Greentraveller's Grand Train Tour of Switzerland, Summer 2016
Follow our 5-day Grand Train Tour of Switzerland on this daily blog from Greentraveller's Florence Fortnam as she travelled around Switzerland by train, bus, boat and cablecar.
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 our writer Florence Fortnam in her own words based on her own experience of the trip.
Florence travelled from Zurich to St Moritz and Lucerne via some of the most scenic train rides in the world, including the Bernina Express, the Glacier Express and the cog railway up Mount Rigi. In between the train rides, she visited world class museums, climbed mountains on an electric bike, crossed Lake Lucerne by paddleboat, and recuperated in some of Switzerland's best mountain spas.
Florence's trip was recorded on Twitter, Instagram (hashtag #GrandTrainTour) and Pinterest, as well as through her daily updates on Facebook. A rolling blog of the trip was also recorded on this blog page. We also filmed the trip and posted media clips daily throughout the tour, and produced the following summary video of the entire trip:
Map of our Grand Train Tour of Switzerland
Timeline of our Grand Tour of Switzerland
Friday 6th May: Heading home after a fantastic 5 days!
DAY 5: Friday 6th May, 10am It's the final leg of my journey, catching the Voralpen Express from Lucerne back to Zurich. This is a much gentler side of Switzerland, a far cry from the dramatic, snow-capped scenes I've become used to over the past few days. We pass farms with acres of orchards, their trees already heavy with blossom, and valleys filled with neat rows of vines.
Watch a short video clip of Day 4, Thursday 5th May:
Thursday 5th May, 4.30pm Hard to believe that just 30 minutes ago I was trudging through snow and bracing myself against a bitter wind at the top of Mount Rigi. The cablecar brings me to Weggis, a pretty port filled with happy holidaymakers stretched out under shady trees along the waterfront. I've got 25 minutes before my boat leaves for Lucerne – I find a quiet jetty and dangle my feet in the clear water. If only I'd brought my swimmers...
Thursday 5th May, 2pm There are various stations towards the top of Mount Rigi that you can jump out at but I head straight to the top. I scramble up to the panoramic lookout point for some magnificent views, but the wind quickly gets the better of me and I make my way down to a more sheltered spot. You can explore the top of Mount Rigi whichever way you like, either hiking your own way around or catching the regular trains in between the various stations. The terrain is gentle and there are lots of cafés and restaurats so you're never too far from a steaming cup of coffee. I decide to take the cable car down the mountain (included in my Swiss Travel Pass).
Thursday 5th May, 12.15pm We're fortunate to have access to the front part of the cogwheel train travelling up the mountain, and are treated to some awesome views of the lake and snowy peaks beyond. We pass hikers and hill runners on the steep ascent, and it's not long before the green mountainside gives way to a winter wonderland and our train is trundling through a thick layer of snow. As the view opened out to the right there are gasps from the carriage – a truely spectacular sight.
Thursday 5th May, 11.12am Throughout this whole journey I've been incredibly impressed by how joined up the Swiss travel network, and hopping from train to boat at Lucerne was no exception: the boats dock right in front of the station. We leave Lucerne (for the moment, I'm heading back there later) and it's an hour's crossing to Vitznau. I spend the time sussing out my map of Mount Rigi and watching the sailboats bob past from the sun deck.
DAY 4: Thursday 5th May, 8am It's the peunultimate day of my Grand Train Tour. It kicks off with a breakfast fit for a king at The Chedi, with fresh figs and pastries, platters of smoked fish and local hams, and a choice of about twenty different cheeses from the wonderful cheese room. It's a wrench to leave the hotel but continue I must. I board the Wilhelm Tel Express and travel through a beautifully sunny valley to Lucerne, past sparkling lakes and villages just waking up to a new day.
Watch a short video clip of Day 3, Wednesday 4th May:
Wednesday 4th May, 3.35pm After all that train travelling it 's time to get the blood pumping with a couple of hours out and about on some bikes. Fortunately they are of the electric variety and are able to take the strain when the going gets tough (which, this being the Alps, is pretty often). One of our Twitter followers suggests heading to the Andermatt protected forest. Unfortunately the trails there are closed due to last night's snowfall but I find some lovely, gently undulating low mountain paths just outside the town centre. It's incredibly quiet on the roads and cold, cold, cold – wish I'd packed my gloves.
Wednesday 4th May, 2.11pm I'm delighted to find The Chedi is literally just over the road from the station (you can see the trains coming and going from the bar, it's that close). You'd never guess the hotel was just two years old – it blends in beauifully (I tried but failed to spot it during our descent to Andermatt). Despite its size and grandeur (and it IS incredibly grand), it's a surprisingly laid-back place to stay, with cosy, low-lit corners, lovely staff and an endless supply of wonderful things to nibble on throughout the day– there's even a special cheese room with towers of cheese wheels ripening in glass cabinets. From my terrace I watch the Glacier Exp down the series of hairpin bends from the Olberalp Pass.
DAY 3: Wednesday 4th May, 8.04am I wake to a sky of brilliant blue. I make sure I have enough reading material for the Glacier Express – it's a 5-hour journey, after all. But no – not a single word read, too busy am I darting around the train cooing and oohing at the huge valley views. This is arguably the greatest train journey of them all – I've done a fair bit of train travel and I'd find it hard to contest that claim: it's truely epic.
