Everyone writes that Switzerland is like a fairy realm. Snow-topped peaks, vibrant green valleys, quiet red-roofed villages, magnificent castles. I really figured these were wild exaggerations and was worried I may be disappointed when we finally got to go.
They weren’t exaggerations. Switzerland is my dreamland.
Our visit in July/August was only a brief three full days, but I’ll never forget them. The landscapes of Switzerland were among the prettiest I have ever seen – it’s going to be hard to top them – and I loved getting to see them with my parents and sister.
Three of our four nights were in Montreaux, a city that’s comfortably on the shores of Lake Geneva. It’s definitely geared towards tourists in the Summer, but we enjoyed the walkable streets, the lakeside restaurants, and the stunning views.
There were things to do there, like visit Chateau de Chillon (the castle that inspired The Little Mermaid castle), but for our first full day, we ventured further into the country.
Day 1: Chateau Gruyere, Cheese, Montbovon
Lauren and I woke up earlier than my family and hopped on a train towards the Maison Cailler chocolate factory in Broc, about a 60-minute ride away. Since my family wasn’t going to leave for another hour on the next train, we hopped off and looked for something to keep us busy.
There we found what Google claimed to be a “tea shop”. It was a small bar with cafe tables inside and out. We ordered green tea (much to the confusion of the woman behind the bar, who didn’t speak English) and sat down. Right out the window, we could see massive mountains sprawling on the far side of an incredibly green valley. Nice!
My family came and we ate at a small sandwich shop down the street. It was amazing how quiet and peaceful it was. There was hardly any noise – just awe-inspiring views.
The chocolate factory is notorious for long lines in the afternoon, so we decided to head the other way towards Gruyere, home of gruyere cheese and Chateau de Gruyere. I cannot tell you how picturesque the castle looked as our train turned the corner and looked into this portion of the valley.
Chateau de Gruyere was my first castle to ever explore. To walk the walls, explore the many rooms, and imagine what the valley looked like over 500 years ago from the upper-most chambers fulfilled a childhood dream. I was giddy with excitement the entire time.
The small village connected to the chateau was charming, colorful, and we enjoyed meandering into some of the small shops.
We took the bus back down to the lower portion of the village to the cheese factory. Frankly, it wasn’t that exciting – but I did learn that I’m just not a big fan of gruyere cheese, so that’s something.
As evening approached, we hopped back on a train and headed to Bulle, the next town over, to meet a friend. Sabrina came to Lubbock, Texas when we were in high school as a foreign exchange student and we quickly became close friends. It had been nearly six years since we had seen each other, but it felt like no time had passed.
We enjoyed catching up over dinner and made a plan to meet the next day at the chocolate factory. While we waited for our busses, Sabrina, Lauren, and I explored a small, empty castle in Bulle. Two castles in one day – a dream I didn’t even know I had come true.
Lauren and I didn’t stay in Montreux that night. Instead, we opted to stay in the small village of Montbovon. We figured, while we were in Switzerland, we might as well stay one night in a village in the Alps. And I’m so glad we did.
We found the farm on Airbnb and booked a room for a single night. Our host picked us up at the train station and told us the house was over 300 years old – older than the United States of America. We couldn’t believe it. We were sleeping in a room older than our own country.
We marveled at the low ceilings (Swiss people used to be very short) and drifted to sleep listening to the mountain rain fall on the glass skylight as thunder rolled in the distance.
Day 2: Chocolate, Chillon, McDonald’s
We woke up later than we should have and rushed downstairs for an incredible breakfast of local yogurt, bread, and jam. Our hosts were so kind and we wanted to sit and chat with them for hours, but we had a train to catch. We gathered our belongings, met my family and Sabrina at the station, and hopped on the next train heading back to the chocolate factory in Broc.
If you’re ever in Switzerland, the Maison Cailler factory is worth visiting. It’s interactive, theatrical, and allows you to try a variety of chocolates. And, since we got there early, we only waited for thirty minutes before getting to enter the factory tour. So much better than the cheese factory…
We bought some sandwiches and hopped back on a train to Monteaux.
Our Swiss Travel Passes allowed us to take unlimited buses, trains, and boats, so we figured we may as well take a boat to Chateau de Chillon on Lake Geneva while we had the chance, rather than the bus.
Wow. This castle was the biggest and most grand out of all three we walked through. Dozens of rooms, several towers, a dungeon, and four separate courtyards made up the chateau. We easily spent three hours there, discovering room after room, reading all about life in the middle ages.
It probably goes without saying, but once again, a dream come true.
The sun was setting, the shadows were extending, and it was time to say goodbye to Sabrina. As she passed on the bus, smiling and waving, I wondered how long it would be till we met again.
We walked down to the lakeside and ate somewhere I am ashamed to admit: McDonald’s.
Don’t judge just yet! It had been years since Lauren or I had been to that wretched place. We didn’t really enjoy our factory-made cheeseburgers, but we needed a cheap meal.
You see, dining out in Switzerland was extremely expensive. Meals at restaurants were typically $25-50 per person. It was true in tourist-oriented Montreaux, it was true in the small cafe in Broc, and it was true later on in the Geneva train station. Seriously, the food there was crazy.
Our total McDonald’s bill for Lauren and I was almost $16. We chowed down on those cheap burgers happily.
Day 3: Trains, Grindelwald, Männlichen
Our final full day in Switzerland was a day of trains, trains, and more trains. We rode for several hours into the heart of Switzerland, the Interlaken area. As always, the views from the train were spectacular.
We eventually arrived in Grindelwald, a stunning mountain town. The cabin-style buildings were built with dark wood and white walls. Small Swiss flags were draped across the many balconies and porches and all kinds of vibrant flowers hung from the buildings. It was a gorgeous town, but we were only passing through.
I loved the gondola ride from Grindelwald.
Lauren did not.
Granted, it was a bit nerve wrecking. You’re sitting in this tiny metal box, dangling fifty feet in the air, and attached to the line only by a curved arm at the top of the box (of course, I’m sure it’s much more complex than that).
Despite the swinging metal box and a few scary bumps, the views were – you guessed it – amazing. But they were nothing compared to what we saw when we landed on top of Männlichen mountain.
I would attempt to describe the scenery of this Swiss mountaintop, but I’m not that skilled of a writer. Instead, I’ll just show you some pictures.
If we had more time, we would have explored the many trails along the ridge and up to the surrounding mountains. Sadly, we had a long train ride back to Montreaux, so we just enjoyed the intense greens of the mountainside.
We took a different gondola down the other side of the mountain to Wengen. Once again, the town’s cabin-style homes and buildings were colorful with flags and flowers. We stopped for dinner before running to the train station through the rain.
Thus, our Switzerland journey came to a close.
We were sad to leave such a gorgeous landscape and friendly people, but we were excited to move on to our first real long-term stay as digital nomads: Tallinn, Estonia (and we were tired of spending so much on food).
I’ll always remember Switzerland as a dreamland.