Seeing snow fall on our England home (40 odd miles north of London) is a rare event. We might get the *occasional winter flurry or sleety downpour once or twice during each winter but in this part of the UK ‘proper’ snowman building type snow happens perhaps once every 4 or 5 years… and then it might last for a day or so…
*With strange irony, as I write this, an unusual weather system known as ‘The Beast from the East‘ or more accurately a cold blast from Siberia has resulted in rare substantial snowfall… two days ago was the coldest March day ever recorded in the UK…
Anyway, before last Christmas, Chris and I were having a chat about the lack of snow we usually experience and we agreed it would be wonderful to go off for a weekend in search of some proper snow… real thick snow… so with EasyJet offering £50 return flights to Switzerland, what were we waiting for?
Day 1: Travel to Switzerland (Saturday)
At 6.30 am last Saturday morning we left dark and dreary Luton airport bound for Zurich and in just under 1.5 hours we had arrived in Switzerland. The train station is located underneath the airport and having pre-booked our accommodation we purchased our tickets to Chur, via Zurich where we had to change trains. This also gave us the opportunity to have a look around Zurich while en-route.
The train journey from Zurich airport to the city centre took just 10 minutes. We headed for the station’s tourist information office and having collected a map and some basic instructions, set off to explore Zurich’s Old Town on foot.
Following the map we took a self guided walking tour which took us from the station, along the river towards the lake and back through the old cobbled streets past historic churches such as St Peters Church which has the largest tower clock face in Europe (and can be seen in the above photo).
Despite Zurich having a grey and overcast day we felt the city had a relaxed and welcoming vibe and at the end of our walk around the Old Town we enjoyed a coffee shop stop followed by a visit to a chocolate shop where we purchased a smooth slab of dark chocolate with blackberries!
There are many direct trains heading south to Chur and at lunchtime we were back at the central station where we climbed on board and set off. Within less than 20 minutes outside of Zurich the weather had brightened and we saw patches of blue sky as the double decker train glided smoothly through the green valley with its contrasting white snow capped mountains. This scenic journey also took us past two long and serene blue lakes.
After just over an hour we arrived at Chur, our base for the next 3 nights. Incidentally, we found when we heard the train announcements that Chur is actually pronounced ‘Corr’.
Once we had checked into our hotel and offloaded our backpacks we had a wander around the cobbled streets of Chur’s old town. As to be expected, Chur was even quieter than the laid back Zurich. Chur has a population of 37,000 which has grown throughout the last 5,000 years making it one of Switzerlands’ oldest towns.
We stayed in the Ambiente Freieck hotel which was full of character with the original main part of the building having been constructed in 1575. It has been rebuilt several times over the years and the modern day restaurant was designed following a Feng-Shui consultation! Being a 10 min walk from the train station and right in the heart of the old town the hotel was ideally especially as it was located within a few minutes of some excellent and varied restaurants.
Following a snack in one of the many coffee shops we headed back to the train station and called into the tourist information office where a helpful lady gave us some ideas for activities for the next two days.
We consulted Trip Advisor and selected Jamies restaurant for our Saturday evening meal. The food and wine was excellent and although somewhat on the expensive side, it was probably average for Swiss prices. We found in all Swiss restaurants that wine is served in only 100ml measures which is even smaller than the smallest UK measure of 125ml… no getting drunk on this trip!
Day 2: Local trekking in Brambruesch (Sunday)
The local mountain, or ‘home’ mountain of Chur is called the Hausberg which is reached by the Brambruesch cable car from the centre of Chur.
We purchased our return lift tickets and picked up a map which showed the hiking trails and ski runs. About one third of the way up the mountain you need to swap from the main cable car to a smaller one which takes you to the ski slopes and hiking trails.
From zero snow in Chur as we progressed up the mountain it was snowing and the ground was already covered in a couple of feet of snow! Perfect skiing conditions.
Following a drink in the mountain restaurant we set off to find the start of the hiking trail…
OK… we’ll be honest here and say that it took us a while to find the start of the trail… it was snowing and visibility was poor but we eventually found the pink hiking sign which marked the start of the trail. It was literally about 100 meters directly in front of the restaurant!
Once on the trail it was easy to follow the circular route with regular purple poles making the way.
The trail was spectacular and we had an amazing time as we trudged through the snow…
We returned to the mountain restaurant for lunch before returning back to Chur for the rest of the day. Later in the evening we had a Swiss meal made with local produce in the delightful restaurant of the Hotel Franziskaner, complete with its traditional wooden panels and Swiss style features.
Day 3: Train to Arosa (Monday)
Arosa is easily reached from Chur by an incredibly scenic hour long train journey. The valleys and snow covered mountains were breathtaking as the train twisted and turned its way higher and higher from Chur to Arosa.