Two of the most memorable bits (besides the cuddly ibex refreshments trolley, right) are crossing the awesome 6-ached, 213 ft-high Landwasser Viaduct (just one of the 291 bridges the train passes as it crisscrosses the valley between St Moritz to Zermatt), and climbing the Olberalp Pass, a point so high (2,033 metres) we require a push to the top from a cogwheel train. Emerging from the tunnel we are greeted by a scene of thick, thick snow, temporarily blinding the entire carriage.
Here's a short 20-second clip of Day 2, Tuesday 3rd May:
Tuesday 3rd May, 6.55pm I get back on the next train from Preda and continue all the way to St Moritz, where I check into Hotel Laudinella. No time for a nose around town – it's an early start tomorrow and the falling snow makes my cosy chalet-style room a far more tempting place to be.
Tuesday 3rd May, 3.45pm Further up the line, I jump off the train again, this time at Preda and pick up the Albula Railway Adventure Trail – a wiggly hiking path that traces the railway line for 7km linking this sleepy hamlet with Bergün. Every so often I hear a whistle in the distance, followed moments later by a flash of red as the Bernina Express thunders through the valley just metres above my head. Even those without a shred of love for locomotives can't fail to be impressed by this awesome sight.
Tuesday 3rd May, 1.13pm I'd heard about the Bahnmusuem Albula Railway Museum from a fellow traveller so I decide to break the journey halfway at Bergün and give my legs a stretch. I know, train museums may not have the best reputation in the world, but I'd definitely recommend stopping off here. For starters, it's right next to the train station (in a converted station building), and with the Bernina Express running every hour, jumping off and on is super easy. Everything about this place is fun and interactive, from the mock waiting room with lockers piled high with fancy dress hats, to the railway-inspired café complete with carriage seats and platform clock (above). The real star of the show, however, is the miniature railway with wonderfully intricate model villages. And I get in for free with my Swiss Travel Pass!
Day 2: Tuesday 3rd May, 7.10am No sooner has the sun broken over the mist-covered mountains, I'm off on the next leg of my Swiss train adventure, catching the bullet-red Bernina Express train to St Moritz via some of the county's most spectacular scenery and awesome sights. It's my first journey on a panoramic train (the windows curve round the top of the carriage so you can see above you too) and I pass herds of cows grazing in wildflower meadows, green mountainsides dotted with neat wooden chalets and groups of children waving wildly to us as we roll past.
Monday 2nd May, 9.35pm My bed for the night is the pale pink, 16th-century Ambiente Hotel Freieck – one of Chur's oldest and finest buildings, slap bang in the city's old town. The medieval quarter is entirely pedestrianised and I am genuinely delighted to be woken the next morning by the sound of the bells of St Martin's Tower chiming out over the rooftops and the gentle clatter of bicycles bumping along the cobbled streets below.
Monday 2nd May, 5.15pm My first port of call is Chur, Switzerland's oldest city and just a 2-hour zip by train from Zurich. Chur is a picture-pretty place of fairytale turrets, lots of leafy, meandering alleyways and rows of pastel-hued townhouses, surrounded by forested mountains which rise majestically just beyond the city walls. I spend a couple of hours getting to know the compact little town with an audio guide which I download onto my phone
DAY 1: Monday 2nd May, 11am And we're off! Bags packed, e-tickets downloaded and smartphone at the ready...we're going on the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland! The Swiss Travel Pass is an all-in-one ticket which gives me unlimited travel throughout Switzerland by train, boat, bus and cable car, including public transport in more than 75 towns and cities and free entry to nearly 500 museums!
Monday 2nd May: Florence begins her Grand Train Tour of Switzerland
Florence's trip follows Sian Lewis's Winter Grand Train Tour of Switzerland during which she used the Swiss Travel Pass to visit a huge range of places in 5 days by train, including the Swiss National Museum in Zurich, Montreux's Christmas Market, the wonderful GoldenPass train journey from Luzerne to Interlaken, the magnificent Grand hotel Suisse Majestic by the lake at Montreux, glacial skiing at Les Diablerets, the cheese train to Chateau D'Oex, and much more.
The Grand Train Tour of Switzerland includes the most attractive panoramic rail routes across the country, and can be booked at any time of the year. The entire tour can be travelled with a single all-in-one ticket – the Swiss Travel Pass. The Grand Train Tour of Switzerland can best be booked for either four or eight days. The Swiss Travel System therefore recommends the 4-day or 8-day Swiss Travel Pass.
Here are the 8 Routes:
- Zurich–St. Gallen
- St. Gallen–Lucerne (Pre-Alpine Express)
- Lucerne–Montreux (GoldenPass Line)
- Zermatt–St. Moritz (Glacier Express)
- St. Moritz–Lugano/Locarno (Bernina Express)
- Lugano/Locarno–Lucerne (Wilhelm Tell Express)
There are several operators that can organise for you to go on the routes of the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland from the UK, including Great Rail Journeys, Planet Rail, Railbookers and Inntravel. Click on the links below:
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.