The Panoramic Trains of Switzerland
Having the opportunity to travel on Switzerland’s finest train journeys was one I could not pass up. Travelling on the Glacier Express, the Bernina Express, and Gotthard Panorama Express is a must for anyone who enjoys blue skies, chocolate, mountain scenery, cheese fondue and most importantly… train travel.
Trains in Switzerland are a study of time keeping, cleanliness and efficiency that the Gatwick Express can only come to dream of. Even before you’ve boarded the train, looking at the arrival screen above the station you are informed where your carriage will be stopping on the platform. Something so simple yet unbelievably helpful, especially when remembering the last time you chased a train down a station platform.
The trains throughout Switzerland are easy to navigate, not only through the stations but also through the SBB app. The app is free to download and the simplicity of the point to point search really helps when picking your routing. Instead of having to think about the spelling of certain towns in Switzerland, you are able to click on a picture of the town you are starting at, followed by a picture of your destination, and it will provide you with a full train timetable. The app is simple to use, giving up-to-date times of trains instantly and making the experience more about the views.
The Glacier Express
We joined the Glacier Express in the small town of Brigg. When the Glacier Express arrives in the train station you get a first glimpse of the panoramic windows stretching into the roof of the car, providing the perfect viewing platform to watch the mountains go by. The train can be up to five carriages in length and has three classes available. Excellence Class offers the best seat in the house, with guaranteed window seats and a five course meal with wine pairing served at your seat.
The full journey has 291 bridges and travels through 91 tunnels. Gliding through the Rhine Gorge, the Grand Canyon of Switzerland, then scaling up to an impressive 2,033 metres at the Oberalppass, the Glacier Express is a great way to enjoy the picturesque countryside. Travelling in the earlier months of the year provides the best opportunity to view the glaciers that give the train its name. Alternatively, travelling in summer or autumn the views across the valleys and the slow circular climb in and out of tunnels still make for a great experience.
The Bernina Express
The Bernina Express starts in the charming town of Pontresina and the scenery on the journey just gets better and better. Travelling south from Pontresina, the Bernina Express climbs to an impressive 2,253 meters at Ospizio Bernina. The start of the climb begins next to a waterfall and levels out at a crystal blue lake with a backdrop of even higher mountains; a perfect start to the journey. The first of many tunnels brings you to the stop at Alp Grum, allowing for a quick photoshoot of the breathtaking mountains, lakes and the fifty shades of green trees.
One of the main highlights comes at 780 meters as you do a full 360 degree turn at the Brusio Kreisviadukt. Possibly one of the best bridges to ride along; not only do you get to view the bridge, but travelling in a 360 turn and going under the bridge you just travelled across is a strangely satisfying experience!
The Bernina Express terminates at the small town of Tirano, Italy where you have enough time to enjoy an Italian lunch and certainly a limoncello or two! The journey then moves onto travel by coach to Lugano, providing a slight dilemma: Lake Como, Milan and pasta on one side, or returning to cheese fondue, chocolate and trains on the other?
Gotthard Panorama Express
Starting in Lugano, the Gotthard Panorama is the scenic train back into Switzerland. Again the train offers panoramic windows, but also has the addition of a photographic car. The photographic car gives photographers the chance to achieve glare-free pictures, and those daring enough can have a selfie with their head out the window; I took mine when the train had stopped! The panoramic windows in the First Class carriage once again come into their own when your start seeing the views of the valley. On board train information advises you when the main sights are about to arrive, and the Biaschina Valley Plateau provides another opportunity to see Swiss engineering at its finest. The Gotthard Tunnel offers a visual insight in to how the tunnel was built, by slowing down and projecting images on to the tunnel walls. The Gotthard Tunnel in itself is something to tick off the bucket list, as it is the longest tunnel in the world at 15km in length.
As with any train trip, one part will always stand out, which happens between the stops of Goschenen and Fluelen. In either direction the views are amazing, but the transfer between four different levels along the mountainside offers views of the Wassen Church, situated in the middle of the valley and with a mountainous back drop serving to enhance the beauty of the baroque Catholic Church.
To complete the transportation wheel when leaving the train, you board a small ship to take you to Luzern. Stopping at different towns along the route, this scenic boat trip is a wonderful way to relax and plan the next part of your trip. For something special, why not plan your trip around the steamboat timetable, allowing you to enjoy the paddle steamer? Although if this is not an option, seeing it sail by will also be a memorable experience!
Our trip finished at Rigi Kaltbad Hotel & Spa, which involved riding the cogwheel railway from Vitzanu to Rigi Klum. This ride is included in the Swiss Travel Pass and is a perfect way to finish your trip, as you are able view the lakes and the mountains whilst riding the cogwheel. There are several walks to be taken around the hotel and at the top of the mountain, but certainly an early rise will give a wonderful sunrise to enjoy.
Rigi Klum gives the opportunity to descend on a different cogwheel, taking you to Arth Goldaurb station which has direct trains back to Basel to complete this amazing trip around Switzerland.
Overall the train journeys were nothing less than spectacular, with on board services offering a high standard of food and drink. The Swiss Travel Pass offers unlimited train travel for your selected period of time, and the pass gives families the chance to save as well, with children 16 years and under travelling for free. The SBB app is also well worth downloading for the train timetables and destination information; it’s extremely simple to use and helps to understand the many options available.
The Swiss Travel Pass will be an asset to any trip in Switzerland, as well as a great introduction to a first time traveller and those wanting to add to the many famous trains journeys they may have ridden.
More more inspiration, visit our Switzerland holidays pages.