Switzerland is expensive. Beautiful sure, but expensive. In 2016, we’d spent a few weeks cycling along the Swiss bike routes, and we were excited to be revisiting some of the towns we’d explored back then. Switzerland had gotten a bad rep on our last tour, as hilly, cold and expensive, and we were looking forward to revisiting it with fresh eyes and fresh legs.
Generally, we found that in the parts of Switzerland we traveled through vegan options aren’t hard to come by, but cheap vegan options are. As a result, we didn’t eat out much and tended to stick to very basic salads and pasta. On a budget cycle tour, it made sense to get out of Switzerland asap, or to continue skirting the border between Switzerland and Germany. But there is a lot of see and do, so if you’re keen to explore, we have some hints and tips on what to buy.
It’s worth noting that on this tour, whilst we were in Switzerland the day temperature never dropped below 30 degrees, which really affected our appetites (it’s hard to eat when it’s boiling hot!)
You guessed it, in spite of the heat breakfast was our old reliable porridge! However, because of the heat we would occasionally skip a cooked breakfast – leaving campsites very early to cycle in the (relatively) cool morning and then snacking on crisps or bananas or whatever we pulled from Lili’s Mary Poppins-esque front bag at about 9am. We continued to buy pretzels, which were much more expensive than in Germany (unless bought in small town bakeries- in which case they were only slightly more expensive).
We couldn’t quite bring ourselves to revert fully back to chickpea mush sandwiches (like in France), so instead bought the cheap smoked tofu from DM (mentioned in this blog) which we stored in our bags and ate in dry sandwich bread with vegan mayo and mustard. Hummus was suddenly much easier to find, so we ate a lot of it with bread.
We found one cheap brand in Switzerland which is even close to reasonably priced: Migros Budget. You can get a huge bag (350g) of Paprika Crisps for a normal-ish price of £2.50. To put this in perspective, the tastiest brand of paprika crisps, Zweifel will cost you £4.43 for only 280g! M-budget paprika crips, then, were the only crisps we dared touch in Switzerland and soon made up our calorie deficit.
For dinner, we mostly ate potato salad: boiled potatoes, covered with vegan mayo (which was very easy to find) or oil, spring onions, a dollop of mustard and some salt and pepper. We usually ate this with a tomato and cucumber salad in a lemon/mustard vinaigrette. This was simply because the weather was sweltering and we couldn’t bear hot food. We weren’t in Switzerland for very long this tour – dipping in and out along the Rhein, and then spending about 4 days split between a very expensive campsite, and a youth hostel when our tent full on malfunctioned.
Migros: Migros is the largest supermarket chain in Switzerland. As previously mentioned, they have a budget range which has a load of decent vegan food, like crisps and their cult Ice Tea. They also stock a huge range of vegan alternative meats and cheese, as well as tofu, hummus etc, although buying these will eat up your budget very quickly.
Denner: Denner is the budget shop in Switzerland. It’s set up a lot like a Lidl or Aldi and usually has much less choice. Good for buying basics, like veg, fruit and carbs. They also sold soya milk and yoghurts, and occasionally some vegan stuff cropped up.
Coop: Items here are around the same price as in Migros, but they also have their own budget range. There’s a really excellent selection of vegan alternatives and the shops seem to be everywhere. Good if you need a more extensive range of food or are looking for a treat.
There are some independent organic and vegan friendly food shops in cities, but again these will cost ya!
Visiting Basel? Shop in Weil am Rhein
A basic tip for shopping anywhere in Switzerland is, if you can, shop for food in a bordering country. Germany, France and Italy are all significantly cheaper. Austria is too, but less so.
If you visit Basel this is really easy. Simply head to Wiel Am Rhein for German prices. There’s a huge shopping centre by the river and shopping here rather than in Basel centre will cost you half what you’d spend in Switzerland. We also stayed in Wiel Am Rhein and got the regular tram into Basel when we wanted to explore, which saved us money on accomodation.
Best Vegan Finds
Ice Cream in Bern: One of our friends was at home in Bern when we arrived in Basel so we couldn’t pass up a chance to visit them at the see the capital city. We got a train over and met up with them for a tour of the city and a swim in the Aare river. After our swim, we were taking to the best ice cream place in Bern, Gelateria di Berna (according to our friend). They do a great selection of vegan sorbets (including an amazing pineapple and basil flavoured one) and all the cones are vegan.
Swiss Chocolate: It would be wrong to visit Switzerland and not try some chocolate. Luckily there are lots of options to choose from. Most shops stock dark swiss chocolate which is usually vegan and a lot of these are flavoured or filled.
Ice Tea: I mentioned earlier that Migros has a cult ice tea brand. This is so popular, you can even buy merch based around it. The peach was our favourite, but there are loads of flavours. Worth a try if you want to drink what the locals drink.
Best Falafel in Switzerland: This is one from our first tour. We arrived in Solothurn, a town at the base of the Jura hills after a long and calamitous day. Everything that could have gone wrong had gone wrong and we were tired and starving. Luckily, the hostel owner pointed us towards the ‘best falafel shop in Switzerland.’ This award winning falafel shop, Pittaria, serves some of the best falafel pittas I have ever eaten. They make everything from scratch, including hummus and chutneys, plus they fill the pittas to the max, so you feel like you’re getting value for money.
Ultimately, we did feel differently about Switzerland on this tour (although this didn’t stop us abandoning the Rhein route and pegging it north into Germany as soon as we were able to…) This is mostly due to increased amount of time we spent floating along Swiss rivers, which we will cover in a later blog!