Most of Europe’s finest mountain railways are to be found in the Swiss Alps. These are the ones that you just have to travel on.
Crossing the Alps have always been a journey to remember. Hannibal did it with elephants. Wealthy young aristocrats on their 18th century Grand Tour to Italy were carried over the high passes by servants. A hospice at the Great St Bernard Pass sent out rescue dogs if a traveller got lost on a glacier (no points for guessing the breed).
Today, crossing the Swiss Alps on a mountain railway is arguably an even greater adventure (but also rather more comfortable). Your train negotiates some of the steepest gradients anywhere in the Alps, crosses deep gorges, and passes by glaciers and waterfalls that were far beyond reach for the first travellers. And your only hardship will be that maybe the glass of Gewürztraminer that the steward just served at your seat is not quite chilled to perfection.
All our journeys to Switzerland include at least one – and often several – mountain railways. Some of them are legendary, others humbler. On one you can mingle at the onboard cocktail bar, while on another you may chat with local farmers and schoolchildren. On all of them, you are up close and personal with majestic scenery.
The Glacier Express
Chur – Zermatt
This is the world’s most legendary panoramic train. The 8-hour journey takes you through the winding Rhine Gorge – the Grand Canyon of Switzerland – and over the 2.000-meter-high Oberalp pass. The final stretch to Zermatt at the foot of the Matterhorn is so steep that it is a rack-and-pinion railway. The train carries a full-service kitchen, and you may order a three-course lunch to be served at your seat (at quite reasonable prices).
The Bernina Express
Chur – Varenna
This may well be the finest scenic rail journey in all of the Alps, arguably surpassing even the famed Glacier Express. You travel in a first-class panorama car, offering you great views as the train ascends up the lofty Bernina Pass, travelling past the Morteratsch Glacier, before it descends to the valleys of Italy. All our journeys on the Bernina Express hook up Swiss Chur with the village of Varenna, located on the shore of Lake Como.
The Gotthard Panorama Express
Lucerne – Lugano
While most trains today speed under the Alps through the world’s longest tunnel, this route takes you over the historic and dramatic Gotthard Pass. Your journey starts on a classic steamboat that sails you across Lake Lucerne. The boat connects seamlessly with the waiting Panorama Express train that takes you up through the Gotthard Pass. This line is a great engineering feat with many spiral loops, bridges, tunnels, and ever-closer views of snow-capped peaks.
Locarno – Domodossola
This tiny commuter train, travelling between remote villages, is one of the Alp’s finest secrets. The train’s name – Centovalli – means ‘100 valleys’ in Italian, and you do indeed travel through a series of narrow valleys with rocky gorges, quaint stone villages, and cascading waterfalls. The train runs across 83 bridges and through 31 tunnels on its way from Switzerland to Italy.
Montreux – Interlaken
The Belle Epoque train on the Golden Pass line places you in a first-class seat that looks like something out of the Orient Express – but with better views! The train climbs high above Lake Geneva with great views of the lake and snowcapped peaks, then rides alongside rolling hills and beautiful valleys.You may order a selection of cheese and cold specialties served om a wooden board to be served at your seat, together with a glass of wine from the Lake Geneva region. We think it is very good value – and a wonderful experience.
Journeys in the Swiss Alps
These journeys all include one or more of the panoramic trains mentioned in this article.