On a leg of the Grand Train Tour between Lucerene and Interlaken, I’m constantly spellbound by the scene passing by. So far, our train has hugged snow-capped mountains dotted with cows and sped between ramrod-straight thickets of trees, only to round a sharp bend that drops us in even more aching beauty. Add to the mix tiny stone churches and smattering of chalets gathered at the edge of a placid lakes and you’ve got Switzerland’s Grand Train Tour.
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Swiss Rail is the perfect date
On time, impeccable and first-class, the Swiss Rail Network brings romance back to rail travel. Vintage Belle Epoque trains run on some routes, complete with linen table service, chilled Champagne and gourmet cheese and antipasto plates. On others, there are modern panoramic carriages with dress-circle views to eight of the most scenic routes on the planet. It’s also one of the most efficient integrated train systems in the world. The Swiss Travel Pass gives unlimited travel on trains, buses and boats, making it a breeze to hop-on-and-off at whim.
Views to make your heart beat faster
The Golden Pass Line snakes through the Bernese Alps, chugging past turquoise lakes and tiny villages on its way from Lucerne to Montreux and the silvery shimmer of Lake Geneva. The Bernina Express from Chur to Tirano, just over the border in Italy, whips past plunging cliffs, forests and the Morteratsch glacier, climbing to an altitude of 2,253m. And the Glacier Express ducks through 91 tunnels and over 291 bridges between St Moritz and Zermatt, delivering dramatic views of the Rhine Gorge and romantic ruins and castles along the way.
Grand stays to match grand views
At Brienz, near Interlaken, hop off the train and board a sweet red-trimmed steamboat bound for Giessbach Falls, a 500-metre waterfall on the southern shore of Lake Brienz. Graceful as a swan, the boat swishes through the emerald waters and will deposit you 10 minutes later at a funicular for the 93-metre ascent. It’s an enchanting spot. Presiding over the falls and glorious sweep of mountains, sky and blue lake below, is the Grandhotel Giessbach, a 19th-century hotel with fairytale turrets, balconies that look straight out of Romeo and Juliet, palatial rooms and sun-drenched terraces.
Cultural tours to revive the soul
There are more than 480 museums and galleries in Switzerland, and free entrance for holders of a Swiss Travel Pass. In Martigny, in the canton of Valais, the Fondation Pierre Giannada will have you in thrall. The privately owned gallery features world-class art exhibitions, a funky circa-1970s bar adjoining a vintage car collection, and superb 20th-century modern sculpture garden. Beneath a spray of pale green trees, stop to admire Rodin’s famous couple entwined in a kiss. Skirting a lake are works by Brancusi, Arp, De Kooning, Ernst and Tapie. There are Roman ruins and La Cour Chagall, a pavilion of whimsical murals and sculptures by the artist, Marc Chagall.
Wine tastings for two among the vines
In Saint-Leonard, in west Switzerland, scramble up a rocky ledge for a wine tasting at the terrace vineyards of Cave de la Bruniere. Only two percent of Swiss wine is exported and a third of it is produced in Valais, where its gentle slopes hug the Rhône River. During harvest-time, sip on a rich-bodied red while around you the plump grapes are plucked and transported down the rocky outcrop in a dinky cable cart. Glide along the subterranean trout-filled waters of Lac Souterrain, Europe’s largest underwater lake, an ethereal chamber where acoustic jazz and opera is sometimes performed in boats on the water. Here, you can spy wooden casks and learn about the lake sometimes doubling as a cellar for the local winemaker’s more full-bodied reds.
Need to know
Where to stay: The Grandhotel Giessbach is a gracious 19th-century hotel with all the romance of old Switzerland. Rooms start from A$470. Visit the website here for bookings and information. Fly: Swiss Airlines fly daily from the major Australian cities. Visit the website here for information and prices. Train: The Swiss Travel Pass affords unlimited travel by bus, train and boat in the Swiss Rail Network as well as free entry to more than 480 museums and exhibitions. Visit the website here for information and prices.
The writer visited Switzerland as a guest of Switzerland Tourism