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Switzerland with 85 Year Old MIL

Amy

100+ Posts
Here's the background. Bear with me.

My MIL is turning 85 next July. Her first language is German, she speaks English well, and walks extremely slowly with a cane. She loves lake and mountain views, and has no interest in art, local culture, history, food beyond desserts. She gets up quite late, has a large breakfast, does not eat lunch, and so wants a simply prepared dinner by 6. She loves to take boat and scenic train rides, ride cablecars up mountains, sit on benches with a view, and eat afternoon pastry. Her treasured travel memories are of trips to Switzerland with her own elderly mother 30 years ago.

For her 80th birthday, she wanted to revisit, and so my husband and his sister tag-teamed (husband for the first week, husband's sister for the second, with me riding shotgun for a few days) to take her back to the places she liked most--Lugano, and Weggis, on Lake Lucerne. The Lugano portion of this trip was a near disaster, because she "hates Italian food." On her decades-ago trips with her Mom, they had stayed at a hotel catering to an elderly German clientele, where they were served elderly German food promptly at 6 pm, and were taken on tours by German-speaking guides. The hotel is no more, and she was rather shocked to find herself in a very different environment than she remembered, with Italian language around, Italian food, and a more Italian culture. They ate dinner for five nights out of eight in a Chinese restaurant, if you can imagine Swiss-Chinese. (I recall imaginatively priced dishes, each tasting of the same soy-cornstarch slurry). She enjoyed herself more in Weggis, much more comfortable for her. (this is someone who I think likes the idea of travel much more than the reality)

She wants to do it again in June or July, but this time, stay only in Weggis, but for 2-3 weeks. My husband's sister wants nothing to do with this. There's going to have to be some compromise--my husband cannot take that amount of time without seriously blowing through his vacation for the year, and hey, we want to do our own trip this year. And let's just say that spending a lot of time with MIL can be challenging. He wants me along as distraction.

Weggis is a very, very small town with about a dozen hotels and restaurants. It seems popular as a spot for the elderly. There are two trips you can take to go up different mountains, you can take boat trips on the lake, you can go into Lucerne. (She does not want to stay in Lucerne) Two weeks of this, we'd be drinking the town dry.

Can anyone suggest a second destination, one that can offer MIL the scenic, sedate elements she enjoys, preferably within the German-speaking part of the country? Larry and I speak traveler French and Italian, but she wants the more German environment. Would Bern be a good choice for a few days? Interlaken? Other areas? And yes, I do need a guidebook, fast!

thank you !
 
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Pauline

Forums Admin
Interlaken has become very touristy and crowded. Not as delightful as it used to be. Bern is a much larger city. Your MIL wants a mountain town. We have been to a lot of the mountain towns in the German speaking area.

Not far from Weggis is Engelberg, a small town at the end of a long valley. We spent two weeks here about 10 years ago and loved it. Not touristy, beautiful views. They have exceptional mountain rides. You can take a gondola or chairlift up to a small lake, then you walk to the other side of the lake and take a chairlift up and another down to the next valley where there is a perfect country hotel (but if she doesn't eat lunch she won't be as excited). I probably have a trip report somewhere but I can't find it right now. Engelberg is on the eastern edge of the Bernese Oberland (also called Berner Oberland), the mountain part of Bern canton.

The next valley going west is Meiringen. We have not stayed there but it is a pretty town with a gondola.

The next valley is Grindelwald - which will be too crowded and touristy probably, but it is exceptionally beautiful. Lots of mountain rides and views.

Then Lauterbrunnen with Murren, but possibly too many American tourists because it is a Rick Steves fav.

Then Kandersteg, where we have stayed twice and are staying again in August. This is a lovely town. Nice gondolas, lovely long road up to the end of the valley which you can drive (timed).

Then we come to the place we are going back to for the 4th year in a row - Lenk. A very German town (as are Kandersteg and Engelberg). Only Swiss and German tourists. One gondola but it is fabulous. She could ride up and then site on a bench looking at the view. Several mountain buses and one timed road where you can drive right up to the mountains - Iffigenalp. I have trip reports here about Lenk. It is near Gstaad which is more jet setty.

We first visited Lenk in 1988 and spent 3 nights in a wonderful hotel where we went down to dinner each night. They reused your cloth napkins, giving you a special ring to mark you napkin. I loved that.

So, my vote would be for Engelberg, Kandersteg or Lenk. Three really beautiful towns. Not much culture for you two, but you could do some easy hiking. Hiking is very easy in Switzerland, which is why we like it. You take a ride up, walk for a bit, take another ride down.

