Friday, 18 April 2008

We're Not Snobs But... (Switzerland Accommodation Fiasco)

Mid-Range Expections, Very Budget Reality: Hotel Shock on Holiday in Switzerland

I closed my eyes and leant against the car window. The map was pasted onto my eyelids - Lille, Roubaix, Tourcoing, Namur, Nancy, Metz - a scribble of colourful roads and place names weaving their way into my sleep. We had been travelling for a few hours from Calais in France, money in our wallets, clothes in our suitcases and petrol in the car. We chose not to book any hotels and just make our way towards Switzerland, stopping when we liked, staying in whatever mid-range hotels took our fancy. Aaah, freedom...

After the flat countryside in Northern France and a few nights in French cities Reims and Nancy, we reached a little town away from the motorways, named Chaumont. An enchanting little French town off the beaten track, it was surrounded by low forest-clad hills and rock faces. We ate at a small local Pizzeria, where no-one spoke English – excellent! What a great way to practice our terrible French. We settled down for the night at a clean and brightly coloured hotel. In the morning we continued our journey South.

The hills got steeper as we sped towards Switzerland. At the border we paid our £20 motorway vignette and drove on, the motorway signs changing from blue to green. After half an hour, the up-hill motorway curved to the right around some tall fir trees, obscuring our view of the hill’s summit. As we straightened up, a magnificent panoramic view unravelled in front of us, filling the windscreen. Immense snowy peaks formed a distant wall behind the vast steely-blue surface of Lake Geneva. The road travelled downhill, and still with this impressive view in sight, we entered the outskirts of Lausanne, a minor Swiss city on the shores of Lake Geneva.

After finding a parking space down by the lake, we walked along the water’s edge to the pretty little part of town called Ouchy and got a bite to eat in a picture-book patisserie. We hired a pedal boat and sat back, admiring the incredible open panoramas of the distant mountains and vast misty lake. What a way to relax after a day cooped up in the car.

By evening we were ready to find a comfortable hotel and put our feet up. What are Swiss hotels like, I asked myself… I was filled with anticipation of wood-panelled walls, large squashy beds and spotless floors. We travelled further around the lake to a smaller town, Montreux, with plans to find more value for money. What a delightful location – nestling between the snow-covered mountains and the shores of the immense lake. We parked the car again and walked into the town centre to find some mid-range hotels. On the main road was a small cosy looking place, three stars. We walked in and there was a man standing at the bar. I asked how much a room was for the night and he told me it was 130 Swiss Franks, around 120 pounds.


Ok… maybe there was a misunderstanding, maybe the hotel was some sort of exception, in a league of its own. We moved on. A few yards down the street there was another similar hotel, cosy and clean-looking.

120 Swiss Franks!

We walked back outside in a state of confusion.

“That’s ridiculous! Do you think it’s the location?” Richard asked me. I thought about it.

“Maybe... Shall we ask someone?”

The next hotel was another one on the main street and it too, was just as expensive. The girl at the hotel suggested we try a hotel a little further away from the main street and said that 100-110 Swiss Franks was about normal for a two star hotel. After taking in this disappointing fact, we took a stroll up a street away from the lake, past some cute little craft shops.

“100 franks for a basic dump! I had no idea hotels would be so much more expensive in Switzerland,” said Richard.

“Yeah, but if we try and find slightly more basic ones?” I suggested tentatively. I was already falling in love with this wonderful country and I was filled with dread that we may not be able to stay as long as I thought. “Do we have to have our own bathroom?”

“Yes!” Richard replied. “Do you want to share toilets with some fat American?”

“What? That’s ridiculous! What a thing to say!”

“Well if you want your own toilet…”

“Oh ok! Fine! Let’s keep looking for two to three star hotels. Surely we will find something.”

“As long as they have toilets, and they’re not scummy!” Richard replied with a slightly irritated tone.

“It’s Switzerland Richard! I don’t think there is a need for the word scum!”

We found a spacious but more basic looking two-star hotel and asked for a price. 100 Franks. Really? Were they joking?

“Shall we drive somewhere else?” Asked Richard, his face beginning to show signs of tiredness.

