Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Hockey road trips: Swiss Hockey - Lake Genève region

Lake Geneva - photo courtesy of Mike Edwards/Flickr
Genève (Geneva), located in the predominantly French-speaking southwest corner of Switzerland, is the second-largest city in the country. It is home to many of the United Nation's agencies as well as the headquarters of the Red Cross. It is an important international financial center, and, due to its role in humanitarian peace accords such as the Geneva Conventions, is known as the "Peace Capital". 

The region has over 2,000 years of recorded history, and as a result, it's not surprising to discover that the city is peppered with Swiss heritage sites, a well-preserved Old Town, and many museums. 


The Vaud canton, home to both Genève and nearby Lausanne, is an excellent wine-growing region; be sure to explore its wineries if you have time - or, at the very least, indulge in their wines when dining throughout Switzerland. 




LAKE GENÈVE REGION

Four Swiss league teams are located in the southwestern region of the country. There were five, but one of them - HC Sierre - is undergoing financial restructuring, and has currently been dropped out of the National B league. During the 2012 NHL lockout, four NHL players played in the Lake Genève region.  


Team: Genève- Servette HC
Twitter: @officialGSHC
Tier: National A
Stadium and address: Patinoire des Vernets, Rue Hans Wilsdorf 4, Acacias, Genève 1227
Public transportation stops/stations: Genève-Cornavin is Genève's main train station. Like Zurich, the city has an extensive public transportation system, known as TPG. PdV is 2 km from Genève-Cornavin. Take tram # 15 (direction: Palettes) to "Acacias" stop; will have to walk about 10 minutes to arena. --or-- Take bus # 1 (direction: Petit-Bel-Air) to "École-Médecine" stop; will have to walk about 12 minutes to arena.
NHL players who played here during lockout: Logan Couture (Sharks), Yannick Weber (Canadiens)


Team: Lausanne HC
Twitter: @lausannehc
Tier: National A
Stadium and address: CIG de Malley, Chemin du Viaduc 14, 1008 Prilly (Lausanne)
Public transportation stops/stations: CIG de Malley is less than 3 blocks from the Prilly-Malley train station; this stop is served by commuter trains S1, S3, S4, S11, and SN and R trains from Lausanne's main train station, Gare de Lausanne (Lausanne is 40 minutes from Geneva; 66 minutes from Berne; 2:15 from Zurich)


Team: HC Red Ice
Twitter: @HCRedIce
Tier: National B
Stadium and address: Patinoire du Forum d’Octodure Martigny, Sports et Loisirs, Rue du Forum 12, 1920 Martigny
Public transportation stops/stations: Martigny-Bourg train station; the arena is just over half a kilometer from the station, about 10 minutes' walk. (Martigny is 90 minutes from Lausanne; 2 hrs from Genève)
NHL players who played here during lockout: Patric Hornqvist (Predators), Chris Kelly (Bruins)


Team: EHC Visp
Twitter: @ehcvispsportag
Tier: National B
Stadium and address: Litternahalle, Litternaweg, CH-3930 Visp
Public transportation stops/stations: Visp train station; the arena is less than half a mile walk (about 10-12 minutes).


TRAVEL SUGGESTIONS 


GENÈVE

Genève has plenty of things to see and do in addition to taking in some hockey. Start with a tour of the European Headquarters of the United Nations, or a cruise on Lake Geneva. Wander around the Old Town; explore Cimetière de Plainpalais, which dates to 1482; check out the funky Les Grottes neighborhood by the main train station or the artsy Carouge hamlet. 

Take a cable car to the top of Mount Saleve for views of the city and lake; discover the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum; imagine yourself behind the wheel of one of the 400+ vehicles on display at the International Automobile MuseumNeed to indulge in some amazing Swiss chocolate? Stop in at Philippe Pascoët. If you're in Genève in early August, take part in the annual Geneva Festival. Take a tour at CERN, home of the world's largest particle physics laboratory. There's something for every taste in Genève.

