On the first weekend in January I wanted to do a Switzerland road trip and go to the places of Switzerland where I go pretty rarely.
Here you will find my report of my road trip, how I did it, where did I go, where did I stop, sleep, walk, search and enjoy the mountains. This is my 3 days road trip in Switzerland and actually you get to see quite a lot in such short period of time. Most of my trip I spent in Ticino canton and near Gstaad.
I want to mention that I tried to do a very budget road trip, so I spent as little as possible money on this – it is possible to spend even less if you skip any restaurant (I went once) and skip coffees in petrol stations. So it will be a good indication for you if you want to do a super budget trip in beautiful Switzerland. Such prices actually would occur in any region of Switzerland: if you go to Davos, St. Moritz or Grindelwald.
Day 1: Basel to Indemini
Ok, so I started my road trip in a place I live: In Basel. I have put some stuff into my car: sleeping bag, extra blankets, some food, some water and simply hit the road. Nothing too much, nothing too less.
For starters: I know that to safe the biggest amount of money I need to sleep in the car. Simple as that. Hotels starts at least from 80-90 CHF a night, hostels from around 35-50 CHF a night, so here we go, I sleep in the car and I safe all that money to myself 🙂 Easy peasy.
Ok, so my first direction was a very special, very nice place in the mountains called Indemini in Ticino canton. It is a very small and old village right next to Italy in Swiss Alps, so this place was literally calling me to visit. I needed to see this small village.
From Basel to Indemini it is 271 kilometers. As I started my trip at 16.00, I knew that I will come to the place at around 20.00, so that’s not good. Why? Because if you sleep in a car, actually there’s nothing for you to do. You just would go into the sleeping bag and chill or bore yourself. You can read a book or watch a movie, but I wasn’t up for that.
My tip number 1: If you plan to sleep in a car, come to the sleeping point as late as possible, so you just prepare your bed and go to sleep with no wandering around the car, looking for things to do.
Ok, so my first stop on the road to Ticino canton was in Gotthard rest station: it is a petrol stop with shops, toilets, restaurant. I guess it is lame to suggest to stop in a petrol station, but this one is a cool one.
It looks really nice from the outside: the wooden facade reminds me of scandinavian architecture and inside it is just beautiful and neat.
Nice shop with many local souvenirs and food, nice restaurant with great coffee. One note: the public toilets accepts just cash – come, on, this is 2020 already! So I had to skip it, I almost never have cash 🙂
But overall, after couple of hours driving, this is a very nice stop on the highway.
While being in the station I have decided to make another stop in Bellinzona (remember, that I have to stall a bit before coming too soon to the sleeping place in Indemini village).
I have parked in Bellinzona under the castle I went for an evening walk. Even though it was Friday evening, very few people were in the streets. Maybe because it was quite cold, I have no idea, it was around 5 degrees.
The Christmas mood was still there.
Actually I just spent maybe 20-30 minutes walking around, still Christmas trees in the city, very clean, very neat old town and decided to look for a snack or something.
I wanted to have a pizza or something (as I was in the italian side of Switzerland), but actually all places I walked by were almost empty or with no people, so I thought to skip it and just look for some warm food. At this time of the day, just kebab places were open, so I decided to go to McDonald’s for some unhealthy junk road trip food 🙂 Why not?
So I ordered: one McMuffin with bacon, cold tea and 5 chicken wings. That cost me 14.80 CHF. So as you see, even McDonald’s doesn’t come cheap in Switzerland.
After this lovely dinner alone in McDonald’s I headed now to my sleeping point which I wanted to find in Indemini or near it.
The road to Indemini goes up and up and up, I don’t remember when I made so many turns going up. The head can start to spin going up these roads. As I was going up in late evening and there are almost no houses on the road, it looked that I am going to some extremely isolated far away place.
As I reached the highest point on this leg, I got to Alpe di Neggia hamlet with couple of houses, bus stop and a restaurant (of course). I made a short stop as I saw that bus stop have WC and hoped that it will be open. And even with zero people around, no bus that day coming that late, the toilets were open, heated, clean and very nice. This is why I love Switzerland. Even in far away places you can find a nice public toilet. There was even an open small bus waiting hall, I am not sure if it is closed at night, but in extra situation a person could spend a night there.
