Switzerland – January 2013
This trip was just a long weekend away. My girlfriend & I wanted to relax and see some scenery, mainly mountains and snow, and what better place to do it than Switzerland?
We traveled out by train from Doncaster to Montreux with East Coast to London, Eurostar to Paris Nord, TGV Lyria to Lausanne & SBB to Montreux; all tickets booked directly with the carrier in advance except the TGV which was booked through Rail Europe & the SBB ticket purchased from a ticket machine at Lausanne.
Our Swiss Rail Passes were booked through Switzerland Travel Centre in London, as were our reservations on the “Scenic Trains”.
All hotels were booked online prior to the trip.
The only thing we had to do was turn up and follow our plan……..
Saturday 26th January 2013
A very long day, and a stressful one at that. We’d opted to travel from Doncaster to Montreux by rail, throughout. Departing Doncaster at 0635 we should have arrived into Montreux at 2005. All was well until we started to queue for our Eurostar at St Pancras…….
We’d been in the queue for about 60 second when the departure board showed our 1100 St Pancras – Paris Nord as cancelled. A quick discussion with a Eurostar member of staff had us at one of the information kiosks attempting to get on the 0931 to Paris, which had apparently not departed, even though it was almost 1000! That came to nothing as it had just departed; nice timing by Eurostar.
We only had from 1417 to 1511 in Paris and had to get from Nord to Lyon stations in that time as well. We were ultimately put on the next Paris bound train at 1124, which was booked to arrive 30 minutes later than our original one and also left St Pancras 13 minutes late; our arrival into Paris Nord being at 1500, on the dot!
Thankfully I’d managed to figure out when the next TGV’s from Paris to Switzerland were; no thanks to the Eurostar staff not being able to tell me. Our 1511 had been to Geneva, the next one being 1811, however there was a lifeline in the 1558 Paris – Lausanne…..
Crossing Paris from Nord to Lyon station is easy enough using RER Line D. Trains depart from either platforms 42 or 44 and don’t assume that because the sign for trains to Gare de Lyon points to platform 44 that it will depart from that platform, ours didn’t, it went from platform 42. Just keep an eye on the screens.
What we didn’t need to hear when we got onto the platform where the 1558 to Lausanne was departing from, was that the train was full! However we were allowed on board, initially told to stand in the cafe bar until departure when the staff would attempt to find us seats but before departure we were ushered towards the rear coach where there was some unallocated seating, a compartment behind the first class, next to the rear power car.
The irony of actually being allowed onto the 1558 Lausanne actually meant we arrived into Montreux on exactly the same train we would have done from Geneva, although we only just made it with 7 minutes from TGV to SBB train at Lausanne, including buying a ticket.
We’d booked the Hotel Villa Toscarne in Montreux, a short 8 minute or so walk from the station. It’s a subsidiary of the Hotel Royal Plaza; directly opposite on the shore of Lake Geneva. The bonus, when we checked in at the Royal Plaza, was an upgrade to stay in the Royal Plaza itself; and very nice it was indeed. The restaurant food was also nothing short of excellent, if not pricey. Although we soon discovered it wasn’t actually that much different to the rest of Switzerland.
Sunday 27th January 2012
An early-ish start at 0700 and after a decent breakfast we were on our way to the station for the 0844 Montreux – Zweisimmen “Golden Pass Classic”, operated by MOB, to Gstaad. It was formed of “classic” stock, not the new “Panoramic” stock and the front coaches were old restaurant coaches, where we sat the whole way to Gstaad, enjoying the scenery as we climbed up away from the edge of Lake Geneva, immediately after departure from Montreux.
With very little snow about at Montreux the altitude soon changed that and by Gstaad there was plenty, a good foot or so and at Chateau d’Oex there were hot air balloons hanging over the valley, the view from which must have been spectacular.
Gstaad has plenty to offer for an hours stop-off. There are restaurants, places to buy food and drinks and of course buses to take folk to the nearby slopes to ski. Or you could just opt for a walk down the road and back to admire the surrounding scenery; like we did.
At Zweisimmen our train, run by BLS, 3118 1138 Zweisimmen – Interlaken Ost, was waiting in the adjacent platform, it wasn’t full so the reservation we had wasn’t really needed at all; reservations only seemingly becoming useful if the trains are full.
At Interlaken Ost we were immediately presented with an old ZB loco-hauled set on IR2223 1304 Interlaken Ost – Luzern. I’d expected to at least have to wait it out for an hour with the influx of new EMU’s on the Interlaken – Luzern services making it hit and miss with the loco hauled turns.
At Meiringen the train reverses and the locos are changed for the run down the rack section into Luzern. Although there wasn’t as much snow as up in Gstaad it was still a nice journey and I highly recommend the “Golden Pass” route for a scenic day out. More time to stop off at wayward places with plenty of snow would have been great but time just didn’t permit.
From Luzern we had to make our way to Chur, where we’d be staying for two nights. The best route was via Thalwil on one of the frequent Luzern – Zurich trains, to change into a Zurich – Chur train.