Where to stay in/around Genève

‡ Hotels marked with this were awarded Prix Bienvenu 2013 from the Swiss tourism board for being one of Switzerland's Top 100 "most welcoming Hotels".  
˜ Hotels marked with this are in walking distance of the main train station (5 blocks)
Luxury ($225+)
Grand Hotel Kempinski GenevaHôtel Cristal ~ | Hôtel D'Angleterre ‡ | Hôtel Residence Mont-Blanc 
Business/tourist class ($100-$225+)
Admiral Hôtel | Hôtel Bernina Geneve ~ | Hôtel des Alpes ~ | Hôtel International et Terminus ~ | Hôtel Lido ~ | Hôtel Montana ~ | Hôtel Nash Ville | Hôtel Residence CityZen | Hôtel Tor Sa | Hôtel Windsor 
Budget/hostel ($99 or less)
City Hostel Geneva | Geneva Youth Hostel (both hostels less than 1km from main station)

LAUSANNE


Nearby Lausanne, on the northeast shore of Lake Geneva, is a popular sports city. Many international sports organizations have their headquarters located there, most notably the International Olympic Committee, and the city has several professional sports teams.


Switzerland's only metro system makes it easy to explore Lausanne; and like Basel, the city offers the Lausanne Transport Card to all hotel guests, which allows travelers free transport within certain zones. You can start in the Old Town, visit the city's many parks, explore museums such as the Olympic Museum, or enjoy in a variety of cultural offerings. Listen to the night watchman call out the hour from the tower of Lausanne Cathedral. 


If you're visiting in late October, take in the annual Jazzonze+ Festival; if you're there in July, you can enjoy the renowned Montreaux Jazz Festival.

Where to stay in Lausanne

Below suggested hotels all within a few blocks' walk of Lausanne's main station (Gare du Lausanne). Price categories: (L) = luxury $225+; (T) = business/tourist $100-225+; (B) = budget $99 or less
Hôtel Agora Swiss Night (T) | Hôtel AlaGare (T) | Hôtel Continental (L) | Hôtel du Boulevard (T) | Hôtel Victoria (L) Lausanne Guesthouse & Backpacker (B) 


Martigny - photo courtesy of Kate Wellington / Flickr

MARTIGNY

Valais canton, a tourism and sports enthusiast paradise in the heart of the Swiss Alps, is home to HC Red Ice (Martigny) and EHC Visp. 

Located at a pass between Italy, France, and Switzerland, Martigny may feel more Mediterranean than Swiss. Like the Geneva region, Valais is agriculturally blessed, and home to many orchards and vineyards. You can explore a museum dedicated to the famous Swiss St. Bernard dogs, get lost in the world's biggest labyrinth, explore Roman ruins, or take a scenic tour to nearby Mont Blanc (90 minutes away). 

A more unusual attraction is the Foire du Valais (cow fighting), which runs for ten days in late September/early October. Are you a bacon enthusiast and visiting on the first Monday in December? You won't want to miss the Foire du Lard (Bacon Fair), a tradition since 1801 in the suburb of Bourg, close to where the hockey arena is located. 

The region is also known for its beautiful scenery and holiday resorts. If taking in all that Martigny has to offer has worn you out, it is possible to indulge in the natural thermal baths at several spas in the area like the ancient Romans once did.

Where to stay in Martigny
* within walking distance (3 blocks) of arena; other three are within walking distance of main Martigny train station
Hôtel Alpes & Rhone * | Hôtel du Grand Quai Martigny | Hotel Forclaz Touring | Hotel VatelMotel des Sports *

VISP

Visp is also in the heart of a wine-growing area which includes the highest-elevation vineyard in Switzerland (and arguably, Europe), St. Jodern Kellerei in the nearby village of Visperterminen. But the area may be best-known for its scenery and being a year-round center for sports enthusiasts.

If you're a winter sports enthusiast (skiing, etc) on hockey holiday tour, you may want to include a side trip to the village of Saas-Fee  or to Zermatt. Zermatt is also notable for being a combustion-engine car-free town, in order to prevent pollution which might degrade views of the Matterhorn.  

Where to stay in Visp
Hotel-Restaurant EliteHotel VisperhofCenterpark Apartments (all within 4 blocks of train station)
* * *

As illustrated in this series on Swiss hockey, Swiss Rail makes it incredibly easy to travel around the country, and see games throughout both the National-A and National-B leagues. Swiss Rail will quickly connect you to every hockey city in the country; multi-day passes will make traveling easy. If you're traveling with somebody, in a group, or under 26, you can get additional discounts; families can get the "Family Card" which will allow children 6 to under 16 travel free with at least one paying parent.

