I sat in awe, staring out of a wide, clear window as our train weaved through massive snowcapped mountains past glacial-blue lakes. I knew that Switzerland is one of the most beautiful countries in Europe; it’s a popular destination favored by travel accounts and I’d seen it on my Instagram feed many times. But even the best photograph doesn’t compare to being there in person. Everything was so green. So blue. So vivid in color that it didn’t look real. And so clean! It was one of those moments where I thought to myself, wow… the world we live in is so damn beautiful. I could feel the excitement bubbling up inside me as we pulled up to Sachseln’s tiny train station.
Dewey and I found Sachseln by chance when we were looking for Airbnbs. I did a quick Google Image search of the place and was immediately sold. Sachseln is a small town in the Swiss countryside nestled in a valley next to Lake Sarnen. It’s about a 30 minute train ride from Lucerne, which we thought was perfect. While we could enjoy the benefits of a city, we could also escape to an undiscovered place and relax in the serene mountains. Little did we know, Sachseln offered so much more than we expected.
Our hosts picked us up from the station and drove us up… and up… until we reached our apartment which was situated at the top of a steep private road. The houses in Sachseln are dispersed from the bottom by the lake all the way up along the side of the towering mountains. Our apartment was located high up on the mountainside, overlooking the center of town and the lake.
We immediately felt the charm of Sachseln. It’s tiny, but has everything you need: one grocery store, one pharmacy, two banks, and about three restaurants. We were definitely the only tourists, and we got the sense that everyone there knew we were foreigners. Yet, whenever we passed by someone on our walk into town each day, they would always smile and greet us with a kind hello (or in Swiss German, “Grüezi”).
We strolled passed neighbors salting and shoveling their driveway, pink-cheeked children sledding and playing in the snow, an older woman feeding carrots to her pet bunnies, and farmers tending to their cows. We became regulars at the local café, drinking our coffee amongst older men reading the paper and enjoying a lunchtime beer. There was no sense of urgency here.
Dewey and I were eager to embrace the quieter life. Having just spent 10 busy days in Paris, we were ready to relax a bit. One afternoon, we walked out to the edge of a snowy hill just across the street from the entrance to our private road. There were no benches, so we laid down plastic trash bags to sit on. We sipped on our $1 beer brewed in Lucerne and purchased at the local grocery store and watched the sun set behind the Alps. It was the happiest of hours!
Another time, we brought a picnic down to the lake and watched ducks dive for food in the turquoise water. It was the first time in awhile on this backpacking journey that I didn’t feel pressure to do anything. I didn’t have to jam a bunch of activities into the day. I didn’t have to sightsee or go to museums to feel like I was getting the whole experience of visiting the country. If you have ever traveled for a long time, you know that breaks like this are important. They give you the rest you need to continue.
Staying in Sachseln provided an intimate view of life in the Swiss countryside. The only downside to staying outside the city was the price of train tickets; it cost $10 one-way into Lucerne. However, the benefits of getting to live amongst locals in this quaint village definitely outweighed the costs for us, and we were still able to spend a day in Lucerne, another day visiting the summit of nearby Mount Pilatus, and even took a day trip to Bern.
If you know me, then you know I am the type of traveler who enjoys exploring lesser-known destinations across the world. I believe that traveling is about getting to know new cultures, and that can be difficult to do in super touristy places. Even when I am in a touristy place, I try to seek out those restaurants or parks or other experiences enjoyed by locals. That’s why I fell in love with Sachseln; it gave me a glimpse into the real life of a small Swiss village.
If this sounds like the type of experience you would enjoy, you might want to consider staying outside of a major city when visiting Switzerland. There are countless smaller towns located just outside cities like Lucerne, Bern, and Geneva that could give you more of an authentic trip. Who knows what other charming places in Switzerland are just waiting to be discovered by the curious traveler!