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Switzerland's great outdoors

Posted by Richard Hammond at 10:45 on Thursday 20 July 2017

Seven trains, two funiculars, trams, buses and a steamboat… Gemma Wirz travelled through Switzerland relying on the Swiss Travel System to deliver her to the heart of Swiss nature, culture and history. Follow the trip, including daily video posts, on Twitter and Instagram.

Day 1
Watercolour light reflecting off the lake, smartly dressed Swiss on their way to work and the market traders setting up their stalls along the banks of the lake, greeting each other in the local dialect of Schwiizerdütsch. We started our Swiss journey with an early morning amble around picturesque Lucerne.

View of Lake Lucerne. Photo: Gemma WirzView of Lake Lucerne. Photo: Gemma Wirz

History is abundant in this city and the most famous landmark is the covered, medieval
Kapellbrücke or ‘Chapel Bridge’. Considered to be one of the oldest covered, wooden
bridges in Europe, it’s both hard to miss and a definite don’t miss. Strolling under the
paintings on the ceiling, it was easy to get lost in the past, contemplating the meanings of
the intricate and often macabre scenes scrolling past above my head.

History is abundant in this city and the most famous landmark is the covered, medieval Kapellbrücke or ‘Chapel Bridge’. Considered to be one of the oldest covered, woodenbridges in Europe, it’s both hard to miss and a definite don’t miss. Strolling under thepaintings on the ceiling, it was easy to get lost in the past, contemplating the meanings ofthe intricate and often macabre scenes scrolling past above my head. 

Flowers on Lucerne Chapel Bridge. Photo: Gemma WirzFlowers on Lucerne Chapel Bridge. Photo: Gemma Wirz

Lucerne is the gateway to central Switzerland and there are numerous options for venturing into the peaks that surround this beautiful city. Three mountains are within easy reach - Rigi, Pilatus and Stanserhorn – and all very accessible via cable car. We caught a glimpse as we boarded the steamboat that connected us to our train to travel over the famous Gotthard route. As the city faded from view, we followed the lake all the way to the end, pausing briefly at jetties where hikers, cyclists and day-trippers hopped on and off.

Blue water of Lake Lucerne. Photo: Gemma WirzBlue water of Lake Lucerne. Photo: Gemma Wirz

Steaming past picturesque mountains, lush green hillsides and dramatic rock formations, a leisurely lunch was served on deck as we admired the view.

Lunch with a view - Lake Lucerne. Photo: Gemma WirzLunch with a view - Lake Lucerne. Photo: Gemma Wirz

Switzerland’s transport system is famously reliable but arriving at Flüelen I was impressed further when the steamboat docked and we weren’t just near the train station, we were in the train station! A few steps and we were ready on the platform for our connection to Ticino.

The Gotthard Express. Photo: Swiss Travel SystemThe Gotthard Express. Photo: Swiss Travel System

To reach the Italian-speaking region, we travelled the Gotthard rail route through the Swiss Alps. It took a couple of hours, through seven loop tunnels and over 250 bridges, marvelling at the landscape as it changed from dense fir-tree forests to the beginnings of the sunny south of Switzerland. It was a novelty to board a train in one climate and depart it in an entirely different one. Stepping off the train in Ticino, it was hard to believe we were still in the same country. Palm trees, brightly-coloured flowers and humidity all lent an unmistakeable air of the Mediterranean. A quick change in Bellinzona and we were on a local train to Locarno and glorious Lake Maggiore. Up above the town of Locarno, we stayed in Hotel Belvedere, perched in a prime position with panoramic views of the lake and mountains.

Locarno flowers in bloom. Photo: Gemma WirzLocarno flowers in bloom. Photo: Gemma Wirz

A short e-bike ride from Locarno is the pretty town of Ascona which, for two weeks every summer, comes alive with the sounds of jazz during JazzAscona. As well as the delicious Italian style cuisine on offer, we dined at al Piazza which unexpectedly had a menu dedicated to the tastes of New Orleans to honour many of the musicians.

