SWITZERLAND SCENIC TRAINS
Mountain Cogs and Swiss Alps View Panoramas
One of the joys of touring Switzerland are its scenic rail routes, and of course, because that's where they keep the Alps. The Swiss long ago determined getting around their small but altitudinous country through the mountains and valleys was best by railway and developed a system which is extensive and convenient. One rarely needs a car for getting to most of the most beautiful and famous sights, and sometimes a car can't get there. The prime attraction of the Swiss rail system are the long distance panoramic trains traversing deep valleys, soaring across the high viaducts above deep river gorges, and cog wheel rack railways up the steep sides of mountains to glacier ice caves and stunning alpine mountain views. There are a variety of scenic routes to choose from and you could cover nearly the entire country by scenic rail train, though most of them tend to be in the central and southern area of Switzerland.
Theme Panoramic Scenic Trains
The oldest and most famous panoramic train is the Glacier Express which runs from Zermatt, the Alpine village of 300 year old wooden chalets at the base of the majestic Matterhorn through the Rhone and Rhine valleys to the jetsetter playground of St Moritz in the south eastern end of the country. The Glacier Express experience includes gourmet lunch dining at your panoramic window seat. Covering part of that same route over viaducts and through tunnels so remarkable for their engineering feats they are listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, the Bernina Express glides across the highest pass in the snowy Alps to Tirano in Italy.
From Montreux on the shores of Lake Geneva through the Fribourg Region and the Bernese Oberland to Lucerne on its own beautiful lake is the Golden Pass Route. Part of this routing can be taking in historic cars of the Wagons-Lit from the days of the “Orient Express” (which unfortunately no longer runs through Switzerland). The route travels on three separate rail companies tracks with narrow gauge from Montreux while from Interlaken standard standard gauge. The journey passes by both high mountains and along a few different lakes. Also departing from Montreux, the Chocolate Train makes a one day round trip to Gruyeres for a visit to the Gruyere Cheese Dairy factory, Nestle-Cailler Chocolate factory and Gruyeres Castle.
For a scenic journey past beautiful lakeshores as well as mountains the Wilhelm Tell Express starts in Lucerne with the first part of the trip by turn-of-the-century lake paddle-steamer, with the journey from German speaking Switzerland to Italian Switzerland through the Gotthard Tunnel the shores of Lake Lugano and Lago Maggiore. The boat trip is probably a little more impressive, quite stunning with good weather. The train portion is by regular rail cars and actually passes over its own track, but this happens inside a tunnel. The Mont-Blanc Express runs from Martigny in the Valais at the eastern end of Lake Geneva to Chamonix in France.
These scenic rail journey routes are marketed as unique tourist experiences by the Swiss National Railway SBB with reservations and special ticketing required. Some include a meal and a souvenir keepsake. However, each of the long panorama routes are on the same tracks taken by the standard Swiss rail trains, so it is possible to see the very same scenery without the extras and the panoramic windows. All of these can be taken with individual single journey tickets purchased in Switzerland from any rail ticket office, or with a Swiss Rail Pass or a Eurail Pass, with a reservation supplement.
Some other scenic routes are the high pass railways surpassed by the mountain tunnels. The Lotscheberger follows the route between Lake Thun and Brig, the standard trains took before the completion of the Lotscheberg Tunnel, as is now the local train through the higher mountain villages. The VorAlpen Express runs from Romanshorn at Lake Constance to Lucerne. These don't require any special ticketing.
Mountain Trains - Cogs and Rack Railways
For views high up mountain peaks of flower festooned mountain meadows, permanent snows and glacier ice caves, there are a variety of cog wheel trains running on narrow gauge tracks up some very steep mountain sides.
From Zermatt, the Gornergrat Bahn Matterhorn Railway rises up past skis runs and snow covered valleys to the foot of the mighty Matterhorn and Monte Rosa mountain peaks, over looking the Gornergrat Glacier and Glacier Paradise ski area. Though not a really a rail trip, you can also take a breath taking aerial cable car ride to the highest viewpoint in the Swiss Alps on the Klein Matterhorn.
From Interlaken the Jungfraujoch Railway climbs to the highest rail station in the Alps, making much of the journey through the inside of the Eiger and Monck Mountains to the Jungfraujoch (the saddle between the peaks). The train stops for a look through the view windows of the Eiger peak.
From Lucerne the Mt Pilatus Cog Train is the world’s steepest rack railway. It is possible to take the rail trip on one side of the mountain and the cable car down the other. The Mt Pilatus route is very easy to reach and probably the quickest to a mountain peak if you have little time, as its just outside the city of Lucerne. Or take a Lake Lucerne steamer boat to Vitznau and the Mt. Rigi Bahn. Mt Rigi was the first of the cog trains in Switzerland and still runs a steam engine up the mountain. (Though the first contemplated mountain train was one that was planned to go up through the Matterhorn, a scary contraption from the 1880s that was never realized). Mt. Rigi offers some of central Switzerland's best hiking, noted since the days of Mark Twain. The Mt Titlis Rotair Cable is not in itself a rail ride, but the train to Engelberg takes about 40 minutes from Lucerne, part of it on a cog track.
The mountain rack trains require special ticketing ranging from about 28 CHF up to 90 CHF, depending which one and how far you go on them. Holders of Swiss Rail Passes or Eurail Passes get a discount ranging from 25% to 50% (except for Mt Rigi which can be taken with a Rail Pass, though the steam engine version requires a reservation as it fills up).
Which is the best? Are they worth it? The best scenic train to take really depends on where you're starting from, where you're going, and how much time you have. Personally, I prefer the Bernina to the Glacier, but would always recommend getting to Zermatt for the Matterhorn. The Gornergrat is a bit easier and less weather dependent than the Klein Matterhorn, but the views from the latter are truly spectacular any time of year. The Jungfrau is mostly inside the mountain and unique for that, its pretty much a full day to get there from Interlaken and back, though the Eiger windows may be the most memorable, while Mt Pilatus is also impressive and can be explored in a few hours from Lucerne. As to worth the price - definitely, at least once. Individually each is relatively expensive, but if you already have a rail pass, some just requiring a reservation. The Golden Pass covers the most diverse scenery, and is the best scenic way to get from Lake Geneva region to Lucerne. With kids, try to get them seats in the front with the engineer's view. Of the mountain trains, the cheapest is Mt. Rigi, which you can get to by steamer and up to the top with a pass alone, but its views aren't as high as the others. It can be combined with the William Tell route if you stop-over for a night in Vitznau or Weggis. And the experience of any of these routes may depend on the time of year and weather along on the way. But if you're going all the way to Switzerland, you'll wanna see some scenery. © Bargain Travel Europe
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