Winter Wonderland Mystery Markets Tour - Days 1-4


Euan Landsborough

Winter Wonderland Mystery Markets Tour - Days 1-4

Where are we going? I am not going to tell you everything….  yet!

Over the next 15 days Albatross are taking 28 spirited travellers on an incredibly exciting Mystery Tour through the snowy Alps. Nearly everyone on board has travelled with us before, but some not in the glorious festive season. Wow, are they in for a great surprise finding out just how good this part of the world is in the run up to Christmas. Christmas Markets fill cobbled squares in medieval towns and villages, the smell of mulled wine, the sizzle of bratwurst and massive decorated Christmas trees. We will be staying right amongst the unbelievably dramatic snow-capped peaks and gorges, and taking exciting rides high up to mountain restaurants, to glaciers and walking through snow laden… to…. I cannot say more, this is still a surprise.  

You see, no one on this tour knows where they are going.
They obviously know where join the tour (Zurich) and where it ends (again Zurich) but the rest is a glorious Mystery. It is extremely unlikely that there will be much, if any, overlap with any European touring they may have done previously. In fact, I can say that, as far as I can tell, only a handful of people will have been to any destinations we are going to. If they have, even if it was with Albatross, it would have been ‘done’ differently.

Whilst I will be dropping teasing hints as we go, the real detail will only unfold actually during the journey.  
We will be breaking the itinerary up into 3 or 4 day chunks. Usually, on the evening before we move to a new hotel stay, I will tell everyone where we will be sleeping next, and for how many nights. I’ll usually provide most of the details about what activities and adventures will be enjoying over the next day or so. But certainly not all the details, as we have to leave room for some wicked surprises! Teasing is allowed, and from experience, we know the anticipation of the unknown adds so more excitement and fun.

So here we go… this is an account of the first 3 days. I hope you enjoy.

Day 1: 4 December | Zurich Welcome

This is the day we all met up in the Swiss Capital of Zurich, in the Central Plaza Hotel.

Zurich is such a wonderful city at any time and in this time of year it is magical. A very pretty city, the shopping is excellent and there are several very large, wonderful Christmas markets.
Technically the tour stars this evening but for those interested, this afternoon, Gilberto, Julie-anne and I walked across the road to the Zurich station for the amazing Christmas markets. What an introduction to the Christmas Spirit. These are Switzerland’s largest indoor Christmas markets, and the highlight is the massive Christmas tree. A huge, illuminated Christmas tree decorated with thousands of baubles and lights. Usually adorned with illuminated Swarovski Crystals, this year the changed the décor for masses of Christmas lights that only light up when someone is pedalling furiously on one of the 4 exercise bicycles.

At around 6.30 p.m. this evening we all met downstairs in the Kings Cave bar for a welcome drink before dinner. This is where we were formally introduced with our fearless Tour Manager Gilberto Bionda.
Many of you out there will know and love Gilberto. Indeed, some of these Mystery travellers know him too. Gilberto’s extensive local knowledge and experience will be a great asset to the tour. Gilberto was born and brought up in the mountains (on the Italian side!) and has a passion for showing their beauty. Perfect for our Mystery Tour!

Whilst enjoying dinner, I stood and unfolded what were to be doing and where we are going over the next 2 days. I explained that we are in the heart of the Festive Season and throughout this tour they will take them to Christmas markets, big and small. That the way this tour will run is that we make sure we tick off the very best markets, both here in Zurich and in Basel, but then we will escape to the mountains for some amazing Alpine Mountain and Christmassy experiences Including some other Christmas Festivities and markets, 

As a bonus we all sang happy birthday to Karen. 29 again! 

Day 2: 5 December | Basel

This morning we boarded our coach and drive across to north-west Switzerland. Our first stop was in Lucerne (Luzern). Of course, many fellow travellers had already been to Lucerne, but since it is sort of on the way, always beautiful, I thought we might as well stop there anyway.   