After Alpe di Neggia, just few kilometers were left to Indemini and the road led down the mountain.
After 5-7 minutes I have reached Indemini village and understood pretty fast that there’s no place to sleep there in my car. There was one public parking place, but it was situated in a slight slope and you don’t want to sleep in your car in such a place. You need to sleep in a flat place so you won’t slide down during all night.
I have crossed the village (actually the car street is a bit higher than all the houses of the village) and even got into Italy and found zero good places to park and sleep, so I decided to go back those few kilometers to Alpe di Neggia. There was a very decent parking place (flat) and even an open toilet (which is great in the morning to wash your face, teeth).
My tip number 2 (with few extra parts): especially when you travel with a personal car it seems that it is extremely easy to find a place to sleep. You just park and forget about it. Well, it’s not like that and I would suggest few things:
- It is better to find a place which is slightly lighted. You don’t want to sleep in the middle of the forest where it is pitch black. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like complete dark from my windows and you never know who can come up to you at night: it might be an animal scratching your car and believe me, you don’t want to get up at 3 am scared to your death and not seeing what is outside. So a good lighted places are petrol stations (some of them have time limits how long you can park, so be aware of those, so no one wakes you up at night); restaurants parking places, small cities public parking spots.
- Better choose a place where the amount of people walking by is minimum, because some people may wake you up at night, talk too loud, scream and so on. Night is a strange time 🙂
- The parking place should be in a flat place. As flat as possible. Otherwise you are going to loose all your blood from legs or slide all night long.
- Don’t park in front of private houses as people may get suspicious why there’s a person preparing a bed next to his house at night. Police may pay a visit.
- Do not park right next to a busy street. Once I slept next to one street between quite small villages and that was a big mistake. I thought there will be no traffic, but I heard every car which passed by going 90-100 km/h. I woke up every 30-60 minutes.
So in my personal experience best place is big petrol station parking. It is safe. It is lighted. Not so many people walk around at night. It is comparatively silent (cars in a highway are not very well heard in a car).
Ok ok, so I parked the car, prepared my bed which was couple of very thin mattresses (1cm each), extra blanket, sleeping bag and one more blanket on the top of sleeping bag just in case. It was just 2 degrees at night, there was a lot of snow all around, so that indicated me that it can get chilly as well. Oh, I took as well a pillow from home, because jackets and sweaters do not make a perfect pillow, so better have the real one, not self made.
My tip number 3: if you are planning to sleep in a car, sleep just in a back of a bigger car (mine is Opel Insignia) or in the front (lower the seat as much as possible). Let me explain why: if you lay down and there’s not enough place for your legs – that is going to be huge pain all night long and you don’t want to spend the next day exploring mountains with zero sleep, you will be exhausted. It is better then spend those 40 CHF in a hostel on a bed than sleep in a car and waking up every 20 minutes. I have done such mistake couple of times and never again. IF you see that there’s not enough place for you in the back, it is then better to sleep in the front seat (just lower it down as much as possible) as you can stretch your legs fully. That helps a lot, even if you sleep not horizontally. I have slept maybe 5-7 times in a front seat and it is much better than sleeping in the back with not enough leg room.
Sorry for not so many pictures on the first day, but it was all the time dark.
Day 2: Indemini, Locarno, Morcote, Lugano, Juf and back to Basel
I woke up at around 7 o’clock as I heard some other people parking their cars, closing doors and so on. I think it was some hikers as they just left their cars and went out to the mountains.
I would say that was a success to sleep that long with no problems and I really felt fresh, not tired, all was good.
The view in the morning from that parking spot was pretty amazing: white peaks, the valley, I walked a bit down, saw the city back down – very cool place.
As the sun was getting up at 7.30 I headed to Indemini village to explore it.
I have parked in the mentioned parking spot and walked to the village.
First again, I saw the post boxes: all boxes of each house are in this place, so postman just puts those letters there and people come there.
Postman doesn’t have to go to each house in that village, as village is a labyrinth and getting to the right address can be very inconvenient. So that’s a nice solution. As well, there are free public toilets for any guests.
The village itself is fascinating. I am pretty sure that people lived like this in that place 200-300 years ago. If you take out the electricity, I think the village is the same for at least couple of centuries.
