Family Travels: Switzerland

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The Travelers: The Keels – Swiss/South African/French family Thomas and Jasmine, and their children Eva (5) and Calvin (2). Thomas is a manager for Swiss Re, and Jasmine is the founder of Inspired Beijing, a training and development platform. Previously, they lived in Switzerland for seven years.

The Plan: The family returned to Switzerland in August 2007 to spend ten days with family and friends and to enjoy the beautiful Swiss summer.

The Preparation: Flights were booked through Pinnacle Plaza travel agency BJS Holiday (8046 3198). They flew with Lufthansa to Zürich via a short stop in Frankfurt.

The Timing: Summer and winter are both prime seasons. For the best of both worlds – sunny skies, hiking, water sports and skiing – go between June and August. From June 20 to July 13, the Zürich Festival showcases the arts and cultural diversity of the city. August features Zürich’s annual Street Parade, an enormous Mardi Gras-style procession featuring entertainment and food galore. This year, the parade will be held on August 9.

Where to Stay: The Keel family stayed with friends at Oetwil am See, one of the many quaint villages around Lake Zürich. To feel like royalty, stay at the Hotel zum Storchen – the only hotel directly on the Limmat river with fantastic views of the lake (double room with bath from around RMB 4,000). The hotel even features a merry-go-round.

Getting Around: The Swiss Travel System offers a Swiss Pass, which allows travel on over 20,000km of rail, bus and boat routes. It covers regular public transport in 38 Swiss cities, including stunning scenic routes through mountains. The pass also comes with a 50 percent discount on most cable cars and mountaintop trains, plus free entry to over 400 museums.

Pack your Skis: The famed Klein Matterhorn glacier in Zermatt (3,883m) is open year-round and is only a scenic five-hour train ride from Zürich (www.ski-zermatt.com/summer-skiing.html).

Hiking Trails: No summer trip to Switzerland is complete without a hike among the wildflowers in search of edelweiss. Just 20 minutes on an old-style train takes you to a hiking heaven on the Uetliberg peak. A 30-minute walk from the mountain train station to the Uto Kulm hotel is easy enough for young trekkers, with options for longer hikes around Lake Zürich. Stop for a spell in the playground or have cheese fondue at the hotel. Families with older kids can take beautiful hikes at Einsiedeln, located one hour from Zürich by train, where you’ll find a very old abbey and a main street of old-town chalets.

What to Eat: Zeughauskeller am Paradeplatz (41 44 211 26 90) is a real Swiss dining experience, where the kids can order sausage by the meter. Jasmine recommends the bratwurst, a veal sausage. If the richness of Swiss food proves too heavy, head to Hiltl (41 44 227 70 00), which has a healthy, help-yourself salad bar and fresh juices that kids will love.

What to Buy: Zürich and its neighboring villages are filled with souvenir shops. The main shopping street, Bahnhofstrasse, leads right down to the lake and has exclusive boutiques selling designer duds and wooden toys for kids. Chocolate is a must-buy in Switzerland, as are the cheeses and ubiquitous Swiss army knife.

Lake Swim: Swimming in picturesque Lake Zürich is not to be missed, according to the Keels. Around the edges, swimmers can enjoy badi – cordoned-off “swimming pools” – with great family facilities like slides, pontoons, beach chairs and kid-friendly restaurants. Jasmine recommends the badi in Küsnacht on the lake’s northern “gold coast”– named for its bountiful sunshine.

A Wild Day: One of the Keels’ favorite days in Zürich began with a tram ride down Bahnhofstrasse to the lake to feed the ducks and swans. Then they took a ferry across the lake to Rapperswil and the Knies Kinderzoo (41 055 220 67 67). Tots can get up close and personal with animals at the petting zoo and on elephant or pony rides. At the entrance, buy bags of popcorn to be shared between kids and animals alike. End the day with an afternoon badi swim!

Indoor Fun: Planeta Magic in Wädenswil is an indoor play center for kids up to 12. Think Fundazzle (See What’s Fun In: Gongti) – only spotlessly clean and everyone speaks English. Parents can take their laptops, drink coffee and catch up on e-mails while the kids go bananas (41 043 833 07 80).

Winter Escape: Travelers in winter should visit the Zürich Zoo, featuring the magnificent Masoala Rainforest Hall (044 254 25 05). Go skating at the Dolder Ice Complex, Switzerland’s largest manmade rink at 6,000sqm, surrounded by stunning wooded countryside (41 01 267 70 80). For a truly cozy Swiss chalet experience, finish off the perfect winter day with a cheese fondue or hot chocolate at Chäsalp.

Best Indulgence: Kids (and parents, too!) will go crazy for a tour of the Cailler chocolate factory in Broc outside Gruyères, a two-hour train ride from Zürich. Marvel at the entire chocolate-making process and enjoy dreamy free tastings to boot (41 26 921 5151). Willy Wonka, eat your heart out!

First published in beijingkids magazine and on the beijingkids website.

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