THE BEST ROUTE FOR DRIVING THROUGH SWITZERLAND
The best way to see Switzerland's mountains, lakes, and historic cities is from the warmth of your own car. This awe-inspiring country has so much to offer travelers that it is often difficult to decide where to start and where to end. We believe that our Switzerland Tour by Car gives travelers a good mix of all the different sights and attractions to see while driving through the country in a Switzerland car rental, including stops at historic cities, near small resort towns in the mountains, and by giant lakes. Walking along the streets of the cities and towns and climbing high into the Alps gives travelers a taste of life in this peaceful, complex country.
DAY 1: EXPLORING BERN
Bern is the default capital of Switzerland, and because it offers so much to travelers in terms of sight-seeing and activities, it is a great place to start your journey. History buffs will want to visit Old Town for its 11 16th-century fountains and the cathedral located there. The Zytglogge, a medieval clock tower that features moving puppets, is also of historical significance, standing in Bern's city center. Built-in the 13th century, the Zytglogge has served as a prison, a guard tower, and a city clock over the last 800 years. The Bern Minster, a cathedral dating back to 1421 and built in the Gothic style, is also located near the city center. As the tallest cathedral in Switzerland, Bern Minster attracts thousands of visitors each year.
DAY 2: BERN TO GRUYERES VIA A12
From Bern, take the A12 south to Gruyeres. The town of Gruyeres has retained much of its medieval structure over the last 800 years. Gruyeres Castle was constructed between 1270 and 1282 and holds events such as concerts for tourists. The H.R. Giger Museum, which is housed in the Chateau St. Germain, holds the surrealist painter's works. Nearby is a local museum that has on display antiquities and artifacts from Tibet. Gruyere cheese, which takes its name from the town, and Swiss chocolate are in abundance in the La Gruyere region, giving travelers a chance to sample these Swiss specialties as they pass through western Switzerland.
DAY 3: GRUYERES TO LAUTERBRUNNEN VIA JAUNPASS
When leaving Gruyeres, you can take the road through the Jaunpass mountain pass to reach Lauterbrunnen. The picturesque village of Lauterbrunnen, set in the Lauterbrunnen valley, provided the inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien's City of Rivendell. When you drive through the village, it is easy to see why the Father of Fantasy literature was inspired to make such a place home to his noblest creatures. A short train ride from Lauterbrunnen takes you to Wengen, a small resort village at the foot of the Eiger, Monsch, and Jungfrau mountains. In Wengen, only a few cars are allowed to drive the streets, making it a peaceful and relaxing stop on your route.
If you have the time and ability, you can add an extra day to your trip and take a cable car to see the Aletsch Glacier in the south of Switzerland. Just take the 6 highway down to connect with the 19 toward Fiesch. The Aletsch Glacier is the largest glacier in the Alps and is accessible only by train and a cable car, so you'll have to park your car, but once you see the majesty of the glacier at the summit, you won't regret taking the time to do so. When you are finished soaking up the breathtaking sights of the Aletsch Glacier, you can lodge at one of the many hotels in town or you can continue on your journey if you don't mind driving a lot in one day.
DAY 4: LAUTERBRUNNEN TO LUCERNE VIA A8
As you begin your trek from Lauterbrunnen, take the A8 north to Lucerne. Lucerne became the fourth member of the Swiss confederation in 1391 and is today the most populous city in Central Switzerland, serving as the center of government for the region. Aside from the historical architecture and amazing views of the mountains and lake, one of the most renowned attractions of Lucerne is the Kappelbrücke, or Chapel Bridge, that spans the Reuss River diagonally and houses numerous paintings that date from the 17th century and depict Switzerland's history. It is the oldest covered bridge in Europe, originally built in 1333, and one of Switzerland's most visited tourist attractions.
DAY 5: LUCERNE TO ALTDORF VIA A2
From Lucerne, backtrack south along the A8 and take the exit for the A2 east toward Altdorf. Anyone familiar with the story of William Tell knows that Switzerland has a rich history and culture. The Switzerland Tour by Car stops midway at Altdorf, where this tale originates, and when you see the sloping mountains that cradle this small, German-speaking town, you will feel transported to another time. The Forum of Swiss History -- where you can learn about the William Tell legend in detail -- is located just 10 miles north of Altdorf in Schwyz, one of the original members of the 1291 alliance that has morphed into the 26-canton Swiss Confederation of today. Schwyz is also the location of the Victorinox factory where the original Swiss Army knife is produced.
DAY 6: ALTDORF TO LANDQUART VIA A3/A13
With Altdorf behind you, drive north on the A4 and Route 8 to meet up with the A3/A13 toward Landquart. The municipality of Landquart is a great place to stop for the night between Altdorf and Val Mustair. Nestled along the Rhine River, Landquart offers plenty of quality dining experiences as well as a few visitor attractions. You can enjoy a glass of wine as you watch the Rhine flow slowly by or visit the Lindt Chocolate Shop for some delicious treats. For those who want to take in the history of the area, the Marschlins Castle is located in the old municipality of Igis, now a part of Landquart. The castle dates as early as the 13th century and offers travelers a glimpse into the lives lived during that time, as well as some great panoramic views of the surrounding, snowy-peaked mountain ranges.
DAY 7: LANDQUART TO VAL MUSTAIR VIA ROUTE 28
From Landquart, you will take Route 28 east to your final destination at Val Mustair. Established around the year 780 by the bishop of Chur, the Benedictine Convent of St. John is the main tourist attraction of Val Mustair. It goes without saying that a building this old has seen a lot of history pass through its doors. Charlemagne is said to have ordered its construction during his attempt to spread Christianity and education throughout the region. During the 10th century, the beautiful church tower was added. The 12th century saw the convent's residents change from monks to nuns. The convent, too, witnessed the Swabian War, during which the Habsburgs attempted to gain control of the surrounding mountain passes. After plundering the convent and being driven back by Swiss forces, the Habsburgs accepted a treaty that granted independence to the Swiss confederacy in about 1499. Originally a Carolingian construction, the Benedictine Convent of St. John was restructured as a late Gothic church in 1500. Offering travelers a glimpse of what it was like to live in such times, the convent is definitely worth a walk-through.
As the easternmost part of Switzerland, bordering Italy, Val Mustair offers a great admixture of cultures and languages for travelers to experience. Because the area is accessible from the Swiss side by only one road that runs through the Swiss National Park, the region is isolated from what is typically considered Swiss. Languages spoken in the area include German, Italian, and Romansch, this third being a Romance language spoken only in this region. Virtually untouched by humans prior to making its way to Val Mustair, the water that runs down the Alps to be drunk by the valley's inhabitants and visitors is some of the cleanest natural water in Europe.