The Swiss hockey pre-season starts in August; teams play for the European Trophy against other European-league teams. Swiss hockey's regular schedule starts in September, when North American teams are just starting to gear up for their camps. 

Genève and Zurich may be your two best cities to start your Swiss hockey tour, as both are home to major international airports. No matter what time of year you choose to visit Switzerland, you'll find plenty of interesting things to see and do! 



Swiss tourism video - "More than just mountains"

Swiss tourism video - "Summer"

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Hockey road trips: Swiss Hockey - Bern region

The Swiss capital of Bern is the fifth-largest city in Switzerland, located about halfway between Zürich and Genève.

Its beautiful and well-preserved medieval city center, surrounded on three sides by the Aare River, was declared a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site in 1983. The city is one of Switzerland's top cultural centers and has a variety of festivals throughout the year.


Bern is also an enthusiastic sports city, playing host each May to the annual Grand Prix von Bern, Switzerland's biggest running event. Other popular sports teams include soccer, baseball and softball, rugby, American-style football, and, of course, hockey. And if all that is not enough sports for you, check out the unique sport of Schwingen (Swiss wrestling)!




BERN REGION


Five Swiss league teams are located in the region around Bern. NHL players Mark Streit (Flyers) and Roman Josi (Predators) are both from the Bern region, and both have played for local team SC Bern.



During the 2012 NHL lockout, eight NHL players played in the Bern region. The most high-profile among the lockout players were Tyler Seguin from the Boston Bruins and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks. These two Biel teammates would go on to face each other in the Stanley Cup Final in June; Kane won the Cup with the Blackhawks.


Team: SCB Eishockey AG (SC Bern)
Twitter: @scbern_news 
Tier: National A
Stadium and address: PostFinance Arena, Mingerstrasse 12, 3014 Bern (this is largest hockey arenas in Switzerland, with a capacity of 17,131, including the world's largest standing room grandstand)
Public transportation stops/stations: PostFinance Arena is 3.5 km (2.2 miles) from the main Bern train station. Take the bus to Guisanplatz Expo and walk to the arena from there (about 4-5 blocks).
NHL players who played here during lockout: Roman Jusi (Predators), Mark Streit (Islanders/Flyers), John Tavares (Islanders)


Team: EHC Biel Sport AG (EHC Biel)
Twitter: @ehcbiel
Tier: National A
Stadium and address: Eisstadion Biel, Länggasse 71, 2504 Biel/Bienne
Public transportation stops/stations: Eisstadion Biel is just over 1 km from the Biel Mett train station (walk or get taxi). From the Biel/Bienne train station, take the NFB bus to the "Bözingen/Boujean" stop, then walk 2/5 mile to the stadium. (Biel is 45 minutes from Bern; 1:45 from Genève; 2 hours from Zürich.)
NHL players who played here during lockout: Patrick Kane (Blackhawks), Tyler Seguin (Bruins)


Team: HC Fribourg-Gottéron SA
Twitter: @HCFG
Tier: National A
Stadium and address: BCF Arena, Allée du Cimetière 1, 1700 Fribourg
Public transportation stops/stations: BCF Arena is about 1.5 miles from Fribourg's train station. Take bus #1 from the main train station ("Gare-CFF" stop) to "Stade-Patinoire" or "Cimetière" stop. (Fribourg is 21 minutes from Bern via train; 45 minutes from Lausanne; 1.5 hours from Zürich; 1.5 hrs from Genève.)

NHL players who played here during lockout: David Deharnais (Canadiens)


Team: SCL Tigers AG
Tier: National B
Stadium and address: Ilfis Stadium, Alleestrasse 6, 3550 Langnau im Emmental
Public transportation stops/stations: Ilfis Stadium is a 5 minute walk from the Langnau i.E. train station. (Langnau is 40 minutes from Bern; 2 hours from Zürich; 2.5 hrs from Genève.)
NHL players who played here during lockout: Tyler Ennis (Sabres), Jared Spurgeon (Wild)


Team: HC La Chaux-de-Fonds SA
Twitter: @OfficielHCC
Tier: National B
Stadium and address: Patinoire des Mélèzes, Ch. des Mélèzes 2-4, 2300 La Chaux-de-Fonds
Public transportation stops/stations: Patinoire des Mélèzes is approximately 1/3 of a mile walk (less than 10 minutes) from the train station. (La Chaux-de-Fonds is 1-1:45 hours via train from Berne; 2-2.5 hours from Zürich; 2 hours from Genève.)


