Van Life: Liechtenstein, Switzerland and the End of the Journey
After a magical trip through Austria and quickly dipping back into Italy, we were now taking van life to Switzerland, somewhere I have always dreamt of travelling to.
Crossing the Border
Once we drove across the Italian border without any drama, we stopped straight away to collect our toll road sticker. This cost 40CHF for one year, and as in Austria you need one of these to drive in Switzerland. There are lots of places set up with cameras just after the border to trap and fine tourists. You can also pre order your toll road sticker online.
Our second stop in Switzerland was a designer factory outlet called Fox Town, which was recommended to us. And, oh my god, it was designer heaven at the cheapest prices!
€280 later, we left and went across to the co-op, as we needed more gas canisters for our cookers. When we found them we were stoked, only then realised they were €6 each!! We had previously read that they cost a lot in Europe, so we bought 24 with us for the trip. We went through them fairly quickly. So, my advice – if you have a gas cooker, make sure you purchase them before you leave the UK. We purchased ours from Amazon, 24 gas canisters for £18! So, paying €6 each, hurt!
Van Life Switzerland: Camping by the River in Lurgano
Feeling broke after spending €50 on gas, we drove to a secluded spot on the river above Lurgano. We had a slow afternoon, reading, drinking wine and cooking dinner.
The next day, we woke up from the most peaceful sleep, with the river running next to us all night. Once again, our sleep spot for the night was so peaceful and we didn’t see another soul.
After breakfast, I desperately needed to wash my hair. We decided it would be all clear if we risked skinny dipping again in the river. So here we are frolicking around, squealing and giggling from the cold but keeping a watchful eye down the road. We were determined not to get busted this time. Then all of a sudden out of the corner of my eye, I see a guy steaming down the river in a kayak. He’s just as embarrassed as we are and starts laughing. Tom and I are both pissing ourselves laughing too, how do we keep getting busted completely naked??
A Pit Stop in Liechtenstein
After our refreshing and embarrassing swim, we got on the road. Our next stop was Liechtenstein, the 6th smallest country in Europe. We read there wasn’t much to see, but figured we were so close we might as well check out Vaduz. When we arrived, being a Saturday, the few shops there were mostly closed. There were a few souvenir shops and some restaurants but that was about it. We stopped off at the busiest place in town, the ice cream shop Dolce Bota, where two scoops of ice cream set us back €6.80!!
Not long later, we had basically seen the whole city. We jumped back into Betty and made our way high into the green Liechtenstein mountains, where we spent a cosy night camped at a ski lift car park with spectacular views. This one night in Liechtenstein is probably enough for us, there really wasn’t a lot to do there.
After a cold night up the mountains with a few other campervanners we weaved our girl back down the mountains. In Vaduz, the very quiet capital of Liechtenstein, we grabbed a €5.80 cup of coffee and toilet stop. We drove 1.5 hours along the toll roads to Zurich.
Van Life Switzerland: Zurich
We parked just outside the old town, near the Zurich Succulent Plant Collection museum. It was free entry so we had a quick wander around the cacti and succulents then walked into the town. Once again, somehow we accidentally ended up in the city on a Sunday, so everything (except restaurants) were closed. The sun was shining, so everyone was drinking, tanning, boating and swimming in the beautiful lake, and we joined them.
Right near our parking and the succulent museum there was an outdoor bar and restaurant called Samigo Amusement. It was situated on the lake in the sunshine, and the perfect spot for a Sunday bender. Now, let me tell you this place can throw a bloody party. It was packed – ladies in their heels, guys in their party shirts and the DJ pumping tunes until late. Tom and I had a few small beers but at €6 each one, we couldn’t really stay there all night. If you’re in Zurich on a Sunday, this is absolutely the place to be. It was really fun but get there early (before 5pm) to avoid the line or, worse, being turned away.
On our second morning in Zurich, we had to be up before the parking meter to pay for parking since it was no longer free parking, not being Sunday. We paid our 2 Swiss franks for 4 hours and walked back into town, keen to see the place with everything open. It was another glorious day, so once again, everyone was out on the lake, drinking coffee, swimming and having their Monday work meetings in the September sunshine. We spent the morning exploring the picturesque streets of the old town, the old church Fraumünster and the fine art museum Kunsthaus with a beautiful collection of European art. The entrance fee was €23pp. We enjoyed the rest of the afternoon relaxing and swimming in the lake then drove to Meggen, where we found the most scenic spot to sleep, literally right on the lake.
Lucerne & Lake Brienz
The next morning, we woke up to the sound of seagulls chatting around the van, so we rolled out of bed and straight into the lake, for a refreshing morning swim with a few locals, who were making the most of the last of the warm weather. Then, we drove to Lucerne, another picturesque town in Switzerland. The town was full of cute little homewares shops, watch shops and expensive Swiss chocolate shops. We walked across Chapel Bridge and admired all historic buildings.
We were there for around 6 hours and this was enough, so we then drove to Lake Brienz, where we found an absolutely divine camping spot, once again right on the water. However on our park4night app, there was multiple comments saying people had received €45 fines for camping in their motorhomes and campervans there. It was such a beautiful spot, we cooked dinner, had a few wines and decided it was worth the risk to stay overnight and just hope for the best. We spent the night stargazing and watched a storm roll in over the Swiss mountains. It was another of many perfect nights which van life has created for us.
