Most travellers I’ve met, ask me two definite questions about Switzerland. First, ‘what are the must-see places?’ And ‘isn’t it a very expensive country?’
The good news is that the country thrives on tourism. Whether you are travelling through the popular circuit or taking an off the beaten trail be sure to find easy-access and user-friendly facilities. The bad news is that it is expensive. But with a valid Schengen Visa and time invested in planning your travel, your visit to this country may be somewhat affordable.
Here are a few things to keep in mind while planning your trip to the picture-perfect country.
Visa for Indians
You need your return flight tickets, accommodation bookings, bank statements from the last 6 months, 3 years Income Tax Returns (ITR), passport-sized photos (specific dimensions) and of course, a valid Passport. If you’re being hosted, do have your host invitation letters and necessary permits also ready. Don’t forget your travel insurance, which covers up to $50,000. (I use TataAIG). Keep copies of all of these while you may need to submit the original to the Embassy. (If you’re a go green campaigner like me, reuse the reverse sides by making creative notepads, after the work is done.)
Once you have submitted all your documents, a Schengen Visa takes about 15 days to process. Since November 2015, biometric tests mandatory for all Visa submissions. All details can be accessed on VFS Global’s website.
Usually, Visa is allotted only for the days of travel. So, if you’re travelling from September 1 to September 6, 2017, expect a Schengen only for those dates. However, I lucked out with a couple of additional days previously and this time, even more! But keep in mind, Schengen can be a little unpredictable. Keep all and more documents ready.
Getting Around Swiss
This is where your planning skills come in.
It would be an understatement to say that Switzerland’s public transport is excellent. No matter where you land—Zurich, Geneva or Lugano—you’re always connected by trains. I always plan my travels by accessing SBB’s train schedule and connectivity. You can also buy tickets here. If you’d rather buy them from the station, there are vending machines and very helpful staffers in every main station’s SBB office.
One of the things you need to know about Swiss trains is that they’re always on time. In my four travels to the country, only two trains have been late by a few minutes. So, if you’re changing trains to get to your destination, consider the time required to change platforms. I’d say a rough 6-10 minutes in transit is more than enough. (Most Inter-Region and Inter-City trains have a minibar and loos, so don’t waste time at the stations for these breaks.)
Buses are very well connected too. If your destination (hotel, restaurant, museum) is a long walk away, consider taking a bus. Every bus stand has a route map. I always look up my route on Google Maps, which also mentions the bus number from the designated stop. Most buses allow you to purchase a ticket once you are on board—look for the small red machine or ask the driver. If you’re lost, request a fellow passenger to help. One of the things I always do when I’m even a 3 per cent in doubt is I get on the bus from the front door and ask the driver the stop I want to alight at.
The bigger cities have cabs too, which you can only get from the designated taxi stops or you can book an Uber too. If you were to hail for one in the middle of the road (like we do in India), don’t expect it to stop. I have never tried the taxi in Swiss because they’re expensive. Besides, I’m always happy to saunter around or invest in public transport.
I highly recommend buying a Swiss Travel Pass for the duration of your stay. During my winter 2016 visit, I purchased a Swiss Travel Pass Flex for 300CHF which allowed me to travel for eight consecutive days in my month-long stay. This was an ideal choice because I didn’t want to travel every day of the month and the Flex pass gave me freedom to choose my dates. With the Swiss Travel Pass Flex, I choose eight days of travel in the month and had access to free travel across public transport as well as free entry to a list of museums in the country.
During my 2017 summer trip, I got the 8-day Swiss Travel Pass and then again 15-day Swiss Travel Pass, together which allowed me to see a new part of the country every day. With these passes I felt like I had insurmountable power in my hands! Every day I explored a new part of Swiss. The Swiss Travel pass allowed me unlimited free public transport (bus, train and/or boat), access to most museums (across 500 in the country), free travel on panoramic trains (I took the Glacier Express and Golden Pass Line) and many, many other benefits.
Log on to Swiss Travel System and buy the most convenient pass for your travel.
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Tickets: A return flight ticket from Zurich (or Geneva) will cost you anywhere above ₹37000 by Swiss Air Economy. Most of my tickets have costed about ₹38000 on an average. I book approximately 3-6 months in advance and invariably have flown Swiss Air ( I love them). Only once did I fly Lufthansa, which is also a part of the Star Alliance.
Visa: For Schengen Visa (short-term, tourist/visitor type) expect to pay about ₹4500.
Barring flight tickets, expect to keep another ₹3.30 Lacs/4900CHF for a very comfortable fortnight’s stay. Break up: Accommodation: 150CHF x 15 days; food: 50CHF x 15; transport: around 400CHF (Swiss Travel Pass); misc: 1500CHF. Of course, this will differ according to lifestyle and travel habits.
Forex: A lot of travellers have told me that they swipe their international debit/credit card once in any international destination. However, I always choose to keep cash in hand for many reasons. Firstly, it limits expenditure and maintains my budget. Secondly, I am free from hassle of looking for cash withdrawal machine for small purchases.
