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An Untour of Switzerland

Train rides past snow-capped Alps, boat excursions on sparkling lakes, gondolas to mountain peaks…hikes and picnics in idyllic meadows of wildflowers, serenaded by cowbells, savoring local wine, freshly-baked bread, cheeses and chocolates….yes, this is Switzerland.

We were about to discover a style of vacationing that immersed us local living, took care of our travel arrangements, and offered guidance in doing whatever we pleased, easily and at a surprisingly affordable cost.

Idyll’s Untours vacation packages to a variety of destinations include air and ground transportation, a carefully-selected apartment, and local support staff. Before departure we received helpful checklists and guidebooks with recommended activities and destinations. Upon arrival, Untours staffers Agnes and Marietta made sure our Swiss passes were properly validated and joined us on the train. At the next day’s orientation session we learned about the transportation system, special events, optional group activities, and ways to make the most of our vacation while keeping costs down.

The Swiss Untour includes a Swiss Pass, good for 15 days of unlimited travel on this impressive network of public trains, buses, gondolas, funiculars, and boats. Using the special luggage tag provided by Untours, we checked our bags at our local United States airport for delivery to the train station in the village of Frutigen, a mountain village in Switzerland’s picturesque Oberland region.

The mountain village of Frutigen was our base for exploring Switzerland.
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The mountain village of Frutigen was our base for exploring Switzerland.

Our landlord/host, Peter Hauswirth, greeted us at the train station, gave us a tour of the village, and brought us to the apartment in his home to meet his wife, Esther, and neighbor, Betty Muller, who welcomed us with wine, cheese, and treats baked for the occasion. Our kitchen was stocked with fresh foods and notes about the best places to shop. Betty gave newspaper clippings of events we might like to attend, and we met the Hauswirth’s little granddaughter, Nicole. We felt right at home.

The Hauswirths’ model trains, Frutigen, Switzerland
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The Hauswirths’ model trains, Frutigen, Switzerland

We were even treated to a demonstration of the Hauswirths’ model train collection, an impressive setup with tunnels and bridges that operated inside and outside the house. The including the Glacier Express that we would ride later, and a station sporting both a Swiss and American flag.

Mornings, we’d sip coffee on our balcony and watch clouds rise over the surrounding mountaintops as we planned our day. From this base, minutes from the bus stop or train station, we could travel throughout Switzerland, a nation about a tenth the size of California.

Local milk and cheese shops, sausage stores, bakeries and the Coop grocery store were sources of inexpensive picnic supplies and prepared foods. Restaurant meals were reasonably priced at lunchtime. Our first and last meals of the day were usually “home”, in our well-equipped apartment. Untours provided a booklet with simple Swiss recipes and tips for quickly preparing Swiss specialties.

Activities

Lake Thun in Spiez, Switzerland
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Spiez is one of many picturesque stops along Lake Thun.

To test the versatility of our Swiss Pass on our first day, we took a boat across picturesque Lake Thun to the area’s touristy hub, Interlaken, then a train to Lauterbrunnen and its waterfalls, a funicular and panoramic train along the mountainside to Mürren, stopping to admire the renowned Jungfrau, Mönch, and Eiger before boarding a gondola and dangling high over valleys and streams en route to the hamlet of Gimmelwald. Another gondola, at additional charge, goes to Schilthorn, revealing Europe’s most unobstructed panoramic mountain view—over 200 peaks—from Mont Blanc to the Black Forest. Schilthorn’s Piz Gloria, the world’s first mountaintop revolving restaurant, was made famous by the James Bond movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, filmed here

With over 60 percent of Switzerland covered in glaciers and mountain peaks, another quarter covered by forests, scenic hiking trails abound, and are one of the best ways to appreciate the landscape. The glacial waterfalls inside the mountain in Trümmelbach and exhilarating Alpine scenery make this Mürren –Schilthorn area a spectacular choice.

Untours offered a morning tour of Murten, with its medieval ramparts, castle and ring wall. We climbed a tower for the view of tiled rooftops and the lake, lunched amidst medieval buildings, and munched on Nidelkuchen from the local bakery. Then many of us opted for a cruise on Lake Neuchâtel.

cheese master, Alfred Bieri-Meyes, shows a young visitor how to test the Emmantaler cheese for quality, Blumenstein, Switzerland
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cheese master, Alfred Bieri-Meyes, shows a young visitor how to test the Emmantaler cheese for quality, Blumenstein, Switzerland

In rural Blumenstein, licensed cheese master, Alfred Bieri-Meyes, gave our group a private tour and even brought out his Swiss accordion for some traditional folk music. We bought Emmantaler cheese and bread and hiked together for a picnic in idyllic pastures beside a countryside church, under the watchful eyes of the cows.

Swiss cows, Switzerland
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This pair of Blumenstein cows kept careful watch over our Untours picnic.

Adelboden is a family-friendly resort village with activities to suit all ages and abilities, from gentle Nordic walking trails to great adventure. The Alpine School offers a full range of snow and mountain sports and at the Adventure Park Rehärti you can rock climb, zip wire across a river, or be suspended from a mountainside! We rode a series of cable cars over picturesque farms and valleys to Sillerin, watched scooters zipping down mountain paths, and hiked to Hahnenmoospass, a spectacular overlook.

Special events

Our visit coincided with the grape harvest, which is a time of all sorts of celebrations — markets, wine festivals, parades, and tastings in the wine caves.

Chästeilet, in Justistal, is a traditional ceremony in which cheese makers divide their cheeses among the local farmers according to the milk they provided. Cows were paraded in, alphorns played, yodelers entertained, and visitors stocked up on cheese.

Ballenberg, the Open Air Folk Museum with preserved homes and farms, animals, foods, and craft demonstrations from all regions of Switzerland held Country Fair and Donkey Market. Ballenberg is just outside lakeside Brienz, an area known for wood carvings and favored by European tourists.

children, adults, and even horses were dressed for the harvest festivities and parade, Spietz, Switzerland
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children, adults, and even horses were dressed for the harvest festivities and parade, Spietz, Switzerland

In Spiez, over 35 tractors, carts, and other vehicles were decorated for the parade. Musicians played, participants wore costumes, uniforms, or traditional attire, and candies and small prizes were thrown to gleeful children. The sounds of band music and the scents of bratwurst and roasted chestnuts filled the air.

A leisurely boat excursion past vineyards brought us to Neuchâtel, in the French-speaking region, for the Parade of Flowers. Children, many in colorful costumes and with painted faces, shrieked in delight as the confetti cannon showered all in this carnival atmosphere. Specialty food stalls and street entertainers lined the streets of this city, also known for its fine watches, musical parts, and chocolates.

With Untours, we didn’t just travel through Switzerland, we lived in and experienced it. Untours’ profits help less fortunate people become self-sufficient through low-interests loans to qualifying enterprises to create jobs and low-income housing. In 1999, Paul Newman and JFK, Jr. presented Idyll Development Foundation with the Newman’s Own/George Award as the “Most Generous Company in America”.

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