The Glacier Express to Zermatt
The next day we boarded an even posher train, the Glacier Express, to Zermatt. During the seven-hour train ride, we were served a three-course meal on “white” linen (more beige than white) with fancier glass and silverware than we use at home for special guests.
Zermatt is best known for its cross-country skiing, hiking and mountaineering as well as the Matterhorn which looms over this rustic but upscale town.
The weather was mostly overcast for our two-night stay, precluding a gondola or cogwheel train ride up the slopes for a closer look at the Matterhorn and the usually breathtaking views of the surrounding 13,000-foot-tall mountains.
But it cleared enough on our second morning for some stunning photos of the rays of the rising sun shining off the slopes and peak of the mountain.
To Montreux, masterpiece on a lake
From Zermatt, we took two trains to Montreux. Neither of them were luxurious or iconic just the usual comfortable, clean, punctual and efficient components of the deservedly famous Swiss Rail system.
Monteux was my favorite stop on our train tour. I first heard about Montreux when I was a teen-age jazz fan and fantasized about attending the Montreux Jazz Festival, then one of the premier jazz festivals in one of the most beautiful settings in Europe.
Now the festival leans heavily toward pop music but the town is still incredibly beautiful, sitting on a huge, sparkling lake ringed by mountains. We were only here for one night, just enough time to take a long walk on the wide, lakeside promenade, dotted with whimsical sculptures, colorful patches of flowers and grand old Belle époque homes and hotels.
We stayed in one of these grand old hotels, the Suisse Majestic, in a room overlooking the lake. If we didn’t have a train to catch, we would have stayed there for days.
The Golden Pass to Lucerne
From Montreux we headed to Lucerne on the Golden Pass, a Belle époque-era train with red-velvet seat cushions, wood paneling and bronze fixtures. It was old-world, regal and elegant, a leftover from the days when train travel was the thing to do.
The Golden Pass was only the first of four trains we had to take that day, illustrating the precise choreography of the Swiss Rail system. Switching trains was literally like clockwork. I knew exactly where to go, how much time I had between trains, and when the train would pull out of the station.
Like Lugano and Montreux, Lucerne is a charming town located on a large, scenic lake surrounded by mountains. Besides its stunning setting, Lucerne is also known for its well-preserved medieval architecture, including a wooden bridge built in the 14th century.
Our plan was to ride the gondola to the top of Mt. Pilatus just outside town, ride the cog railroad down and take a boat back to town but the skies were leaden with clouds. Since we figured the views wouldn’t be great, we opted instead for a round-trip, six-hour boat ride to the opposite end of the lake.
If you go
Economy round trip flights from San Francisco-area airports to Zurich are about $800. Check kayak.com for current fares.
A Swiss Travel Pass, which is good for travel on trains, buses and boats plus access to many museums and other attractions, costs about $700
for a first class, 15-day pass. Seats on the Bernina Express, the Glacial Express, and the Golden Pass are extra. Contact sbb.ch/en/leisure-holidays/inspiration/international-guests/swiss-travel-pass.html for more information or to purchase.
Contact The Swiss Travel Centre at switzerlandtravelcentre.com/en/che/round-trips/scenic-rail-journeys/grand-train-tour-switzerland to arrange a tour. For general information go to MySwitzerland.com.
In Lugano, we stayed at the Hotel International au Lac (hotel-international.ch/en/home/). Rooms are about $200/night, including breakfast.
In St. Moritz, try the Hotel Steffani (https://steffani.ch/) for about $300/night with breakfast.
A Zermatt splurge is the Hotel Julen
(julen.ch/en/romantik-hotel-julen/) at about $350/night. And in Montreux, try the Marriott’s Grand Hotel Suisse Majestic for about $250/night.
The Hotel Continental Park (continental.ch/en/) in Lucerne is close to the train station and offers rooms at about $200/night
Don and Katherine’s trip was organized and hosted by the Switzerland Travel Centre. For more photos, go to Don’s blog on his website, adventuretransformations.com