Switzerland on wheels

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Switzerland on wheels
Tourists enjoy the scenery from the Glacier Express

Experience the very best of Switzerland - snowy mountaintops, lush green fields, and quaint cottages - while nestled in the comfort of its state-of-the-art transport system


Janice Rodrigues

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Published: Fri 17 Jul 2015, 2:41 PM

Last updated: Sat 18 Jul 2015, 8:40 AM

I am gliding amongst clouds. To my right lies rugged mountain terrain covered with glistening snow, and to my left, a view that belongs in a postcard - a valley speckled with cottages and guarded by snow-capped peaks. This is not a dream. It is all part and parcel of travelling with Glacier Express, one of Switzerland's most famous panoramic trains that moves from Zermatt to Davos or St. Moritz in a span of seven hours.
My tryst with trains started long before Glacier Paradise, though. Our group is here to experience The Grand Train Tour of Switzerland that takes tourists through the most scenic train routes in the country, with the help of one uber-helpful travel ticket - the Swiss Travel Pass. So we were more than glad to ?hold onto the "golden ticket" that ensured we have a stress-free trip exploring the length and breadth of Switzerland by train, bus and boat.
My first impression of that much-talked about Swiss hospitality though, came from Swiss Inter-national Air Lines, which flies directly from Dubai Airport. That's good because not only do you get some quality sleep and gourmet chow aboard the comfy six-and-a half-hour flight, but for business class travellers looking forward to a long day ahead, the arrival lounge is a great place to freshen up.
After our touchdown at Zürich Airport, our group revelled in the fact that we didn't have to step outside to find the railway station, which was connected to the airport. As we are quick to find out, the Swiss Federal Railways is as efficient as can be; every Swiss town is connected to a train system, ensuring that you'll never miss having a car.
Another nifty point to note for travellers - you don't need to lug your heavy luggage with you. The Swiss Federal Railways has a luggage delivery service between railway stations that is superbly prompt - so you can catch a bit of sightseeing and have your luggage meet you directly at your hotel.
View of snow-capped mountains in KlostersWhich is exactly what our team decided to do. From the airport, we found ourselves having our first train experience as we headed to the museum Nutli Hüschi in Klosters. Switzerland has four national languages - French, German, Italian and Romansh - and the language spoken depends on the region you are in. In Klosters, a popular ski resort not too far from the airport, German is most commonly spoken.  
As we moved along in the comfort of a double-decker train, more astonishing than the view of snow-capped mountains on every side, is how green the landscape is. Lush, sprawling meadows and fields seem to go on forever, defying my impression of Switzerland as a land of ice and snow. I shouldn't have been surprised though; those visiting during the summer months (June to September) can find the temperature going up to 30°C - so if you are planning a trip during this time, pack light and go easy on the woolen stuff.
After having arrived at the museum, a guide took us around what used to be a traditional Swiss home during the 17th Century. From the barn, to the basement (traditionally used to making cheese) and the small bed (Swiss people, I am told, used to sleep upright on the bed as they believed lying flat was only for the dead), everything had a natural, authentic feel to it. As a group member pointed out, even the air felt different - fresher. We may have already eaten, but the group couldn't resist yet another snack outdoors, just to take in the sun and the breeze and munch on hearty bread, fresh cheese and cold cuts of meat. A traditional Swiss farmer's meal, I am told.
If you're wondering where to stay in this part of Switzerland, the district of Davos is only a blink away. Having heard a lot about Davos as the location of the World Economic forum, I was not expecting a town that was the very definition of quaint - shops that close by 6pm and wooden houses with sloping roofs, in every corner. We were put up in Hotel Grischa for the night, which I completely recommend - not only is it one of the few hotels that is open all year round and with five restaurants within to choose from - it's also walking distance from the train station.
Which brings us to the Glacier Express that we boarded the very the next day for Zermatt. Throughout the length of our journey, shutterbugs could hardly contain their enthusiasm, jumping from one side of the train to the other in order to get the best view. Those wanting a seat on these exquisite trains should ensure they reserve their seats well in advance, though.