I am here to answer any question about Switzerland, no matter how trivial - because I LOVE Switzerland!!

P.S. Make sure she pays for everything. Switzerland can be pricey!
 
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Pauline

Forums Admin
And keep us posted on where you are going and when. We will be in Switzerland next summer. Two years ago we went in July and the wildflowers were amazing. June is a bit early for higher elevations. Even in July we walked through snow in the mountains above Grindelwald.
 
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Amy

100+ Posts
Thanks Pauline, this is really helpful. Wildflowers would make me very happy. We're just the sherpas and facilitators on this jaunt, I'll be thrilled if I can duck into Lucerne on our own for a day or we can go on a short hike. She says that she'd be OK in Weggis if L and I want to go somewhere for a few days. We don't think that's a great idea, she's too unsteady on her feet., especially away from home. Last time we had a little adventure involving a doctor's visit.

All I know about timing is that MIL wants to be in Switzerland for her birthday, which is July 2. And grr, I bought a Switzerland guidebook on my Nook, and it isn't working well.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Do you stay in a hotel or vacation rental?
Do you rent a car?
Does she enjoy a ride in the car?
There are some lovely old hotels in these towns. And Kandersteg and Lenk has roads into long valleys.
Gstaad could be an option. Wendy and Richard stayed at a lovely hotel there. There are several beautiful drives from there plus very good gondolas. You are close to the French area there but it is still German.
In Lenk the woman we rent from has several very nice apartments. When I am booking she writes in German and I use google translate to read it then I reply in English and I assume she does the same. When we are there she and Steve talk in French. Lenk is very German speaking.
 

susan

100+ Posts
How is her breathing? Mountain towns usually mean higher altitude considerations to think about. I would check the altitude of where every you plan to go and make sure she would be ok with that altitude both for breathing issues and headaches, etc.

I have only been in Switzerland once. I LOVED it! I stayed in Murren in July. It wasn't very crowded at all but that was back in 2003. There is a fun little cog wheeled train that takes you there from Lauterbrunnen. I went on a daytrip to Wengen. You take another train there from Lauterbrunnen. I looked at my photos and there are older people with canes sitting on benches in Wengen. It is pretty high up (altitude wise) but I remember the town as being pretty flat. From what I remember, Murren was a little hilly but very quaint with pretty wildflowers. Wengen was a little larger but still a small town. Lautebrunnen could be the base with 2 daytrips - train rides. If you could get some sort of transportation in Lauterbrunnen, there are lots of waterfalls and pretty valleys.

Pauline's suggestion probably is better but I wanted to give an alternative just in case hers does not work out.

I also spent a few days in Zurich and loved it there. There is a lake she could sit at and lots of bakeries with desserts and lots of places selling chocolates. Easy transportation if she can get on the public trams. Not sure though if that would be too hard for her, although I would imagine they have lifts. It is not as "German" though - much more international and probably too busy for her. But fun for you!

I also spent time in Locarno..... but ITALIAN!! so not for her!

I found this Switzerland website with info for guests with special needs that might be helpful.
 

Colo

500+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Amy,

I know it is not a "slow" trip, but have you considered a river cruise? For example you could go from Amsterdam to Basel ping-ponging between Alsace and Germany. Sitting on the top deck taking in the scenery, docking in cities/towns, and having assistance available (if needed) from a crew that is use to working with seniors.

Once you arrive in Switzerland you could spend a few days in her favorite town (or Basel) and a few days in Zurich before heading home.

A slow ride down the Rhine sure seems like it checks a lot of the boxes you mentioned above. I am an independent type traveler, but after years of avoiding such a trip, we will be using Ama Waterways for the trip described above... In the other direction. From friends we have heard you can do as much or as little as you like.

just a thought... I hope I am not to be hung for being a slow travel heretic
 

Amy

100+ Posts
Thanks so much, Pauline, Susan and Colo. Keep the ideas flowing, they're very helpful as Larry and I contemplate this excursion. Susan, she has been to high elevations on cablecar rides on previous trips, but you're right, it has been five years. (I tend to be the one with the altitude sickness, oh more joy)

Colo, we did indeed think about a River cruise. MIL was not enthusiastic about returning to Germany (she and her Mom were able flee in 39, the only survivors in the family) although that feeling is starting to change. More to the point, from what I've heard about most river cruises (Viking, et al) is that the boats generally move at night and dock during the day except for one scenery-focused day. Her interest would lie in watching the scenery, not actually getting off the boat to explore a city or town. She has enjoyed big-ship cruises to Alaska and the Caribbean. I completely agree that it would be easier! Do the AMA cruises do more daylight moving, do you know?
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
How is her breathing? Mountain towns usually mean higher altitude considerations to think about. I would check the altitude of where every you plan to go and make sure she would be ok with that altitude both for breathing issues and headaches, etc.
Very good point. When we lived in Santa Fe, at 7500 feet, there were people who had difficulty when they visited.

