezzo. We enjoyed our last delicious dinner in Italy at Ristorante Belle Isole.
After breakfast we continued north along the western shore of Lake Como and started ascending the mountains on the road SS36 also known as the Splugen pass. We stopped at a roadside restaurant still on the Italian side called Al Santuario for a yummy local lunch, where they spoke no Italian, so my pseudo Italian Spanish came in handy. Then we began the most hair-raising experience of our whole drive, crossing the Splugen pass. The Splugen pass at 2113m/6932ft connects the Lepontine and Rhaetian Alps between Italy and Switzerland.
On the navigation system and on a map all you see is a collection of hairpin turns or switch back roads that look like zig zig scribbles. Let’s just say that my husband was relieved when the Splugen pass ended and we picked up the E43/13 at the bottom of the valley in Splugen, Switzerland. We then took this road all the way past Chur and then on to nearby Zizers, Switzerland. The reason for our special stop in the village of Zizers, is that my husband had an AFS exchange student, Christoph, live with them many years ago. Christoph, now part of our family, is the town doctor in his village of Zizers where he lives with his family.
After a week of a historical heat wave in Switzerland and Italy, the weather was now back to the 70’s and overcast. We spent the morning hiking the lush green local mountains. In the afternoon we visited the city of Chur.
We said our goodbyes to Christoph and his family and once again took the E43/13 that took us straight to Zürich Airport.
Most Memorable Moments:
- Fondue and Rosti in Zürich
- The Dying Lion sculpture in Lucerne, Italy
- Driving the Furka Pass
- Walking inside the Rhone Glacier
- Diving off of the diving board in Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees
- The big Newfoundland dog allowed to eat with its owners inside the Ristorante MammaMia in Stresa.
- Visiting Isola Bella, the castle and gardens
- Swimming in the floating pool on Lake Como
- Diving into Lake Como from the floating pool
- The special driving club that pulled up with 15 SLS Mercedes-Benz sports cars to our Lake Como hotel.
- Visiting Bellagio
- The two Yorkshire terriers traveling in their owner’s special backpack.
- Driving the Splugen Pass
- Visiting friends in Zizers and hiking the Swiss mountains with them.
- Eating delicious food both in Switzerland and Italy
- And eating delicious Italian food the whole week. Mamma Mia!