TRAVEL SUGGESTIONS 


BERN 

There is plenty to explore within the Old Town area of Bern, including: the Münster (Cathedral) and several historical churches, the medieval Zytglogge clock tower, the Untertorbrücke (the oldest bridge in Bern, dating to 1490), a variety of statue-crowned fountains dating to the 16th century, Parliament buildings, and the historic Bärengraben (bear pits) and BearPark. You can wander through the Rose or Botanic Gardens, or one of the many museums that dot the city. Visit on the 4th Monday of November to experience the Zibelemärit (onion market) or February to see the Bernese Fassnacht (Carnival). 


Bern's Old City - photo courtesy of Martin Abegglen/Flickr

Where to stay in/around Bern 
‡ Hotels marked with this were awarded Prix Bienvenu 2013 from the Swiss tourism board for being one of Switzerland's Top 100 "most welcoming hotels". 
≈ Hotel is in the historic Old Town district
* Hotel is within walking distance (within 1/2 mile) to arena 
Luxury ($225+)
Bellevue Palace ‡ ≈ | Hotel Allegro Bern | Schweizerhof Hotel Bern (by main train station)   
Business/tourist class ($100-$225+)
Hotel Goldener Schlussel Bern ≈ | Hotel Ibis Bern Expo * | Hotel La Pergola ‡ | Bern Hotel Nydeck ≈ | Hotel-Restaurant Jardin 
Budget/hostel ($99 or less)
Bern Youth Hostel ≈ | Etap Hotel Bern Expo * | Hotel Glocke Backpackers Bern ≈ | Hotel Continental ≈ | Hotel Pension Marthahaus  

Bern is centrally located for these regional teams, and Swiss trains run at all hours of the day and night. However, if you prefer the comfort of staying close to a particular stadium to avoid late trains back to Bern, here are some hotel suggestions.

BIEL

Biel (45 minutes from Bern) also has a well-preserved medieval city center. The city is in the midst of Swiss wine country and is known for its watch-making industry. Unique attractions include the Omega watch museum and the National Bicycle Museum.
Elite Swiss Quality (3 blocks from Biel/Bienne train station)Hotel Artus  (5-6 blocks from Biel/Bienne train station)

FRIBOURG

Fribourg (21 minutes from Bern) is the French-speaking part of Switzerland; the area is very agricultural and is known for its chocolates, beers, cheeses, and other luxury foods. Like Bern and Biel, Fribourg also has a well-maintained Old City; the skyline is punctuated by the spire of the Cathedral of St. Nicholas. You may want to rent a car for a day or two to explore the many attractions in the area, including wineries, the Cailler chocolate factory, the Gutenberg Museum, the Château de Gruyères (castle), and the Moléson Observatory. Science fiction aficionados will love the H. R. Giger Museum (Alien fans will want to dine in the museum's restaurant!
Fribourg Youth HostelHotel Alpha  (close to train station) | Hôtel du Faucon | 
Hotel-Restaurant Elite | NH Fribourg 


Lovely Langnau i.E. - photo courtesy Kurt Zwahlen/Flickr
LA CHAUX-DE-FONDS

La Chaux-de-Fonds (40 minutes from Bern) is just a few miles from the French border, so naturally, the dominant language is also French here. The city was destroyed by fire in 1794; and its new city plan (1835) called for the city streets to be placed in a grid pattern, one of the few cities in Europe to follow a "modern" street plan. Like Biel, La Chaux-de-Fonds is also known for its watch-makers such as Movado; you can find the Musée International d'Horlogerie (International Museum of Watch Making) here. 
Hôtel AthmosHôtel de France 

LANGNAU IM EMMENTAL

The picturesque small town of Langnau im Emmental (1 hour+ from Bern) and may best be known for being one of the sunniest villages in Switzerland. If you are an outdoor enthusiast or interested in seeing some of Switzerland's traditional rural culture, Langnau i.E. is a great place to start. 
Hotel Garni EmmentalHotel Hirschen 


The Swiss hockey series will wrap up with the Genève region in a couple days!