I am getting ready to set off on a new adventure, joining Air Canada and other travel professionals on a trip to discover Switzerland and participate in the Air Canada Race. Preparing for travel to Switzerland has been easier than to most other destinations during this Covid time. A PCR test is not required prior to departure and no quarantine in Switzerland for fully vaccinated individuals, so the paperwork is minimal and easy to complete*. I would like to share my travel experience with you, so I will keep a daily diary to inspire you to keep Switzerland in mind as a destination.
For now, bis schpäter (until later)!
Day 1. With my mask on and my luggage in hand, I board the Union Person Express for a fast and convenient ride to the airport from downtown Toronto and arrive at Toronto International Airport with plenty of time to spare.
The airport is busy with people on the move which I am so happy to see, since perhaps that is a sign that life is slowly returning to a more normal state. Everyone that I encounter is wearing a mask. Check-in is smooth and after checking my vaccination record, my QR code and contact tracing (required for Switzerland), my bag is on its way to the airplane and I am on my way to Air Canada’s International Maple Leaf Lounge, which is once again open to guests. The International security checkpoint is also open and without much of a delay, I arrive at the lounge. The lounge is quite busy and most of the Air Canada group have already arrived. There is excitement in the air since for many of these travel professionals, this is their first flight since COVID. After our visit to the lounge, we board the Air Canada non-stop flight to Zurich and have a smooth ride across the ocean!
Day 2. Arrival in Zurich is early on day 2 and after clearing customs and collecting our bags, we are met by Swiss tourism. With Swiss efficiency, our luggage is whisked away separately to our hotel in Basel and we proceed to board the train, straight from Zurich airport to Basel. We have been provided with first class Swiss Travel System passes, which allows unlimited travel on trains, buses and many other modes of transportation. It couldn’t have been easier!
Upon arrival in Basel, The Mövenpick Hotel ,is an easy 5 minute walk from the train station. It is a brand new hotel, which as a matter of fact is not even open to the public and we are the first guests! The hotel even smells new! My room is very comfortable and spacious, with a flat screen TV, a Nespresso machine, and a small fridge.
After meeting with suppliers, we are heading out on a walking tour organized by Swiss Tourism, with a very knowledgeable and lovely guide, Jacqueline. The city is quite walkable and charming. One unique benefit of visiting Basel is that it is so close to Germany and France that one can visit three countries in one day! It is possible to enjoy breakfast in Basel, lunch in France and dinner in Germany, before returning to Basel for a good night sleep!
After our walking tour, we enjoy dinner in the Alte Markthalle . After the delicious meal, I am ready to tuck into my lovely Moevenpick bed for a good night rest.
Day 3 – Air Canada Race.
This is the day! It is time for the Air Canada Race in Basel! I am awake bright and early and full of anticipation. The sky is cloudy, but the mood is full of sunshine and excitement. After a fantastic breakfast at the Mövenpick, everyone gathers in the lobby to be assigned to our groups and to start the race. The Air Canada Race is similar to the Amazing Race, with various checkpoints, clues, and assignments where one can earn points and win great prizes! I am assigned to group Waggis. Waggis is a well-known figure in Basel’s yearly carnival. Team Waggis has 6 team members from coast to coast; Stacy from Halifax, Serge from Montreal, Colleen from Vancouver, Roger from Victoria, Malisa from White Rock B.C., and me from Toronto!
Full of excitement, we set off for our first stop, the Tiengualy fountain in Basel, with its metal figures dancing in the water. We answer some challenging questions about the fountain and then it is time to find our other stops and tasks. At times, we have to consult to find our way, but it is a great way to get to know Basel.
During the race, we are posing as statues, looking for Picasso paintings, dressing mannequins, drawing pictures, packaging Leckerly, the traditional basel cake, travelling on the Rhein and visiting three countries at the same time!
Finally, the Waggis have finished the race and we return to the Mövenpick, tired but satisfied with our effort. After a quick rest, we reassemble for dinner, held at Safran Zunft Basel, a 700 year old historical mansion of the spice traders guild in the heart of Basel, not to be missed.
We mingle with representatives from Air Canada, Swiss tourism and other organizations. And then, the moment of truth, had team Waggis performed well enough to earn one of the three top spots? Number 3…no, number 2..no, number 1, YES! We are so excited to reach the top!! This is especially true for our fellow team member Roger, who had participated in four Air Canada race events in the past and had never before reached the podium!
