A revolutionary revolving cable car, a calendar of traditional festivals, and the world’s first Hobbit Museum are putting Switzerland on top of many family travelers’ wish lists for 2015.
Picture this: A glass jewelbox soaring high in the sky, spinning slowly, giving mountain lovers a 360° view of the Alps. It’s Rotair, the revolutionary cable car at Mount Titlis. Launched in November 2014, the famous red Swiss Cross decorates Rotair as it transports visitors to the summit of this family-welcoming ski and summer resort atop a glacier in the Swiss Alps.
All ages in the family, even if they’re not skiers or snowboarders, will love this super scenic spot. In addition to the cable car, there’s a Glacier Cave — literally a tunnel through the ice — and other off-slope adventures, like traversing Cliff Walk, Europe’s highest suspension bridge. All these, sledding and the snow tubing are open every month of the year.
The winter mountain resort has three zones for young novices to learn, and a baby – toddler nursery down in town at a lower altitude. By this time next year, a whole new cable car system will be operating through a tunnel in the mountainside at Mount Titlis, giving visitors even more access to the peaks and extraordinary views.
Meet the Picture Perfect Alpine village of Engelberg
Titlis Mountain is only 20 miles south of the city of Lucerne, and close enough to Zurich to have guided daytrips. The Trübsee Alpine Lodge with its half-board plan, and the apartment-style Titlis Resort are on-mountain options for a hotel. But we think you’ll probably want to base yourself a half-hour away in Engelberg, a small alpine town with just 4,000 residents. This charmer was founded generations ago by monks who named it “Angel Mountain.” Don’t believe that it’s the biggest year-round holiday destination in the heart of the Swiss Alps?
Engelberg actually offers 22 hotels and 30 different restaurants — many with special amenities for children — to accommodate all their visitors.
When we searched for the top hotels using Booking.com, we found that few had rooms large enough for a family of four. Two inns in Engelberg that did, the charming looking Banklialp and the Berghaus Jochpass, have family rooms availble starting at US$387 per night including breakfast (not much more to book dinner at these hotels, too, and Swiss fondue is yummy.)
During the summer, the Engelberg tourist office runs free activities for visitors, almost daily. For the 14-week period from July until October, there’s climbing, hiking, kayaking, even tabogganing up at Mount Titlis, for free or a nominal charge. Visitors can use an Engelberg Guest Card and reserve their spot at the Tourist Center, by calling +41 41 639 77 77 or by e-mailing welcome[at]engelberg.ch.
Traditional Carnival & More in Lucerne
And those traditional festivals? February is the month you may want to sleep in the city of Lucerne itself, because this year, from the 12th through 17th it’s Carnival, and these folks take it seriously. Expect to see possibly scary, Grimm’s fairy-tale-like masks and costumes — mountain elves and trolls are a big theme. The town’s back alleys come alive with live music as Guggen bands parade, followed by thousands of locals. The Mardi Gras tradition goes so far back that, more than 180 years ago, a special Maskenliebhaber-Gesellschaft (Society of Mask Devotees) was formed to preserve and promote the custom. Nearby villages even have a tradition of wearing heavy carved wood masks.
Now’s the time to hunt for hotel bargains, as the one-week Carnaval is a hot ticket. We went to Booking.com again, and found that the posh, Euro stylish Radisson Blu, which was US$171 for a family room the week before, jumped to US$297 per night during the Carnaval weekend. Carnaval caveat emptor! Fortunately, there’s a lot to see and do in this pretty city by the lake the rest of the year — such as guided lake cruises — too.
Hobbits Inhabit World of Bernd Greisinger
And yes, we did mention there’s a Swiss Hobbit museum, noted in a recent New York Times story.
The museum, housing what’s said to be an extraordinary collection of memorabilia, first editions and artworks that chronicle the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, is open for guided tours in the tiny Middle-earth hamlet of Jenins about an hour from Zurich. Owner Bernd Greisinger, a former investment fund manager, has lovingly built a Hobbit hole comfortable enough for Bilbo Baggins to house these works. Plan ahead at their website to be sure you can fit this attraction in your schedule of out-of-this-world Swiss attractions.
Getting the Most out of a Switzerland Visit
If you have time to sightsee more in Switzerland, and we highly recommend that, take advantage of a Swiss Pass to get trains, buses, museums and many of these mountain attractions bundled into one multi-day discounted pass.
Or your stash of Swiss francs will decrease quickly.
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