Arosa has an altitude of 1775 m which is considerably higher than Chur’s 593 m. In fact, Arosa is higher than the UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis (1345 m). So not surprisingly the village of Arosa was covered in several feet of snow and its lake was frozen!
Arosa is a popular ski and hiking area and has many more ski runs and hiking trails which begin at the village. Again, the trails are marked with pink or purple poles making them easy to follow. They intersect with ski runs at times so you need to be careful when crossing them.
And again, we had a fantastic time crunching through the winter wonderland as we trekked along some of the hiking trails! More or less following a circular trail (which we found on the Internet) we made our way through the forests and frozen waterfalls to the Prätschli Hotel for a coffee!
And we saw some wildlife along the way!
Fortunately the weather was clearer than yesterday which resulted in awesome Alpine views of thousands of huge fir trees dusted in white snow towering all around us.
All of Western Europe has experienced extremely cold temperatures throughout the last week and Aroza was no exception! Throughout the day the average temperature was -17 with a wind chill of about -25.
Our mobiles went on a go slow with applications taking a long time to load… when I tried to charge mine (using my portable charger) I had a message saying something like “the battery is too cold to charge”.
Using our phones in such cold conditions meant trying to use them quickly (despite waiting for either Google Maps or the camera to load) as our hands soon froze without gloves!
In such freezing conditions it is obviously essential to ensure you wear several layers and have a warm hat. Snow shoes were not necessary for the relatively easy hikes we did… we did both hikes wearing our usual walking boots.
The trains run every hour and following a bowl of soup around the open pit fire in the Guterschuppen restaurant, conveniently located at the train station, we headed back to the warmer climes of Chur… oh yes, Chur was only -7 when we got back…
For a change this evening, we had a delicious Mexican meal in the Restaurant zum Metzgertor, just a 3 minute walk from our hotel.
Day 4: Travel home with side trip to Liechtenstein (Tuesday)
Our flight home from Zurich wasn’t due to depart until 20:50 which gave us the best part of another day. Laura has had a long term goal of visiting every European capital city and being so close to Vaduz, the tiny capital of Liechtenstein, we decided to take the opportunity to visit.
Liechtenstein is the fourth smallest country in Europe, squashed in between Switzerland to the west and Austria to the east.
Having checked out of our hotel we headed back to the train station and purchased train tickets from Chur to Zurich Flughafen (airport). We disembarked at Sargans, the first stop on our particular train… one of several each hour back to Zurich.
At Sargans, we left our backpacks in a locker (5 Swiss Francs in coins needed) and walked 50 m to the bus station.
From here we got the 12E bus from platform B to Vaduz which took 20 minutes. You pay the driver in cash as you board the bus (8 SF each) and there are no border crossings between Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
Vaduz had a modern feel with a pleasant pedestrian walkway through a small series of shops, cafes and museums. We popped inside the Modern Art museum but at around £15 each to enter, we decided to walk to the castle instead!
Vaduz castle is located on a hill overlooking the city and it takes around 20 minutes or so to walk up to it. The path is fairly gentle so it isn’t too onerous! You are not able to look inside the castle but the hike up there is worth it for the views.
Like Arosa and Chur, the -7 temperatures in Vaduz were also extremely cold. We had a coffee and snack before repeating our bus journey back to Sargans, collecting our backpacks and getting the next train back to Zurich.
Back in Zurich the weather was brighter than our previous visit last Saturday. After warming up in a department store as we decided what to do, we made our way to the Lindenhof district which is a short walking distance from the station and well known for its views across the city.
This time we had a better view of St Peters Church before one last meal (in the historic Zeughauskeller) before heading to the airport.
Switzerland is a beautiful country both in the winter and in the summer. Laura had previously visited Basel and Lucerne in late Spring (around 2004) where the temperatures were around 23 degrees. We would love to do more Swiss weekends, maybe for some summer hiking next time…
A short European break every so often makes an exciting adventure to enhance your day-to-day life. We travel light with backpacks which makes it easy to get around and with no need to wait at the airport baggage carousel. This also saves on the luggage costs of budget airlines.
Indeed, a European break doesn’t need to be expensive. You can reduce costs by staying for one night or even by not staying at all! It is easy to see Paris in a day if you get the first flight at 06:00 in the morning and a late flight home… If you wish to stay for longer you could look at hostels or AirBnB options. You can eat cheaply if you don’t want to have restaurant meals. The main expense you can’t get away from is the relatively high cost of train travel and ski lifts. Our one way train ticket from the airport to Chur was SF45 (about £35) each.