Day 4 – After the race and our exciting win, it is time to meet with Swiss tourism suppliers. From early morning to late afternoon, each of us have 15 minute appointments with as many suppliers as possible. It is sort of like speed dating, tourism style. From trains, boats, cable cars to cheese factories and luxury hotels, there is not a corner of Switzerland left to learn about!
After the workshop, we have to also tend to the more serious side of travelling, taking a COVID test in order to be able to return to Canada. With Switch Health kits in hand and a nurse assisting on the computer screen, the whole process for us is convenient and easy. Everyone is negative!
The next morning, we are scheduled to leave as two separate groups, one to Gstaad and one to Lucerne/Engelberg, so this evening is our last evening together. Our farewell dinner is in a truly spectacular setting at Hotel Les Trois Rois, the oldest city hotel in Europe. This historical Basel hotel has a guest list that includes Pablo Picasso, Empress Michiko of Japan, James Joyce, Napoleon and Theodore Herzl, the founder of Israel. There is even a Napoleon suite and a Theodore Herzl room for guests to stay in.
Day 5 – It is time to say goodbye to Basel and continue the Swiss Adventure in Lucerne and Engelberg. Again, with Swiss efficiency, our luggage is collected in the lobby of the Mövenpick, for separate transfer to the hotel in Engelberg. After an easy stroll to Basel train station, we board the 0903 train to Lucerne, using our Swiss Travel System passes. Switzerland is so compact that most every place can be reached quickly with train and after one hour, we arrive in lovely Lucerne.
Our visit starts with a guided tour to learn more about Lucerne, followed by a lunch cruise on Lake Lucerne. With a flex Swiss Travel Pass, the cruise fare is included and lunch can be purchased onboard.
Lucerne is a very pleasant city to explore, with many outdoor restaurants, markets, little shops, and lovely painted houses. I am definitely coming back to see more of this lovely place!
But now, it is time for our adventure to move to the Alps, to Engelberg. With hourly train service, Engelberg is easily reached in one hour. Engelberg translates to Mountain of Angels and it lives up to its name. The small village is surrounded by mountains which are snow covered even in late August. Our hotel is the Kempinski Palace, just a few minutes walk from the train station. The Kempinski Palace is the only five star hotel in Engelberg and sits at the foot of the Titlis mountain. It is a historic hotel from 1904 which has been renovated with the most modern luxury comfort, while retaining the charm bygone days.
The hotel is gorgeous and my room wonderful, with fantastic views from my balcony.
Engelberg began as a Bendedictine monastery, which is still functioning as a monastery today. They specialize in cheese making and there are even cheese making classes for anyone interested. After our tour of the hotel, we are hosted this first night with a warm welcome dinner at the hotel. I return to my lovely room for a good night sleep in a fantastic bed, and that is a perfect ending to a perfect day!
Day 6 - `After a lovely rest and a hearty breakfast, we are ready to tackle the mountain! Peter Niederberger from Titlis Cableways is our guide and he will assist us with our ascent of Mount Titlis, Central Switzerland’s only publicly accessible glacier and highest vantage point.
We reach the first cable car (of three) after a short walk from the hotel. It is fantastic to glide up along the mountain side and to watch the gorgeous nature that surrounds Engelberg. At one point, we pass over a heard of cows and the bells can be clearly heard in the cable car. So charming! After two more cable car rides, including one that rotates throughout our ride, we reach the snowcovered top of Mount Titlis at 10000 feet.
The weather could not have been better, with clear blue skies and views that go on forever.
We climb to the top and it is spectacular! Even in the summer, this is an amazing place to visit and there are activities for the adventurous such as a cliff walk or a visit to a glacier cave. There is even a small cabin for two, for anyone who wants to spend the night on top of the mountain. In the winter, this is of course a skier’s paradise!
There is a small alpine restaurant located at the top of the mountain and once again, we enjoy Swiss hospitality and lovely food.
All finally, our last night in Switzerland is upon us. What better way to enjoy the evening and say farewell to Switzerland than visiting a traditional Alpine restaurant, high up in the mountains. We are served Alpen Makaroni, a very traditional dish with each family using a slightly different recipe. It is delicious!
Day 7 – Sadly it is time to leave Switzerland and Engelberg, and return to Zurich airport via train to board the Air Canada non-stop plane to Toronto!
Aufwiedersehen Switzerland, until we meet again!
*Information subject to change at any time. Please double check the requirements in effect when you decide to travel.