As I said before, the village is a labyrinth, it is situated on a slope, so I actually had no clue where to go, just chose one direction and walked through the streets. The houses are in a great shape, made out of stone, but from some windows I saw that inside it is very nicely renovated. Really lovely place.
The streets are very narrow between houses, so it gives a good shade as summers are very hot up there. Do not forget that Italy is right next door.
I have met just couple of people in the village, doing their chores, walking slow around 🙂 I saw couple of small hotels and a restaurant in Indemini, so if you wish to spend more time there – do it. The village is straight from the history books. I have spent maybe one hour walking around, taking pictures, strolling in the streets. Once you reach the end of the village, the walk back is always up, so be ready to sweat a bit 🙂
Overall – amazing small village hidden in the Swiss Alps. I loved it and I am sure I will come back there again. Just this time I will spend more time and maybe do some serious hiking around in the valley.
So after Indemini, I got back into my car and drove to Locarno. Another beautiful city next to Lago Maggiore. The lake is huge and beautiful and pretty famous in Switzerland or even Europe.
I have parked my car this time in paid parking in the middle of the city and walked to look for a coffee. On the way I have visited the local harbor (touristic one and with some public transport connections), the souvenir place and headed back to city center.
I am ashamed to say, but again, I bought Ristreto for 2.60 CHF in McDonald’s :))) I have seen some other places open, but it is always a hustle: do you accept cards, can I get take away and so on. In McDonald’s it is pretty straightforward: you just click couple of times on the screen and here you go 🙂 The coffee is in your hands. I know it is lazy. Sorry 🙂 The same coffee would cost 4-5 CHF in a local restaurant.
I didn’t spent too much time in Locarno, just walked around the old town and a bit by the lake. Actually the walk by the lake is very beautiful. Saw some locals running and walking dogs. Peaceful.
After Locarno I wanted to go to another beautiful hidden treasure of Switzerland and chose Morcote village and damn I was right to go there.
The village is situated pretty close to Lugano (the biggest city in Ticino canton) and very close to Italy: if you swim :))) Italy is right on the next shore 🙂
Morcote is a stunning old village next to the water. What else would you wish? It is one of the most beautiful villages I have ever visited. It looks like all the village (again) is straight from the history books, but it is different from Indemini.
You can see completely different architecture, it was a rich place. Buildings are huge, big churches, very posh cemetery, big villas, a decent place for millionaires to live in 🙂
I have visited the church and just wandered in the streets taking dozens of pictures of the lake, the views, the mountains, the houses. Just have a look at all the pictures 🙂 It is stunning!
Afterwards, as more and more sun came out, I have decided to have my lunch in the local restaurant. Italy is just a couple of strokes (swimming) away so why not to have some local pizza? It was already +15 degrees (in the beginning of January!!!) so I decided to have it outside. What a lovely experience in a middle of winter, don’t you think?
I have ordered espresso, coke and Ticinese pizza (I guess it is a local pizza). Very decent meal and here I spent the biggest amount of money in my road trip: 27.70 CHF. So as you see, even simple lunch can get pretty expensive.
After a lovely lunch by the lake I took my car (paid 4 CHF for parking) and headed to Lugano. I didn’t have any plans for Lugano – just wanted to visit it.
Again, parked next to Lugano (under actually) art museum and spent 45 minutes walking by the lake and in the old town. Lugano was full of people, it is Saturday and people with italian blood want to go outside 🙂
The city is as well has it all: beautiful mountains all around, Monte Bre (the most famous one), huuuuge lake next to the city center, old beautiful architecture, great food, what else can a person wish for :)?
After Lugano I have decided to go up in the mountains again just to see the winter and some snow.
I have chosen San Bernardino direction and actually the tunnel high in the mountains is open in winter (the mountain pass is closed).
The more closer I got to San Bernardino the more snow, the colder, the more winter feeling you get. There are some serpentines going up and the whole valley opens up, so the alpine drive there is very pleasant.
