How large will our tour group be?
At ECHO Rails & Trails, we are small group travel specialists. We believe that when you make a commitment to take your vacation with Echo Trails, we’ve made a commitment to you. You become our guest. There is a minimum size, and our tours are rarely cancelled due to low enrollment (even 2 is enough), so you can plan your vacation confidently. If you’ve reserved, you’re going! Our maximum group size in the Alps is limited to 16 people, so groups are always cozy and intimate, and groups of 7-10 people are quite common for Echo Rails & Trails tours. Small groups are our specialty. They create a fun, flexible dynamic that’s just not possible with a larger number of people, so we strive to keep things small.
What kind of condition do I need to be in for one of these tours?
A good level of physical fitness is required to enjoy hiking in the Alps. Check the individual tour page here on our website for more details about your tour. With that said, the Alps and their wonderful infrastructure provide us with a lot of flexibility. Everywhere we go there will be plenty of beautiful places to stop and rest, and most segments can be made longer or shorter by using the trains and lifts that crisscross the countryside. With small groups we can easily tailor our hikes and tours to fit the fitness level and desires of our travelers. Remember though, this is very steep, mountainous terrain – trails in the Alps are consistently steeper than most people expect – and flat walks are few and far between. Prior aerobic conditioning is very important and will greatly enhance your trip. Everybody enjoys their trip more if they arrive in shape.
Our choice of tours offer you flexibility, with easy options to take a day or half a day off, or to do full and multi-day hikes that are 7-8 miles with 1500-3000 ft of elevation gain and loss.
On the multi-day tours, we will be crossing high alpine passes and sometimes staying far away from public transportation. Days will typically be 8-12 miles with 3000-4000 ft of elevation gain and loss each day. If you are not already in good condition, for your own happiness and safety, you should start a program of walking and conditioning before joining the tour. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding the appropriate tour for you.
How do I get ready?
When you sign up, you’ll receive a pre-trip packet by email with suggestions on what to bring and how to arrive at our meeting point. If you have any questions, we are always available by email or phone to help with gear and getting to your tour. We spend every summer in the Alps ourselves, and we’re constantly updating our materials to let you know what’s new, what’s changed, and what’s worth seeing.
In order to get in shape for the tour, try to start exercising regularly before you come. Get out on weekends (preferably to hills), start a diet, don’t skip the gym. The Alps are steep, and the better shape you’re in when you arrive, the more enjoyable your tour will be. Even a little bit of prior training helps a lot!
My spouse doesn’t hike… is there anything for them to do?
Absolutely, although some tours are definitely better for non-hikers than others. Our day tours offer multiple activities and beautiful views for the non-hiker, and would be great choices if one person wants to hike while the other enjoys the alpine scenery at a slower pace. Our luxury tours, such as the Grand Rail Tour, and on The Trail of Audrey Hepburn also feature superb hotel pools and spas.
Non-hikers should also consider our self-guided tour options. We offer fully customizable self-guided itineraries and a number of legacy tours – self-guided tours – that are specifically designed as an introduction to Switzerland and require little or no hiking. Check out our Semi-guided tours page, email or call for more information.
What’s included in the tour price?
Our tour prices are per person and include lodging, all breakfasts, all lunches, most dinners, baggage transport between lodging (if applicable), ground transport during the tour, selected entrance fees, gratuities and taxes, and daily guided hikes. Most of our guided tours also offer airport meet-and greetwhich we recommend for total “peace of mind” travel. We don’t expect you to pay for cable cars, buses or trains we take during the course of our hikes, tip the hotel and restaurant staff (we do that), or provide your own meals.
The only things the tour price does not include are drinks with your dinners, personal items, extras charged to your room (like minibar or phone calls), tips for your guides, or insurance of any kind.
Our luxury rail tours are also per person and include prepaid hotels with breakfast and dinner, an appropriate rail pass or airport shuttle for travel to and from the airport or border, train schedules, carefully written route descriptions, hiking maps with highlighted routes, a local support contact person, and lots of useful information that will help your trip run smoothly.
The semi-guided tours do not include lunches, drinks with your meals, some dinners, extras (such as laundry, phone calls from the room, etc), or transportation not covered by your rail passes, taxis or ticket. Exact details vary slightly from tour to tour, so see the individual tour descriptions for complete details.
Switzerland Tipping Guidelines
We are often asked about “tipping’ so here are some guidelines:
In Restaurants & Hotels
All service personnel are paid a living monthly wage. The Swiss Hotel & Restaurant Association periodically checks businesses to make sure the salaries are up to standards.
A small tip is always appreciated though, especially if you order a lot of drinks at the bar or if you have a big meal at a restaurant. For smaller bills, round up to the nearest franc or two. For larger bills, round up to the nearest 5 or 10 CHF. If your hotel room was spotless, feel free to leave 1 or 2 CHF per night.
Your Trip Guide(s)
Our guides are also paid according to Swiss standards and they are here to make your experience into the trip of a lifetime. Here are some guidelines should you be so inclined for excellent service.
Day Tours – An average of 20 to 50 Swiss francs per person.
