There are few better ways of experiencing the beauty of Switzerland than having a leisurely three course lunch on board the glass domed Glacier Express, travelling from Brig to Chur.
We were served a delicious salad, followed by medallions of pork, spinach and spatzli – the tasty Swiss version of gnocchi, with cherry cake and cream for dessert, and a glass of Riesling to help it all down. The scenery flowed past as we finished with a glass or two of Pear Snaps. What a way to travel, as we sat at our window table and enjoyed panoramic views for the next few hours.
I was doing a whistle stop tour of Switzerland by train in the company of the Switzerland Travel Centre, and Voyages-sncf UK who’d arranged our rail travel, and a handful of picked agents. So the day before we’d all met early at ultra modern St Pancras station in London before boarding the 09.17 Eurostar to Paris and from there we changed stations and onto the TGV Lyria to Basel on the Swiss/France Border.
We spent a night in this pretty and historic town. Basel is on both sides of the Rhine and the third largest city in Switzerland. It’s also on the border with France and Germany, and the Black Forest is only 20 minutes away from here. As a point of interest Roger Federer, the popular tennis champion is from here. Basel is a picturesque town with a rich heritage, lovely old solid buildings, cobbled streets, and trams. After a 2 hours sightseeing trip, we dined at a traditional restaurant on a meat and vegetable fondue, and rich garlic flavoured potatoes.
That night we stayed at the 4 star Hotel Victoria, a comfortable traditional hotel, which was across the square from the Rail Station. So the next morning after an early start, we were on route again on the 6.59am a train to Bern, the capital of Switzerland and then on to Brig, which is a starting point for hiking trails around the Aletsh glacier, and became an Unesco World Heritage Site in 2001. It was there we started our trip on the Glacier Express – known as the world’s slowest express train!
On this 4 hour trip, we passed snow topped mountains, deep green valleys and tumbling rivers. We saw traditional Swiss chalets dotted about the hillside, and cows hugging steep gorges, bells around their necks. It’s definitely breathtaking scenery with swathes of yellow flowered fields in the foreground, and mountains peaks behind. We were told that May and June is the best time to travel because of the abundance of flowers. And September and October because of the Indian Summer there.
Chur is a pretty town from what we saw and was bathed in sunshine. There we dashed to the shops, and stocked up on Swiss chocolate to take back home as gifts. Then it was onwards to Zurich, our final rail stop, and the largest city in Switzerland.
Zurich rail station is huge and cavernous; the décor is very grand and very continental. It has a Pizzeria Café, spilling out onto the concourse with marble tables and yellow umbrellas. People sat outside with their espresso’s watching the world go by. You felt that being at a station like this was an event with the hustle and bustle going on around you.
I’d been to Geneva before, which I enjoyed, but had never travelled to Zurich, and I have to say I pleasantly discovered it’s an interesting city and worth spending a few days exploring here. It’s picturesque and historical, but trendy and rather hip.
Zurich is in the German speaking part of Switzerland and has a lot to offer tourists and visitors. The Swiss Alps are on its doorstep, it’s on Lake Zurich, has a charming old town that is full of history going back 2,000 years, is great for shopping, has fine dining, culture, the arts – and is fast becoming very trendy. Plus it’s easy to get around on the efficient tram system.
The old town is popular, cobbled in places with picturesque streets and little alleyways that are full of colour, traditional crafts, and cafes. The River Limmat snakes though the both sides of the city, and there are lovely viewpoints looking down over the town and on to the lake.
But the most creative and up and coming area is Zurich West. This is the former industrial area, now a mix of trendy urban chic and teaming with designer shops, galleries, restaurants and vibrant nightlife. This area has come alive. So you really do get the feeling this is a pretty hip place to be. We had a delightful evening meal at the huge Schiffbau Restaurant, once an old warehouse and famed to be the start of this new revival.
We did a lot in a couple of days, but really got a flavour of this interesting country. Switzerland is a small country that’s big on experiences, and ideal for short breaks. All the train services are efficient and affordable, and that makes a big difference travelling about.