Scenic train rides across Switzerland

Trip Start Jul 26, 2010
Trip End Aug 08, 2010

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Flag of Switzerland  , Bern,
Friday, July 30, 2010

When this whole trip was still in the early planning stages, I happened to stumble across an article called something like "top 10 world's most scenic train routes"...I know "the top 10" is a subjective assessment; nevertheless, it seemed curious to me that 4 out of 10 rides mentioned in the article were in Switzerland: the Bernina Express, the Golden Pass, the Glacier Express and the William Tell Express...

I had heard that the route of the Bernina Express was this train ride had been definitely in the plans, especially since it would bring us directly to Italy - our next destination...but if you look at the map of Switzerland, you'll see that this route through the Alps begins in Chur (or  - for slightly shorter version - in St. Moritz) - on the opposite side of the country from Geneva (from where we were coming)...

so we took another one of the "top 10" scenic train routes - the Golden Pass -  to connect to the Bernina Express...

we left Geneva for Montreux where we boarded the panoramic car of the Golden Pass to Zweisimmen...this is actually the most picturesque stretch of the Golden Pass route...somewhere closer to Gstaad we said "au revoir" to the French Switzerland and "guten tag" to the German Switzerland...


the area around Gstaad is so peacefully beautiful that I briefly entertained an idea of renting a little chalet there for a couple of weeks in the future...we often daydream of living on some little farm in the middle of nowhere - complete with chickens, ducks and a goat...yes, a goat is definitely a must in our daydreams! :)


    from Gstaad (still as a part of the Golden Pass) we went to Interlaken...the Golden Pass route continues from Interlaken up north to Luzern, but we ended it in Interlaken because we wanted to spend some time there...

afterwords, we were hopping from one train to another: from Interlaken to Bern, from Bern to Zurich, from Zurich to Chur (where we spent the night before boarding the Bernina Express early in the morning) does sound like too many trains for one day, and maybe it was...but the Swiss rail system is so efficient and nice that it was really easy...we travel with minimal luggage, so it helped, too, especially when we had only 5 minutes to hop from one train to another...


    now, if I were to plan this trip all over again - I would definitely allow for some extra time in Interlaken...not for this little town itself - although it is really charming despite being quite touristy...but I would use it as a base, a springboard of sorts for the trips up high - to the Berner Oberland and Jungfrau peak that is often called the "Top of Europe" (and certainly has the highest railway station in Europe) can easily and comfortably visit it as a day trip from Interlaken...but the options on this trip are always weather-dependent, so it would be good to have an extra day, just in case...

unfortunately, no matter how carefully and diligently I try to plan our itinerary, I am invariably a day short here and a day short's hard to make choices, and I had to forgo the Berner Oberland this time...but! I am definitely hoping to return,  especially since I didn't get a chance to do something else I would looove to do  - paragliding...

    it might sound funny, but this is what fascinated me the most in Interlaken - the paragliders...there were so many of them in the air flying off the mountains like gigantic orange butterflies, circling above your head gracefully, filling your heart with the purest greenest envy ever! I sound poetic now or what? :)


    seriously though - I've never seen so many paragliders and so many agencies offering paragliding and other high-altitude dear angel, being quite indifferent (to put it mildly!) to paragliding itself yet seeing me wanting it so badly, generously offered "let's go do it, baby!"...ah, easier said than would involve riding up to the mountains, and we only had half a day left and still half-a-country to instead - we went to the roof of the 18-story Metropole Hotel (the tallest building in Interlaken) to watch the paragliders and try to learn how to enjoy things vicariously...

from there you could enjoy the view of Jungfrau in a distance...actually, you could see it from almost anywhere in the we walked around, crossed the Aare river that connects the two lakes  - Lake Brienz and Lake Thun (after all, "Interlaken" does mean "between the lakes"!)...the day went by fast, and we still had to make it to Chur by night, so off we went back to the train station....

we arrived in Chur late in the evening, and at 8 the next morning were on board of the Bernina Express en route to Italy...

the whole Bernina Express experience involves a 4-hour ride by train from the Swiss city of Chur (or you could start in either Davos or St. Moritz instead) to the Italian city of Tirano and then a bus ride from Tirano to Lugano (Lugano is the Swiss city, so the ride ends in Switzerland)...this panoramic train requires advance seat reservations even though the fare itself is covered by the Swiss Pass...I made my reservations ahead of time without realizing that the bus portion of the Bernina Express requires a separate reservation...of course by the time I found out it was too late, the bus was completely we decided to just end it in Tirano from where we would catch a local Italian train to our next destination - Milan...


