I recently wrote about my trip to Europe which involved a very expensive cab ride about 50% of the way around Lake Geneva, from Lausanne, Switzerland, to Evian-les-Bains, France.
The basic mechanics of the problem were simple, and I knew them in advance: we were flying into Munich because we booked very cheap tickets pretty far in advance, long before we had any plans on how to spend the vacation. From Munich, the best train connection to Lausanne arrived at 7:40, giving us 20 minutes to catch the final 8:00 pm ferry to Evian-les-Bains.
The train arrived late, we missed the ferry, and that was that.
But Evian-les-Bains was a delightful little destination and we have talked about going back in the summer when it might be a little more lively. That begs the question: after doing it wrong the first time, what's the right way to get there?
Don't fly into Munich
It may seem to go without saying, but obviously don't fly into Bavaria, Germany if you want to go to Haute-Savoie, France.
Flying into Zurich
From Zurich Airport you can get a direct train to Lausanne on one of the commuter trains that leave roughly every half hour. The train takes up to 2 hours and 40 minutes, and if it's your first time finding the ferry terminal in Lausanne I would suggest arriving at Lausanne-gare no later than 40 minutes before the last ferry of the night.
You can search an entire itinerary between Zurich Airport and Evian using the website of the Swiss state railway company, SBB CFF FFS.
Flying into Geneva
Another option is to fly into Geneva and take the intercity train from the Geneva airport to the Geneva train station, and connect to the regional TER train system. Although it takes about 3 hours to get from Geneva's airport to Evian-les-Bains, this method has the great advantage of allowing you to arrive somewhat later at night. The last train that would let you connect to Evian-les-Bains leaves Geneva airport at 8:32 pm, which would get you into Evian's train station around 11:38 pm.
The best tool I found to plan this itinerary is the website of SNCF, France's national state-owned railway company.
Note that the train station in Evian-les-Bains is not in the town centre so you should arrange a taxi or hotel shuttle in advance. It's not a long walk, but again, if it's your first time you'll have no idea what you're doing once you arrive.
Wait, why do you want to go to Evian-les-Bains?
For the waters! Evian is a funny little town built around the theme of a mineral water source "discovered" there by a bankrupt nobleman with liver and kidney problems. Best of all, once you're there you get all the mineral water you can drink for free.
But seriously, I found it interesting as a once-glorious tourist destination that has managed to hang on due to its magnificent views and the skiing, hiking, and water-sports infrastructure it has accumulated over the years.
It also has a Hilton property which features strikingly low award redemption rates throughout the year, an excellent breakfast buffet, and a generous evening cocktail, hors d'oeuvres, and dessert spread in the executive lounge, which also exits onto a rooftop terrace. I imagine that during the high season that rooftop turns into a pretty solid party every night.