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Travel: Self-driving in Switzerland

By Rachit Hirani
August 25, 2015 08:40 IST
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Rachit Hirani crisscrossed 1600 kilometres through Switzerland’s mesmerising landscape in 10 days and he cant stop gushing about it…

Here we go! Another road trip! This time it was Switzerland.

So, the list of things to be taken included warm clothes. Check.

Jacket. Check.

Sunglasses. Check.

Gloves. Check.

We took Switzerland Tourism's Grand Tour that covers about 1600 kilometres of country road driving with a meld of train rides. The Grand Tour covers various towns and cities, passing through, what we realised, is the real Switzerland. This does not include minimal motorway drives but an absolute paradise for those who want to live the Swiss-kind of lifestyle.

We embarked on our journey from Geneva, the most famous city for automotive world for its famous Geneva Motor Show.

Geneva got its name from Lake Geneva, which is the largest lake in the entire Western Europe. This is a buzzing town which we visited July 31, a day before the Swiss National Day.

Jet d'Eau, a large fountain in Geneva, is one of the places worth a visit. The day we were there, day preparations were on for the festival and multiple stalls were set-up by the lake.

Next day, we rented a VW Golf Convertible and an Audi Q3. For those who aren't familiar with driving in Switzerland, I will recommend to drive slow. There are some important things that have to be remembered. A solid white line indicates you cannot cross it! You can overtake on a broken line.

In cities, the speed limit is 50km/hr; in some crowded zones it is 30km/hr; outer areas of the town have 60km/hr, while the country roads follow 80km/hr rule. For the motorways though it is 100km/hr or 120km/hr, depending on the condition of the roads. But you are notified with speed limits at different places.

Since it was August 1, the roads were empty and most of the restaurants were shut to celebrate the Swiss National Day. We had lunch at about 5 in the evening when we stopped in Morges.

If you opt for a road-trip, our first recommendation will be to stop by and take a stroll on the road running parallel to Lake Geneva. The view is very scenic.

You should try and leave Geneva before 10 am so you reach Morges on time. There will be several occasions where you would want take a break to take in the beauty of the landscape, stop and sit by the river.

One day stay in Geneva for a day should be enough to see the city and some of its well-known areas.

From Morges we headed to Vevey, on the second leg of the day. This country road too runs by the lake. If you decide to take the motorway, you will reach faster, but you'll miss out on the view.

So, reach Morges between 1-2 pm and ensure you leave town before 3:30 pm. Visiting Switzerland in summer means you get daylight from 6.30 am to 9 pm.

Switzerland does get very hot in the summer, so it is highly recommended to carry sunscreen (even if you are used to the heat), shorts or three-fourths -- if you think 30 degree Celsius+ is hot.

To drive in Switzerland is easy as long as you follow the rules. Do not cross the white lines, do not over speed and park only where allowed.

From Morges we reached Vevey -- a small town that is located near Lake Geneva. Vevey has a lot of good accommodation options. Ideally pick one that is the closest to the railway station.

Visit the lake-side; try out some lip-smacking food there. There are great photo ops -- a giant fork standing on the water, superb views of the waterfront and then there is a Charlie Chaplin statue as well.

You can get excellent views of the French Alps on the other side of the lake.

From Vevey one could head to Rochers-de-Naye, which would be by train to Montreux and then take a Golden Pass to head in the other train.

The Rochers-de-Naye is a mountaintop, where one can see the entire Lake Geneva, which is parabolic or C-shaped. For those who aren't keen to take this view can head to Castle Shaolin instead. It is advisable to stay in Vevey for a day as one can even explore the vineyards.

Most homes have their own vineyards and make their own wines. Switzerland has some good wines. They have their own set of grapes and you will find some unique ones too.

Please DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE.

Lavaux is one location I will recommend to try out different wines. Take the road called 'Route de la Corniche' as it is very scenic.

On the way to Lavaux, you will come across several restaurants by the lake-side. Auberge de la Crochettaz is one of them, and is the only one to serve Swiss and Indian food on the same table.

This is equivalent to sitting in a high-class restaurant facing Marine Drive and the sea (in Mumbai). The chef is from Mumbai and is well versed with Indian and Swiss cuisines.

From Montreux the road heads to Gstaad, one of the four cultural regions that Switzerland is made up of -- German, Italian, French and Romansh.

