Imagine cutting through the Swiss landscape, winding through the valley, twirling down the Alps, chugging around bends and through tunnels where every corner and every turn is right in front of your eyes, promising to be exceptional.
While visiting Switzerland over this past summer, with the family, I realized that it is a country for all seasons and is beautiful no matter where you are within its boundaries.
One of the best and most leisurely ways to see the natural beauty of Switzerland is through its extensive rail system. It’s easy because it unashamedly wanders through alluring valleys and mountains, so you don’t miss out on anything or place. Moreover, the Swiss with their discounts and offers on train travel make it more attractive for travelers from outside the country.
Even more enchanting is that Switzerland has gone out its way to make these train journeys all the more memorable; you can travel in a Belle Epoque cabin on the Chocolate Train or have almost 180 degrees of uninterrupted views via panoramic windows.
If you travel by Second Class there is enough glass to capture the magic of Switzerland, but if you are willing to spend a little extra, the windows open up a great deal more, and you can enjoy the splendor of Switzerland in all its majestic glory.
The Glacier and Bernina Express are two of the most popular train routes around the world and are often found in travel bucket-lists. They are the most photographed and written about, and their claim to fame isn’t without reason. But, while these routes undoubtedly stand out for taking its passengers through some breathtakingly beautiful scenes, there is a little known option that is only available on some routes, and according to me trumps even the most panoramic of cabins in the trains mentioned above.
Limited seating makes the availability of these spaces, especially when not pre-booked, nothing short of pure luck. Furthermore, being a slightly more expensive option – a reservation charge on top of having a first class ticket, which can be upgraded from second class – makes this a one-of-a-kind experience that shouldn’t be missed out if within your budget.
Your chance to almost drive a train in Switzerland comes courtesy of the Golden Pass trains that run the route between Zweisimmen and Montreux; 8 first class VIP seats, right in the front of the train, giving the traveller an exceptional view, one that only a driver is usually privy to, is what locomotive dreams are made of.
Having just managed to book seats on our journey back from Gstaad, while I spent most of the time standing, excitedly taking photos from each possible angle and side, I was filled to the brim with juvenile excitement, evident on the faces of my kids as well who couldn’t stop looking around and pointing at the passing scenery.
Crossing through small Swiss villages, at times houses on both sides, winding across hills with herds of cattle grazing, cutting through fields alive and green owing to the recent rains and intermittent sunshine, the train chugs along gently as views don’t just pass by anymore. Instead, their arrival is greeted with OOHs and AAHs by those fortunate enough to see them in advance, much before anyone else on the train.
At one of the routine stops my son decides to make friends with a little girl, only slightly older than him, outside, on the platform, waiting possibly for a family member. A small village station, the train came to a standstill for a few extra minutes than usual. As the girl gets out of her car and practices cartwheels on the side, my son, fascinated by her actions and maybe her blonde hair, looks at her from behind the glass smiling and giggling. She notices him too, and smiles are exchanged. As the train whistles and readies to leave, he gains enough confidence to send a quick flying kiss through the panoramic window of the train which is received at the other end with a blush… and thus ends his first crush.
There are a lot of train journeys around the world that standout, some for their elegance and luxury while others for where they take us, but the front row VIP seats give another kind of “safe” thrill to its passengers. The excitement of witnessing life in motion through an exclusive perspective – the sight of an oncoming train that makes your heart beat a little faster or the charm of waving to the locals waiting at train crossings are just some of the pleasures. It is an occurrence where the thrill factor isn’t high, but it is very much real.
As we finally approach Montreux and catch the next train to Vevey, the change is so sudden that it takes a few minutes to resize that the experience is over. We still have breathtaking views of Lac Léman on one side and terraced vineyards on another, but it’s no longer as impacting as seeing the lake first appear almost magically around a bend in full grandeur from the front of the train.
While I recount this unforgettable train journey, I cannot help by wonder about the change in the landscape once winter sets in and a blanket of white envelopes Switzerland. More than that though, I cannot but feel envy towards the train drivers in Switzerland, who, now I know for a fact, have their ever-changing “work windows” that give them the best front views in the entire world (well, except the one driving our train, because he/she was right at the back).