European Travel - New Itinerary for 2015: Cote D'Azur, Tuscany, and an Alpine Festival

1:39 PM AirplaneFoodCritic 0 Comments

Lake Lugano, Switzerland, where my family is from.

In less than two months I will be back in Europe again! This time I will be going to places I have not been to at all or not in 30 years. I have the bones of my itinerary and am now just filling in the time with the activities, food and drink. I bought a new tablet so I hope that this trip I can post pictures as I blog along the way. Some day, I promise, I will add those photos to my last big trip to Germany, France and Switzerland.
Charmey, Switzerland. One of the places to celebrate Desalpes.

But enough of that, let's talk about France, Italy and Switzerland. I formed this route by the following means. We had a couple things we both really wanted to do. I, having made wine for the past 15 years, have not been able to travel in the harvest months previously. There is a little festival in Switzerland that happens in late September that I have always wanted to attend. So I looked it up, found the town that has the most festivities and activities. I will go into more detail about the festival below but it is called Desalpes and happens every year around the third weekend in September. It happens because it is the beginning of the wintery season so the farmers bring their cows down from the upper hills where they have been grazing all summer but can no longer once the cold and snow set in. The town I found to have the most activities is called Charmey, Switzerland. I marked Charmey on the map and then we moved onto what my husband really wanted to do which was be in some tropical weather.

We have been going to Europe every year for the past few years and as such we have not been able to afford going to Hawaii, one of our very favorite places to go, for a little over a year now. We thought we could scratch that tropical itch by heading down to the Cote d'Azure in France and Tuscany in Italy. I picked out a couple towns I liked, Nice and Monte Carlo and then realized that I have never been to the Cinque Terre in Italy so I marked that down on the map too.
I first mapped the main sights we wanted to go to then I stepped back and tried to make a route that incorporated them.

I stepped back and looked at my two areas of the map that were circled and formed a little of the trip in my head. I figured we would have to do the Desalpes at the end of the trip because it would make our vacation happen too late in the Fall if we started in late September. This meant most likely flying into Geneva and driving to Nice or flying into Nice. I chose flying into Nice, looping around to the Cinque Terre and up through the Alps back to Geneva. Geneva, being a larger city will have cheaper flights going out than if I were to fly out a nearby, smaller town. I, again, stepped back and looked at my map. I saw how close the Cinque Terre is to Lugano and decided that I would REALLY love to see my family's roots again.
A bench to relax and take in Lake Lugano. I bet there is an ice cream stand not too far from here too!

My heritage is almost completely Swiss with some Belgian splashed in. My family from Switzerland all originated in the canton of Ticino in the Lugano area...towns like Dino and Cimadra. They have since mostly spread out across Switzerland but my memories of family remain in the Lugano area. My first time to visit my Swiss family I was two years old. I have been many, many times since but then stopped coming for the last 25 years. Things get in the way like college, marriage, divorce, more marriage and illness. I have the most warm, happy memories of the area still in my head to this day though. I remember late nights with my grandpa in the tavern of the family hotel. I remember the smell of strong red wine and strong coffee and cigar smoke as I sat on my grandpa's lap while he socialized with his friends and family. I remember my aunt, Anna, making WAY more gnocchi than anyone could ever eat. I remember "You don't like? You no hungry?" when I pushed the last bowl away, too stuffed to even look at it. I remember my uncle, Pepin, having his tea in the living room surrounded by his bocci ball trophies. I remember throwing onions from the windows above at the poor arriving guests at Lydia's hotel. Poor Lydia. I also drew all over the hotel's hand painted wallpaper. Sorry, Lydia. I remember the stories my grandfather used to tell me...about the man who holds up the mountain or the giant who peed in the lake. Oh, Grandpa! I love all of Switzerland but I visit the Alpine region the most often, so going back to my roots will be spectacular. Ticino is the tropical canton so it will fit perfectly into this trip. I circled it on the map.
It is beginning to look like an actual route! Piazzale Roma is the place you park your car to take the boat to Venice. Google Maps does not have a way to drive to Venice because there are no cars IN Venice! Kinda hard driving on the water.