When we woke up the next day, the first thing we did was check to see if we had been fined and thankfully, we were in the clear! Yew! It was a wet and cold morning but I was still determined to go for my morning swim even though Tom bitched out. It was bloody freezing but I always feel so much better after I go swimming in the morning.
We drove half an hour to Interlaken, where there was no free parking anywhere, so we popped our Swiss franks in the machine and started exploring. The town is full of perfectly manicured gardens, extravagant hotels and high end brands to lure their high end clientele in. It was a quiet town in the evening, so we purchased some groceries and had a picnic in the park to avoid the expensive restaurants. We spent the night in a car park in the centre of town, which made our wee before bed more of a stealth mission. These are the times where we both really would benefit from a toilet in the van.
The next morning, we swapped our morning swim for a morning paraglide over the stunning town of Interlaken. Within 10 minutes of meeting, we were strapped in and running off the edge of a cliff. We spent the next 15 minutes gliding peacefully over the greenery and town, my pilot even doing some “tricks” at the end to get the heart pumping. We used Paragliding Interlarken and they were professional and friendly. Paragliding for 15 minutes cost us €145 each.
After a different and exciting start to the day, we went for coffee at Velo Cafe, which has the best coffee in town. At €4.80 per coffee it was a little cheaper than some other places in Switzerland.
Randa and the Unexpected Car Train
We left Interlaken and drove to Randa. We thought the tolls were roads off but then arrived at a toll, which was actually a car train and to our shock cost €27. Without another way around and cars piled up behind us, we had no other choice but to hand over our cash and join everyone else on the car train. We reached Randa and spent the night in a car park, over looking the snowy mountains of Zermatt.
The day after we rose early from our free car park sleep spot in Randa. We purchased our tickets for the train from Randa to Zermatt, where we left Betty for the day. Zermatt is a car free town, so you need to get the train there. We chose to spend the night, two train stops away from Zermatt at Randa, as there wasn’t any free parking in Täsch (the closest stop to Zermatt), only camp spots and paid parking. The train tickets were €28.50 per person, return.
The (Disappointing) Five Lakes Hike Alternative: Sunnegga to Zermatt
After around 15 minutes, we arrived in the town of Zermatt and headed straight to the underground funicular (Zermatt- Sunnegga). We then took the lift from Sunnegga to Blauherd, up to one of the most popular walking trails in Zermatt, the Five Lakes Hike. However, when we went to purchase our tickets, the ticketing staff told us there were over 400 mountain bikes competing in a downhill race, so it wouldn’t be the best day to walk the trail.
They recommended the hike down from Sunnegga to Zermatt, where we could still find good photo opportunities of the Matterhorn and it was cheaper, saving us €34 each. So, we got the funicular up the hill, then started our two hour hike down the mountain. And that was literally all it was, a walk down the mountain, it was so boring, just a dirt track. We were so annoyed, we paid €16 each just to walk down a dirt road. Don’t waste your time doing that one if you go to Zermatt.
Van Life Switzerland: Rosti, Cheese Fondue and Lindt in Zmutt
Once we were back in town, we walked towards Zmutt, another little town in the area. We stopped for lunch, enjoying sausage with the must-try Swiss rosti, which is basically like a hash brown. And of course, no trip to Switzerland is complete without trying their local cheese fondue, which might smell gross but tastes delicious. After walking 14km around Zermatt, we were ruined. So with a quick stop off at the Lindt chocolate shop, we jumped back on the train and headed back to Betty for the night, keen to rest our feet but dying for a shower.
After another night in the same car park, we decided we’d had enough of the high prices in Switzerland, so we found a hotel in France, Zenao Appart Hotel, which was €61 per night. I can’t tell you anything about the area, as we literally parked the van, went straight to the room, spent an hour in the shower and then sat mindlessly staring at the TV all evening. Another little luxury you miss in van life.
We finished the last leg of our trip with a few days in France, Belgium and Germany. We visited Cologne, Brugge and Dunkirk, then boarded the 1.5 hour car ferry from Calais to Dover.
Van Life: The End of the Road
Arriving back on English soil, we felt so sick, because the car ferry was horribly rocky. Once the seasickness subsided, we both felt really sentimental about the trip all being over in such a short amount of time. All the hard work we put into converting the van and the fact that we had driven this cheap van all over Europe and literally had no dramas was unbelievable. We wish we could have kept going for longer but unfortunately draining bank accounts bought the dream trip to an end.
In our 4.5 months, we spent £1391 on diesel, which averaged £1.30 per litre. We spent £175 on parking, overnight parking and campsites, +£45 for one parking fine in Italy.
As much as we tried to avoid toll roads, sometimes they couldn’t be missed. We spent £104 on tolls, this including the car train in Switzerland, which was £27. We drove 163.5 hours, travelled to 19 countries and spent most nights free camping somewhere amazing.
Van life provided an incredibly free, flexible and extraordinary way to travel around Europe. We didn’t have to wait for trains, buses or catch flights, we just did whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted.
I can’t begin to explain how much of an incredible trip we had in our van. Our girl Betty has just been sold, so she’s about to start her next adventure. As for Tom and I, we will continue travelling without Betty. But who knows since we enjoyed it so much, maybe one day, there will be a Betty 2.0!
Until the next adventure….
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