In Zermatt, we were put up in Hotel Alex. It's a hotel I would gladly go back to, not only because the dinner there was excellent, but it introduced me to Jacuzzi bathtubs. However, the true attraction of Zermatt lies in the Matterhorn - the distinct, pyramidal mountain peak that is a pivotal part of their history. It is a well-known fact that the first attempt to scale the Matterhorn ended disastrously, with the members of the expedition falling to their death - something the Matterhorn Museum showcases in intricate detail.
In order to visit the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, we decided to eschew our beloved train journeys, for the time being, in favour of the gondola lifts (a type of lift much like a cable car) which provided a pretty breathtaking view of the mountain peaks. Once you reach the Glacier Paradise viewing platform, take a moment to catch your breath and just soak in the spellbinding scenery. There's something about the place - the blindingly bright snow, the cool wind, and a view of the Mont Blanc (the highest mountain of the Alps) - that makes you feel like you're the only person on Earth.
By the time our tour guide managed to tear us away from the view, we were feeling a bit peckish. Which was perfect since the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise Restaurant, situated right over there, presents some truly authentic rösti - ?a Swiss delicacy of grated baked potato, covered with vegetables, meat and a layer of cheese. At this point, I should add that almost all of the traditional Swiss eats are swimming in cheese, and their chocolates are amongst the best in the world. Definitely not the best place for those on a diet.
As we chomped on hot rösti, we found ourselves enjoying the panoramic view of Italian, French and Swiss Alpine mountain peaks at every corner. The word 'paradise' is more than fitting.A street alongside Lake Geneva in the town of Montreux
Being part of the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland has its advantages; it's pretty flexible for travellers looking to make their own itinerary. Which is why our team decided to cram as much as we could into our few days and explore the town of music - Montreux - next. Once there, ?it's not hard to imagine why this is the city that inspired world-famous songs such as Deep Purple's Smoke on the Water. Not only do you get an unbeatable ?view of Lake Geneva, Montreux is well known for its love of music (if the internationally renowned Montreux Jazz Festival is any indicator). Walk over to the Market Square, and you'll find a bronze statue of Freddie Mercury overlooking the lake; the late lead singer of the rock band Queen had settled in Montreux at one point.
It's also not too far away from Chillon Castle, a must-visit if you're one of those people entranced with brave knights, royal feasts and dark dungeons. The Chillon Castle is also reachable via boat from the neightbouring district of Vevey, and I cannot emphasise how important it is for you to take that route. Not only does it give you a chance to check out the picturesque district of Vevey, but as you move towards Chillon Castle on a boat, you get to see its towers looming over you. It's like a flashback to an earlier time.
After a day well spent exploring ancient castles, picture-perfect river views and blinding golden sunsets, we pack up for our next destination - Lucerne, one of the German-speaking parts of Switzerland, located more centrally. The journey from Montreux to Lucerne took the better part of a day (almost five houses) but we didn't have any reason to complain - particularly while onboard the Golden Pass panoramic train! We tried out the VIP seats and were amazed with the view - the sun shimmering across Lake Lucerne and Lake Brienz, lush green valleys and plenty of thatched houses and grazing cows.
From the moment we stepped out in Lucerne, it couldn't be more obvious why it's a true tourist haven. Located in the heart of Switzerland, the city is home to buildings adorned with frescos, plenty of souvenir shops and Switzerland's oldest covered bridge (built in 1333) which is its most characteristic feature. What makes the chapel bridge (or the Kapellbrücke as it is called) unique is the number of paintings that adorn the interior of the bridge, which dates as far back as the 17th Century.
After a day spent exploring the touristy town of Lucerne, it was time to bid farewell and head back to Zurich airport, and it seemed only fitting to catch a train headed there. I've always believed that in order to really understand the lay of the land, there's nothing better than 'doing as the Romans do', as they say. Which is why, however ridiculous I may look holding onto a giant map and figuring out station names, there's no way I'd rather discover a place than through its public transport network.
It may be known for winter sports, but Switzerland is also home to glorious history, excellent cuisine and views that are as perfect as can be. So if you do happen to visit, get off the beaten track, make your own itinerary and go where your feet take you. The excellent transport system will always help you find your way.

The view from a panoramic train
The view from a panoramic train
A Swiss boat in Lucerne
A Swiss boat in Lucerne
View of Lake Geneva in Montreux
View of Lake Geneva in Montreux

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