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Get an Alpine High at Low Cost in Switzerland

November 04, 2001|LUCY IZON

Switzerland is one of Europe's most expensive countries, but the Swiss Youth Hostels Assn. has packages to help travelers keep costs low.

The packages, priced at about $49 for three nights or $80 for five nights, include accommodations in shared rooms at your choice of 10 hostels in winter resorts, major cities and other areas.

Here are the 10 places with accommodations for less than $18 per night. (To book the packages check out the association's Internet site at http://www.youthhostel.ch/e/budget.cfm.)

* Youth Hostel Grindelwald, in central Switzerland, is a popular stop for backpackers. In the summer you can hike its beautiful glacier valley to the sound of bells from grazing cattle. Some hiking trails are open year-round. For winter snowboarding and skiing, the valley has 22 lifts, 62 miles of ski runs and the longest cable car run in Europe. The hostel's wood chalet building, which is a 20-minute uphill hike from the Grindelwald rail station, has a cozy fireplace and great picture window. The association reports modern bedrooms have been added recently. Grindelwald is about 40 minutes by rail from Interlaken.

* About a half-hour walk from Interlaken is the Youth Hostel Boenigen. From its peaceful location are views of three of the highest mountains in Switzerland: the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau.

* Also in the scenic Bernese Oberland region--the heart of the Alps--is the Youth Hostel Saanen-Gstaad, which has magnificent views. A single pass for the Gstaad-Saanenland Valley, known as a playground for the rich and famous, gives skiers access to 155 miles of runs, 73 miles of cross-country trails, snowboarding and tobogganing.

* St. Moritz also draws the jet set, but even budget-minded students can afford it by staying at the Youth Hostel St. Moritz, on the edge of a forest about a mile southwest of the village. Rooms house two to four people. The region has 215 miles of downhill runs, 100 miles of cross-country trails and 75 miles of hiking paths.

* The cozy Youth Hostel Zermatt is open year-round and faces one of Switzerland's most famous mountains: the Matterhorn. Along with 150 miles of ski runs, Zermatt is unusual because cars and buses are banned from its streets.

* In the lakeside city of Lucerne, often pictured with its two wood-roofed bridges (one is 660 years old), is the modern Youth Hostel Lucerne, a 15-minute walk north of the city walls. Travelers can wander through Lucerne's medieval town center, visit the Picasso Museum, cruise on Lake Lucerne and ascend Mt. Pilatus on the world's steepest cogwheel train. (It has a 48-degree grade.)

* Zurich, an international banking center, has the Youth Hostel Zurich, which is open 24 hours and has CNN, free nightly movies and a breakfast buffet. Wander through the old town's winding alleys to see 16th and 17th century buildings, then take a free tour of the Lindt & Sprngli chocolate factory.

* The Youth Hostel Montreux, on the shore of Lake Geneva, is decorated with murals of some of the jazz greats who have performed at the city's annual 15-day international jazz festival. The modern lakeside hostel, refurbished in 1993, is known for its excellent food.

* On the Rhine River, in the city of Basel, you will have a unique opportunity to step into three countries (Switzerland, France and Germany) by walking around a marker. The centrally located Youth Hostel Basel is in the city's St. Alban quarter.

* The final participating hostel is not in Switzerland but in the 61-square-mile principality of Liechtenstein. The Youth Hostel Schaan is a 10-minute walk from the village of Schaan, near Vaduz, the capital.

The Swiss Youth Hostel Assn. has 63 hostels, which are open to travelers of any age.

There are also independent hostels throughout the country. For more information on them, log onto http://www.swissbackpackers.ch. Reservations for independent hostels can be made online at http://www.hostelseurope.com.

*

Lucy Izon is a Toronto-based freelance travel writer and author of "Izon's Backpacker Journal." Her Internet site is http://www.izon.com.

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