Review: Canvas Holidays
Travel Service - Tour Operator/Travel Provider
Interlaken - Switzerland
Switzerland is not a country we’d given a lot of thought to visiting. For whatever reason it just never seemed to be on our radar. That’s a bit odd because the country has so much of what we’ve always enjoyed, towering mountains, beautiful lakes, enormous waterfalls and verdant valleys. Plus it’s a short hop away, a mere 90 minutes from Manchester Airport.
However it was an easy choice to make when we were lucky enough to win a £350 accommodation voucher through STA and Canvas Holidays. We could have went to other fantastic locations like the French Alps, Lake Garda or Croatia, But the description of Interlaken had something magical about it, we were quickly seduced by what the region promised. We didn’t regret our decision.
We enjoyed one of our best ever holidays, and that despite a pretty disconcerting start. Our flight out was delayed but luckily we’d allowed for this. We’d booked a night at a hotel right outside Basel train station, The Victoria, ready to make the two hour train journey to Interlaken the next day. The hotel was great, overlooking the main square where all the trams terminate. We managed to see a great deal of the city in the short time we were there. And for free. The Swiss tend to throw in local travel passes when you book accommodation and additionally we’d bought a more comprehensive one that covered the whole of Switzerland. More on that later.
I can’t really say we were impressed by Basel. It has a few nice buildings but what large town or city doesn’t. A major disappointment was the famous football ground that hosted the final of the Europa League last season. You don’t even know it’s there. St Jacobs Park is surrounded by a shopping centre and major roads and the local area is incredibly unsightly. The interior of the ground is much more photogenic but relatively small compared with big British stadia like Old Trafford or the Emirates. The enormous tower block adjacent to the stadium serves as an easy-to-spot landmark but again is not really what you associate with Switzerland. Take it from me, you will never see it adorn a box of chocolates.
Much more photogenic is the River Rhine. By the time it reaches Basel it’s a good size and boasts a swift current. The locals take advantage of this by holding onto large flotation devices and allowing themselves to be carried miles downstream. It looked enormous fun. A bit more risky seemed to be the local custom of jumping off the bridges into the river. I can’t imagine the floaters down below thought this was a fantastic idea.
Anyway, it was 30 degrees celsius even into late evening, we were both hot and sticky and the river looked very inviting. So Tony did his Michael Phelps, albeit in his three quarter length shorts as opposed to Speedos, and our holiday was off to a wonderful start.
OR WAS IT !
Before we’d set out we’d gone through our checklist, one of the points being to inform our credit card provider we’d be abroad. Well Tony got a text asking him if he’d spent £75 on takeaway food in north London. It purported to be from our bank but we just weren’t sure. We thought if we replied to it we might be a victim of some scam that emptied our phone credit. We ultimately decided that the best policy was to return to our hotel and phone the safe number on the back of the credit card. It took ONE HOUR to get through, the queue to speak to the fraud department was interminable. Apparently our credit card had been used 25 times in two hours and as far away as Baltimore. We haven’t yet been able to ascertain where the security breach took place, it doesn’t appear to be anything we’ve done. But the bank was able to act quickly, block the purchases and save us the £800 that had been spent that afternoon. Proving that you should always let your bank know when you’re going on holiday. Advising them that we’d be in Switzerland, not London or Baltimore, flagged this crime up swiftly.
Prices in Switzerland are high, up to 75% above those in this country. We paid just under ten pounds for two small burgers and one drink at McDonalds. Needs must when you first arrive in a country and you have to eat. Even takeaway sandwiches from a supermarket can cost a fiver. Train fares are no exception. We found the Swiss travel pass to be exceptional value though, and very convenient. It’s £280 for eight days and as well as free local and national travel you get entrance into hundreds of museums and big discounts on mountain railways and cable cars. Best of all, free boat excursions on those marvellous Swiss lakes.
EVERY mainline train was bang on time while we were there. Only one cog train was late and this happened to be by scant minutes and was a freebie so we had no complaints in this direction. We visited the Rhein Falls in the far North and the Matterhorn in the distant South. We went East to Lucerne, had a fabulous trip on this huge lake and also sortied on Thun and Brienze. We had free and discounted trains that took us to the foot of the Eiger and didn’t pay a penny to go to Lauterbrunnen to see the unique and world famous Trummelbach Falls. People describe these as being in a cave, more accurately they’re in a cavern that has been hollowed out over millions of years. Either way, they’re incredible. Ten waterfalls of beauty and power that make the walls of the cavern vibrate. Travel to them is free as I say, entry cost £8 which was fantastic value.
