The first European train tour of my series sees Mrs Wilbur & I in Switzerland, a trip we undertook in 2016.
If the earth’s creator had been a train fanatic and had decided to build the ideal setting for his giant train set, he could have constructed Switzerland for this purpose.
Brooding mountains & great lakes, sweeping bends, precipitous viaducts, chocolate box villages, huge skies and lots & lots of snow! Hornby would be very hard pressed indeed to top that!
I had travelled a few times by train in Switzerland before 2016 – my first interrail trip in 1987 took us from Montreux to Lausanne and to gorgeous Interlaken, I had taken the Lakes Loco from Geneva to Lausanne in the late ’90s & travelled the mountain cog railway to Grindelwald in 2003 and had loved it all.
The train to Grindelwald
This tour was to be extra special though.
Tirano to Chur to St Moritz to Zermatt to Zurich
We arrived in the Italian border town of Tirano by train from Como in order to enter Switzerland on the famous Bernina Express.
The whole town seemed to exist for the railway and the majority of people who frequented the place on that mid-June day were grey-haired German or Japanese tourists in identical tour operator issued yellow baseball caps, taking excursions to various destinations by train.
There are actually two train stations in Tirano – one for other parts of Italy (where we arrived) and the other the gateway to Switzerland.
After a leisurely lunch (our last reasonably priced one of the trip!), we boarded our touristic train that would take us to Chur, from where we would take a normal scheduled train back down to St. Moritz.
The carriages had huge windows to give you the best view of the panorama and Mrs Wilbur and I had booked window seats opposite each other.
First up on our scenic adventure was the iconic Brusio viaduct, the circular viaduct that was designed to allow the train to get maximum elevation up the mountain over a short distance.
It resembles the toy racetrack that I used to have as a kid, the sort of hairpin bend that used to find my racing cars flying off as I drove too fast.
I was tipped off by the guard regarding the best place to stand to film the train bending round the viaduct. This allowed me to hang out of the window and take the video that you can find following this link – Brusio Viaduct
We had bought a four day Swiss Pass for about £199, plus had to pay a £10 supplement due to us being on tourist central.
The journey was brilliant as we climbed high into the mountains. The scenery was beautiful and the bridges, tunnels and viaducts represented miracles of engineering.
The Landwasser Viaduct near Filisur was particularly stunning. Completed in 1902 it is 65 metres (213 ft) high, 136 metres (446 ft) long.
After four hours of eye popping panoramas, we arrived in Chur, said to be the oldest settlement in Switzerland, but just a thirty minute train change for us.
I got my first wake up call regarding Swiss prices when purchasing two sandwiches and some water for £18, before boarding the train for our two hour journey to St Moritz.
The standard train was a pleasure too. We retraced many of our tracks, only this time without all the chatter and jockeying for position to get the best shots. I just based myself between two carriages, felt the wind in my hair and leaned out of the window whenever I thought the photo opportunity warranted it.
We absolutely loved our 36 hours in St Moritz zipping about the countryside on trains and up mountains on funicular railways & cable cars. Read about our adventure by clicking SNOW.
I awoke in St Moritz stunned by the news that UK had voted to leave the EU. I actually stayed awake for much of night tuning into the BBC so was pretty tired as we departed too.
Today would be the big eight hour train trip – the Glacier Express from St Moritz to Zermatt. As with the Bernina, this would be a touristic affair with panoramic glass windows and every passenger armed with a camera.
As you would expect, the scenery was amazing as we cut a swathe through snow-capped mountains, past great pine forests & pale blue lakes, skirted around charming villages with churches whose towers resembled sharpened pencils & wooden chalets with colourful doors, pretty flowers & smoking chimneys. We also traversed vertigo inducing viaducts whose arches clung to the valley floor far below like mighty stalactites.
I usually pride myself in being more traveller than tourist, but today there was no denying I was the latter, especially as we tucked into the uninspiring set menu that we had pre-booked.
At the end of the train, a great view was to be had out of the back door and I stood wedged into position to view the standard rails turning into the cog form as we climbed ever higher. I marvelled at the engineering and imagined the hardy souls who had turned diagrams into reality in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The last leg of the journey into Zermatt was spectacular with snowy mountains ahead and to our left, vast piles of scree to our right.
We unfortunately arrived at the home of the mighty Matterhorn in the rain, but this did nothing to dampen our spirits. Happily the rain did subside for enough time for me to get a decent shot of the great mountain from our hotel balcony, together with one of a bird of prey that I was quite pleased with.
Saturday was a bit of a wash out, forcing us to take shelter in the coffee shop adjacent to an expensive hotel. The poor driver of the horse & trap that ferried hotel guests to and from the railway station was not quite so lucky, getting drenched on frequent occasions.
Due to the inclement weather we forewent the opportunity to take the cog railway up to the Gornergrat mountain or the cable car up the Matterhorn – saved for a future visit. Our Swiss Rail pass would have given us a very handy 50% discount too. Even then either would have cost about £60 each to do.
There are not many cheap things to do in Switzerland apart from hiking!
We had one last journey to undertake – a four hour hop to Zurich.
The scenery was great as usual – I was however rather taken aback to pass a large yellow school building near Visp apparently paid for by disgraced Swiss ex-FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
For part of the journey we followed Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, the lakes that have Interlaken situated between them. Unfortunately it was raining rather heavily as we sat on the top deck of our double decker train that we had changed onto at Visp. This made visibility poor and photos impossible.
We arrived in Zurich for the last night of our trip. We had been given walking instructions to our hotel, but I reluctantly agreed to part with €25 for the five minute taxi ride.
At least the sun shone on Sunday for our last few hours of the holiday. Zurich was rather pleasant as it happened.
Coming next – Italy…….