...which is easy enough to do on line. You can choose a three, four, eight or fifteen day pass which allows complete freedom to travel on any train, bus or ferry with other concessions on mountain railways and museums added. Switzerland has the best and most integrated transport system in the world. In Switzerland there will be no rattling along in primitive, overcrowded, two coach "Pacer" trains, which make no attempt to connect with other rail company trains or local bus services. As a local Swiss train pulls into a small village station you will often see a minibus arriving at the same time, to take potential passengers to even smaller villages where the line does not go. Connecting trains are always waiting at the adjacent platform. (Try changing trains at Birmingham New Street - especially with a load of luggage!) The rail pass is a very good deal.
The first problem is getting to Switzerland. The choice of routes has become more limited in recent years with the withdrawal by Deutsche Bahn of all their City Night Line services. It is no longer possible to take the "Pegasus" sleeper train from Amsterdam to Zurich after using the Newcastle - Amsterdam ferry - which is the most relaxing way to do it. This route was our choice the last time we visited Switzerland, armed with an eight day railcard.
Leaving the Tyne bound for Amsterdam.
Enjoying Amsterdam while waiting for the sleeper.
Switzerland is a small country with a very dense transport network. The link below is to a map which shows where a Swiss Rail Pass can take you, by bus, train or ferry. Everywhere!
We spent four nights in Chur and then four nights in Brig during which time we covered thousands of miles and saw a lot of Switzerland. Our first excursion from Chur was to take the little train which climbs steeply to the nearby ski resort of Arosa. The train begins its journey running through the streets of the town with other traffic having to make way, respectfully, for it. Soon it leaves the roads behind and climbs up along the sides of steep sided river valleys through glorious scenery.
View from the train...
...as we wait for the down service to pass us.
The scattered little skiing resort of Arosa, with the return train waiting at the station.
There was time for a short walk around a frozen lake before heading back down to Chur.
One of the highlights of the Arosa branch is crossing this spectacularly high bridge
The next day we took a long out and back trip on the Bernina Express, which took us over a high pass of the same name into the southern, Italian part of Switzerland. The train continues to Tirano in Italy but we alighted at Poschiavo a small town near the border.
These narrow gauge trains are very comfortable and, although are extensively used by local people, to get to work or school, also make concession to the tourists with these observation carriages which have superb all round visibility.
The line climbs very high, well above the snowline.
Height is gained in this rugged terrain by spectacular feats of engineering with towering viaducts and spiral tunnels. This is the Landwasser Viaduct, a high, curving, sixty one arched structure over a deep gorge, ending in a tunnel straight into the mountainside. These Swiss are always up for an engineering challenge!
The Bernina Express at Poschiavo station. It would seem that most tourists were continuing to Tirano.
The town was very quiet.
We followed a path which climbed above the town. We were not sure what this was - an old gatepost?
A sunny spot for a quiet beer. I think we had Poschiavo to ourselves!
A last view of the town from the train back to Chur. It has gained height very quickly through a sequence of spiral viaducts and tunnels.
Still climbing steeply towards the Bernina Pass. The line we had traversed fifteen minutes before is visible on the valley floor below. Poschiavo has disappeared in the valley behind the dark, right hand ridge.
The route ahead through the pass.
The advantage of a narrow gauge railway is that it can take the tighter bends often necessary in this sort of terrain.
Snow and ice filled corries at the head of the Bernina Pass. At this point we are over two thousand three hundred metres high, yet this line is kept open all year round. Clearly the Swiss have solved the problem of "the wrong sort of snow!"
It is easy to arrange a circular route on the Swiss network. On our last day in Chur we visited Landquart,. Klosters, Scuol-Tarasp and returned to Chur via St Moritz and Filisur. It was all very interesting, the scenery delightful and, this being Switzerland, all seven changes of train went without a hitch.
This rather lovely church looks really stunning on its airy perch.
Lunch in Scuol-Tarasp with a spectacular backdrop.
A close-up of our lunch time scenery. All the strata lie at an angle which shows that this mountain is the eroded limb of a once massive anticline.
This is St Moritz. It is the only place in Switzerland which we did not warm to. We did not dare go into any of the shops, all of which seemed to be selling watches, hand bags, perfume or skiing equipment. There were no prices on anything. There were lots of posh cars and few people walking about. The final straw was the bag strapped under the horses' rear ends, designed to prevent the streets being polluted with horse manure. Back to the train!
We left Chur in style! The Glacier Express runs both ways between St Moritz and Zermatt which takes it through both Chur and Brig - our next destination.
