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Report 1021: Switzerland in Slow Motion: 100 Miles on the Alpine Pass Route

By Kaydee from Tennessee, Summer 2005

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Page 4 of 19: Day 1: Arrival in Engelberg

photo by Kathy Wood

View from our balcony in Engelberg

We visited Switzerland only briefly a couple of times on previous European trips, so this was to be our longest stay. We were looking forward to experiencing much more of Switzerland. Charley especially loves the alpine environment: the sweeping mountains, the fresh cool air, the hearty food, and the German language.

We spent a couple of days in the beautiful lakeside town of Lucerne before taking a train to Engelberg, the beginning point of the walk. Trains made the trip between Lucerne and Engelberg hourly and sometimes even twice an hour. Engelberg is the starting point for a couple of mountain-top day-trips from Lucerne, including the ride up to the glaciers at Mount Titlis (10,626 feet).

The trip from Lucerne took about an hour. We traveled around Lake Lucerne (the Vierwaldstättersee), stopping at several small villages and towns. We passed along the base of Mount Pilatus (6,995 feet), which we had visited on a day-trip in 1997, long before we would have considered ourselves hikers. I mainly remember how rattled Charley was by the steep train ride up to the very top of the mountain. He doesn't like heights at all.

The Swiss transportation system is considered one of the best in the world, known for being very clean and very punctual. Earlier in the week (at the Zurich airport/train station), we bought special passes that gave us a 50% discount on trains, buses and mountain railways while we were in Switzerland. Kelly's card let her ride for free. We didn't really think we would use the cards during the hike, but we did some math and figured they would pay for themselves based on other train travel and a boat or mountain trip to Rigi while we were in Lucerne.

About 15 minutes before we reached Engelberg, the train attached to some kind of rack and began to ascend the mountain on a very steep track, moving much more slowly. Engelberg is at 3,287 feet, so we were glad the train got us up this high before we start our long hike.

Engelberg is a town of about 3,500 people, a center for winter and summer mountain activities. The village is also famous for a large Benedictine monastery founded in 1120.

Our hotel for this first night was the Hotel Banklialp, which sits on a slope on the outskirts of Engelberg, right on the path where we began our walk in the morning. The manager of the hotel met us at the station. He spoke very good English and was very friendly. It was nice to get the ride instead of having to walk with our luggage, especially since the hotel is up a hill.

We liked this hotel a lot, a good place for a relaxing afternoon and hopefully a good night’s sleep before we were to begin our walk. The hotel was modern, but had a very traditional décor. Best of all, we had a little balcony with a table and three chairs that overlooked the village with mountains seemingly all around us. When you peered over the edge of the balcony, you could actually see our path for tomorrow, heading up the mountain behind us.

We enjoyed the beautiful view and a couple of hours on the balcony. Kelly and I studied the maps and our Alpine Pass guidebook. She had asked to carry the map and guidebook each day and be our navigator on this walk. Although I like doing this too, I’m happy to turn over this job.

Dinner was included in our package on nine of the fourteen nights of this walking tour. We had a similar arrangement on our walking tour in Alsace. When the dinner is included, normally there is a set meal (kind of a daily special with several courses) that we found was quite good. In Alsace this forced us to eat some unfamiliar local dishes that we probably wouldn’t have ordered.

Tonight the meal was included. Charley and I both enjoyed our dinner, but much of it wasn’t really to Kelly’s liking. We had a big salad with vinaigrette dressing; a noodle soup (clear broth with very fine noodles); a main dish of cold beef with a dressing, boiled potatoes and more salad; and a good dessert with vanilla and strawberry ice cream and meringue.

We took showers, worked on our packing, and read out on our balcony. We were excited to see what tomorrow would bring as we began our walk in the Swiss Alps.

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