This month we’re delighted to be taking part in the #SwissRailing campaign with Inntravel because whilst life can be hectic, our holidays needn’t be. We’re often guilty of rushing around on our travels, trying to do too much and as a result usually come away not really feeling relaxed, or like we’ve actually seen anything of the places we were visiting. One of the best antidotes to this is journeying by rail. Train travel is all about slow travel, and there’s no better place to do it than Switzerland.
Yes, there are hand-carved wooden cuckoo clocks, milky chocolate that melts in the mouth, and the best cheese fondues in the world, but Switzerland is about so much more than that. It’s a way of life as well as a destination.
I spent many happy childhood holidays exploring lush alpine valleys in Switzerland, listening to the distant clanging of cow bells across flower-filled meadows and swimming in the invigorating but serene lakes. One of my abiding memories is that the mountain air was so fresh, and the slow pace of village life meant we lingered over and savoured our experiences rather than just glancing at and devouring them.
There are lakes and mountains, and then there are Swiss lakes and mountains. All perfectly formed and ideally located for a scenic trip of a lifetime using the integrated Swiss rail network. Train travel in Switzerland is a delight with punctuality, cleanliness and views all coming together to make it a world-class experience, and the landscapes you see out of the window are second to none.
Who are Inntravel?
Inntravel have been operating and advocating slow holidays for nearly 35 years, specialising in self-guided tours in some of the most beautiful locations across Europe. The detailed bespoke itineraries and helpful background guides about the history, culture and cuisine of the area make for a perfect independent holiday, without the hassle of having to plan routes or do the research yourself. It really is the best of both worlds.
Inntravel offer two stunning tailor-made rail breaks in Switzerland, taking in breath-taking mountain icons, alpine valleys, and of course the great lakes. Each itinerary uses local hotels of character, offers authentic encounters with local people, and takes the traveller off the beaten track through some stunning landscapes.
Holidays with Inntravel are all about life in the slow lane, discovering little-known back-roads, lingering longer whilst enjoying warm welcomes at traditional family run hotels, and tucking into scrumptious regional dishes. An entirely individual travel experience.
The Roof of Switzerland
The snow-capped mountains of Switzerland need no introduction, thanks to the picture-postcard views that have captured the imaginations of travellers and mountaineers for decades. The peaks have long issued challenges to the brave, and there’s something rather inspiring about standing on the sunny terrace up at Kleine Scheidegg staring up at the imposing face of the Eiger, and knowing of the adventures, triumphs and tragedies that have occurred there. There’s also something very impressive about the mountain tunnels through which the trains travel in this part of the country. Magnificent feats of engineering, and with views to match. Here are some of the highlights:
This is one of my favourite places in all of Switzerland, thanks to the superb mountain views of the iconic Jungfrau, Mönch and Eiger. Continuing the rail theme, you can ride the cog train up to Kleine Scheidegg and over to Wengen, or take the Jungfraubahn right through the north face of the Eiger itself, before arriving at Jungfraujoch.
Most visitors to the Swiss Alps make a bee-line for Jungfraujoch, and with good reason. It’s the highest railway station in Europe at 3,454 metres, and has some of the best views in the country.
Famous for the fictional and ‘apparent’ murder of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Meiringen is also home to the spectacular 1,400 metre Aare Gorge, which has an adventurous walkway along the river (sometimes the cliffs are close enough to touch on both sides at the same time!). Meiringen is the birthplace of Alpine guiding, and it’s easy to reach some excellent peaks up the Gen Valley for a walk around Engstlensee. For the less energetic there’s also a fun cable car ride up to the top.
The historic village of Mürren perches high up on the mountainside and is a delight to explore on foot since there are no cars up there. It boasts picturesque views of the famous 3 peaks – the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau – and visitors can descend the impressive Schilthorn from here by cable car, once used by James Bond himself! There’s also a 007 exhibition about the filming of the famous cable car scene that took place here, as well as a restaurant for aficionados.
Quite an unusual attraction, the Ballenberg is also one of the most popular. This open air museum shows off Switzerland in miniature, complete with traditional houses and farmsteads, authentic cottage gardens, and magnificent real-life surrounding scenery too.
Another of my personal favourites is the gorgeous village of Kandersteg, a veritable paradise for hikers and anyone who loves the great outdoors. Perhaps the best part is the train journey to reach Kandersteg, which runs through several tunnels in the mountainsides. One of the best things to do here is take the gondola up to Oeschinensee, a crystal clear lake almost entirely surrounded by steep cliffs.
You probably wouldn’t have had Switzerland down as a successful wine producer, but here at Valais you’ll discover that growing grapes isn’t just for the likes of France and Italy. The climate here on these south-facing lower slopes is almost Mediterranean, and perfect for the job. Salgesch is the wine-making capital of the region, and there’s a great vineyard trail which runs between two museums and yes, wine tasting is indeed all part of the experience.
This is where to go if you want to clap eyes on the Matterhorn. The famous ‘Toblerone’ mountain is a perfect pyramid, and the iconic image of Switzerland. The town itself is great place to linger with its traffic free streets, wooden barns and mountaineering museum.
I can’t go without mentioning a trip on the ‘world’s slowest express train’, the Glacier Express. Known throughout the world for its spectacular views, the 8-hour route runs between Zermatt and St Moritz over 291 bridges and 91 tunnels. It’s the perfect add-on to any Swiss rail holiday through the Alps.
The Great Lakes
Switzerland does lakes just as well as it does mountains, and the Great Lakes of Geneva, Lucerne and Brienz are well worth a visit. It’s easy to combine rail and boat journeying, and an excellent way to explore more of what Switzerland has to offer.
Lake Geneva is famous for its historic towns, castles and vineyards. One of the best ways to explore the lake is by paddle steamer, sailing out across the azure waters with a backdrop of distant mountains. It’s easy to see why this area was popular on the traditional ‘Grand Tour’ back in the day. A must-see on the lake shore is the incredible Chateau de Chillon, which dates back to 1150 and boasts dramatic medieval towers and superb views. For fans of the silent film, the former home of Charlie Chaplain can also be visited – it’s now a museum documenting his fascinating life and work. After all that hard work sightseeing why not pop down to the UNESCO protected vineyards of Lavaux which run along the shore of Lake Geneva, for a stroll and a bit of wine tasting.
Known as the heart of Switzerland as this is where the confederation was founded, Lake Lucerne is another worthwhile stop on your Swiss rail adventure. Lucerne itself is a nicely sized and vibrant city, famous for its covered wooden bridges, self-guided walking tours and historic city walls. There are boat trips to be had, as well as excursions on Europe’s oldest cog railway up Mount Rigi for some jaw-dropping vistas.
The pretty little town of Brienz is Switzerland in a nutshell, with turquoise lake waters, cobbled streets lined with traditional wooden chalets and a picturesque promenade to stroll along in the balmy evenings. A classic fairytale Swiss town, Brienz is also famous for woodcarving, and the historic Brienzer Rothorn steam train which trundles up the hillside, stopping at the top for simply stunning alpine views. Apparently you can see 693 peaks on a good weather day!
This post has been written by us, and brought to you by Inntravel.