I get my forex done at the airport, with high exchange rates. You can get it done from the bank (HDFC gives good rates) if you have the time. Also, do remember to exchange money at any Indian airport before security check. According to Customs rule (India), only foreign Passport holders are permitted to exchange money after security check/immigration.
If you find yourself in Swiss without any Swiss francs in your wallet, head straight to a local back (like UBS) or an SBB counter with ‘Change’ written on it to exchange some money. Be prepared to pay up for a double exchange i.e. Indian rupee to Euros and then to Swiss francs.
Staying in the cities is expensive. Hotels are plenty but some of them are uncharacteristic. There are good B&Bs and hostels all over Swiss and some of them are cosy and comfortable.
Some options are:
Zurich: Hotel Allegra (ideal for near airport stay); www.welcomehotels.ch/en/allegra; +41448044444
Hotel Florhof (ideal for stay in the heart of the city); www.hotelflorhof.ch; +41442502626
Geneva: Hotel Jade; www.manotel.com/jade; +41225443838
Chur: Romantik Hotel Stern (ideal for authentic and charming stay); www.stern-chur.ch; +4181255757
Interlaken: Lindner Grand Hotel Beau Rivage (ideal for stay in the heart of the city); www.lindner.de/en/interlaken-grand-hotel-beau-rivage/welcome.html; +41338267007
Zermatt: Alpen Resort Hotel; www.alpenresort.com/en/welcome/; +41279663000
Winterthur: Best Western Hotel Wartmann (ideal for stay in the heart of the city); www.wartmann.ch/en/home; +41522600707
Thusis: Hotel Weiss Kreuz; www.weisskreuz.ch/en; +41816500850
Montreux: Tralala Hotel (ideal for authentic and charming stay); www.tralalahotel.ch; +41219634973
Bern: Hotel Goldener Schlüssel (ideal for authentic and charming stay); www.hotel-goldener-schluessel.ch; +41313110216
Flims: Waldhaus Flims Alpine Grand Hotel & Spa (ideal for a relaxed stay with wellness); www.waldhaus-flims.ch;+41819284848
Gstaad: Posthotel Rössli (ideal for authentic and charming stay); www.posthotelroessli.ch/english; +41337484242
Saanen: Hotel Landhaus (ideal for authentic and charming stay); www.landhaus-saanen.ch; +41337484040
Lavaux: Baron Tavernier (Chexbres-Village); www.barontavernier.ch/en-1-home.html; +41219266000
Lausanne: Hotel Bellerive; www.hotelbellerive.ch; +41216149000
Gruyères: Hotel de Gruyères; www.gruyereshotels.ch; +41269218030
Apart from the public transport, one of the best aspects about travelling around Swiss are the plethora of apps available to make it easier. Depending upon the regions you are planning to visit and the season, you can download the official tourism apps from App Store or Google Play Store. I used the following (all available on iOS platform):
SBB Mobile: A must-have app. Gives information on train schedules, travel passes and offers, ticket purchases, stations and train delays. One feature which really helped me was the ‘save to my trips’. It made the train timetables available offline and allowed me to set reminders/notifications.
Swiss Air: Easy access to flight check-in, boarding passes and flight information.
City Guides: Official MySwitzerland apps on cities like Zurich, Lausanne, Geneva, Vaud and Bern. Expect to access to local maps and theme-based trails where you can bookmark and save.
Swiss Summer Hike/Winter Hike: Designed by MySwitzerland, this is one of my favourites. This app allows you to access hikes based on region. They include details like duration, map, arrival and departure points, distance and terrain.
Zurich Airport: This app makes the massive Zurich Airport somewhat easy to navigate across. It has practical information on flights (with specific time and terminal details), airport map and services, and a travel planner.
MyFribourg: This app lets you plan your trip to Swiss’ Fribourg region. It has guides, theme-based itineraries, practical information on stay and food, the region’s map and weather updates. It also has a journal that let me input information as I explored the place.
Very many places in this European country have free public wi-fi. Expect to get access to the internet in the public areas of cities, restaurants and some stations. Wi-fi may be limited in smaller towns and villages. Most inns and hotels have wi-fi at no extra cost, even though they may not advertise it. Feel free to ask them for the network and password.
The last resort is Starbucks. I survived without a local number in each of my trips barring the most recent one this summer. I usually never faced a problem with getting access to free wi-fi. Some trains have free internet access for limited time period as well.
Switzerland has three official languages— German, French and Italian. The northern and central regions are German-speaking, whereas the western part is French-speaking and the south-eastern is Italian-speaking.
It is not mandatory to be proficient in any of the languages, however, it helps to know greetings and basic instructions in the local language for easy navigation.
Good to know
-Please do no litter. There are bins everywhere, literally.
-Please don’t push. Always allow people to disembark from buses, trains, lift and then get on board. It’s just common sense!
-The green button in public transport with the < > signs indicate access to the door. When it’s lit, means you need to push to open. When not, it’s on automatic mode and will open either way.
What have I missed? Ask me in the comments below.