Ever wondered what it’s like to be a Trafalgar Travel Director? We caught up with Ellen to discover what it’s like on the road.
Originally from the Netherlands, Ellen, together with her Italian husband and family, lives near the shores of the northern Swiss part of Lake Maggiore. Her 29 years on the road as a Travel Director have taken her all around Europe, but these days she focuses on trips through Switzerland, Germany and Austria.
Ellen loves the human aspect of the job and hearing the personal stories of her guests. She says being a good Trafalgar Travel Director comes down to great communication and organisation.
“I never take anything for granted because if five times it goes this way, number six, it goes the other way. But you have to be flexible and realise there are no problems, just things that need solutions,” she says.
“It’s a challenge to get everything as smooth as possible.”
Today Ellen’s sharing her travel diary from the Best of Switzerland trip. This is Day 3, jetting from Lake Geneva to Zermatt where we’ll see the Matterhorn. Let’s go!
6.30am Rise and shine
Usually I wake up at this time to get ready for the day while our guests have breakfast. I’m checking off the bags, checking the numbers, and checking the plan for the day. Normally I have just enough time for a quick cup of coffee. Most of us Trafalgar Travel Directors don’t usually have a leisurely breakfast where you sit there for like an hour. We have to check that the keys are returned, that nobody has left anything… those kinds of fun and games. Then off you go!
Today was actually really leisurely because we didn’t have to leave the hotel until 9.30am as our first stop, the castle, didn’t open until 10am. So today I sat down for breakfast and chatted with the guests. But don’t talk to me before I’ve had my coffee!
We have a few guests with special dietary requirements – halal, kosher and no meat – so I made extra calls to our Be My Guest lunch host and also ran to the supermarket around 8.30am to make sure they had an alternative to the authentic Swiss food.
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9.30am On the road with a photo opp
When we arrive at the Chillon Castle there’s a little walk to do. We give everyone one of those box systems with headphones and a meeting point. This means everyone can just do their own thing for 10 minutes and wander about. I always point out the best photo opp, which is the little walkway overlooking the water. If you go down there you can get a really good photo looking back at the castle. You’ve got the blue lakes, the snow with the mountains and the sun shining down on us.
This whole area is like the Swiss Riviera. There’s lots of beautiful flowers, especially if you go further up the coast. Where our guests stand for their picture, if you look one way you look straight into the French Alps and on the other side the Swiss Alps. If it’s a day where you’ve got the sun, with a bit of snow and the flowers, it really becomes very colourful.
Meanwhile I’m getting the tickets, getting the guide ready, and if there’s a solo traveller waiting I’ll offer to take pictures. I’ll point out where the bathrooms are – the most important job of a Trafalgar Travel Director – and then we’ll be on our way.
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10am Time to storm the castle
The Chillon Castle is very cool and has a very turbulent history. Lord Byron was inspired by the water fortress for his book ‘Prisoner of Chillon’ and for nearly four centuries it was the home of the Counts of Savoy and an important stop for traders.
Once a year I join the tour inside the castle but otherwise I’ll sit at the cafe outside. You might think I get to relax, but this is when I start calling ahead to check and double check that things will go smoothly today. I know we have so many people and so many bags, so I call ahead to the hotel with our arrival time. I called the Be My Guest lunch, and she already knew we were coming, but I have to check and feed through any extra dietary requirements.
It’s early so I have to explain the optional excursion. While sitting here I go through the pieces of paper, getting ready to place them on the seats in the coach.
12pm Lunch in a special vineyard
After half an hour on the road we arrived in the Lavaux Terraces region. Marked with the UNESCO stamp, back in the 12th century monks built miles of walls and terraces that are still used by the winemakers today. The grapes get heat from the sun, the reflection of Lake Geneva and the heat from the stone walls at night.
We’re here for the Be My Guest lunch where we hear from the ladies of the family about how the grapes are handpicked on the steep terraces and enjoy a homemade local meal together. The village itself is gorgeous, so we take loads of photos with the lake, the vines growing by the water and the scenery.
I love the Be My Guest experiences as they are so authentic. As I always say, if you’re on a solo road trip and you think “Oh, wouldn’t it be lovely to just knock on somebody’s door?” And they say “Hello, please come in and let me show around!” That’s our Be My Guest. Our humble hosts are always so proud of their work and their home, and it’s a real, off-the-beaten track memory for our guests.
2pm On the road for Zermatt
After lunch there’s a two-hour drive ahead. As the Trafalgar Travel Director I swoop the area looking for forgotten jackets, cameras and bags before boarding the coach. I give the guests a quick explanation of what they will see along the way, but after a long lunch with wine this is prime siesta time so I play quiet music and let everyone rest.
4pm Beep, beep. Electric taxi time.
Zermatt is entirely traffic free, so to reach our hotel with all our bags we have to board these little electric taxis. Of course, we’re a group of, I think, 43, so I had to do the maths and divide us up into seven people per taxi. I jump in the first one so I’m at the hotel first ready to get everyone a room number, share the WiFi details… and where the bathrooms are, of course.
Everyone has about 45 minutes in their room to freshen up before we go for a quick walk around town.
6pm First glimpse of the Matterhorn
I love taking guests about a 10-minute walk from the hotel to the end of this road. You turn a corner and – ta da – there’s a huge sweeping view of the snow-capped Matterhorn. It’s breathtaking. If I don’t show guests where it is I think most people wouldn’t see it!
Tonight is free time so while we walk the main streets I suggest where they can go for dinner, where there’s an ATM machine and a little museum. I always point out where you can buy Christmas decorations, which the shopaholics love. And I give some local trivia, like behind the church you’ll find two cemeteries. One is dedicated to climbers that went up not just the Matterhorn, but any of the big 4000 metre high mountains, and obviously didn’t make it back. There’s even a tomb of the unknown climber.
7.30pm Free time… I go for dinner with a colleague
If I was on my own, you’d see me dashing to the supermarket for a salad and an early night. After five or six days on the road you need a quiet evening, especially knowing that the next night will go until 10pm or 11pm.
But in Zermatt there are always fellow Travel Directors around. A colleague and friend of mine was also in town that evening so we met for dinner. We don’t see each other every time because we all do different tours, and we’re in different regions. But maybe we’ll cross paths three times a year or whatever and it’s nice to just touch base and exchange news. There’s only so much my own family can hear about my job, so it’s nice to catch up with my travel family who live a similar life.
That’s what a day in the life of Trafalgar Travel Director is like. Have you been on tour with Ellen or are you thinking of taking the Best of Switzerland trip soon? Leave us a comment below…