An almost forgotten delight of European travel is travelling by train. Almost forgotten, because in this era of jet travel, most North Americans never seek the opportunity to experience the slower-paced delights of journeying by rail, as we usually prefer to seek speed over experience. These delights include gazing out of windows and absorbing the scenery from ground level, time to enjoy a meal in the company of travelling companions and the ability to arrive and depart from the very center of a city.
Most major countries in Europe have elaborate and efficient rail systems, but none more so than Switzerland, the true “track star” of the continent. I have had the opportunity to travel extensively by rail throughout this charming country and here are some of my favourite routes:
Zurich to Zermatt: From the airport in Zurich you can depart to almost any destination in Switzerland, making for very efficient vacation travel. This route is not without stops and transfers. From Zurich you will travel to Brig, taking about 1 hour and 20 minutes. There you transfer to a train to Visp, another 1 hour and 20minutes. At Visp you board the bright red, narrow gauge, Matterhorn Gotthard Railway, which arrives in Zermatt after an hour and a half ride through the dramatic and rugged Nicolaital valley. In just under four hours you have travelled from the metropolitan hub of Switzerland to one of its most romantic villages, the car-free alpine village of Zermatt in the shadow of the Matterhorn.
If you can only take one train ride in Switzerland opt for the Glacier Express, the very scenic link between St. Moritz and Zermatt. The journey takes over 7 hours but you will be rewarded with spectacular scenery while traversing the Swiss countryside. The train rises from a valley to an astonishing height of over 2000 meters. Your ride will take you over numerous and some wondrously long tunnel rides, some of which will make you wonder if you will ever break out into daylight again. This train ride is extraordinarily beautiful in winter with snow dusted trees and mountains adding to the panoramic beauty. This is like travelling through a perfect Christmas card snow scene.
From Zurich to Luzern is a swift trip to one of the most charming and historic cities in central Switzerland. Charmingly situated on Lake Luzern, the city is famous for the covered Chapel Bridge (thought to be the oldest, covered wooden bridge in Europe), and its compact old town with cobbled streets and many squares. Most impressive is the Lowendekmal, a sculpture of a dying lion, pierced by a spear, carved by Danish sculptor, Bertel Thorwalden, into a sandstone cliff face. This monument to the Swiss soldiers who fell at the Tuilleries in 1792 is a study in pathos and loss.
The Swiss Rail service: - fast, efficient, always on time and incredibly beautiful, a delight for travellers seeking to really see the countryside. To arrange your own Swiss rail journey you can start by going to www.myswitzerland.com for comprehensive information on rail passes, hotels and sightseeing.