When I was 2 years old my parents took me and my sisters to Switzerland. Of course I do not remember anything, but when I look back at the photographs I seem to be having a good time. When I think of Switzerland, I remember mostly the beautiful scenery that was displayed on the TV show Heidi, that I used to watch at the age of 9. To be honest: Switzerland is not on my bucket list, but I am curious!
Day 1: from Amsterdam to Lugano
I get to go on a short promotional trip, organised by My Switzerland. I registered and am one of the lucky travel agents, who is invited on this 3 day short break. On a Wednesday, we gather at Schiphol Airport to catch a Swiss International Airlines flight to Zürich at 7 a.m. It is only a short flight, we fly economy class which is comfortable; there is enough leg space. No meal is served, but a cup of coffee or tea and a (breakfast) muffin; however, this is sufficient so early in the morning. We get acquainted on board and are excited to get to know Switzerland. Janine is representing My Switzerland, she is Trade Manager and knows the country very well.
Upon arrival in Zürich we head for the train station. Just like at Schiphol it is located at the airport, surrounded by a lot of beautiful shops. Janine goes into a telecom shop to get us 2 Wi-Fi routers, so we can always get online in case we should want to. This trip is all about travelling by train. Public transport in Switzerland in general is great, very punctual and comfortable. But the country is famous for its beautiful panoramic train routes.
We leave Zürich straight away and take the train to Luzern (Lucerne); it takes us about 45 minutes. When we arrive in Luzern, we do not have time to visit the city. We have a quick look; the City of Lights looks absolutely beautiful. Right in front of the train station is Luzern Bahnhofquai, the pier from where the Wilhelm Tell Express starts.
The first part of this journey is by ship: the Uri, a historic paddle steamer. It is absolutely beautiful and there is something romantic about it. We board, leave our luggage safely and do a quick tour on the ship. It is amazing and makes us feel like we go back in time. We slowly depart out of beautiful Luzern and look out over the Vierwaldstättersee while we enjoy lunch. There are beautiful buildings along the banks and high mountains behind creature a spectacular decor; there is even snow on the tops here and there this time of year.
After lunch we go on deck to enjoy the views. Along the way we regularly stop to pick up passengers and take on new ones. After 2 hours and 15 minutes we arrive at Flüelen where the Gotthardbahn is waiting for us. We walk to the train station, only 200 meters, to catch the Wilhelm Tell Express train to Locarno.
For 2 hours and 45 minutes we travel very decadently in the first class, have oceans of space and the most beautiful panoramic windows. This means we we can look around very well and me and the rest of the group are impressed by the landscape. It is however difficult to take photographs through the glass, since they reflect too much. During the ride we see the church of Wassen three times from a different angle. We go through the 15 kilometres long Gotthard tunnel and on the other side we end up in the canton of Ticino. Here they speak Italian and actually they also live the Italian way, under the sun. Before we know it, the train ride is already over and we arrive at the train station of Locarno.
From Locarno we take the local train to Lugano, which takes about 50 minutes. Lugano is the largest town in the holiday region of Ticino. It is Switzerland’s third most important financial centre in a Mediterranean decor. Lugano has actually all the advantages of a world-class city, but with the charm of a small town. From the train station we take the funicolar. The funicolar take us to the lower station on Piazza Cioccaro, in the historic city centre below. It is one of the busiest funicular lines in Switzerland!
A representative from the Ticino traffic office awaits us below and we walk towards Hotel International du Lac. We only have hand luggage with us and the walk is less than 10 minutes (OK, a bit more since we stop for a photograph now and then). On the way to our overnight hotel we pass stores with fantastic delicacies, but also stores of brands such as Gucci, Rolex and Vuitton. All luxury brands are represented here in Lugano. We are in Switzerland, but it feels like we are in a posh town in Italy. Lugano is beautiful.
Our hotel is located almost directly on Lake Lugano. Although it was still somewhat cloudy in Luzern, the sun is shining here in Lugano and it is above 20 degrees. We check into our hotel rooms, freshen up and get together for a glass of wine and delicious bruschetta and then we start our city tour by foot. Our guide Krista is waiting in the hotel lobby. First she shows us the beautiful Madonna degli Anglioli church (located right next to the hotel), which is painted with beautiful frescoes. We walk past impressive buildings, we stop now and then so Krista can tell us about the city, its history and its inhabitants.
We end our walking tour on the boulevard, where a boat is waiting for us for a cruise on the stunning Lugano lake. On board we are offered a glass of wine and some snacks; this is the good life! It is now half past seven in the evening and the view over the lake is absolutely beautiful. It is quiet, only a few boats are on the lake. We moor at restaurant Grotto San Rocco, where we are served a delicious dinner, more wine (oh dear) and a killing tiramisu (tiramisu with a lot of grappa). We enjoy our evening, but have a long day behind us, so around 10 pm we sail back to the hotel, where everyone sleeps a log (how come 😉 ?).
