Finding the Perfect Hotel in Switzerland
If there was such a thing as a “passion for planning” spectrum, I would rank pretty high. Full disclosure: I’m also an avid meal planner and errand schedule in order to maximize efficiency, but my all-time favorite task is travel planning. In fact, my favorite Sunday afternoon activity often involves perusing travel blogs while curled up on my couch with a cozy blanket. You see, my passion for travel isn’t just about the vacation itself, but also the planning that goes into the lead up to departure.
Through the years I’ve realized that not everyone shares my passion. In fact, I have many friends who are thrown into a panic when trying to plan a vacation. It’s understandable that folks will procrastinate planning because certain aspects of planning can trip up (pun intended!) the most well-intentioned vacationer. But then, suddenly, it is a week before they are supposed to leave, and nothing is booked!
Never fear! I’ve assembled a how-to of sorts, to help you with the hotel part of holiday planning. This is the method that I use, and I hope it can help take the stress out of planning your Swiss holiday (and in the process, maybe you’ll even start to enjoy the anticipation of your next trip).
1. Identify your budget and then your purpose
One very important part of a vacation is identifying the best place to stay. Often, a memorable Airbnb or hotel can make all the difference. On the other hand, a poorly chosen hotel can lead to mornings wandering streets to find a takeaway cup of coffee, evenings hoping the power will come back on in the middle of a load of laundry, or nights with a pillow over your head to combat the street noise.
Our family has become keenly aware of our lodging needs, and I’ve noticed that they change based on the purpose of the trip or location to be visited. If you, like most of us, are working with a budget you’ll of course narrow your search down to those accommodations which fall into your per night allowance. I use Google maps for that part, and will later describe just how I do that. However, the next most important question you must answer is:
What is the purpose of your vacation, and what are the must haves?
When skiing, for example, we have concluded that a sauna is an absolute must to soothe our aching muscles. Equally important is an in-house restaurant so our poor, ravaged legs don’t have to carry us far to find nourishment. However, if we are exploring a new city, we prefer to find a self-catering option where we can strike a balance between cooking local products found at markets, as well as dining out.
Survey your family to better understand everyone’s expectations based on your destination and activities. You can then use that as a starting point, a “must have list” if you will, in order to immediately give you a short list of hotel candidates.
2. Make a List
Once you decide the type of hotel and amenities you desire, you’ll want to make a list of what you actually want to be doing at your destination. I’ve found that the following three questions are the most important in narrowing your choice further:
What three or four activities or landmarks would you like to visit?
Where are the desirable and walkable destinations: restaurants, museums, parks, pedestrian portion of town, etc.?
When your budget and needs don’t match with the desirable locations, which areas off the beaten trail are near public transportation, enabling you to quickly reach the desirable destinations?
Remember to keep in mind the type of hotel and amenities you had identified in the last step: self-catering vs. B&B vs. hotel, in-house restaurant, a great view, wellness, etc.
Think carefully about how the items on your list relate to the purpose of your vacation. Are you planning a city and museum trip, an outdoor adventure, or a “relax and unwind” vacation? Check your hotel choices against your stated purpose and edit the list as necessary.
3. Cross reference the property reviews
Once you’ve identified your ideal property, it’s important to get as good of a picture of what it’s actually like to stay there as possible. Through the miracle of the internet, we’re able to do this by checking reviews from several travel search engines. Places like Trip Advisor, Booking.com, and even Google maps can give you a pretty well-rounded view of the property, and some even allow you to post a question to the community. Use it, and also look for review inconsistencies. Properties with only a few reviews are not necessarily bad, but the more reviews a property has is certainly better. Is there a consistent theme in what guests are saying? Does the management respond if there was a problem and if so, is that the response you’d want to hear if you were that guest posting the complaint?
Putting it all into practice
A few years ago, one of my favorite travel blogs featured a story about Juf, the highest village in Europe that is occupied year-round. This quiet village is nestled high in the Alps, separating Switzerland and Italy. The photographs of the views while hiking were stunning, and I could picture my family triumphantly reaching the trail’s peak and posing for a teeth-displaying photo.
All it takes are a few captivating photographs to get a new travel destination onto my wish list (Yes, I keep a list of possible travel destinations separated by categories of long weekend, week and two week trips). It didn’t take long for us to move Juf off of our list of potential long weekend destinations and actually start planning the trip. Here’s how I planned one of our most memorable holidays using my planning process:
1. Shortlist based on budget using online maps:
First, identify hotels which fall within your budget using online maps (I use Google) to get a listing of all the hotels in the region to which you’ll be traveling. I pulled up Google Maps and got started. I went to Juf on the map and typed ‘Hotels’ in the search bar. All lodging possibilities were quickly mapped out, sometimes including reviews. It was easy to see which ones fell within our budget so I made a list of these, and moved on to my next step.
2. Identify the purpose of your trip:
In this case I knew we would want to hike daily, but that would mean very tired family members who might want a simple meal at home rather than getting gussied up to go out to a restaurant. Based on this purpose (hiking) and our requirements (non-fussy options for meals) I decided a self-catering hotel or Airbnb was just the ticket, further narrowing down our search.
This is where I started to have a dilemma. I realized that the self-catering options right near the hiking trails that fell within our budget were either not our style, or too small.
3. Don’t forget about public transportation:
This is where a bit of creativity comes in! Switzerland is known for its excellent public transportation system, so I expanded my search by virtually ‘walking’ down the road, focusing on locations near bus stops. Having our lodging near a bus stop would also eliminate the need for a car to get to the trailhead. To my happy surprise, I found a very affordable Airbnb run by a Scottish Catholic monk.
4. Cross reference travel reviews:
After a quick search on TripAdvisor to cross reference reviews, we had found our ideal lodging option.
I reached out to the proprietors through Airbnb and was offered the option of taking meals with them or using the kitchen provided on the second floor of their home. I was intrigued by this offer and decided to take one of our three dinners with the gentlemen running the Airbnb. We weren’t sorry we did!
Unexpected Pleasures off the Beaten Path
To my pleasant surprise, when we dined with our hosts, we became instantly smitten. Alistair was so generous with his time that he offered to show us around the 200-year-old church where he volunteers, and even took us to a local festival. The second proprietor, Bruno, handcrafts model trains and has built a beautiful miniature train route that encircles and traverses their house. We enjoyed our trip so much that we have been back twice!
It’s All About the Purpose
I relish these small, off-the-beaten-path finds, but I can be just as satisfied when I find a wonderful city center hotel. Next time you are planning a vacation, think through your list of priorities and turn to Google Maps to find possibilities you never knew were there. Even the most reluctant travel planner can have a little fun in the process, and who knows—with a little planning you just might uncover the experience of your dreams!