Monday, July 15

Switzerland by rail: Country’s best flight free holidays



A trip to Switzerland need not involve a flight. Several cities, including Geneva and Zurich, are easy to reach by train. Here are five ideas for a one-week break

The Swiss Riviera

Take the 7:55am Eurostar and after a dash across Paris to the Gare de Lyon you could be in lakeside Geneva by 15:27pm, leaving plenty of time to explore the atmospheric Old Town and find somewhere for dinner. Geneva is gastronomic nirvana, but you’ll still find tucked-away bistros serving menus-du-jour for £15.

Trains follow Lake Geneva’s northern shore to Lausanne, another medieval gem that’s reknowned for its nightlife. Beyond it is Vevey, a genteel resort that won the approval of Charlie Chaplin – his old villa, Manoir de Ban, is now the centrepiece of Chaplin’s World, a museum dedicated to his life and legacy.

Finally, visit Montreux, famous for its summer jazz festival. The perfectly preserved Chateau de Chillon nearby has been drawing visitors ever since Lord Byron carved his name on the dungeon walls and composed his poem “The Prisoner of Chillon”. Another compulsory excursion from Montreux in one of those colourful miniature Swiss trains – is to the pretty walled town of Gruyeres.

You can eat the cheese, of course, but also visit a museum dedicated to H.R.Giger, the avant-garde artist who designed the unique world of the Alien movies. The disturbing and macabre exhibition – with exoskeleton furniture, fantastical paintings and imagined alien erotica – provides a bizarre juxtaposition to Byron’s romantic vision.

Mountains and mystery

Board the 13:31 Eurostar to connect with the 16:47 from Gare de Lyon, and you still reach the Swiss capital, Bern, before bedtime (22:50). This is a compact city with a medieval centre, and surrounded on three sides by the Aare river. The Renzo Piano-designed Paul Klee Centre across the river is the big cultural draw.

© GETTY The train to Jungfraujoch A 45-minute train ride south lies Interlaken, built between Lake Thun, wide, tranquil and cobalt-blue, and Lake Brienz, long, narrow and aquamarine. Interlaken is Switzerland’s activity hub; go paragliding, skydiving or jetboating, but first take the local train to Europe’s highest railway station at Jungfraujoch for its perennially appealing panorama of the Aletsch glacier.

Continue east to Meiringen; it’s reputed to be the home of meringue, and you can taste the dessert in various guises around town. It’s also the gateway to the Reichenbach Falls site of the final showdown between Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis, Professor Moriarty. A trip to Meiringen’s Sherlock museum is a must for fans.

Finally, take the train to Lucerne (around 75 minutes), making sure to sit on the left for some stunning views of Lake Sarnen and Lake Lungern. Lucerne itself, with a chocolate-box centre, baroque churches, a fairy-tale bridge and easy access to the looming Mount Pilatus, has been a British favourite ever since Queen Victoria sought solace here while grieving for Prince Albert. A one-hour express train will take you back to Bern.

Two countries in one

A 7:55 Eurostar departure will get you to Basel by 15:26. The riverside city is packed with things to do, but factor in time for the quirky Jean Tinguely museum, with its kinetic art sculptures.

© getty Neuchâtel Next head south to Solothurn (trains take an hour) to admire its baroque architecture and exceptional fine arts museum, before the journey to Biel/Bienne, a border town on the Röstigraben – the invisible divide between German-speaking and French-speaking Switzerland. It is officially bilingual, with streets and squares signposted in both languages.

Proceed to pretty Neuchâtel, with its Gothic castle and Renaissance mansions. Try to be here on the first Sunday of the month, when you can witness three 18th-century automata come to life in the Art and History Museum.

Finish your trip in style at Yverdon-les-Bains on the shores of Lake Neuchâtel with a soak at the Centre Thermal whose waters bubble up from underground thermal springs. Continue to Geneva for your return journey to London.

Zurich and Lake Constance

The Rhine Falls The 7:55 Eurostar will take you directly to Zurich in as little as 7 hours 31 mins with a change in Paris. As international as Geneva but with a refreshing rough edge, this is a city with the best nightlife between Milan and Berlin; you’ll definitely want to spend a few days here, meandering in the winding lanes of Niederdorf, ambling along riverside and lakeside promenades and shopping in the exclusive Bahnhofstrasse.

Take the train to St Gallen (around an hour) for one of Switzerland’s finest Baroque abbeys, then on to Rorschach, a picturesque town on Lake Constance that woos visitors with remarkable Hundertwasser Hall, whose gilded onion domes are Instagram gold.

Next, ride along the lake’s southern shore to Konstanz. This is where the Rhine begins, so take a boat trip to Schaffhausen, whose frescoed medieval houses are a flaneur’s dream come true.

Stay here for a few nights to soak up those façades after the cruise crowds have gone, and to take a short excursion to the Rhine Falls – though lacking in height, they more than make up for it in roar and spectacle. A 35-minute train will take you back to Zurich for the journey home.

The highest and longest mountain range in Europe, the Alps stretch across France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Liechtenstein and Monaco. The Alpine region is famous for its snow-capped landscape, beautiful valleys, lakes and pastures, unique flora and fauna, and the famous Swiss cheese. Here’s a look at the breathtaking beauty of the region and life in the Alps.

Switzerland for rail buffs

A trip to Zurich presents an opportunity for a complete loop around Switzerland by rail. You’ve already crossed the country’s northern rim to arrive here, so get on the train to Chur, following the western banks of lakes Zurich and Obersee, delivering spectacular panoramas.

Aerial panoramic cityscape view on the old town of Zurich city in Switzerland Chur is an ancient town with Roman relics and a fascinating medieval centre; you won’t regret spending a night here.

Leave Chur on the line via Landquart to St Moritz, a magnet for VIPs perched on a lake that freezes into a skating rink in winter. From here, board the Glacier Express, one of the world’s great railway journeys, for an eight-hour ride to Zermatt, passing by the best Switzerland has to offer.

Enjoy a night in Zermatt, a ski village whose views of Matterhorn have made it famous. Return to Brig a very enjoyable backtrack for the train to Sion, the cosy capital of the Valais, to taste the wine grown in the region; hardly any Swiss wine is exported, which makes it the best-kept secret of the country. Continue all the way to Montreux and Lausanne, before your return to London.