Planning a summer vacation that doesn’t involve overcrowded beaches and stifling heat?
Look no further – Switzerland is paradise, despite the lack of palm trees.
I’ve always loved roadtrips. It’s one of my favorite ways to travel. Ever since I was 14 and my parents took me and my sister on a two-week vacation driving through the “wild wild west” in the USA, trips like these get me all excited. And while the US is probably the most obvious place for long, scenic drives – as it turns out, Switzerland is pretty great, too.
Since we already had a few stops covered due to a few long weekend trips, our week was focused on three stops: Andermatt/Grimselpass, St. Moritz and Guarda. We had a week (8 days) for those stops and an old Volkswagen Käfer / Beetle to take us around, Cookie (our dog) in tow.
1.) THE THREE MOUNTAIN PASSES: GRIMSEL, FURKA & SUSTEN
Starting from Zurich, we first drove to the area around Andermatt to explore some of the most famous mountain passes in the alps. We stayed about halfway up the mountain (see below), which turned out to be a great spot for exploring and starting our hikes from.
WHAT TO SEE:
Take a drive on all three passes (plan for 2 days minimum)
Ride the Gelmerbahn, Europe’s steepest open-top funicular railway, and do the hike around the lake up top (~2 hours)
WHERE TO STAY:
Hotel Handeck – which lies right at the foot of the Gelmer Funicular. Make sure to get one of their more modern “stone house rooms” if you can.
Alternatively, their sister hotel “Grimsel Hospiz” is also great, but only opens 6 nights a week in summer (closed from Sunday to Monday).
WHERE TO EAT:
Food-wise, we were more than lucky on this trip. Eating out in Switzerland comes with a price tag, but the quality and local sourcing of the foods makes up for it.
We loved eating in the in-house restaurant of our hotel “Handeck” (a modernized variety of traditional Swiss food, very cozy “Stübli” to sit in)
One evening, we drove down to Andermatt and ate out at restaurant “Bären”, a family-run Italian restaurant with a twist. We feel in love head over heels because they had our favorite red wine on the menu and the best parmigiana we’ve ever tasted.
2.) UPPER ENGADIN & ST. MORITZ
From Grimsel pass, we took the scenic road all the way to St. Moritz, which first took us up and over the old “tremola”, the mountain pass in San Gottardo. The road is literally still a pebble road! An absolute must-do. After that, we drove up and down the mountain passes of San Bernadino, Splügen and Maloja before finally reaching St. Moritz, where we spent the next few days. Unlike in winter, when this part of Switzerland becomes crowded with fur-coated ladies sipping on Dom Pérignon champagne and hotel prices skyrocket, summers in the Engadin area are quieter and restaurants and hotels are frequented by the locals. It’s home to some of the most spectacular hikes in Switzerland and boasts great local cuisine.
WHAT TO DO:
Hiking, hiking, hiking! Our favorite tours where:
Pontresina to Muottas Muragl: Take the chairlift up in Pontresina and then take the panoramic hiking trail all the way to Muottas Muragl, where a funicular will take you down again. It’s about a three-hour hike (moderate) and you can have lunch up at Muottas Muragl itself or, even cuter, at Chamanna Segatini.
The Fex valley: A gorgeous hike in a picturesque, narrow valley is the path from the little town of “Sils” into the Fex valley. Before turning around, have a little lunchbreak in the garden of Hotel Fex.
The Roseg valley: Much wider and more open than the Fex valley, the Roseg valley is a great spot for a hike without much up- or downhill action. Many people also bike there, and almost everyone rewards themselves with a cool “panache” (beer mixed with citrus lemonade) at the very far end with a view on the glacier.
WHERE TO STAY:
We did quite a bit of research and ended up booking a room at “Nira Alpina” hotel in Silvaplana. They exceeded our expectations – first, they upgraded us to a suite with garden access since we came with our dog and they weren’t fully booked, and then they had the best breakfast and service anyone could wish for. We’ll be back!
WHERE TO EAT:
To be honest, we had expected skyhigh restaurant prices and snobby service in St. Moritz, but that was simply not the case. We loved both locations we ended up dining at:
Pavarotti wine bar – a family-run wine bar where mom makes three choices of pasta each night (aside from a yummy cheese & charcuterie plate), their handsome son serves you any wine your heart desires and dad looks and sings just like Pavarotti for the occasional entertainment. A truly fun and easy-going experience; we felt right at home.
Dal Mulin – a little more on the fancier side but great value for money and friendly service. The vibe is “modern meets chalet chic”. Definitely a lovely spot for a dinner for two.
3.) GUARDA & THE LOWER ENGADIN
The highlight of our trip was definitely our third stop in the Engadin area. The picturesque village of “Guarda”, home to the beautiful children’s tale of “Schellenursli”, seemed as though it had sprung from a fairytale movie. Upon recommendation, we checked in at Hotel Meisser – the outside still blends in with the surrounding early-17th-century buildings, while the inside has been renovated for modern comfort. Right from the hotel’s front door, we were able to explore the valley and enjoy the last few days of our trip.
WHAT TO DO
More hiking! From Guarda, hike up to Chamonna Tuoi for lunch and rent a “trotti”(a bike where you stand on) to roll all the way back down.
Another fun day hike was from Guarda to Tarasp castle. We ended up swimming in the lake and picnicking there before taking the train back to Guarda.
WHERE TO STAY
Hotel Meisser in Guarda
WHERE TO EAT
We ate at the hotel on our first night there, which was good but not overwhelming (breakfast, on the other hand, is great). If you spend a couple of days in Guarda, don’t book the half-board but instead head out for some variety.
We loved the restaurant right next door: Ustaria Crusch Alba. It’s teeny-tiny with only about 5 tables, run by a couple; he cooks, she does the service, just the two of them. From the street, you can see the kitchen through a small window, leaving you utterly impressed and questioning yourself how a single chef can whip up this kind of food all by himself within a space of maybe two square meters.
On our second-last evening, we drove to Scuol for dinner at family-run GuardaVal boutique hotel. It’s a fine dining restaurant, but in summer, they do a “gourmet BBQ” every Friday of the week. Such a great idea!
To get back to Zurich, we took yet another beautiful mountain pass – the Albula pass – before finally rejoining the highway. Looking back on those seven-eight days, they felt more like a two-week vacation. Most of us crave far-away destinations when thinking of a vacation, something exotic – but paradise can be so close to home…