Lenk is 3200 feet, so would not be a problem, but the ride goes up another 1000 feet. It is my understanding that it is only above 5000 feet where people feel the altitude, but I could be wrong. Denver is at 5,000. When we moved to Boulder from Santa Fe we were going down in altitude.

Lauterbrunen is the valley west of Grindelwald. That whole area is fabulous. We have always stayed in Grindelwald. Two years ago we stayed in Grindelwald and were shocked at how crowded it was now (Japanese tourists love Grindelwald). We visited Lauterbrunen and it felt very American touristy to us, and a younger crowd. You can only get to Murren by a mountain ride - you can't drive.

I've been thinking more about this. Gstaad is a more sophisticated place than Lenk. Park Gstaad is the hotel I was thinking of there - 5 star, outside the main area. You can purchase a daily pass for mountain rides (3 day min) at a very good price and use it for the train as well. There are 5 very good gondola/chairlifts. You can also drive up several valleys. You can even drive up to one of the mountaintops (Horneggli). But it will be busy in town and more international feeling.

For real German, I think Lenk, Kandersteg, Adelboden, Meiringen, Engelberg. In Lenk the best hotel is in a lovely setting with balconies and views. Also a natural hot springs spa. We have not stayed there but have walked by it. The Lenkerhof.

If you are considering the Valais (Zermatt), remember that the Rosti Ditch divides it. German on one side, French on the other (not a real ditch). For Zermatt you can drive to the nearest town, park and take a 10 minute train ride. Zermatt is at the foot of the Matterhorn.

There are interesting train rides that you can take in Switzerland. One is the Glacier Express that goes to Zermatt. Another is from Lenk/Gstaad and goes to Montreux. There are others. Switzerland has great tourist websites. Usually each area has one, plus the one for the whole country - https://www.myswitzerland.com . They will mail you very good brochures (they used to - maybe it is all online now).
 
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Roz

500+ Posts
Re altitude: My son recently moved to Santa Fe, and I was a little concerned about how I'd react when we visited him. One thing that is recommended for people who have trouble with altitude is electrolytes. I hate those sugary electrolyte drinks, but I found a concentrated liquid that you take by adding a few drops to a glass of water. It has almost no taste, but seems to work for restoring electrolyte balance. Here is the one I got: Trace Minerals Research.
 
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Amy

100+ Posts
Pardon me while I tear my hair out.

So, MIL was first on board for a 5-6 day second base after a week in Weggis. She was the one to initially bring up the idea. She wanted mountains, pretty scenery, was intrigued by what I showed her on the Bernese Oberland. I even found a lovely rental in Lauterbrunnan, since the hotels in the valley areas which primarily cater to skiers and hikers didn't have the facilities she requires (no stairs, bathtub, comfortable bed, etc.) And she loved the idea of seeing waterfalls and the mountains all around, with nice gondola rides. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/12724645?wl_source=list&wl_id=231337266&role=wishlist_owner&adults=1&children=0&infants=0

Now, she's coming up with all sorts of reasons why she doesn't want this--she's come up with new locations to visit (in the Ticino, where she's said all along she did not want to revisit!), she doesn't want to stay in the mountains (yet wants to go up into the mountains on daytrips via gondola; has done so before with no issues at all; and she stays all summer in a Catskill Mountain house at near 2500 feet with no difficulty. Lauterbrunnan is a valley, at 2586 feet)

We're not wanting to do any convincing--she likes the idea of travel more than the reality of trying something unfamiliar, and going against the grain on this would not be beneficial. We did tell her to talk to her doctor about altitude, we'll see what sort of answer she gets. I suspect she is really more comfortable staying in Weggis, a palce she knows, for the entire two weeks. Sadly, I'm not coming up with any rentals that would work, so it looks like we'll be in a lakeside hotel for two weeks. She wants us to rent a car for some daytrips. Some of the places she wants to daytrip to are 2-3 hours away! I think Larry and I will be needing a vacation after this. (and no, we can't go off on our own afterward, since she's afraid to fly on her own)
 
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Pauline

Forums Admin
Lauterbrunnen would be a good choice with mountain rides to Wengen and Murren. It felt very American when we were there last. We will be there on Friday and I'll revisit that feeling.