Our hotel was the aptly named Hotel Chur, a short walk from Chur station, up the road where the RhB Chur – Arosa line runs up the middle of and right past the hotel where it turns off to head into the mountains. It’s a nice hotel, comfortable, clean and warm, unfortunately let down by its breakfast choice with nothing hot on offer at all. The views from the front windows out to the mountains are excellent. These rooms cost CHF188 as opposed to CHF168 for rooms on the street behind. It is worth the extra. There are plenty of places to eat within a two minute walk of the hotel front doors.
Monday 28th January 2013
A glance out of the window revealed snow, quite a bit of it too, yet it was quite a dull morning really, and cold.
Our plans for the day we simply a round trip to St Moritz, out via Thusis, back via Sagliains & Klosters. The snow made the day even more enjoyable than it could have been, especially at Bergun & Preda where we alighted to do the Bergun – Preda “toboggan train” up the hill.
Not only was the snow still falling at Bergun and Preda but the run between the two by train is by far the best bit of the line with spirals, tunnels, twists and turns all the way as the line climbs towards the top of the toboggan run; tobogganists are visible most of the way up the climb.
At Preda the “tobbogan train” and set run empties back down the hill to ferry more folk back to the top, to start their toboggan run again. It left us behind in the heavy snow with very little shelter, to watch the RhB staff use their mobile snow blower to clear the platforms of snow. Which I have to say were barely distinguishable from the ballast; the only thing being distinguishable at all being the rails, shining silver through the snow blanket. It wasn’t until our train to St Moritz arrived did we actually realise there was another platform beneath the snow, yet to be uncovered by the staff with their snowblower! A quick dash round the back of the train between us and ours ensured we didn’t miss it.
St Moritz is everything you’d expect from a place frequented by the rich and famous, it’s streets lined with high end fashion shops like Gucci, Chanel, Jimmy Choo & Louis Vuitton to name a few. It’s also a hilly place, the walk from the station into town being a lot more taxing than the walk back down the hill. The meal in Hauser’s restaurant was well worth the walk though; a pleasant place, spacious, and with good service and great tasting food.
As the direct St Moritz – Landquart services, via Klosters, are now EMU’s our return via changes at Samedan (5 minute cross platform connection) and Sagliains (3 minute cross platform connection) was a far better option and worked out quite nicely indeed, and topped off a thoroughly enjoyable day out with some different scenery on the way back.
Tuesday 29th January 2013
Unfortunately all the snow in Chur had all but disappeared.
After a leisurely breakfast and a quick trip to Landquart and back we were soon whisked off into the realms of the Winter Wonderland that is Switzerland; on board the renowned “Glacier Express”. From Chur onwards the Glacier Express trains are reservation only, the non reserved stock that attached from St Moritz is left behind. Reservations (in Winter) are CHF13 per person in 2nd class. Thankfully the train was virtually empty so we had plenty of room to move about from one side to the other.
Although the train is run by RhB, at Disentis a Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn loco takes over for the run to Zermatt, MGB operating trains from Disentis to Zermatt. The scenery from Disentis onward is stunning. Twists, curves, hill sections that look impassable, villages nestled in the valley bottoms and everything coated in a good foot of snow.
The most memorable section for me was the run down from Natschen to Andermatt. Having had 10 minutes at Natschen to await a train coming up from Andermatt, which in itself allowed for photos of the valley, we set off over the cliff edge down to Andermatt, which could be seen way off in the valley below, and I don’t mean in the distance, I mean downwards. The train, held by the rack system, works its way down through numerous twists and turns until it reaches Andermatt at the bottom; a station that the train is running at 90 degrees too for much of the descent. Fascinating really………
The run forward to Brig is much more mundane along the flat. We didn’t go all the way to Zermatt but instead were staying in Lausanne in preparation for our return to the UK the following day. Rather than get off at Brig and walk over the road from the MGB station to the SBB station we stayed on to Visp so all we had to do was pass under the subway to another platform for our train forward to Lausanne; this despite the on train conductor telling us it would be easier to make our connection at Brig. In my opinion Visp was the easier choice and we made the right one.
Lausanne is a very hilly place and the walk from the station to the Ibis in Central Lausanne is uphill all the way, taking about 15-20 minutes. There’s an excellent Italian restaurant right over the road from the hotel entrance which we used as our evening choice. Food doesn’t start until 1830 though.
Wednesday 30th January 2013
The walk back down to Lausanne station was a lot easier than the previous night. Breakfast was done at the station rather than pay CHF15 per person for a cold breakfast at the Ibis. Our choice of train back to Geneva was IR1412 0725 St Maurice – Geneva Airport, which is still formed of old stock. At Geneva we only had an hour to kill before needing to get through airport immigration for our Easy Jet flight back to Gatwick so it was only a short spin and then off to the airport. Easy Jet did more than Eurostar could and delivered us to our destination on time! All that was then left was a very long walk at Gatwick and the mundane journey home from there to Doncaster via FCC & East Coast.
The end of a cracking trip, well worth the effort and thanks have to go to those that helped me out with gen during my planning. Snow is what we wanted to go and see; and that is exactly what we saw. I’d only ever seen mountains covered in snow in Alaska and from a distance, not from within their range, climbing up and down their sides by train. If you want breathtaking scenery, accompanied by letting the train take away all the hard work of driving then I highly recommend a trip to Switzerland; it’s a very easy place to get around.