Day 2: from Lugano to Chur with the Bernina Express
Hotel International du Lac is a historic hotel with lovely rooms, a large number having a beautiful view over the lake. The hotel is one of the few to have a large garden at the back and a swimming pool, where you can relax well. We wake up, have a tasty breakfast and I quickly go for a walk alongside the lake; there is a perfect walking path starting across the road from the hotel. The weather is amazing and the sunlight brightens up the lake and for sure my day! We have to meet each other at half past ten at the train station. In the centre we buy some snacks, because today we have a big ride ahead of us and no time for an extensive lunch.
Today we take the Bernina Express train from Tirano to Chur. Tirano is a town in Italy, close to the Swiss border. The train is not allowed to use the railway in Italy and so we first travel by Bernina Express bus from Lugano to Tirano. This means we will partly drive through Italy. The bus ride takes more than 2.5 hours. We pass the beautiful Como lake and stop in Sirico for a toilet and coffee stop. The Bernina Express bus is really comfortable and there is Wi-Fi on board. But I prefer to look outside; too much to see.
In Tirano we have some time to walk around before we board the train. The weather is lovely and because we are still on Italian soil, we get an Italian ice cream. Yum! I guess Tirano is well visited because of the fact that the Bernina Express train starts here.
The Bernina Express train leaves exactly on time just like all other trains in Switzerland. And just like in the Wilhelm Tell Express train, our seats are reserved (this applies to all passengers in every class, on all panoramic train routes). If you want to cross the Alps with an express train, then you have to do it with the Bernina Express. It is a spectacular journey, a UNESCO World Heritage route with many viaducts, circular tunnels, glaciers, lakes and the Bernina pass! I often do not know which way to look. The views are truly breathtaking!
The beautiful red train runs through 55 tunnels, over 196 bridges, climbs the 2253-meter-high Bernina pass and glides easily through the famous circular viaduct of Brusio. The train takes 4 hours and halfway we have a stop of about 20 minutes and stretch our legs. Throughout the entire train journey I hang out of a small window to be able to take photographs, because photography through the panorama windows is not possible due to the mirroring. My hair looks like an exploded broom, but it was definitely worth it (and of course I got a load of fresh alpine air inside my lungs).
We arrive around half past six in Chur (pronounced: Choor), the capital of Graubünden. We walk to Hotel Freieck where we will spend the night. It is a wonderful hotel, centrally located and the owner is of Dutch descent. We receive a very warm welcome and have a drink before we go to Hotel Stern for dinner. Here the waitresses are dressed in traditional clothing, serving a delicious meal accompanied by a good glass of wine. Hotel Stern is located on the same street as Hotel Freieck and is slightly simpler, a bit old-fashioned. Both hotels are recommended, my personal preference goes to Hotel Freieck. Before we return to our hotel, we take a walk through the (car-free) old town and are offered a nightcap at the bar by Janine. I am pretty sure tonight we will have another good night of sleep.
The next morning after breakfast we meet outside the hotel entrance. Janine knows its my birthday and also that I love to travel on my birthday (instead of celebrating at home). But she and the group quickly sing to me and it is a great start of the day! And how great is it to be here on my birthday, the best I can get. We have a walking tour through the city of Chur; a sweet ladies who is our guide accompanies us. I did not hear her name well and am embarrased to ask so I cannot tell you her name. She knows a lot about this beautiful city. We walk past old buildings like Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption/Kathedrale St. Mariä Himmelfahrt, Grossratsgebäude, Rätisches Museum, churches and beautiful courtyards and get to hear nice and interesting stories.
After the city tour we are offered a delicious lunch in Restaurant B12. B12 is A trendy restaurant, in the centre of the city. We unfortunately have to go back to Zurich, but I wish I could stay here a little while longer. There are more cities, towns and villages to visit, mountains to walk, panoramic train routes to ride, etc. But for now I have to say goodbye to Chur. Before we board the train, we stock up on a load of Swiss chocolate and some other local delicacies. This time we take a “normal” train 😉 from Chur station and return on time to Zurich airport for our flight back to Amsterdam, which leaves at the end of the afternoon.
Switzerland is a country of folk customs and traditions. It is a country with a beautiful and overwhelming nature, a friendly population and a delicious cuisine. It is a country for hikers, peace seekers, city trippers and train (travel) enthusiasts. It is a country where 4 languages are spoken, delicious chocolate is being made and of course beautiful time pieces! Many own a Swiss watch or a Swiss pocket knife.
Three intensive days in Switzerland; the trip was absolutely wonderful! Should I visit this country again, I would certainly take 10 days or more for a proper holiday. For sure I would fly again to Switzerland and travel by train; I enjoyed it so much! I would book a Swiss Pass* (we also had one on this trip, more information on: https://www.swiss-pass.ch/) and visit the cities between the panorama train journeys for 1 or 2 days. Switzerland has a lot to offer, it may not be a real cheap holiday destinations, but it is definitely worth it!
Travel Blog by Elisabeth, One Lucky Traveller
September 13, 2013