As I got to San Bernardino the sun was already getting down (days are short in winter, duh :DD) and I actually didn’t see that much up there. I saw that a looot of people are skiing, walking around the city, restaurants are open, every house has a nice hat of at least 10 – 20 cm of snow. It gives those special ski season vibes. I luuuuv it 🙂
I have stopped shortly in the petrol station of San Bernardino for a snack and bought Starbucks Caramel Machiato coffee (cold one) and I think I found my favorite cold coffee right there in that petrol station 🙂 Do not worry, I am not sponsored by Starbucks (you probably must be a superstar to be sponsored by them), but that coffee was amazing 🙂
Afterwards I was going down from the tunnel and had a short glimpse to Splügen – there is a very decent skiing resort and saw many many people with skis and snowboards.
Afterwards I was going down down from the mountains and saw a road sign which showed Juf. I was caught by surprise as I didn’t really know that you can get to Juf driving this road. What is so special about Juf? It is the highest village in Europe where people live all year round! So I just couldn’t miss it. I must visit it.
I took a turn and it was next 21 kilometers via windy Swiss roads. You can actually feel driving this road that you are really going to the highest village in Europe.
I have crossed few very nice villages on the road and then just 5 kilometers were left to Juf, the road all got just white: I mean there was just snow and ice on it, no pavement is seen. I thought, ok, it’s not my first rodeo and as well, a small Fiat Panda was always driving in front of me and actually quite fast, so I was just always catching up 🙂 I was extra cautious the last 5 kilometers as you can really feel that the road is slippery and got to this amazing small village in the end of the valley, after it – just mountains. As I parked my car in a parking lot I saw that all other cars standing there have chains on the wheels :)))) It is good that I didn’t know this fact before I took that road 🙂 If you don’t know that it can get dangerous, you just do it with no thoughts :))
So Juf is actually a pretty small village with one street and probably 15 buildings, but man, I have to admit, this is my favorite place I have visited that day. I have visited beautiful Indemini, stunnging Morcote, but this small isolated Juf is one of a kind. It is the highest village in Europe! In all Europe!
As I was there, the weather was really stingy, it was snowing and the wind was pretty harsh, so I just walked through all the village: saw couple of hotels and one restaurant which were open.
All the buildings are pretty old, but very well maintained, you can feel that people love this small village. I even saw some hairy cows outside 🙂 Aren’t they beautiful?
In the beginning of village I saw some new construction happening so I assume (I don’t know nothing for sure) that they are building maybe a Spa or hotel? I think it would be great for this village to revitalize it 🙂
Juf is perfect for hiking, spending time in nature, but if they want to make more money, the need a big investment and I hope they get or are getting it now. I am rooting for this special place.
As I was walking and looking around it got completely dark: only snow was making it a bit lighter. I hoped into my car and with christmasy mood went back to the highway.
At this point, driving in pitch black on the highway I made a decision that I better go home, sleep, and continue my trip tomorrow as well. I know this is road trip with cheat codes, but it was completely dark at 6pm, I have no place around where I really wanted to go, meaning I have to sleep in my car from 6pm and that is a ridiculous idea. Always come to sleeping point as late as possible.
So I took a road to Basel, got there around 9-10 pm and went straight to bed.
On the day 3 as soon as I got up I went back to the road. My first destination was Gstaad.
The road to Gstaad is very fun as well, because as you exit the highway you get to windy village to village road. You do it for 30-40 kilometers. It is slow, but beautiful. You drive through nice valley, mountains all around and the villages are typical Swiss ones – meaning – beautiful.
Once I got to Gstaad, I parked my car in the central parking house which is a bit tricky. You don’t get a parking ticket once you get in, you have to go to the exit of the building and pay there (while entering your parking place number). This is tricky and inconvenient. If anyone ever from Gstaad city council reads it, PLEASE make it as everyone in Switzerland. You enter, you get ticket, you pay that ticket after you finish your visit. Because the system they have is very confusing for new comers and tourists. I saw many people wandering around in the parking place not really understanding how to pay 🙂 I was one of them.
Ok, so now about Gstaad. You must know that Gstaad is probably the most posh skiing resort in Switzerland. Where else would you see Louis Vuitton and Prada in a small wooden house in a small village?
It seems that Gstaad has all the possible luxury brands 🙂 You can even feel that people walking around didn’t pay 100 CHF for their shoes, rather 1000 CHF 🙂 So my 75 CHF Adidas running shoes are the low end there :)))
This is a fancy place, but don’t be discouraged to come there, everyone is for sure welcome, just you feel this vibe of extra rich people 🙂 Everything in Gstaad is very neat and very well presented.