“No, it’s late, we can’t drive around all night trying to find non-existent cheap hotels. Let’s just stay in this town and accept the inevitable expense. We can save money by eating cheaply and stuff. Let’s just see what those hotels say. Please!” I pointed up the hill and Richard nodded, reluctantly.

Two more hotels were over 100 Franks for a night. I was starting to feel we may have to leave Switzerland a lot earlier than I thought.

As we were about to wonder back down the hill to give up and pay for a night at the cheapest hotel we had found so far, I caught sight of a small sign saying ‘hotel’ pointing up a steep and narrow little street. Maybe that one will be cheaper as its harder to find, I thought to myself. I desperately hoped so. I knew if we paid 100 Franks on the first night, Richard would forever hold a grudge with this beautiful country. To be fair with prices like that we wouldn’t be able to spend our money on much else. I so desperately wanted to stay.

Richard followed me up the hill and as we turned the corner between two old buildings, a gap in some fir trees revealed a basic, if shabby-looking two-storey building with a small reception area reminiscent of an old conservatory. We opened the door and stepped inside. A tall middle-aged woman greeted us somewhat sternly but amicably. She spoke English and told us that a room would cost 70 Franks. The best offer yet by far!

“Is this going to be ok?” Richard whispered apprehensively, trying to peer into the main building.

“Yeah, it’s much cheaper!  You can’t have it both ways!” I replied, irritably. We showed the lady our ID and she said we can pay in the morning. She took out a big metal key with a huge wooden key ring and showed us across a courtyard, and up some stone steps to some shabby double doors. They creaked open, revealing a small, musty smelling dark room. There was an old dark wooden wardrobe and chest of drawers, two low, crooked single beds and a narrow doorway leading to a somewhat dingy and tiny shower room, with two mismatched thin patterned towels hanging from a slightly rusty rail. In place of a door was a limp hanging curtain. The wallpaper in the room was faded and the threadbare floor creaked eerily underfoot. The lady told us we could park the car a few streets from the hotel, then left.

Richard sank onto the hard bed in front of the narrow shuttered window and looked at me.

“Is this ok?” He asked again, uncertainly.

“Yeah, it’s clean isn’t it, and all we need is a comfortable bed. We could push these two together?” I suggested.

“No, it’s ok we can just sleep in one of them, we’re only small,” Richard said, as he looked sadly at the little sagging bed opposite him. I sat on it and the thin mattress sunk down. I could feel the springs. I knew it must be a bad mattress because I can usually sleep on anything. I hoped Richard hadn’t noticed the springs groan as I sat down.

“The other hotels were too expensive, weren’t they,” Richard said unsurely, “I think it’s best we save our money?”

“Yes,” I replied, “but if you don’t want to stay here we can try and find somewhere else? I just know how tired you are.”

Richard thought for a moment. “Yeah, I suppose we could just see this as a way to save money for tonight.” We sorted our bags out and he looked up at me, looking slightly crumpled. I sat down next to him.

“Are you ok?” I asked, “I really don’t want to stay here if you aren’t happy. I just love Switzerland!” Richard looked around the room, thinking for a moment.

“Well, we work hard - do we really deserve to be sleeping somewhere like this? We’re not students and we’re not backpackers! I mean look at the bathroom, and these beds! And there’s a funny smell.”

“You want to change, and go somewhere else?” I asked.

“Yeah, I think we should. Shall we go and tell her?”

“No, Richard, I can’t! I feel awful!”

“It’s our choice! If we don’t want to stay here then we don’t have to. It’s still 70 Franks.”

“Oh, no! I just can’t. You do it.”


“But wait, do we have to? Do you hate it that much?”

“Mm. well it’s not nice, is it.” Richard moaned. “But I know we can save money here though! I don’t know what to do.”

“So shall we just stay?” I asked, and waited for Richard’s half-hearted response.

“Oh… Ok,” he said, “maybe I’m just being snobby. But I like my home comforts. I suppose we could just stay for tonight though, if it saves us some money?”

“Are you sure you’ll be ok?”

“Yeah” Richard said reluctantly, “if you will?”

