Anne Bird reports back from Air Canada's Race in Switzerland -
I am now back from my fantastic trip to Switzerland with Air Canada to Basel/Lucerne as part of the Air Canada Race 2021. This usually takes place annually in different locations in North America and Europe. Air Canada coordinated the whole program along with Swiss Tourism in Toronto which included international flights to Zurich, 8-day 1st class rail pass, all meals and sightseeing tours of Basel & Lucerne plus a lunch cruise on Lake Lucerne. Thirty five agents from across Canada participated in the actual race.
There were also media invited to cover the event (see amazing video by PAX media) plus two representatives from Switch Health who arranged our self-administered COVID-19 PCR tests.
Day 1 – We flew Vancouver-Toronto-Zurich with train connection approximately 1 hour to Basel.
Day 2 - Arrival Basel –nice historic city located on the Rhine River where most river cruises start or end, also where Germany, France and Switzerland meet. Basel is mostly French-speaking best known for the famous annual Art Basel festival, https://artbasel.com/ where artists and collectors meet from all over the world. Basel is also known for its many unique museums, Christmas markets and Carnival. Most people get around the city on the tram system which is free with the BaselCard given to guests at most hotels.
The Swiss Pass also includes free travel on the tram system and entrance to most sites.
Overnight at the Movenpick Basel 4**modern hotel located 1 block from the main train station and walking distance to the Old medieval town.
Most hotels offer their guests the “Basel Card” good for free entry to museums and travel on the trams. Dinner was at Markthall food court where we chose international foods.
Day 3 – AC Race 2021 Basel begins – There were 6 teams with 6 different locations on a time-limited trivia course. I was on “Team Wickelfisch” which is a waterproof swimbag people in Basel use to swim in the Rhine.
A wonderful dinner event was held at Restaurant Safran Zunft Basel to celebrate the winners of the Air Canada Race, my team came in second and it was a fun day overall. This was the first time that a travel conference event has been held since the beginning of COVID. This historic building in the old town was opened just for the event but closed to the public currently.
Day 4 - Swiss Travel Conference – this was a full day event with 40 vendors including hotels, regional tourist boards, rail companies.
A special evening dinner was arranged at the most famous hotel in Basel and one of the oldest hotels in Europe, Les Rois Trois https://www.lestroisrois.com/en - a 5* property located overlooking the Rhine dating back to 1681.
Day 5 -7
First-class train Basel to beautiful Lucerne approx. a one hour trip. We did a lovely walking tour of the old town and then went on our lunch cruise on Lake Lucerne.
Afternoon train from Lucerne to Engelberg town, an alpine ski resort in winter and outdoor activities in summer at Mt Titlis. https://www.titlis.ch/en
Activities included a gondola ride up to Lake Engstlensee and beyond to Mt Titlis famous for the Cliff Walk and Glacier caves.
Overnight at the Kempinski Palace Engelberg – 1 block from the train station. Then a train from Engelberg-Lucerne-Zurich Airport for our trip home!
4** business-style hotel, opened 01Sep21 so our group were the first people to stay at the hotel located 1 block from the main rail station.
Kempinski Palace Engelberg https://www.kempinski.com/en/engelberg/kempinski-palace-engelberg/
located 45 minutes by scenic train from Lucerne in the mountains, only opened 4 months ago as Kempinski took over the property also a 5* property mostly known as a ski resort with a wonderful spa and wellness centre.
Currently no PCR Covid-19 tests are required to enter Switzerland, only your double vaccination certificate obtained on the BC Health Gateway website/app https://www.healthgateway.gov.bc.ca
Health declaration done online prior to arrival in Switzerland https://swissplf.admin.ch/formular
Contact tracing form filled out/printed to give upon arrival in Switzerland https://static.vueling.com/corporative7/media/1647/swiss_authority_arriving_passenger_contact_tracing_card-pd.pdf
Masks are mandatory in all indoor venues, trains & train stations. Travel and Covid 19 insurance is recommended.
COVID-19 tests are required to return to Canada. This company is selling portable test kits and will be available to purchase with Aeroplan and Air Canada in the near future https://switchhealth.ca/en/individuals/home-kits/covid-test/
Overall impressions on Switzerland:
Very friendly to tourists, country is small enough to get around in a week. The scenery and culture varies by region and most travel is no more than an hour between cities. Switzerland in general is expensive, about twice the cost of Canada and still uses the Swiss Franc.
Euro bills can be used to pay for things in many stores but best to get some francs in advance. Credit cards and ATMs were everywhere. Although, food and hotels are are quite expensive there are lots of free promotional tour/sightseeing programs included in the rail passes.
Most hotels are bed/breakfast but many tourists shop at the COOP supermarkets who offer prepared food, Swiss cheese & chocolate at reasonable prices during the day or on train travel days. Many trains do have a café on board too. The scenery is absolutely stunning and the main cities are a great place for walking or people watching. Four languages are spoken in Switzerland (French, Swiss German, Italian and Romansch) but English is widely spoken by most people.
Best way to Travel:
Swiss Rail Pass https://www.raileurope.com/destinations/passes/swiss-travel-pass - 1st or 2nd class includes unlimited travel on train, bus, boats, public transport in all cities, free admission to 500 museums and special mountain railways journeys such as the Glacier Express
Air Canada currently routes via Toronto to Zurich but will be offering the direct service next summer from Vancouver. They also operate a Montreal to Geneva service.
Are you interested in visiting Switzerland? Contact Anne Bird or any other North South Travel Advisor today!