 Later we continued on to Basel where we stayed the next 2 nights. Why Basel? Because this city boasts of having the best Christmas Markets in all Switzerland. Voted ‘Best Christmas market in Europe’ in 2021, they are beautifully set in Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz with its magnificent decorated Christmas tree, both right in the centre of the city and at the heart of the festively decorated Old Town.  I think we all can attest, these markets rally are a step above the others. So festive, so pretty, there are even singing reindeer! 

Our hotel – the Hotel Basel -  is wonderfully located smack in the middle of the old town, in the pedestrian zone, with its amazing Christmas markets. A really easy walk to everywhere. This evening we went to feast in the wonderful Christmas markets, with their wooden stalls filled with Christmas goodies baubles, decorations, and ginger biscuits. The lights were twinkling, the air was filled with the aroma of mulled wine, bratwurst sizzled and roast chestnuts were seen warming in the open fires. Christmas as it should be! 

Day 3: 6 December | Basel

This morning we were joined by 2 lovely local guides – far better to split the group into 2 smaller groups so we could make it more personal – who took us on a walking tour through the lovely old city.  And I have got to say this city is really elegant, pretty and so compact so our walking tour was easy and such a pleasure. 

Basel sits on the Rhine River close to the country’s borders with France and Germany. Its medieval old town gathers around Marktplatz, dominated by the 16th-century, red-sandstone Town Hall. Its Gothic cathedral dates back even further to the 12th-century. 

The rest of the day was free. To do as little and as much as we all wanted. High on the list was a ‘must do’ visit the "Läckerli Huus" to try the traditional Basel honey cake! Remembering, the Christmas Markets, as good as any in the world, were barely a couple of hundred metres away.
What fun!

Dinner this evening was in a special local restaurant a short walk from hotel. Called the Löwenzorn Restaurant the name translates as Angry Lion. Dating back hundreds of years, there is rich tradition here as for centuries this has been the gathering point for many of the city guilds. You can see their colourful crests and coats of arms everywhere. We dined upstairs in a the centuries old private dining room where the guilds have met for years. The whole room lined with wooden panelling – all magnificent parquetry that apparently was made by Florentine craftsmen. 

Day 4: 7 December | GSTAAD

Today we headed for the mountains… the big ones. But we took our time with a morning stop in Switzerland’s capital, Berne with its medieval heart, ornate clocktower and covered shopping arcades. 

Our afternoon stop was in that glorious hilltop town of Gruyères. Once voted the most beautiful village in French-speaking Switzerland, it is dramatic, to say the least. Whilst the chateau dates back to the 13th century, but it is the main cobbled street of the old town leading up to it which captures the heart. By the way, the town is Gruyères, with an ‘s’ at the end, and the cheese is in the singular - Gruyère. Whichever way you spell it, it tastes beautiful!

Late afternoon we arrived in beautiful Gstaad where we are staying the next 3 nights. Why do we stay here? Of course, it makes great base for our exhilarating highlights over the next few days, but it also has an incredible style about it. The valley is the stuff of legend – they say it was God's resting hand that shaped the beautiful hills and valleys of this region where Gstaad is located. Apparently Divine intervention is the only plausible explanation for such remarkable scenic beauty. There are no condominiums here, no blunt, high-rise buildings, just chalets with wooden facades, gabled roofs with decorative mouldings. It is chic and elegant, and as you would therefore expect it is very popular with the rich and famous. It is therefore Switzerland’s most expensive Alpine village. How expensive? According to a prestigious Swiss Reals estate company "The average price per square meter (!) is around CHF 33,000, or $AUD 50,000, and prices can reach more than CHF 65,000, or about $ÄUD 100,000 per square meter. (yes, I checked the number of zeros I just wrote). 

Our hotel, the Bernerhof, is a giant wooden chalet located right beside the chic pedestrian mall. Delightful! 

Read more about the the next stages of the amazing Winter Wonderland Mystery Markets tours here: Days 4-6 | Days 7-9 | Days 10-15 
If you are interested in organising your own Festive holiday, click here to find out more about Albatross Tours European Christmas, New Year and Northern Lights small group tours or contact us, your European Tour Specialists for more details.


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