“Yeah.” I replied, relieved we could stay, and hoping sincerely that our next hotel was going to make up for this.

With not much left to do in the dingy room, we decided to go out to eat straight away. Rostis and bacon. Delicious. We walked down to the waters’ edge. In the dusky light the endless expanse of water looked strange and flat. It was so clean, the pebbles underneath rippled with the tiny waves.

After a made-up stone throwing competition, we headed back to the hotel. Richard moped around looking defeated. “Aw, you’re really unhappy here aren’t you,” I asked.

“Nah, I’ll be ok. Let’s go and do something and come back when we actually want to go to bed. The least time spent here the better, I don’t want to catch anything!”

“Oh Richard don’t be like that! That’s so snobby, there’s a difference between dirty and old.”

We took our coats and wondered off back down the hill. We walked along the main street and came to the waters’ edge. It was so pretty, there were spring flowers growing in all sorts of plant pots and baskets along the board-walk, the wooden boards lit with colour-changing lights. At the edge of the lake the immense spread of glassy back water reflected the lights of the towns on the opposite shores and hills.

After a walk and more stone-throwing, it was eleven o’clock at night and we decided to head back to the hotel for some sleep. We changed into our pyjamas and climbed into the old creaky single bed together. The sheets were bobbly and had a musty smell. With the lights off we could almost pretend we were somewhere else, despite the lumpy mattress. After much tossing and turning I fell into an uneasy sleep.


I woke up with a stiff neck. Tiny beams of sunlight streamed through the gaps in the window shutter opposite the bed. ‘Oh, good’, I thought, ‘at least this room doesn’t destroy all natural sunlight’.

After Richard had woken and we had gotten dressed, we hauled our bags out of the dingy room and down the stone steps to the reception desk. The sun shone brightly across the courtyard.

“It’s over!” I said gladly to Richard, feeling awful that we had wished away a night of our holiday.

“Let’s start looking for hotels earlier today so we can find something that is not like a hostel” said Richard, smiling.

The lady we saw yesterday came to the desk. She showed us through the doors into the main building to have breakfast. With the same musty smell and old withered furniture, the dining room did not hold high hopes for a good breakfast. There were age-spotted mirrors on the walls, and strangely, some eerie, slow plinky piano music coming from the far end of the room, near the kitchen. What was in store for us? Had she cooked one of the guests for breakfast? Who knew.

The lady came over to bring us drinks, bread, and eggs. We wolfed down our slightly stale bread and thick, milky hot chocolate, and paid for our stay.

Wheeling our bags down the hill towards the car, I couldn’t help feeling a weight had been lifted. The sunlight warmed us and reflected brightly on the lake. I checked the map and planned a route in my head South towards the Alps. I was worried that if it would be even more expensive in the Alps, Richard wouldn’t enjoy it, but he didn’t seem concerned, so to my immense relief we agreed to stick to our plan and stay in Switzerland for the next few days.  

“We just need to make sure we look for hotels earlier and ask to see rooms before we agree to stay” Richard said. His voice held a new optimism and I felt good about the journey ahead.

I showed Richard the route I had planned and he smiled. “Wow… the Alps!” He pulled the handbrake and we rolled down the hill. I watched the buildings disappear as we drove out of the town, and around the lake. Our tiny car was dwarfed by the snowy mountains ahead.

Accommodation in Switzerland is generally quite expensive, however better deals can be found in small resorts and villages. Interlaken is a town very geared for tourists, with many hotels and competitive rates. In summer, static caravans are also available and work out very reasonable. Most Swiss hotels and chalets offer rustic charm, however the hotel described here pushed this notion too far for a young couple on a mid-range holiday! Our next hotel was the most amazing little wooden chalet up in the Val d’Herens mountains. The gingham bedspread, wood-panelled walls and immaculate shared bathroom added country charm to a stunning little family-run chalet and restaurant, with fantastic views.

For further information on Switzerland visit my destination article:

Text and Images Copyright © Lise Griffiths, 2012
All Rights Reserved

Hotels and accommodation in Switzerland. Cheap hotel Switzerland.

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