Feeling cooped up with city life, or simply craving some crisp mountain air? Mount Rigi is the perfect getaway that you can do in one day (or even just a morning/afternoon), and without any special planning or gear. Trains from Zürich HB leave every hour straight to Arth Goldau station, from where the Rigi train departs. Ride the tiny blue train for about 40 minutes uphill at a snail pace, taking in some truly gorgeous views on the way up.
I decided on a whim to visit Mount Rigi one afternoon and took the 2:09PM train from Züruch HB, so I arrived at the end station (Rigi Kulm) just before 4PM. This gave me a few hours to walk around the small peak grassy area and take in the stunning panoramic views of the hills and lakes below, and alpine peaks in the background, before sunset around 6:30PM (in October).
At the top of Rigi Kulm there is a full restaurant that is part of a hotel and it seems to serve proper hot meals all day (it was closed by the time we went but again, it was close to 6PM) – but you can still buy sandwiches, chips, drinks and snacks. We sat on the outdoor patio built like a jetty to jut out over the hill with a beautiful view of the mountains and facing the setting sun.
After having a snack, we made our way down past the wooden lounge chairs to the edge of the fence to witness the stunning golden glow of a magical sunset. I took this opportunity to test out a few different DSLR settings, but because I struggle with technology, I think some of my iPhone pics might have turned out better – I’ll let you be the judge of that.
The views from up here – and the sunset – are things I could never ever get sick of and it makes me think twice about city life. This is a perfect place to getaway from the hustle and bustle for a bit, even just for a few hours. Take your mind off things, breathe some fresh mountain air and let your soul drink in the beauty of this amazing planet. If you want to make it a longer trip, even for several days, there are several hotels in the area and plenty of daytime activities to keep you and your family busy!
There are several trains down for those of you that wish to catch the sunset (highly recommended if you’re already there during the afternoon!!!) I took the 7:00PM train, which sadly no longer connects directly to Arth Goldau, so the way back to Zürich HB involves two middle of nowhere bus connections and then a train, but as with all trips in Switzerland – my recommendation is to simply trust the SBB app to plan your trip, and make sure you have decent phone battery on the way down!
Any chance you’ve recently drooled over pictures of Canada’s Banff National Park? For very good reason; the stunning turquoise of the glacial lakes, like Lake Louise, is enough to make me want to go right now. Well, I can interestingly say that I’ve found the lake’s European TWIN, in Switzerland! Let me convince you of the likeness with a couple (ok, a TON) of photos.
Gelmersee is a hydroelectric reservoir held by a dam that was constructed in 1932. The “lake” can be reached by taking the Gelmerbahn, a ride of duration 8-10 minutes with a maximum inclination of 106%! According to a map posted at the lake’s entrance, it can also be reached by foot via a hiking trail (in red, below). One can also continue hiking further upwards to reach the Gelmerhütte, a lookout point above the lake.
Gelmersee is an excellent place for a quiet hike and to enjoy the spectacular natural beauty of the glacial water. There is a hiking trail around the entire lake, which takes about two full hours to complete with some stops. If you plan to take 3489283 photos like I did or want extra time to sit and enjoy the views every once and a while, maybe have a picnic halfway on one of the large flat rocks that are perfect for sitting and relaxing, it would be best to allow several hours up at the lake. It is important to plan your visit ahead because there is limited space on the Gelmerbahn and tickets sell out, especially in summer and during nice weather. Read more here about how to plan your trip and riding the Gelmerbahn.
Starting the hike around Gelmersee – The trail is quite rocky in places and narrow in others (at one point, there is a rope to hang on to for extra balance and security), so it is recommended to bring sturdy walking/hiking shoes with good soles and be relatively sure-footed if you plan to do the whole hike. It is relatively flat, so not very strenuous.
For me, this little piece of the world is a slice of heaven on earth, and I could honestly happily stay here for hours and hours and hours, hiking around the lake again and again, staring into the turquoise water and pondering my existence… alas, I had only booked 2.5 hours at the top before our return trip on the Gelmerbahn, so we had to really make every minute count – which we did!!
Needless to say, Gelmersee has earned a permanent spot on my life’s repeat bucket list, if that’s even a thing (you know, those absolute favorite places you simply must visit, perhaps at least once a year or every few months even?!) The dream is to visit this place in summer – even though I doubt anyone dares to swim in the ice cold glacial waters, I could totally get involved with sunbathing and reading on a rock all day, minus a few layers.
Tips for visiting Gelmersee:
Sure, Detusche Bahn is fantastic – (read: Deutsche Bahn is fantastic when your train shows up on time, leaves the station on time, does not stop intermittently during your journey for no apparent reason, and indeed arrives at your intended destination, also relatively on time). Beyond this, WIFI functionality is a blessing, not a given (sorry business commuters) and a seat? Good luck finding vacancy on that 4pm train from Munich to Frankfurt, and even if you do, better not put in your earphones yet, for you will most likely soon hear an indignant “das ist doch mein Platz”- classic German bluntness (aka you’re in my seat- aka get out). Hey, not blaming anyone here, but hopefully shedding a small light on the occasional struggles of DB will help all you would be Germany-explorers avoid a 6-hour train trip as a permanent hallway-floor fixture, being stepped over (on) by all who pass.
DB has become a (fond?) joke of our time and regular commutes in Germany, indeed not to sound completely disenchanted with the system- generally, the trains are indeed quite nice, comfy, and get you around pretty much anywhere and everywhere you would need to get to in the country (and sometimes beyond); DB easily and regularly connects to train providers of other countries (think France, Belgium, Switzerland, etc.) for weekend trips-galore. DB also offers perks and privileges (we’ll ignore cost for now), such as the Bahn-100 card, which allows unlimited travel throughout the country on any DB regional train or city underground. 1st class, while (annoyingly) exclusively for 1st class ticket holders (ok, fine), provides a somewhat calmer and more spacious surrounding, and perhaps the extra leg room is even worth the splurge- we’ll leave that up to you to decide. Cross your fingers for a smooth train… otherwise we advise you to hang on to your Starbucks, and trips to the bathroom? Don’t even think about it.
A few of our favorite hacks for essential DB survival:
So, with that said, we genuinely hope you enjoy your adventures in Germany! We would kindly nudge you to practice logical and smart train-station navigation, beginning with arriving early (at least 10 min before your departure time if a seasoned DB-goer, or up to 30+ min if you are 1. A newbie, 2. A baby sloth 3. Hopelessly confused (also forgiven) – you will need this extra time to wait in line at the Reisebüro for guidance or 4. Simply enjoy wandering aimlessly around (at times, the amusing) establishments that are German train stations (note: avoid heroin dealers). Look to the giant board for your train departure info (sometimes platforms change last minute or there may be delays), and if still confused, we urge you to find someone in DB uniform (usually blue or red) rather than scurrying around asking any and every one on your platform, who, to be honest, are probably either 1. Tourists, who are just as confused as you 2. May not speak the language you are trying to communicate in well enough to fully assist you 3. May give you false information, even with the best of intentions – this way, you will certainly save some time and headache.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we hope you enjoyed your trip and thank you again for choosing Deutsche Bahn” – did we really have a choice?? Oh, the irony.