Multi Day Rail or Hiking Tours – An average of 10 to 20 Swiss francs per person day.
I’m traveling alone…can I book a single room?
Published prices are per person based on double occupancy. Singles are very welcome on our tours, and we do have a limited number of single rooms, available on a first-come basis, with a single supplement fee. If you are traveling alone and would like to share a room with another traveler, we will do everything we can to match you up with another traveler of the same sex. If that is not possible, however, the single supplement will apply. The single supplement is due with the balance of your tour. Please note that on some tours, we sometimes stay in huts or lodges with shared rooms, and single rooms are not available for those nights.
We can also accommodate families with children who wish to share a room. See our Family Travel trips.
I’d like to bring a group of friends… do you offer group discounts?
Group discounts are always a possibility, even with a group of just 5-6 people, for either our self-guided tours or our scheduled guided tours. With a small group, you might also consider a private trip, which can be an affordable option with even a small group, and gives you ultimate flexibility in planning. Please ask if you are coming with a group.
What about kids?
Switzerland is a huge playground for children, and they are very welcome on our tours. Many of our guided tours, especially the day tours and family tours, are particularly suited to families. Semi-guided tours are a great option for families, and we can plan short walks, family-friendly hotels, and a wide array of activities that will be memorable for kids of all ages! Our native Swiss guides and their own kids have spent every summer in the Alps, and we’ve developed a lot of ideas about what works and what doesn’t, from choice of destination, accommodations, and activities.
Can you help us get to our meeting point?
Most of our guided tours include a rail pass for travel to and from our meeting and departure points or an airport shuttle. If you have additional travel plans before or after your tour with us, extra travel days and 1st-class passes are also available for an additional fee. Please ask if you have questions about your particular situation and we can help you choose the right pass for your tour.
For our clients outside the US and Canada, we will recommend the best option for our international clients.
How about our plane tickets and our extra time in Europe?
The tour price does not include the cost of air travel to Europe. If you’re flying from the US, you will need to leave a day early for arrival the next morning in Europe. For your return flight, plan to depart Europe the day after your tour ends, to allow for travel time to the airport. Most people will need to spend a night in their departure city when the tour ends and fly home the next day. If you would like help with this night, we have great choices for 3 and 4-star hotels in Lucerne, Zurich, Geneva, Zermatt and Lugano. Ask about adding a final night when you’re signing up. The hotels we’ve chosen are some of the best we’ve found in these cities. They’re well-run, affordable, and in great locations. We book these last nights with breakfast only. They’re not guided, and you’ll be able to explore on your own for dinner before flying home.
We are also happy to help with pre and post-tour plans. Although Switzerland is our specialty, we have years of experience with other European destinations as well.
What if our dates don’t match, or we don’t want a group trip?
Flexibility is always important to us at Echo Trails. If you wish to take one of our existing tours as a self-guided option, organize a private guided tour on your own dates, or build a customized tour to the Swiss Alps, give us a call or email to discuss your options. We can work with you individually to create a trip uniquely suited to your needs, from simple inns to 5-star comfort, hiking tours to scenic train tours. If you like to go at your own pace or can’t join a scheduled tour, this may be for you. We also arrange itineraries for non-hikers in both city and mountain areas of Switzerland.
You may also want to consider a Private Guided tour. We will arrange your own guide and a customized itinerary for your group just about anywhere in the Alps, for ultimate flexibility in your itinerary and departure date. For groups of just 5 or more, prices are very similar to our regular guided tours, and private guides can be arranged for just one or two people as well. Please contact us if you have a group and are interested in hiring a private guide.
What to Expect
What will our accommodations be like?
Whether you’re hiking all day or traveling by train, our inns are more than just a place to sleep, they are an integral part of the experience and are among the highlights of our trip. We look for comfortable rooms, spectacular settings, friendly service, and a cozy and authentic atmosphere. Our inns set high standards for themselves, and everywhere we stop you will find the utmost cleanliness and comfort. You honestly won’t find better accommodations anywhere. Echo Trails tours are marked by excellent accommodations at reasonable prices, and you’ll agree the intimacy and ambiance of these inns adds immeasurably to the quality of our tours. Our inns are listed on the detailed tour itineraries, and we invite you to compare with other options.
Mountain Inns are a great place to meet other travelers and locals alike, and will likely turn out to provide some of your favorite memories of the tour.
Our all inclusive Grand Rail tours include 3 & 4 star hotels offering excellent central locations and high quality service. The hotels offer authentic regional specialties, the cuisine is world-class, and – combined with some of the best panoramic views of Switzerland – these are truly memorable splurges for a trip to the Swiss Alps!
Our Deluxe tours include private rooms and luggage transfers every night.
What about our meals?
You’ll be traveling all day, pleasantly tired, and ravenously hungry! So we’ll treat ourselves to some fabulous meals. Our meals are carefully prepared, beautifully presented, and wonderfully satisfying. We might enjoy classic cheese fondue or raclette one night, and the best local Swiss specialties the region has to offer the next. Our hotels and guides are also very aware of food allergies and sensitivities, and there are typically lots of options for people who are vegetarian, gluten-free, lactose intolerant, or have nut or other allergies. Please ask if you have questions about your situation.