Many many luxury shops and as well quite many possibilities to ski and go to mountains, you can even go to the glacier from Gstaad. The famous Glacier 3000 is right next to Gstaad, I once hiked up there, it is a place really worth visiting. Not in so many places in Europe you get to see a glacier.
After Gstaad I wanted to visit a mountain pass which is open in winter, it is not far from Gstaad, about 30 kilometers and is called Jaunpass.
What is beautiful about Jaunpass is going up and going down, but on the top it was very very crowded as there is a small skiing place, so lots of people, many cars, I even struggled to find a place to park. Parking is paid, you must have some cash 🙂
Jaunpass is at 1509 meters altitude, it is a low mountain pass (compared to other ones in Switzerland), but you can visit it in winter, which is always fun as there’s lots of snow and great views to other mountain peaks.
As I was going down from Jaunpass, another pretty cool village was Val-de-Charmey. It is situated in a very nice location, big lake Lac de Montsalvens is right next to it.
As I got completely down from Jaunpass I got on the road back to Basel. It was a late afternoon of Sunday and it was time to go back. I have seen really really a lot on this trip and I must do some more such road trips in Switzerland, maybe next time I should go to french part of Switzerland or somewhere close to Liechtenstein. These parts are not that much explored by me.
I think this is a perfect representation of budget trip in Switzerland. You can not really get it cheaper unless you hitchhike and buy food or coffee only in grocery shops. No restaurants. Then you can squeeze it even more.
I drove a bit more than 1000 kilometers, so gas expenses came up to around 110 CHF (I was driving a lot in the mountains, so car uses much more diesel in such roads).
Money for hotels: 0 CHF. I slept in my car and once at home.
Food: I spent once close 27.70 CHF in a restaurant. I had visited few times shop or bought some snacks as well McDonalds in petrol stations and that came up to another 40 CHF.
Parking: in all bigger cities you must pay for parking. I even do not suggest to anyone to look for free parking, it is very hard or almost impossible in bigger cities. In some cities, for example in Basel, you can park for free after 7 PM in the streets of the city (blue parking), but otherwise it is all paid in all the city. And that applies for almost any place in Switzerland. So in three days for all the parking in Lugano, Locarno, Gstaad, Morcote I paid 15 CHF.
And that is it. In three days I paid 192.70 CHF. And I saw a looooot! Remember, I drove more than 1000 kilometers. Spend a lot of time in the mountains, in small villages and in big cities as well.
You can squeeze it even more if you hitchhike. Swiss people are mostly very friendly and take hitchhikers, I for sure would take a fellow traveler. But actually very very few people do this in Switzerland. In a few years in Switzerland I saw people auto stopping maybe 3 times. So it is unpopular.
You can travel with trains, but that is costly in Switzerland. You must then get a Swiss travel pass, so you save some money, but travelling with trains is not necessarily cheaper than with a car.
If you do not visit any restaurant and buy food just in shops, you can get around with 15-20 CHF per day for a person, but remember that then your food will mostly be fruits or some bread with little meat (meat is the most expensive food here, it is the most expensive meat in Europe). I think it is always fun to visit local restaurants and try local food.
Regarding hotels: if you hitchhike, so you don’t have a place to sleep. You can sleep in a tent, but that is even harder as to find a save good place to lay your tent is hard. I have done it myself few times in different countries and it is always pain in the ass to find a decent place. Unless you don’t care at all and build it in the middle of city 🙂 Or in some private fields. In the mountains it is hard because the flat ground is hard to find. But you can always go to camping places or to hostels. When it can come up to 40-50 CHF per night, for hotels from at least 80 CHF a night (I would consider 80 CHF a sweet deal in Switzerland).
So all in all, to have a good time in Switzerland it is possible to squeeze the budget even more 🙂
If you come to Switzerland with your own car, you can try doing what I did. Find a good calm safe place, prepare your bed in the car and forget about expensive hotels, you will have good time no matter what. It is Swiss Alps, they make you happy no matter the weather or circumstances 🙂
If you have any questions about budget travel in Switzerland, please let me know, I will do my best to help you.
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