The trip from Basel to Interlaken Ost is nothing special. Nice enough but mainly fields and low lying land. That changes dramatically when you reach Lake Thun. You get your first glimpse of the Three Sisters, the awe inspiring Monch, Eiger and Jungfrau. To put them in perspective, Swiss mountains are in metres what ours are in feet. The Jungfrau for example is 3,454 metres or 11,332 feet in old money. The mountains in the South are even bigger again, the Matterhorn is 4,478 metres (14,692 feet) ………… and it has taller neighbours !
The Canvas campsite in Interlaken occupies a prime location. It is right on the banks of Lake Thun. Even those ‘campers’ situated at the back of the site, as we were, have an easy stroll down to the lake shore. Traffic is very light in the area, but an underpass means you don’t even need to cross the road. Although the lake is glacial fed we were delighted to find it is eminently swimmable. We aren’t particularly hardy, but by the end of the holiday we’d spent hours in the water and never felt uncomfortable in or out. And the backdrop, 10 out of 10. You can even jump on the boat here to go into Interlaken to shop or journey on further round the lake to Thun itself. What a bonus.
As well as the boat, an excellent bus service runs alongside the lake and in to Interlaken as well as the East and West train stations.This is an absolute Godsend because it helps you save a whole heap of money. A word of warning though, last bus is 7.08pm. There’s a big Co op at Interlaken Ost and a Migros at West (Migros are budget supermarkets and restaurants that are everywhere). We found the supermarket prices to be extremely reasonable and the range of goods virtually equal to those at home. The food in both was superb. In the Co op you fill a plate yourself for about £12 (three slabs of meat for Tony, half and half with veg’) and in Migros a half chicken and chips was £11. High quality we both thought for humble supermarket eateries. The Co op supermarket had the added advantage of self-scan in English and a facility to take Euros.
So the shops were excellent for stockpiling the ingredients and the caravan was equally up to the job of cooking them. We were in a Comfort Plus and it was top notch. A four burner cooker with oven and grill that was easy-to-use and speedy. Utensils were plentiful and the caravan well set out so we never felt clumsy or restricted while cooking. The gas fire, which we never needed, is centrally located and I’m sure there’d seldom be a time when the heat from this and the oven wouldn’t be sufficient to keep the caravan cosy. The fridge / freezer was a very good size and the plugs are of the UK 3 pin variety. Caravans are seldom huge but we found the bedrooms to be more than adequate, storage was certainly sufficient. The shower (and sink) always had plentiful hot water and we were pleased to find there was a loo at each end of the caravan. No ‘waiting to go’ when your other half is brushing their teeth, lol. No complaints at all. Obviously there were just the two of us and we used the additional bedroom to ‘declutter’ the rest of the ‘van. You’d lose this luxury if you had maximum occupancy but you’d definitely still cope.
One thing I did anticipate was that during a torrential downpour you wouldn’t be able to hear yourself think. That was how things used to be in ’vans. Not so nowadays. We had an absolute deluge one night and it was no noisier than being at home. The rooves are tiled and pitched and you can sleep through any storm with ease. BTW, stars look amazing at night in Switzerland. The air is so clear you can see so many more of them. They’re almost like Xmas decorations, beautiful.
A special word for the reps on the Interlaken site. Absolutely brilliant.They’re the type of people you could wake at 3am with a dripping tap and they’d be in good humour and immediately ready to act. Simply down-to-earth, friendly people who you take to straightaway.
Things to do in Switzerland … well way too many to list. Our favourites were the cable car trip up the Little Matterhorn to Ice Paradise. Plenty of snow up there and lots of skiers, some of them Olympians. The view over Interlaken and the two lakes from Harder Kulm, the resort’s ‘own mountain’. A different and possibly even better view from Sychnige Platte. There’s a huge alpine garden here in the Summer but the real attraction is the number of huge peaks visible. If you’re fit enough the walking would be fantastic. A close up look at the North face of the Eiger from Kleine Scheidegg. I’d seen this hamlet so many times on the TV, it was amazing to step off the train and make it a reality. A long train journey to Schaffheusen at the German border to see the Rhine Falls. Worth it to see what is claimed to be Europe’s most powerful. It didn’t compare to Gullfoss in Iceland in my opinion but was still great reward for the trek. And Trummelbach Falls, simply awe inspiring and unique.
There’d be so much to marvel at if you had the time. Some of the rail journeys like the Glacier Express and the Bernina Pass are world famous. St Moritz to Montreaux is a must do for some people. One day we’d love to return and experience more of this beautiful and majestic country.
Thank you so much to STA and Canvas Holidays who helped make the whole thing possible.Without winning the generous prize we may never have decided on Switzerland and all that this amazing country has to offer.
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This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.