Gstaad pronounced as 'Staad' is in the German region and this is where most of the Bollywood movies are made. It is the Yash Raj movie shooting territory.

The Gstaad railway station is where the famous DDLJ scene was shot. When heading towards Gstaad, you will notice that the topography and the design of the houses keep changing. It will be more German-like; the French-style houses become rare.

The concept of cheese fondue has come from Switzerland and there are several Fondue Caquelons, where one can get their own fondues and eat with family or friends. The Swiss tradition is if anyone drops their bread in the cheese fondue, they buy the entire table a round of wine. You have to get your own fondue and vessels to the place, heat it and have it.

The drive from Gstaad to Interlaken is a fast one, as the roads are wider and the speed limit is about 80-100km/hr at some stretches. Stay back in Interlaken or head higher to Grindelwald.

Interlaken is where all the adventure sports happen and you can buy a good variety of sports gear that you need for adventure trips. Grindelwald is much higher than Interlaken and one can head to Jungfrau, the highest peak in Europe, also known as 'Top of Europe'.

This is again one place where a lot of Bollywood shoots have happened. There is an Ice Palace that has been made out of a glacier at this height. It is unbelievable.

Apart form the awe-inspiring view, the Ice Palace is one-of-a-kind experience. The only ways to reach the top is either by train or by trekking. One will have to take two trains to reach Jungfrau from Grindelwald.

Interlaken has loads of sports activity that one can opt for. Canyoning is one that is recommended to be tried out. 'Outdoor Interlaken' is one of the places, where the action happens. Canyoning is where you learn how to navigate your way through a river. They offer you a pick and drop service too, if you do not wish to drive there. The canyoning happens in River Saxeton.

The drive from Interlaken to Luzern is very scenic, and those who love driving, the last 15 kilometres is breathtaking. Narrow and winding roads, no traffic, great twists and turns and a speed limit of 80km/hr.

This is just perfect for those who love to drive. The same can be experienced if you drive from Luzern towards Einsiedeln Tourismus, one of the oldest cathedrals in Swizerland.

From Luzern, one can head to Mount Pilatus, which is another mountain that is worth a visit. This isn't as high as Jungfrau, but is certainly worth a visit for the dragon ride (cable car ride), which offers panoramic views.

The first cable car takes you to a point where there are several adventure activities. As a speed junkie, our pick was the Toboggan run, the longest in Switzerland. The other route is the cogwheel ride. These trains do an inclination of 48 degrees. This is the steepest in the world and they run only at 9 kilometres an hour.

In Luzern, one can have some of the best Swiss chocolates as there are several chocolate boutiques -- called Chocolatiers. The one we visited was Max Chocolatier and they have a mind boggling varieties of chocolates. We did try out quite a few, coconut-mango chocolate being one of them.

This was my favourite town/city of all I visited. This is one place in Switzerland I will recommend you stay for a longer duration to explore the area and even the shops.

From here we headed back to Zurich airport, returned the rented car and flew back home.

Why a road trip?

The route does look scenic when you travel by train, but when you drive, you have the freedom to stop at any of the by lanes and be in touch with nature. If you are the adventurous type then carry swimming trunks and take a dip in any of the lakes.

Cost for renting the most affordable convertible: Rs 45,000 (for 10 days)

Cost for renting a luxury SUV: Rs 75,000 (for 10 days again)

Cost for fuel: Within 150 CHF (equal to about Rs 11,000)

It won't take too long to get used to driving left-hand drives, if you are used to driving automatics, pick automatic only. Avoid manual unless you are used to driving one.

Things to carry in summer: Sunscreen, warm and rain jackets, shorts, comfortable shoes (sports shoes for the hills and canvas will be convenient for city and driving).

Fellow travellers: I travelled with three people, each from a different age group.

Siddhartha Joshi: He is a traveller and blogs about his journeys, whenever he is not busy designing medical equipment. He was at the forefront, when it came to adventure and travel by train.

Deeba Rajpal: A foodie at heart with loads of knowledge about food, baking and other aspects of cooking. If you need to know, what you should eat and what to avoided, Deeba is the person to go to.

Neha Dixit: Neha is a traveller and hosts the NDTV Good Times show SwissMade. She is adventurous and very close to the nature. Because of her love for nature, she moved out from the hustle-bustle of Delhi to a quiet hill station in Uttarakhand.

 

 

 

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Rachit Hirani