18 Jul Vegan Travel: 5 Tips for the Ultimate Vegan Road Trip in Switzerland
In late May of this year, I experienced what was hands down one of the most surreal places I’ve ever traveled. Without exaggeration. When planning our grad trip earlier this year, my gal pal and I were looking for three things: a road trip through the mountains, scenic hiking trails and a dose of Europe. We hit the ultimate jackpot with Switzerland.
Known for its world-renowned chocolate, quaint chalets, and friendly people, the country truly is everything we read about and more!
Whether you’ve got Switzerland on your near-future bucket list, or you’re simply curious about what road tripping through this gem of a country entails, here are 5 tips to help you make the most of your trip.
Before I jump in, let’s touch up on a few logistics.
We spent a total of 10 days in Switzerland and got around in an Opel Mokka hatchback that we rented from Budget. When visiting Switzerland, most tourists fly to either Zurich in the northeast or to Geneva, the western city bordering France – which contrary to popular belief is not the capital city of Switzerland, it’s Bern.
We decided to fly to Geneva and begin our road trip driving down south through the French Alps and then we headed eastward back to Switzerland. Given the small size of the country (one-tenth of the state of California), 10-12 days is ample time to indulge in everything the Swiss lands have to offer.
Above is a map of our route outlining all major stops in order – Geneva, Chamonix, Lugano, Beckenried, Brienz, Lauterbrunnen, Interlaken, Bern, Vevey.
Tip #1: Avoid traveling to Switzerland in prime peak season
As global travel increases in prominence year to year, so do lineups, wait times and crowds. While Switzerland is still somewhat of an undiscovered gem (primarily because of how expensive the country is), it’s bound to become the next Iceland.
This isn’t to say that Switzerland can be visited any time of the year; most hiking trails, cable car services, and roads are open from late May to late October, however, if you decide to go at the very beginning or end of the season you enjoy better weather conditions for hiking as it’s not yet scorching hot and avoid big tourist crowds and school groups.
Tip #2: Prepare for a lack of vegan options
Switzerland is notorious for its dairy industry; their cows and sheep occupy the majority of the country’s beautifully rich mountain tops and valleys and their chocolate is basically the Swiss national symbol. So it isn’t surprising that their traditional dishes are meat and dairy based. Though the vegan lifestyle is less prominent in smaller towns and villages, you can find a variety of (at least) vegetarian options in major cities like Geneva, Zurich or Bern.
Many restaurants are also very accommodating and can make substitutions to make your meal vegan. Another great way to stick to a vegan diet (and save money) throughout your stay is to book accommodation with a kitchen and prep your own meals. Or stock up on LARA bars from home like I did 😉
Tip #3: Stay with locals
I bet you’ve heard this a million times. Given how popular Air Bnb has become, most travelers don’t think twice when booking accommodation. Staying with locals is insanely rewarding when traveling Switzerland – especially when staying in remote mountain towns. The Swiss are extremely friendly and hospitable and will bend backward to make sure you have the best stay.
When staying in Brienz, our host would bring us fresh apricots from her own garden every morning, recommend us various places to check out and always came by to chat and make sure we had what we needed. When staying in Vevey, our host let us use her upstairs patio which we had all to ourselves. We would buy rose wine and spend our nights under the Swiss stars surrounded by the Lausanne Alps. Truly a dream.
Tip #4: Spend a night or two in Mont Blanc
Road tripping through Switzerland and not stopping in Mont Blanc is equivalent to visiting Toronto and not spending a day at Niagara Falls. Sitting at 4 808m, Mont Blanc is the highest mountain peak in the Alps and in all of Western Europe.
If you’re a mountain lover like myself, you won’t get enough of it. I highly recommend booking a night or two in the French town of Chamonix from where you have direct cable car service and access to hiking trails to and around Mont Blanc. The drive from Mont Blanc and the Swiss Alps is like no other – a 360-degree panorama all throughout.
Tip #5: Be prepared for tolls, especially when driving through Italy
Europe is notorious for its highway tolls. Being the savvy nations they are, most European countries use electronic radars and ticketing systems to charge for tolls and speeding tickets. The Swiss are no exception. Though most rental companies include them in your rental fees, make sure to purchase appropriate highway permits where needed. That being said, be especially cautious when driving through the Italian side of the Alps. Not only do they charge the highest fees, they’re also very inconsistent with what driving permits you do and don’t need. It quite literally varies from town to town despite the fact that your Canadian driver’s license is enough to allow you to legally drive in Italy.
Though Switzerland is known for its world-class transit system, road trips are always an adventure. They allow you to pull over on side roads and take in scenic views on a more intimate level. If you’ve ever considered visiting this European gem, I couldn’t recommend it enough – it’s so incredibly beautiful you might just find it in you to overlook their non-vegan traditions.
Positive energies always.
I’m a passionate plant-based bean, adventure-enthusiast and a (wannabe) Chris McCandless protégé. When I’m not studying away finishing my undergrad degree at U of T, you can find me outside somewhere chasing nature or following my passion for writing!