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Switzerland on a budget?

Rex Fritschi is a long-time travel agent, now based in Wisconsin. But he was born in Switzerland and he occasionally returns to the homeland.

He called me after a recent trip to discuss prices, meaning high prices.

Mind you, he knew about the prices — after all, he is an agent and he certainly knows the place he came from — but he was laughing at how much it had cost to have his wife’s hair washed and blown dry in an upscale Geneva hotel (around $150 not counting tip — and that was the bottom of the range).

It was sporting of Rex to laugh. I would have found that difficult!

He also talked about a room service plain-vanilla hamburger offered at another hotel, in Lausanne, costing $55, not including tip. And there was the three-block cab ride for $20.

The irony is that Rex is not trying to talk anyone out of going to Switzerland. In fact, it is his view Americans who plan their trips right can have a great vacation in the country without wrecking the budget.

In our previous conversations and e-mail exchanges, Rex had offered these key pointers for a Swiss vacation:

1.) Plan well ahead and do careful research. Search on the Internet, starting with, for ideas on how to best spend your time and information on where the things that interest you most are located.

2.) BUT, stay clear of the most famous or largest destinations, such as Geneva, Interlaken, Lucerne, Lugano and Montreux. The point is that things are less costly in the “hidden” tourist sites. I will interject here that, given the good transportation system in Switzerland, you could place yourself within commuting distance of any larger or more popular place that you hanker for and make one or two day trips to that city without paying its hotel rates.

3.) Select strategic hubs from which a Swiss rail pass will take you into innumerable directions. Rex offers a raft of ideas for such hubs:

ª Zernez, with access to the Ofen Pass, Swiss National Park, the Fluela Pass, the lower Engadin Valley, Davos and the UNESCO-protected eighth century working convent of St. John in remote Mustair.

˖ Samedan, gateway to the Bernina Pass, St.Moritz, Julier Pass and the Lenzerheide Valley.

˖ Wengen, for day excursions to the entire Jungfrau massif, Lauterbrunnen Valley and the village of Grindelwald…. also, the fabled Bernese Oberland.

• Urnasch, as a center for the Apenzeller cheese country and the Santis Mountain, the place for hang gliding,

• Biel, gateway to the Jura Mountains and the Neuchatel wine country.

• Martigny or Sion to explore the Rhone Valley, upper end of Lake Geneva, the very scenic Val d’Herens, the golf at Crans-Montana and the Great St. Bernhard Pass.

• Bignasco, in the southern Ticino and a great center for exploring on foot the untouched valleys of Bavona and Verzasca.

• Saas-Fe, a great substitute for crowded and expensive Zermatt in the next valley over. Hop a train to see the Matterhorn.

• Kippel, at the entry of the stunning, remote and historic Lotschental Valley.  Try to be here on the day of the parade of the Herrgots Grenadiers, on the Sunday after the feast day of Corpus Christi.

• Zweisimmen, a money-saving substitute for nearby ultra-ultra Gstaad,

5.) Carefully select your hotels, and settle on two-star properties. This is Switzerland, remember, a land famous for its hotelkeepers. These aren’t dumps.

Based on Rex’s experience with the category, you can find charming, small inns with small, clean, simple rooms with duvet beds, TV with CNN, modern bathrooms and a window generally with a great view.

Your hotel should be an easy walk from the train station or bus stop because you will be carrying or rolling your luggage (cabs will be scarce and expensive); you will carry bags to your room, too. A full buffet breakfast is usually included in the room rate.

Over to you, dear traveler. You’ve already saved a lot of money by collecting this advice for free from an expert (meaning Rex, not me) whose customers pay handsomely for his insights.


This blog is by Nadine Godwin, editorial director and contributor to the trade newspaper, Travel Weekly. She also is the author of “Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia,” which was published by The Intrepid Traveler; it can be purchased at