An almost forgotten delight of European travel is travelling by train. Almost forgotten, because in this era of jet travel, most North Americans never get the chance 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; then transfer for a train to Visp, another 1 hour and 20minutes, then at Visp you board the 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 91 tunnels, 291 bridges and a ride over the 2033 meter high Oberalp Pass. This is extraordinarily beautiful in winter when snow dusted trees and mountains add to the panoramic beauty. This is like travelling through the most perfect Christmas card snow scene you could imagine..
The Swiss Chocolate Train
What a pairing, the Golden Pass train route and the chocolate of Cailler-Nestle. The train departs from Montreux to the medieval town of Gruyeres, for a stop at the chocolate factory for a tour, then by bus to visit a Gruyeres cheese dairy. Yes, Gruyere is what we frequently refer to as “Swiss” cheese.
The Willhelm Tell Express
This one takes a bit more effort and involves more than a train. You begin your journey by lake steamer in Lake Lucerne, the steamer will take you to Fluelen. Here you transfer to the train that will take you to
Ticino. The route passes through the Reuss valley and wind and climbs to 1100 meters before entering the Gotthard tunnel. Fifteen miles later you emerge from the tunnels into the Ticino region of Switzerland, with its very different Mediterranean ambiance. The journey takes you through the Laventina valley, crossing over cantilevered bridges and passing lovely towns before arriving in Bellinzona. Reservations are mandatory for this route.
Swiss Rail - fast, effiecient, always on time and incredibly beautiful.
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.