With just a few exceptions (noted on the individual four itineraries), all meals on our guided tours are included in the price of our tours. On many tours we will leave one night free for you to explore on your own. We’ll start with a rich continental breakfast each morning at our inn, and finish with a multi-course feast in our hotel or a local restaurant every night. For lunch we like to get creative. We prepare a picnic lunch each day, and we take a lot of pride in our hearty picnics, making lunch something to look forward to as well!
Semi-guided tours always include breakfast, and normally include dinner in the evening (referred to as “half-board”). This is typically a 3 or 4-course dinner with a couple of options to choose from. In some places, we choose to leave dinners off, when our preferred hotels don’t offer dinner, and/or you are in a city or town with lots of good restaurant options to explore.
How much luggage are we allowed?
One piece of luggage per person will be transported between hotels on our inn-to-inn tours. Additional pieces may be brought for an additional charge (varies by tour). Extra luggage should not be necessary though – please try to travel light. Many hotels in Europe, especially on our inn-to-inn tours, have many floors but no elevators, and when we travel between villages by train, we will carry our own bags on the journey. So try to keep your luggage down to an easily manageable level.
Please view our rail tour packing list and hiking tour packing list.
What will the weather be like?
We get this question a lot, and in short, there’s no way to really know. In the mountains, weather varies a lot by altitude and can (and does) change rapidly throughout the day. Typical highs during a warm stretch might be in the 80’s, rarely warmer, but it can get cold at any time, and it even snows down the 5000′ a couple times each summer! There’s no predictable difference between the weather in June, July and August, and you should come prepared for anything. September is normally a little cooler, but still with similar patterns. You’ll want shorts, t-shirts, sun hat, and other sun protection for sunny weather of course, but also a warm fleece or jacket, rain gear, perhaps gloves and a warm hat just in case.
The best approach is to expect some mixed weather, don’t worry about it, and don’t try to guess. The weather websites are usually more misleading than useful, focusing only on if there’s any rain at all in the region during the day, and usually not accurately telling you where their weather station is. They can be very misleading. And nobody can tell you what it’s going to do 4-5 days from now. A normal day might start clear, for instance, and have some clouds building as the morning goes on. Maybe it’s in the upper 60’s, and we start out hiking uphill from our hotel. Great hiking weather. By lunch there are some clouds and the sun is coming and going, and it’s still very nice, but now we’re up at 8000′ and the wind is picking up. You’ll want to put on your fleece as we stop to eat and enjoy the views. By the time we get back to the hotel, it might be sprinkling a little, rain coats come out, and then at dinnertime (when we’re inside) it rains pretty hard for 30 minutes, clearing again after dinner.
Of course, often it’s sunny for days on end, and sometimes it rains all day as well, but a day like I’ve just described is pretty common. You’ll need a variety of clothes for that day – sun gear, fleece, rain gear. If you look at weather.com, all you’ll see is rain, but really we just had a gorgeous day in the Alps. Come prepared for a variety of experiences. www.meteocentrale.ch is a good site for reliable local forecasts in English.
Can I be sure my trip is confirmed?
Yes! We run all of our tours. Keep in mind that most of our tours have no minimum size. If you sign up for the trip, we will guide it. For some reason (we’re not sure why), this is unusual in our industry, resulting in many people needing to make frantic backup plans when their tour is cancelled at the last minute. This will never happen with an Echo Trails tour. No need to wait to see if a departure is “confirmed”… they all are!
Do I need trip insurance?
We do not require insurance. Still, cancelling a trip is no fun, and it’s also very expensive. Many of our clients have to cancel each year for various and unpredictable reasons. To protect yourself in the event that you have to cancel, trip cancellation and travel insurance is highly recommended. We always try to be fair to our clients who can’t come, but we do make substantial commitments that can’t always be reversed at the last minute. And of course you’ll have flights and pre and post-trip plans to account for also. So don’t forget this important part of your tour.
For US and Canadian residents, we suggest you compare Travel Guard plans and choose among Essential, Preferred or Deluxe coverage. Travel Guard has worked well for our tour members for years, and is not that expensive – generally between 3-9% of your tour cost, depending on your age, the cost of your trip, and what kind of plan you get. It’s best to buy insurance within 15 days of your initial deposit, which gives you more comprehensive coverage, and the option to buy “cancel for any reason” coverage.
If you are forced to cancel a trip, you can talk to us about rescheduling, or carrying over a portion of your tour cost to a future tour and we’ll do what we can to help. But every year we have clients who regret that they didn’t get insurance, while nobody ever regrets that they did.
The published prices at the time you sign up are guaranteed for this year. Group discounts and reduced prices for children are available.
At Echo Trails we are committed to offering first-class tours at reasonable prices. What we will never do is skimp on the tours themselves or on your experience. Our goal is to provide you a combination of quality and price that is unmatched in Switzerland.
How do I sign up?
You can find easy directions on our Book a Tour page. We have an online reservation form for you to fill out, and ask for a deposit to confirm your booking. We accept personal checks, or credit cards (Visa/MC/Amex) for both deposits and tour balances.