Train to Switzerland - a taste of transport heaven
I’ve always found it slightly strange that while Britain’s often tired rolling stock and run-down stations generate sufficient interest for grown men to spend hours jotting down numbers on windswept platforms, when it comes to a country widely considered to have the best transport network going there’s not a notebook in sight.
If there were ever a country where transport is more than getting from A to B it’s Switzerland – the perfect riposte to a tourism business I recently heard say “I can’t imagine how anyone would want to use public transport on holiday!"
St Pancras to Montreux
Booking our Eurostar tickets the day they went on sale helped secure the cheapest deal, but not an escape from my relatives as I bumped into a startled Auntie while queuing for Metro tickets in the Eurostar's buffet coach. Buying our tickets on board did at least help us bypass the queues in the Gare du Nord concourse and we were soon at Gare de Lyon ready to catch the TGV to Lausanne (3 hr 50). A 20 min transfer along the shoreline of Lake Geneva took us to our first base – Montreux – and we were soon ready to start something of a tasting menu of transport.
Montreux & Lake Geneva
First up, a rack railway to the ‘Marmot’s Paradise’ (I’m not sure if being in a caged enclosure is much of a paradise but they seemed to be enjoying the attention!). The winding journey provided the perfect vantage point for enjoying Lake Geneva’s setting, plus the high cost was offset by buying a regional travel pass that essentially paid for itself in this one trip.
The following day’s rain proved well-timed as it had little impact on our pre-booked ‘Chocolate Train’ excursion which, as the name suggests, has a particularly high calorie to km ratio. Starting with a pain au chocolate in a vintage railway carriage you make your way to Gruyère for a tour of the cheese factory. This is followed by enough free time in the pretty town to sample the Chateau and cheese fondue, before a short hop to the Callier chocolate factory where unlimited chocolate sampling is the tempting conclusion of the audio visual tour (tempting unless you’re still digesting a gallon of cheese fondue, that is).
Detoxing the following day, we took advantage of our pass again, sailing on the regular paddle steamers shuttling along Lake Geneva’s shore to visit Montreux’s more genteel neighbour, Vevey.
Murren and the Bernese Oberland
Travelling to our next base we boarded the GoldenPass train, which, for a supplement, provides the panoramic windows needed to best appreciate the lakes, mountains and meadows on the 3 hour journey to Interlaken. Here we caught our first glimpse of the permanently snow-capped mountains that draw visitors from around the world. However, we exchanged a glimpse for a ‘ringside seat’ as we travelled by train and cable car high into the mountains to the car-free village of Murren, perched on a sunny ledge half way up a mountainside looking directly across to the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau.
While the line up to the Jungfrau (or ‘Top of Europe’, as it is incorrectly branded) is the must-do trip for most visitors, we used our regional pass for the wealth of alternative mountain journeys on offer. From Murren we took advantage of our head start on the Interlaken hordes to catch the cable car to the Schilthorn with its famous revolving restaurant. The 360 degree panorama is considered by many to be on a par with the pricier Jungfrau trip even though my wife found that a revolving view is not the best conditions for enjoying food and drink (just as well we didn’t try the fondue!).
During our ten nights in Murren we worked our pass hard sampling multiple cable cars and funiculars, a steam railway, chair lift, paddle steamer and ‘Trottibike’ (scooter for travelling down the mountain). A regular treat was the short train journey along the ridge from the cable car station to Murren which provided the opportunity to sit in the driver’s carriage – it’s amazing how such a simple thing can turn adults into giggling children. I hear they’re currently upgrading the train – let’s hope that this feature is retained.
Our journey home took us to Bern for a short stay before taking advantage of the new TGV Lyria service direct to Paris (4hr 45) where we spent a couple of days at EuroDisney and for a second time we turned into giggling children. It must have been all that mountain air!