Music at Jazz Ascona. Photo: Gemma WirzMusic at Jazz Ascona. Photo: Gemma Wirz

Day 2

Breakfast in Locarno. Photo: Gemma WirzBreakfast in Locarno. Photo: Gemma Wirz

After a fabulous breakfast at Hotel Belvedere, full of locally produced treats, we ventured further up the hill. E-bike, walk or take the funicular, but a trip to the Madonna del Sasso proved to be unmissable. Floating high above Locarno, built on a precarious-looking stone outcrop, the inside of this extraordinary church mirrors the colours of the lake. Glorious golds and azure blues greeted us and wandering between the pews provided an awe-inspiring moment of calm to start the day. And while inside was incredible, I was also captivated by the views peeping through the stone arches outside.

Locarno Madonna del Sasso. Photo: Gemma WirzLocarno Madonna del Sasso. Photo: Gemma Wirz

Mid-morning and we were back on the rails again speeding towards Domodossola. We were promised a picturesque journey, so it was a surprise when we boarded below street level in a station reminiscent of the London Underground. But we soon rose above ground and left Locarno behind, winding our way through Centovalli (100 valleys) taking a shortcut through the Italian countryside. Sparkling waterfalls, glossy vineyards and lush chestnut forests sped past as we crossed dizzyingly high viaducts and took hairpin bends. In Domodossola, we joined the Lötschberger train to transport us back into the Swiss countryside. This fantastic route brought us right into the heart of Swiss hiking territory and it’s common to hop off the train at one of the many request stops and enjoy one of Switzerland’s most pristine valleys.

The Centovalli Express. Photo: Swiss Travel SystemThe Centovalli Express. Photo: Swiss Travel System

Day 3
The bluest of blue skies greeted us the following morning in Thun as we strolled along the River Aare towards Lake Thun. It was a perfect spot to catch sight of the snow-capped mountains as peeping through the puffy white clouds that lingered above them. A wander around the streets of the old town revealed the castle looming above the city and the reward for the climb up to the castle itself was yet another panoramic view.

Thun through an archway. Photo: Gemma WirzThun through an archway. Photo: Gemma Wirz

A swift twenty minutes by train and we were in the capital, Bern, where we took a tour of the UNESCO World Heritage old town. While the streets were full of medieval curiosities and strolling through them was a lovely way to while away the afternoon, the highlight for me was the Zytglogge, the clocktower, with its 16 th century astronomical clock. While crowds gathered at the base of the clock to watch the various figures act at the hour, we were led inside to the heart of the clock. For 500 years, a pendulum has swung back and forth inside this clock tower, regulating the clockwork cogs and wheels which spring and whirr into action to notify the city of the precise time.

Bern Clocktower. Photo: Gemma WirzBern Clocktower. Photo: Gemma Wirz

With the afternoon sun dipping low in the sky, we crossed the Nydeggbrücke and settled on the sun-drenched terrace of the Altes Tramdepot joining locals, tourists and beer enthusiasts for a taster of the beer brewed on the premises while toasting the old city across the river.

Bern Altes Tramdepot. Photo: Gemma WirzBern Altes Tramdepot. Photo: Gemma Wirz

Day 4
The morning of our last day we discovered just how close to the countryside Bern is. We hopped on a tram outside our hotel, the central Hotel Allegro, and within 15 minutes were at the base of Bern’s local mountain, Mt Gurten. The funicular deposited us at the summit and we took in views of the city, the Alps and the Jura. There are countless walking routes with their beginnings here – for Sunday strolls and serious hikers. And for the young, and young at heart, there is a 500-metre toboggan run plummeting down the side of the hill!

Bern Mt Gurten. Photo: Gemma WirzBern Mt Gurten. Photo: Gemma Wirz

With a last look at the view, it was a quick trip back down the mountain in time to start our journey home from Bern’s bustling train station, traversing the gentle Swiss countryside onwards to Zurich.

Watch a short video of the trip:

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Disclosure: This trip was organised with the cooperation of Swiss Travel System and Swiss Tourism. Greentraveller retained all independent editorial control over the work, which has been written by writer Gemma Wirz in her own words based on her own experience of the trip in the summer of 2017.

Disclosure

Blogs posts categorised as 'Reviews' have been written with the support of one or more of the following: accommodation owner, activity provider, operator, equipment supplier, tourist board, protected landscape authority or other destination-focussed authority. The reviewer retains full editorial control of the work, which has been written in the reviewer's own words based on their experience of the accommodation, activity, equipment or destination.

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