    If you plan to take only one scenic train ride in Switzerland - I think the Bernina Express should be takes you through breathtakingly beautiful Swiss Alps, and it is simply start your journey surrounded by snow-covered mountains and glaciers of Switzerland and end it surrounded by palms and vineyards of Italy...this route through the mountains, alpine meadows, stone viaducts, bridges and tunnels is on UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites...


        I hear some engineers and railway aficionados take this trip not only for the gorgeous scenery but for its technical beauty as well: after all, it's one of the steepest tracks in the world yet it operates without any engineering extra help like cables, rack rails and such...


    some places you pass on this journey seem  a real paradise for hikers and mountain bikers...we don't really belong to any of these categories, otherwise I would've seriously considered planning a quick return...although I still wouldn't mind coming back - it's so beautiful there!...

the 4 hours on the train went by pretty fast, and we found ourselves in sunny Tirano...the local Italian train station in Tirano is right next door to the Swiss station, and  - luckily for us - the next train to Milan was about to leave we hopped on yet another train and off we went to Milan...

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duane on

What a wonderful travelogue!

irenan on

aww, thank you, Duane!...although it was even more wonderful "in person"!

Carolyn on

Thank you for posting your wonderful photos and great narrative, I am going to Southern Germany and am looking for things to do, This looks like a great train ride. I'll look into it further. Thanks again!!

Chris on

Thanks for posting this. How much did this all cost, if I may ask that is? Do you have to pay for individual train rides, or is a day ticket good for any trian? How long did it take to get from Genevee too Zurich? Sorry I have so many ?'s . haha. But thanks for any insight. I'm booking my trip this month.

irenan on

Chris, don't worry about questions - I have lots of them myself whenever I plan a trip..that's in part what this site is for - to help people find answers...
I described in my first blog entry which tickets we bought and how...I'll copy and paste it below, but to summarize - we had a multi-day Swiss Pass that is like one ticket for all the trains, boats, buses (and some museums even)...very convenient!...the only additional fee you have to pay for scenic train is seat reservations (there you have assigned seats) which was about $10 or $15 per person (make seat reservations ahead of time)...the 4 o5 day Swiss Pass cost more than $200 per person (first class) - I don't remember exactly, but I found it was worth it - we used trains a lot, and the convenience of not buying any more tickets was great...anyway, I am posting my description from the first entry below ...Hope it all helps..
e bought ourselves Swiss Passes for 4 days, so hopping from one train to another or taking a boat was really easy...for those who are planning to do a lot of traveling by trains in Switzerland - I highly recommend getting the Swiss includes free admission to most museums in Switzerland and unlimited travel all over the country (trains, boats, buses), so you don't have to constantly buy tickets, and it really makes a difference when you only have 5 minutes to hop from one train to your next connection...for us it was worth it just for the convenience alone...besides, if two people travel together - the price of the Pass is discounted: maybe it's the Swiss way to reward togetherness! :) ...Swiss Pass is available only to foreigners, so you do have to show your passport when buying it...

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irenan on

forgot to answer your Geneva to Zurich takes several hours by train from Geneva to Zurich...but we did not go direct, but rather stopped on the way in Interlaken for a few hours, so it took us longer...their trains are so precise and convenient - it won't be a hassle at all, you'll see!

Chris on

I'm so very thankful for your blog. Incredilbe! And so useful for when I plan my trip for this May.

Mk on

Hi just wondering how long was your trip?

irenan on

@MK: we spent about a week in Switzerland, and then moved to Italy for another week-and-a-half or so...

Brian on

Just wondering... On the Swiss Pass, when you use it to get a 50% discount on the higher train/cable car trips, do those days count as one of the days of a 4 day pass? Or do you still have a total of 4 days travel available on 100% discount train trips? Thanks!

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