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What to expect aboard the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland

From its soaring mountains to its atmospheric cities, Switzerland is one of the prettiest – and most sustainable – places on the planet.

As your train pulls into St. Moritz, there will be a moment when the rest of the world will fade into insignificance. Gazing over the countryside – all impossibly green fields dotted by wide-eyed cows, postcard-perfect mountains, and chocolate-box chalets – you’ll feel like someone has taken off your glasses and polished them for the first time. The colours will seem brighter, the air fresher, the wilderness wilder. Arriving here is like a tonic for the soul, and it makes sense – being in nature heightens all your senses – and being amid nature in Switzerland takes that endorphin rush to the next level.

Winding around villages on the Bernina Express
Winding around villages on the Bernina Express © Christoph Benz

‘Swisstainable’ Switzerland

Switzerland may be small but it thinks big about protecting its natural assets. The country is a global leader in recycling and waste management; it has some of the cleanest air on the planet, and it’s green… in fact, more than 30 per cent of land is blanketed in forest. The Swiss are also pioneers in sustainable travel, with one of the densest rail networks on the planet – more than 11,000 trains travel daily around the country’s 3,000-kilometre-long rail network. It’s all part of an initiative called ‘Swisstainable’, which sees the country’s tourism board partner with industry to create innovative sustainable tourism offerings. The goal is to inspire visitors and locals alike to travel with greater awareness and appreciation, whether that’s enjoying nature up close and first-hand, experiencing culture in an authentic way, consuming regional products, or staying for longer and delving deeper.

The pretty Swiss resort town of Interlaken
The pretty Swiss resort town of Interlaken © Ivo Scholz

The Grand Train Tour of Switzerland

To get a taste of the country in serious style, sign up for the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland, an unforgettable journey covering 1,280 kilometres of astounding natural beauty, history and heritage. Starting from Zurich, Montreux or Basel, it features six special trains: the Luzern-Interlaken Express; GoldenPass Panoramic; Glacier Express; Bernina Express; Gotthard Panorama Express and Voralpen-Express. Despite its name, the tour includes bus rides and an optional boat trip from St. Gallen/Rorschach to Schaffhausen. Should you complete the entire route, you’d see 11 lakes, five World Heritage-listed sites and a collection of atmospheric cities, towns and villages. The best bit? There’s no set duration or direction – you can pick up a Swiss Travel Pass and hop on or off whenever you fancy.

Hiking around Schilthorn
Hiking around Schilthorn © Marco Zurschmiede

With plenty of highlights, stepping off the train in the glamorous ski resort town of St. Moritz from Zermatt (home to the Matterhorn) may top them all, not least because of how you arrive. The Glacier Express snakes through some of Europe’s loftiest mountains for eight hours, each bend in the track revealing landscapes more ravishing than the last. And then there’s the stretch of rail from Lucerne, skirting gem-like lakes to the adventure capital of Switzerland, Interlaken. From here, an array of alpine adventures await, with excursions to Brienzer Rothorn, the soaring Jungfraujoch, mountaintop Schilthorn and historic Schynige Platte railway. In Interlaken, the GoldenPass Panoramic train takes over, passing castles through the bucolic countryside of World Heritage-listed grapevines before weaving through the hills of Montreux. Whichever stretch you choose, you’re safe in the knowledge that your Grand Train Tour of Switzerland is not only unbelievably scenic, but also incredibly sustainable. 

Gornergrat Bahn near Zermatt Valais Gornergrat Bahn near Zermatt Valais
Gornergrat Bahn near Zermatt Valais © Switzerland Tourism

Flexibility on the Grand Train Tour

If there isn’t enough time available to traverse all eight routes, guests can opt for one or multiple sectors. Travellers can book their own accommodations and stay for as little or as long as they like in each destination, allowing for deeply immersive experiences in a variety of spectacular city, lake and alpine mountain settings.

Zurich to Interlaken (3 hours)

Having explored the delights of Zurich, take an intercity train to Lucerne before boarding the premium Luzern-Interlaken Express with its glorious lake and mountain scenery. Many alpine adventures await in and around Interlaken, with excursions to Brienzer Rothorn, the soaring Jungfraujoch, mountaintop Schilthorn, Harder Kulm funicular, and historic Schynige Platte railway.

Jungfraujoch
Jungfraujoch

Interlaken to Montreux (3 hours)

Explore Lake Thun, the Simmen Valley and Zweisimmen where the GoldenPass Panoramic train takes over, passing castles and meadows of grazing cows, before winding through the hills of Montreux. The vineyards of Lavaux, Chillon Castle, Chaplin’s World and a mountain excursion to Rochers-de-Naye are highlights making Montreux an absolute delight.

Montreux to Zermatt (2.5 hours)

It’s an alpenhorn’s toss from Montreux to Visp, but the journey through the Nikolai Valley – the deepest in Switzerland – is sublime. As the iconic Matterhorn comes into view, the train rises 900 metres in altitude, partly with the help of cogwheel technology. Zermatt’s glamorous and car-free village is the perfect base for exploring the Matterhorn’s vast glaciers.

The picturesque towns and landscapes of Switzerland.

Zermatt to St. Moritz (8 hours)

The world’s slowest – but surely most beautiful – train sees the fabled Glacier Express weaving through the Swiss Alps and linking these uber-chic, all-year resorts. Travel through the pretty Cantons of Valais, Uri and Grisons as the train traverses 91 tunnels and 291 bridges with majestic views of mountains, deep ravines and valleys.

The Glacier Express carving through the dramatic Swiss countryside
The Glacier Express carving through the dramatic Swiss countryside

St. Moritz to Lugano (7 hours)

The lovely Bernina Express to Tirano followed by the onward express bus to Lugano delivers travellers from mountains to lake. Sit back and soak up the scenery as knockout views abound of glaciers, turquoise waterways and verdant valleys.

Lugano to Lucerne (5.5 hours)

The first-class Gotthard Panorama Express takes guests from Mediterranean-style Ticino along the grand Gotthard Panorama Route, before transferring to a boat that glides over Lake Lucerne, surrounded by Switzerland’s traditional heartland and imposing mountains.

Cruising the lakes in Switzerland.

Lucerne to St. Gallen (2.5 hours)

Explore Pilatus, Rigi, Stanserhorn and Titlis from Lucerne before boarding the Voralpen-Express through more classic Swiss scenery. The train passes Lake Zurich, Rapperswil – the ‘city of roses’ – and the Sitter Viaduct. At 99 metres, it’s the highest railway bridge in Switzerland.

St. Gallen to Zurich (2.5 hours)

Despite being landlocked, Switzerland has its own ‘maritime’ heritage, best seen by train on a 40-kilometre stretch of Lake Constance shoreline and following the Rhine downstream to Schaffhausen, home to Europe’s largest waterfalls, the Rhine Falls. It’s a fitting finale to an extraordinary round-trip journey from Zurich, and one that delivers Switzerland at its very best.

myswitzerland.com

Read more:

Switzerland’s best winter experiences
Grand Train Tour of Switzerland
Nine reasons to visit Zermatt
Eco-friendly travel experiences in Switzerland

This article originally appeared in volume 45 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.