I still think Lenk, where we are now would be good. Very German, small, one good gondola to a lovely area where you can stroll or sit on a bench. Close enough to Gstaad to reach several other gondolas in under an hour. Not crowded. Kind of "old world" feeling.

I would overrule her. She didn't like the Ticino last time, she won't like it this time.
 

Roz

500+ Posts
Amy, I don't have any thoughts for you, since I've never been to Switzerland (well, not since a "grand tour" of Europe ages and ages ago when I was in college), but I just wanted to say I think you are a saint for trying so hard to accommodate your MIL. I hope Larry realizes what a gem he has in you!!
 

Katt B

10+ Posts
Amy, I second Roz' sentiments that you are a gem! Dealing sensitively with aging parents and in-laws can challenge the most even-keeled of us. Bless you for trying to make your MIL happy.

I'm sure you've thought of this, but is there a chance she would settle for a one-week trip to Weggis, period? Make it the best trip ever--nice accommodations, special dinners, whatever would make it extra-special for her. Then come home. Or even better, ask your sister-in-law to come and pick her up in Switzerland, while you and your husband go off on another adventure.

I know if I were facing 2-3 weeks with my MIL, I wouldn't be the cheeriest travel companion, especially thinking about burning up hubby's vacation time. But for one week - I think I could stand it.
 

Amy

100+ Posts
Sadly, my SIL has stated firmly that she can not be part of this trip. We did tag-team on the last Switzerland command performance five years ago, and SIL was miserable. She has a terrible back, and the combination of hard Swiss beds and travel rigors, with the simple fact that she does not enjoy travel, well, it's not a do-over. Not to mention the overriding fact that she and MIL are like two cats in a sack when spending more than 10 minutes together.

If she does indeed want to plant herself in Weggis for the entire time, I will see what I can do to talk her into just doing 10 days. The silver lining of just staying in Weggis is that since she's so comfortable there, speaks German, and is happy to sit on a bench all afternoon, she'd be fine if Larry and I took ourselves off for excursions every now and then. Which we will need if we're not to also blow through Switzerland's wine production in two weeks.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
We've driven through many times but have not stopped. Thun is another possibility. We have been there and it is a cute town. Thun is on the western edge of the Lightening and Thunder lakes, Interlaken is inbetween them. We drive through Spiez again on Friday and I will take note of what the mountain views are. I've never had Spiez suggested as a destination, so I have doubts about that location. You could easily get to good mountain towns from Spiez - Kandersteg (where we will be next week), Adelboden, Lenk, Gstaad. Lauterbrunnen too.

How about Brienz, on the eastern edge of the two lakes. That is a nice town. We've only been once, but we liked it. From there you could get to Meiringen easily, and into Grindelwald.

Tomorrow we are going to the Stockhorn gondola which is close to Spiez. There are supposed to be great views from the top and good walking from the middle station.

We visited Gstaad today and boy is it upscale. Lots of American voices, very well dressed people of all ages. Beautiful town but very expensive shops - even by Swiss standards! I was happy to scamper back to Lenk which is calm and quiet.

Gstaad has a beautiful small lake - Launensee - a 15 minute drive from town. Barb posted photos on FB. Lenk has a lake - Lenkersee - but it is tiny and surrounded by a kid's playground and a trailer park (for visitors).

What about Lake Geneva? We've stayed in Nyon a few times - charming small town 30 mins drive from Geneva Airport. Wendy and Richard pointed us to that town. They like staying in Vevey, beside Montreux. Not German speaking, but beautiful mountains.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
We are in Kandersteg now and it might suit your MIL. It is closer to your first location, close to the more popular areas of Grindelwald/Lauterbrunnen for day trips, close to the lake Tunersee. It is more in the mountains than Lenk. There are great views from everywhere.

The town is a bit smaller than Lenk and is a bit more casual. There are 3 gondolas up into the mountains. The most popular is Oscheninsee and now they have electric buses from the top of the gondola to the lake to save the 20 minute walk.

It is German speaking, as is Lenk. It seems a bit busier than Lenk.

We were in Lauterbrunnen yesterday and it is very American touristy - burgers, menu in English, tour buses, lots of American voices. Beautiful still. The Rick Steve's effect.

Kandersteg does not feel like that. Lenk even less so.

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Looking to the end of the valley from our apartment.

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Scouts in the center of town.

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Vacation rentals that look nice. Part of Hotel Victoria. www.hotel-Victoria.ch.
 

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