Another glance at the map and I decided to make a tough decision. The husband has never been to Italy and I thought it might be super romantic, specially since we just got married a few weeks ago, to visit Venice. Going to Venice would stretch our route far to the East. This means we will have to skip something in the Cote d'Azur and we will be having longer driving days than I normally have. Since we were now planning on going from the Cinque Terre to Venice, I see on the map that we will pass right through Pisa and not too far from Florence. I decided to make Pisa a drive through stop and to stay in Florence. My husband, being an artist himself, must see David and the other incredible art and architecture that is in the medieval town of Florence.

I take a look at the map as it stands and I see that we will be driving about 3 hours between towns. That is a LOT of driving for me normally but it is a bit of a compromise trip so it will work. I have one little problem...although it looks on the mat like the distance between Lugano and Charmey are about the same as all the other stops, I know it is much, much further. This is because that area is the middle of the Alps. The driving is a bit crazy and very windy. I need to put a stop in the middle somewhere between the two cities. I look at the route and see it goes through the area of my favorite town in all of Switzerland, Lauterbrunnen. Lauterbrunnen is a tiny, tiny town nestled in the valley between two steep hills. There is a beautiful waterfall, called Stubbach Falls that runs the length of one of these steep hills in a free-fall to the valley floor. I have stayed here many times. In fact, we were there just a year ago.
A little pic I snapped of the town of Lauterbrunnen.

I recall our last visit to the area of Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland and I have fond memories of a side trip we took. We visited the town of Meiringen where a lovely Sherlock Holmes museum is and where the meringue was invented. After having a meringue in the cafe it was first created, we headed up a funicular to the top of the Reichenbach Falls, also of Sherlock fame. It is the top of these falls where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote that Sherlock and Moriarty had a struggle before supposedly both falling to their deaths. You can see more about my travels to this area here and here. At the top of this waterfall you can hike a bit further onto the mountainside. My most favorite hike in all the world just might be this one. After getting off the funicular (buy a one way ticket) you climb up the path following along the waterfall until it flattens out at the very top of the falls. There is a road and a hotel there and nothing else. To go on the full hike, which will take at least a couple hours, you follow the road to your right. The road is paved but very narrow and is only there to get supplies to the little hotel perched on the mountainside. Once you move away from the hotel, the road narrows and becomes less paved. The path takes you through farmland as you descend the mountain. There are cows and chalets. You pass lazy cats and beautifully maintained vegetable gardens. You pass little town markers like the town of Falcher, keep heading down. After an hour or so you follow the now all dirt path into some tunnels bored through the rocks. Water cascades over your head into the valley below. Your shoes will get dirty here as the caves are always wet and muddy inside. After the series of caves you come out to a section where the funicular runs, you pretty  much follow those tracks down and you end up in the parking lot where you presumably parked your car in the first place. I did this hike in May, 2010 for the first time. When I returned in 2013 I wanted to repeat the walk but the weather was not as kind in June so we took some refuge at the little hotel at the top of the falls. Hotel Zwirgi. We were cold and wet, tired and starving. There was no one else who bothered to hike this far up so we had the whole restaurant of the hotel to ourselves. The waitress was so sweet. We described to her how hungry we are and that one of us is a vegetarian and she recommended we try a Kaseschnitte. This, was our first of MANY kaseschnittes.
Holy Kaseschnitte!! This is my half of the sandwich we had at Hotel Zwirgi after our wet hike.

A kaseschnitte is a thick slice of white bread loaf that is quickly soaked in white wine then it is fried in a deep dish with cheese covering it. There are many variations you can have after that, tomatoes, ham, usually a fried egg and more. We had all of the above, only the ham only on one half. I think there were also fried onions on the top. Yum. I want one now.

Why am I telling you all this? Because it had a great affect on us. We even named our GPS system after the dog that was there who liked no one but was very sweet nonetheless, Abby. I called the hotel and explained that we loved our little lunch there and would they have us for a couple day stay this trip. They were happy to welcome us so there was the last piece of the puzzle on the map...Meiringen and Hotel Zwirgi.
Hotel Zwirgi at the top of Reichenbach Falls, see you soon!

And there it was, the trip's bones are all in place. I put Geneva as the exit city both because it is near Charmey and it is a bigger city so cheaper flights as well as a better chance of getting a non-stop flight. Now that we have our path, I just needed to plug in Charmey on the 26th of September and let all the other dates fall into place. Because we have so much driving between cities, we chose to stay at least two days in each town so we can get a rest and a good amount of time to be tourists.

The final route! Time to purchase plane tickets and look at hotels.

I will post a mostly picture blog next so you can see the photos of these beautiful towns.

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