A scenic train ride through the snow-capped mountains of Switzerland is a perfect break for those who prefer a relaxing pace of travel and the splendours of nature to full-on itineraries and city crowds.
Our personal travel expert, Garry recently returned from just such a trip with a whole host of tips and recommendations for your consideration. Arriving into Zurich, Garry took the train to Zermatt before beginning his railroad exploration of some of Switzerland’s most picturesque destinations.
Lying in southern Switzerland’s Valais canton at an elevation of around 1,600m, the mountain resort of Zermatt is a sought-after destination for keen skiers, climbers and hikers. The iconic pyramid-shaped peak of the Matterhorn rises above the town whose main street, Bahnhofstrasse, is lined with boutique shops, hotels and restaurants. A car-free town with a lively après-ski scene, Zermatt is also home to public outdoor rinks where visitors can take to the ice in winter for a skate or even a game of the increasingly popular sport, curling.
After an evening of fortifying fondue and a good night’s sleep, Garry took the Gornergrat Mountain Railway to the top of Gornergrat Mountain, which stands at 3,089m. The second-highest mountain railway in Europe, after the Jungfrau, it was opened in 1898 and was the first electric track in Switzerland. The journey only takes around 35 minutes and there are three stops en-route for those who wish to break the journey or walk some of the way. If you really feel like stretching your legs, the walk from top to bottom would take around four hours, or you could set off along one of the many hiking routes which start from the summit. Blessed with bright blue skies and crisp sunshine on freshly fallen snow, Garry was enchanted by the spectacular views at every turn. On a clear day 29 peaks of over 4,000m are visible from the summit, including the famous Matterhorn. Of course, it can be cold and icy at the top so wrap up warm and take care when walking around.
Moving on from Zermatt, Garry boarded a train to Brig to connect with the Glacier Express to St. Moritz. Taking just under seven hours to travel between Brig and St. Moritz, this is a train journey where you can really settle in, relax and enjoy the magnificent Swiss scenery as it rolls by your window. Speeding over no less than 291 bridges and through 91 tunnels, the train passes through three cantons – Valias, Uri & Graubunden – and highlights along the route include the Rhine Gorge, the Landwasser Viaduct and the Oberalp Pass: at 2,033m above sea level as the train climbs far above the village of Andermatt, this is the highest point of the journey. Travelling in first class, Garry thoroughly enjoyed his experience on board the Glacier Express and thought is was a truly lovely way to travel. From the comfort of his seat, Garry admired the changing view, unrestricted by full-height, panoramic windows, and was even served a delicious 3-course meal with wine before arriving in St. Moritz.
The glitzy hotels of St. Moritz may be an ideal choice for the glamourous traveller, but if you prefer friendly five-star service to dazzling décor, Garry highly recommends a stay at the Waldhaus Sils. Sitting in all its grandeur above the small town of Sils, about 10k from St. Moritz, this family-run property has been open since 1908 through five generations, who still maintain the tradition of personally welcoming each guest to the hotel. Well known for its spa, the hotel also boasts a small library and you’ll even find a small Catholic chapel (complete with pipe organ) next to the well-stocked wine cellar, which houses 20,000 bottles of wine and Champagne, including some from Switzerland. If that’s not enough to tempt you, Garry claims he had the best steak of his life from the Waldhaus’ kitchens. Splash out on the Tower Suite for amazing views of the lakes both to the front and the rear of the hotel.
Half an hour from St. Moritz Rail Station at Bernina Diavolezza, a ten-minute cable car ride takes you up to a whopping 2,973m altitude. It’s well worth taking a moment in your day to enjoy the amazing panoramic views of the surrounding peaks and glaciers, and there’s even a restaurant where you can warm up with a hot chocolate before heading back down the mountain.
Garry’s final rail journey on his whistle-stop Swiss adventure was a trip on board the Bernina Express. Starting from Tirano in Italy, the Bernina Express takes you high up over the Engadin Alps and back into Switzerland. Holding the dizzying title of the highest railway across the Alps, the track runs along the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Rhaetian Railway, through the Albula and Bernina landscapes. Over the two-and-a-half-hour journey, you’ll travel through the most densely populated area of castle in Europe, catch a glimpse of Morteratsch Glacier as you come around the Montebello Curve and witness spectacular scenery at every turn.
Garry found rail travel in Switzerland to be excellent on all counts: trains were clean inside and out, services unfailingly punctual, and courteous staff always wore a friendly smile. With comfortable seats in spacious carriages and plenty of room for luggage, there was nothing to detract from the spectacular landscapes outside. Garry’s trip was a whirlwind tour but, of course, you can take your time along the way, with Swiss Rail Passes available for durations of up to 15 days.
Garry travelled to Switzerland with Classic Collection. Speak to our personal travel experts to find out more and to book your Swiss rail adventure. Call us on 0191 285 9321, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our store on Gosforth High Street. Browse our blog for more great holiday ideas.