THE 5 BEST TRAIN JOURNEYS IN SWITZERLAND
Switzerland is home to the world's most beautiful rail journeys. Here's our pick of the very best.
THE GOLDEN PASS
The Golden Pass train travels right through the centre of Switzerland, and links Montreux on Lake Geneva with Lucerne. It's possible to extend the journey by changing trains, and ending the trip at Zurich or Geneva, or shorten it by travelling only on the beautiful Interlaken-Montreux section.
The “official” train has panoramic windows, and on the final leg, an option of vintage carriages, though other, ordinary trains also run this route. There are two changes needed (Interlaken Ost and Zweisimmen), but the whole journey takes five hours, so if you'd prefer a shorter trip, go from Interlaken to Montreux, a three hour trip.
From Lucerne, the train runs along the lake towards Lake Sarnen, then along the lake edge, offering spectacular views, before heading up towards the Brunig Pass, and along the Lungernsee reservoir. It then runs through tree-covered mountainside to Brunig-Hasliberg, descends into the lovely valley of the River Aare, and skirts Lake Brienz. From here, it embarks on the lovely journey to Interlaken, alongside the shimmering jade water of the lake.
If you stay on beyond Interlaken, the train continues along the bank of the other-worldly Lake Thün, which shines like a split pool of moonlight, as the Alps rise beyond it. The train arrives at Zweisimmen, passengers change trains, and head into the Simmental valley, a lush sweep of green fields, wooden chalets and well-fed cows as charming as a Hornby train set.
The train then ascends to Gstaad, where the landscape changes, the mountains become more jagged, and the wooden chalets peter out in favour of stone chateaus. Down again to Montbovon, then back up again through the Jaman tunnel, a two-mile hole in the mountainside. Emerging, the train passes Les Avants, a traditional resort, and heads for Lake Geneva.
This is the stretch known as the “Swiss Riviera”, with its vineyards, palm trees, and lush, semi-tropical gardens. It finally arrives at Montreux, one of Switzerland's most beautiful towns, where you can alight. Or of course, get back on the return train, and do it all in reverse.
"This fantastic panoramic journey passes plunging waterfalls, dizzying valleys and jagged, snowy peaks more suited to eagles than people..."
WILLIAM TELL EXPRESS
This fantastic panoramic journey passes plunging waterfalls, dizzying valleys and jagged, snowy peaks more suited to eagles than people. The trip begins by boat, sailing across the serene and silvery waters of Lake Lucerne, and ends in Lugano, the Italian-speaking town near the border.
The traditional paddle steamer crosses Lake Lucerne in slightly under three hours, then from Fluehen station on the far side of the lake, the train travels through the glorious Gotthard Pass- a panoramic coach with huge windows allows spectacular views of the mountains, waterfalls and valleys on the way to Lugano.
On the other side of the 10 mile tunnel, the announcements and signs change to Italian, but you're still in Switzerland. If you have less time, regional trains (without panoramic cars) make the Lucerne–Lugano trip along the same route in two and a half hours.
***There is an official trip, however, it's also possible to buy the boat and train tickets separately, which can be less expensive.
THE GLACIER EXPRESS
This epic, 8 hour trip crosses from St Moritz in the East to Zermatt in Southwest Switzerland, or vice versa. It's a slow train indeed, but immensely scenic. Of course, it's also possible to board or alight at various stations along the route if you prefer a shorter trip.
The train runs through the Vorderrhein Gorge, or "Swiss Grand Canyon,” then into the lower valley of Reichenau, befpre heading up the mounatin to Disentis, where the dizzying drops of the Gorge are suddenly visible, and the cogwheel engine is attached.
At Tschamut, the train travels through snow sheds, there to protect the track from avalanche, before emerging onto the highest point, the Oberalp Pass, and passing the lake.
A long tunnel leads to the beginnings of the Rhone, and onto Brig, where you can change trains if not going to Zermatt. If you are, look out for the first sight of the Matterhorn, looming god-like above the charming little town.
"...it's hard to object to a journey so beautiful, which culminates in a visit to a chocolate factory..."
THE BERNINA EXPRESS
The Bernina begins as a bus ride- it runs from Lugano, through part of Italy, along Lake Como, and stops at Tirano, where passengers board the train. It then returns into Switzerland, up a very steep mountain gradient, towards the spectacular Bernina Pass. It then descends, stopping in mountain towns such as Pontresina and returns to the lovely ski resort of St Moritz.
During the journey, it reaches over 7000 feet, and passengers will see palms trees, glaciers, peaks and waterfalls- while the return journey is even more impressive. Local trains also run this route, and it's possible to break the journey overnight.
THE CHOCOLATE TRAIN
Although this is a commercial enterprise, run by Golden Pass Services and Cailler-Nestle, it's hard to object to a journey so beautiful, which culminates in a visit to a chocolate factory.
The train leaves from Montreux, and runs to Gruyères, intitally along the same route as the Golden Pass train. The train itself has a charming vintage first class carriage dating from 1915, and the modern carriages have panoramic windows from which to admire the craggy mountains, glittering lakes and vineyards.
The train stops at Gruyères for a visit to the cheese factory and the castle, then continues to Broc, and the chocolate factory, for a tour. The Chocolate train runs every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from May to October and every day in July and August.