This is the 100th Issue of Gemütlichkeit.
Those who were here for issue number one may recall it was printed on heavier, darker paper that we immediately discovered wasn't practical and quickly changed. That first issue had these stories: driving Europe's backroads, excursions into the European Heartland; winter airfare specials including a $569 roundtrip to Germany from the West Coast on LTU and a $398 roundtrip from New York on Pan Am; an excursion to Budapest from Vienna; off-trail skiing; the great German soccer club, Bayern München; and a favorite hotel and restaurant, the Gasthof Fraundorfer in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
In the Welcome to the Premiere Issue of Gemütlichkeit column we commented that Gemütlichkeit "is a personal newsletter" and that we have "traveled often in these countries because we love doing it and wish to pass on to you the things we see and experience." This very first message to subscribers concluded "this is the start of another wonderful trip. We hope you will enjoy traveling with us." Reading those words again, I realize they still accurately reflect what we feel about our publication and its mission. With some we have struck a chord; a surprising number of you have been with us since that first issue. But whether this is your first or your 100th issue or somewhere in between, thanks.
It is both fitting and ironic that one of the front page stories in this 100th issue is about a truly great country hotel and restaurant, l'Ermitage near Morges on Lac Léman (Lake Geneva). Fitting because, considered together, the restaurant and hotel together equal anything we have ever reviewed. Ironic because the dollars weakness, coupled with the strength of the Swiss franc, makes it frightfully expensive. In late 1986 and early 1987, places like this were affordable to perhaps half our readers. Today, judging by your phone comments and letters, only about one in 10 are willing to spend the money required to both sleep and eat at l'Ermitage. In our second 100 issues we'll spend more time and effort researching modest accommodations than we did in the first 100. Next month well get going on that second 100, in the meantime, read on...
The Swiss Franc
We are just back from a 10-day trip to Switzerland, full of impressions and eager to tell you what we found. You'll be getting it all in several reports over the next few months.
But first we must discuss a crucial subject, the rate of exchange between the dollar and the Swiss franc. The reality of a dollar that fetches only 1.1 francs has to be dealt with when planning a trip to Switzerland. (For those who have trouble quickly converting Swiss francs to dollars, there is one small advantage to this rate. Just assume that price in the store window or on the menu is in dollars and that you get a 10% discount.)
Though a low dollar costs them the most, those whose everyday travel style is five-star will no doubt simply shut their eyes and swallow hard at check signing time. At the other end of the spectrum, the traveler who lives close to the land, eating out of a backpack and staying in private homes or hostels where bathrooms are shared, won't be too much affected either. His or her per night room costs will be up $8 to $10 over last year and food costs will increase perhaps another $6-$8. Still, that $15 to $20 per day is a substantial increase for a budget traveler who has little alternative other than avoiding the country.
Those of us in the middle have more options.
An obvious money saver is to step down in hotel and restaurant categories. This trip we spent a greater portion of our time than ever before looking for inexpensive accommodations. In the city, expect to pay $90 to $110 or more for a double room with toilet and shower in a private home. In a city such as Lausanne, Geneva or Montreux, you will look long and hard for a room with a toilet and shower in an acceptable one-star hotel, for less than $115.
Look for unpretentious restaurants with bare wooden tables and local clientèle. Those with linen tablecloths and customers who carry guide books and cameras will invariably be more expensive. Scout out restaurants in the middle of the afternoon. The kind that have a table of card players and one or two ruddy-faced patrons whiling away the afternoon over a beer often have good food at low prices. That's the place to return to in the evening.
To travel in Switzerland these days we're going to have to change our ways.
Get out of the city and into the country where hotels and restaurants are less expensive and parking is free. Treat the minibar in your hotel room as though it's rigged to explode if opened.
Become a grocery store shopper. Buy your wine, beer and soft drinks there. Buy bread, cheese, meat and pre-made salads and eat picnic lunches.
Rent a small car. The Opel Corsa is a great little car; lots of Swiss drive them and will easily handle two people and a moderate amount of luggage. It also gets great gas mileage.
My very best advice for beating the exchange rate in Switzerland is to rent an apartment. We saw some absolutely lovely chalets in Leysin in the Vaudois Alps (30 minutes from Montreux, 45 from Lausanne, an hour and half from Geneva) that rent for from 650 Sfr. ($585) per week for a studio in low season to 1500 Sfr. ($1350) in the highest season for a stunning three-room, two-bath, two-level apartment that will accommodate at least six persons. Each of these units, from the smallest to the largest, was constructed of top quality materials. The gleaming blond wood walls and slanted beam ceilings look terrific and smell even better. Kitchens and baths are beautifully lit and equipped with the finest fixtures and appliances. Many units have spacious balconies with wonderful views. You'll hear more in an upcoming report on Leysin, but for now you can make rental inquires through the Leysin Parc Hotel, CH-1854, Leysin, phone 025/342034, fax 025/342011. This is an enthusiastic "Editors Choice."
Good Hotel Deal
The 50 Sofitel hotels in Europe, including those in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, are currently offering excellent rates guaranteed in U.S. dollars. The cost per room per night is $118 to $138, including breakfast. Compare, for example, the $138 rate at the four-star Sofitel in Zürich, 500 meters from Bahnhof with the hotel's rack rate of 250 to 350 Sfr. ($221-$309). Call 800-763-4835 to book.
German Train Deal
We got a call from Jerry Elenz of Michigan City, Indiana, regarding our item last month that in Germany it is now possible to travel the country on local trains for an entire weekend for 15 DM ($11). Mr. Elenz reports the special fare, which applies only to second class travel, is so popular that, in his words, "they can't get the doors shut." He says he rode from Augsburg to Munich (68 km/42 miles) and at some stops along the way there was simply no room to take on additional passengers. With time the novelty of this incredibly low fare may wear off somewhat, but for now those who plan to take advantage of the fare should prepare to have lots of company.