Slow travel in Switzerland: the 10-day rail itinerary

The eco-minded Swiss have perfected rail travel like no other nation, with trains gliding between cities, slopes and snow-capped peaks with maximum efficiency. Read on for your ultimate 10-day guide.

Published 27 Oct 2020, 11:00 GMT, Updated 25 Nov 2020, 14:47 GMT
Gstaad is a picture-perfect village nestled in the Swiss Alps, known for its glitzy bars and designer ...

Gstaad is a picture-perfect village nestled in the Swiss Alps, known for its glitzy bars and designer boutiques. 

Photograph by Switzerland Tourism

Switzerland’s great railways — Europe’s greatest, some might say — unzip the landscape to reveal vineyards tumbling down to lakes, meadows chiming with cowbells, waterfalls, rivers, ravines, glaciers and one sky-high mountain after the next. Trains dive into tunnels to emerge at wind-buffeted mountain passes and improbably steep viaducts. Epic vistas are matched only by the castle-capped towns and culturally rich cities that pin it all together. This 10-day rail trip from Geneva to Zurich gives you a taste of the lot.

Days one & two: Geneva-Lausanne

Ease into your trip in Geneva, where the dress-circle views of Lake Geneva and Mont Blanc pique the appetite for what’s to come. Allow an afternoon to explore the city’s Vieille Ville, promenades and the rainbow-kissed Jet de’Eau fountain, before treating yourself to a night in a grand hotel like the opulent Beau-Rivage.

The train ride to nearby Lausanne lifts the gaze little by little from the lake to terraced vineyards and the snow-dusted Savoy Alps. Stop off in Nyon, where the 12th-century castle is quite the fairytale dream. In the brick-vaulted basement, Caveau de Nyon offers tastings of local La Côte wines.

Back on board, the train glides east to nearby Lausanne, a hilly city with a creative buzz, uplifting lake views and new cultural kudos since the recent opening of Plateforme 10, an innovative arts district set in revamped train sheds. For romance, stay at neo-gothic castle Château d'Ouchy, complete with lake-facing terrace and private boat tours, or the Lausanne Palace with its state-of-the-art spa. The icing on the cake is scoring a table at two-Michelin-starred Anne Sophie-Pic, where the intricate, season-driven menus are sheer art.

The Belle Epoque train runs on the Montreux–Zweisimmen line and is known for its romantic, retro-style interior. 

 

Photograph by Switzerland Tourism

Days three & four: Lavaux-Montreux

Lausanne is the jumping-off point for Lavaux, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where vineyards concertina down steeply terraced hillsides to Lake Geneva’s glass-blue waters. It’s a ravishingly pretty region for walks among the vines and a dégustation (tasting) of flinty Chasselas white or fruity Pinot Noir red wines. Hook onto the 8 mile hike from St Saphorin to Lutry. Or for minimal effort, take an hour-long spin of the vineyards on the Lavaux Express, departing from either Lutry or Cully.

From here, the train nudges east to Vevey, a chic lakefront town that loves its food. Denis Martin walks the culinary high wire at his Michelin-starred restaurant, adding a pinch of molecular magic to scrupulously sourced Swiss produce. Alternatively, for a mountain escape on the slopes of Mont-Pèlerin, five-star Le Mirador Resort & Spa is a class act.

The next town along is graceful Montreux, much lauded for its lake-and-mountain views and July Montreux Jazz Festival. The unmissable here is medieval Château de Chillon and its riot of towers and turrets, which fired Lord Byron’s poetic imagination and Turner’s prolific paintbrush.

Sitting prettily at the food of the Brienzer Rothorn mountain, and on the shores of the lake from which it takes its name, the Alpine village of Brienz has a stuck-in-time feel.

Photograph by Switzerland Tourism

Days five & six: The GoldenPass Line

Montreux is the starting point for the three-stage GoldenPass Line, one of Switzerland’s most feted rail journeys, negotiating mountain passes and opening up views of forests, jewel-coloured lakes and impenetrable mountains on its ride north to Lucerne. On the first leg to Zweisimmen, stop in Rossinière, where ornately carved timber chalets include the 113-windowed Grand Chalet, once home to Polish-French modern artist Balthus.

The peaks get higher and craggier on the approach to Gstaad, a ritzy ski resort in winter and a mellow walking base in summer. Its crowning glory is Glacier 3000, with glacier skiing, hiking and front-row views of a host of peaks grazing the 13,000ft mark. For A-list glamour, stay at the Gstaad Palace and dine at dairy-turned-Michelin-starred restaurant Chesery.

Back on the train, you’re rewarded with wild Alpine scenes en route to Zweisimmen. Here you’ll change for the onward journey to Interlaken along the shores of startlingly turquoise Lake Thun, maybe stopping to dally a while in the vine-cradled, castle-topped town of Spiez.

Lucerne is famed for its beautifully-preserved medieval architecture, including the picture-perfect Chapel Bridge.

Photograph by Getty Images

Days seven & eight: Interlaken-Lucerne

As the train nears Interlaken, suddenly there’s the pop-up effect of the pearly white, 13,640ft peak of Jungfrau. Interlaken places you in the heart of the Bernese Alps. Get an early start for the ride up to Jungfraujoch, Europe’s highest station at 11,332ft, where riveting views of the 14-mile Aletsch Glacier unfold. On the way back down, stop at Kleine Scheidegg to hike or ski in the shadow of the Eiger’s gnarly north face, or in Lauterbrunnen to see the wispy Staubbach Falls leap spectacularly over a cliff face.

For belle époque style and spa time, the Victoria-Jungfrau gets top billing. Stay the night before embarking on the final leg of the GoldenPass Line. Trundling past lakes, waterfalls and over the mountainous Brünig Pass, the two-hour ride to Lucerne will have you glued to the train window. Pause in peaceful, timber-chalet-lined Brienz for lake strolls, a vintage steam-train ride up to the 7,713ft peak of Rothorn, and the spectacle of the multi-tiered Giessbach Falls.

Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland, set prettily at the meeting of river and lake.

Photograph by Switzerland Tourism

Days nine & ten: Lucerne-Zurich

Overlooking mountains of myth and a fjord-like lake, Lucerne is an instant heart-stealer. While you’ll want to see the medieval Chapel Bridge, Jean Nouvel-designed KKL Luzern Culture Centre and Picasso-crammed Museum Rosengart Collection, much of the joy here is simply hanging out on a cafe terrace or wandering the lake shore. SGV boats ply the waters, connecting up with railways and cable-cars swinging up to the peaks of 6,982ft Mount Pilatus and 5,899ft Mount Rigi for views of the lake from on high. Lucerne’s raft of luxurious sleeps includes Art Deco Hotel Montana, accessed by its own funicular.

Your final day involves a 45-minute train ride north to Zurich, where rugged peaks give way to rolling pastures. Beyond its river-divided Old Town, Zurich is a hub of new-wave creativity, with waterfront bars, boutiques and galleries. For a post-rail journey relax, there’s no better way to end your trip than in the ALEX Hotel at sunset, scenically perched right on the water.

Essentials

Getting there & around
SWISS is among the many airlines serving Zurich and Geneva Airport. Or, more sustainably, take the Eurostar to Paris, then connect with TGVs that race to Geneva in just over three hours. Once there, the money-saving Swiss Travel Pass lets you explore with a single ticket.

When to go
Switzerland is a beautiful country to see by train year-round, and railway lines are well-equipped to cope with the snow that blankets the ground in winter.

For more information on how to best experience Switzerland by train, including alternative itineraries such as the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland, click here

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