First class on the Glacier Express provided us with five hours of luxury. Lunch and drinks were served at our seat. There were maps, a guide book and even an audio guide provided while outside was the most magnificent scenery. A simple description of the route of the Glacier express: westbound, the first half climbs up valleys of rivers that eventually become the Rhine and flow into the north sea; at the halfway point is the Oberalp Pass over two thousand metres high; the rest of the route (apart from the climb up to Zermatt) descends river valleys that become the Rhone and flow into the Mediterranean.
Our train waits at a passing place near the head of the Oberalp Pass for the eastbound Glacier Express to pass us. It is approaching a section of avalanche protection tunnel with evidence of recent slides across it.
Below the pass is the town of Andermatt. The station we are heading for is left of the elegant reflected elbow - reflections are a recurrent problem when taking photos through train windows. Even further below us in a long tunnel is the main north south railway line which connects Zurich and Italy.
After Andermatt the train winds its way down the valley towards Brig.
Brig is a pleasant little town surrounded by high mountains. It is on another main line route between Switzerland and Italy. Just outside the station is the entrance to the Simplon Tunnel.
In Brig we leave the Glacier Express to continue its journey to Zermatt and cross the street to our hotel (Such expert planning!)
The next day we venture on to the Centovalli Railway - an extraordinary feat of engineering. This thirty two mile metre gauge line runs between Domodossala in Italy to Locarno, back in Switzerland, over very mountainous terrain, as its name suggests. We take a main line train through the Simplon Tunnel to Domodossola to access the route. An abiding memory of the day is that all the streams were in spate following heavy rain.
For most of the trip we were looking down into the depths of precipitous gorges to the foaming torrent rushing along its course. If we glanced up from time to time there were also pretty serious mountains passing by.
This is a typical section of line. The train is crossing from one side of the gorge to the other. The route ahead can be seen on the very edge of the gorge on a viaduct built into the rock.
One of the advantages of a Swiss Rail pass is that if things don't work out you can always change your mind and do something else. This how we set out to visit Zermatt and ended up in Interlaken. The plan in Zermatt was to take the mountain railway up to the high summit station at Gornergrat at 3135 metres. These rack and pinion lines are rather expensive and after waiting in a long queue for quite a while our enthusiasm waned, especially since the summit was wreathed in thick cloud. Zermatt also demonstrated some of the qualities that had put us off St Moritz. There is a small booklet containing all the Swiss railway timetables - an essential tool for pass holders - and this told us that with only three changes of train we could be in Interlaken in time for lunch.
Interlaken which, as its name suggests, lies in the valley between Lake Thun and Lake Spiez is very pretty. I wanted very much to continue from Interlaken to the spectacular mountains, including Mont Blanc around Grindelwald and take the mountain railway up the Jungfraujoch, at 3466 metres, even higher than Gornergrat and even more eye wateringly expensive. Sadly no amount of juggling with train times and routes would let us do that on that day and get back to Brig. So it was all left for another day and we contented ourselves with a gentle walk around Interlaken. Three years later we were able to take the train up Jungfraujoch on a second visit to Switzerland, details of which can be found here.
There is another named train called the "Golden Pass" which we booked between Montreux and Spiez. Like the Glacier Express it has panoramic coaches, food and drink service at your seat and is very luxurious. allowing a safe transfer time at Montreux we took a west bound main line train from Brig to Montreux. THE TRAIN WAS LATE! The Swiss are not used to their trains being late. An ashen faced ticket inspector came round the train and apologised personally to every passenger. At Montreux passengers were milling about in confusion, having been confronted by an unprecedented situation and a schedule urgently in need of modification.
Brits, on the other hand, are well used to such situations and we quickly changed our booking to an ordinary train and continued on our way.
This journey across the centre of Switzerland is through a gentler terrain...
...though no less beautiful.
On our final day we returned to Interlaken with the aim of visiting the Jungfraujoch. Once again we were put off by low cloud over the mountains and changed our minds again. we continued instead to Lucerne via Meiringen.
The line from Interlaken follows the shore of Lake Brienz.
Lucerne is located at the head of an arm of Lake Lucerne with an impressive mountain backdrop.
Lakeside cafes attract people and swans.
Well preserved fortifications provide an attractive walk and splendid views across the city.
An enclosed medieval bridge across the inflow to the lake.
During our wanderings we encountered this intellectually challenged chaffinch, who posed for us before continuing his futile efforts to persuade his reflection to leave his car perch.
Our TGV to Paris arrives in Basel. Our eight day oddesey is over and we have seen a lot of Switzerland. I think March is a good time to do this when there is still plenty of snow, which makes the scenery more attractive and the journeys more exciting. I would like to do this again sometime, There is much more still to see.