When I was 2 years old my parents took me and my sisters to Switzerland. I do not remember anything of course, but when I look back at the photographs I seem to be having a good time. When I think of Switzerland, I think mostly about the beautiful scenery that was displayed on the TV show Heidi, that I used to watch at the age of 9. I will be honest: Switzerland is not on my bucket list, but I am curious!
Day 1: from Amsterdam to Zürich and from Zürich to Lugano
I am going on a short promotional trip, organised by My Switzerland. I am one of the lucky travel agents who is invited for a 3 day short break. On a Wednesday I meet the other lucky travel agents at Schiphol Airport, very early in the morning. We have to catch a Swiss International Airlines flight to Zürich at 7 a.m. It is only a short flight, we will be there in not ime. We fly economy class which is comfortable enough, plenty of leg space for me. We get served a cup of coffee or tea and a (breakfast) muffin, which is all I need for breakfast. We get acquainted on board and are excited to get a “taste” of Switzerland. Janine is representing My Switzerland, she is Trade Manager and knows the country very well and she will be guiding us on this trip.
Upon arrival in Zürich we do not need to collect our suitcases, since we only carry hand luggage. We walk straight to the train station, which is located at the airport. The station is surrounded by a lot of beautiful shops. Janine goes into a telecom shop to get us 2 Wi-Fi routers, so we can always go online in case we want to. This trip is all about travelling by train. Public transport in Switzerland is great, very punctual and comfortable. The country is really famous though 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 around when walking out of the train station; 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. First on a airplane, then on a train… and now we are going on a boat!
The Wilhelm Tell Express is actually both a boat and panoramic train line which connects Luzern to Locarno, while crossing the Swiss Alps from north to south. It takes its name from Wilhelm Tell (William Tell), a Swiss folk hero. The journey is jointly operated by the SBB (Swiss Federal Railways), who operate the train, and the SGV (Schifffahrtsgesellschaft des Vierwaldstättersees), who operate the boat.
We board the Uri, a historic paddle steamer. It is absolutely beautiful and there is something romantic about this steamer. The boat part of the journey takes about 3 hours. We leave our luggage safely in a storage room and do a quick tour on the steamer. It is amazing and makes us feel like we go back in time. We slowly leave beautiful Luzern and look out over the Vierwaldstättersee while enjoying a tasty lunch. There are beautiful buildings alongside the banks and high mountains creature a spectacular backdrop decor. There is even snow on the tops here and there, even though it is only the middle of September.
After lunch we go back on deck to enjoy the stunnings views. During this journey we regularly stop to drop off passengers and take on new ones. After about 2,5 hours we arrive at Flüelen station where the Gotthardbahn is waiting for us. We walk 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, having oceans of space and the most beautiful panoramic windows. This means we can enjoy the amazing landscape by just looking around us. It is however difficult to take photographs through the glass, since the windows reflect too much. During the train 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 people speak Italian and actually they also live the Italian way, under the sun. Time goes too quick and the train ride is over before we know it. We have arrived 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 and it is set in a Mediterranean decor. Lugano actually has all the advantages of a world-class city, but with the charm of a small town. From the train station in Lugano we take the funicolare. The funicolare take us to the lower station on Piazza Cioccaro in the historic city centre. It is one of the busiest funicular lines in Switzerland!
A representative from the Ticino traffic office awaits us at Piazzo Cioccaro and walks with us towards Hotel International du Lac. The walk is less than 10 minutes, but we stop quite often for a photograph now and then, so it takes us a bit longer. We walk past shops with delicacies, chocolate and Swiss/Italian food, but also seep expensive stores such as Gucci, Rolex and Louis Vuitton. All luxury brands are represented here in Lugano. We know 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 at Lake Lugano. Although it was still somewhat cloudy in Luzern, the sun is shining here and it is above 20 degrees. 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 check into our hotel rooms, freshen up and get together for a glass of wine and delicious bruschetta. What a warm welcome!
The weather is beautiful, so we go outside. On our program is a city tour by foot, which will be guided by Krista, who is waiting for us in the hotel lobby. First she takes to us the beautiful Madonna degli Anglioli church, which is located right next to the hotel. The interior is full of beautifully painted frescoes. Krista’s tour through Lugano takes us past impressive buildings and monuments and we stop now, so she can tell us about them. We learn a lot about the city, its history and inhabitants.
We end our walking tour on the boulevard (Rivo Giocondo Albertolli), where a boat is waiting for us to take us on a cruise over 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 and slowly the sun is setting. It is quiet, only a few boats are on the lake and it feels like we have it all to ourselves!
We disembark at restaurant Grotto San Rocco in Castagnola on the other side of the lake. Its location is perfect, overlooking the lake. We are served a delicious dinner, more wine (oh dear) and a killing tiramisu (tiramisu with a lot of grappa). We enjoy our evening (how can we not with a decent amount of alcohol)! We have had a long day behind us, so around 10 pm the boat takes us back close to the hotel, where we all sleep like alog (how come 😉 ?).
Day 2: from Lugano to Chur with the Bernina Express
We wake up, have a tasty breakfast and I quickly go for a walk alongside the lake. There is a beautiful walking path starting across the road from the hotel and I take a photograph just as a man is passing by on his bicycle on this way to work. I walk as far as time allows me to and on my way back I meet one of the other travel agents and we sit down on a bench to soak up the morning sun. The weather is amazing already this early in the morning and the sunlight brightens up the lake and for sure it brightens my day!
We walk back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and walk towards the centre of Lugano. We have to meet at half past ten at the train station, but first we buy some snacks, because today we have a big train ride ahead of us and there is no time for an extensive lunch.
On our program is the Bernina Express train, which runs 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 have to 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 and we all enjoy the views during the drive. We pass by the beautiful and famous 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 instead of on my phone; there is too much to see.
Once we arrive in Tirano we have some time to walk around before we board the train; we need to stretch our legs a bit. The weather is lovely and because we are still on Italian soil, we decide we just have to get an Italian ice cream. Yum! Tirano is well visited because of the fact that the Bernina Express train starts here.
The Bernina Express train leaves exactly on time, like all other trains in Switzerland. And just like on 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 go on the Bernina Express. It is truly 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 breathtaking!
The 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 through we have a stop of about 20 minutes, so we can stretch our legs outside. Throughout the entire train journey I hang out of a small window in the corridor, so I am able to take photographs, because photographing through the panoramic windows is not possible due to the mirroring. At the end of the trip my hair looks like an exploded broom and I am half deaf, but it was definitely worth it (if only for the load of fresh alpine air inside my lungs).
We arrive around half past six in Chur (pronounced: Choor), the capital of Graubünden. From the station 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. Hotel Stern is located in the same street as Hotel Freieck and is slightly simpler, maybe a bit old-fashioned. But both hotels I can recommend, although my personal preference goes to Hotel Freieck.
At the restaurant the waitresses are dressed in traditional clothing, serving a delicious meal accompanied by a good glass of wine. The Swiss do enjoy their food and wine and we adapt to this way of life 🙂 if only for 3 days. Before we return to our hotel, we take a walk through the (car-free) old town and once we are back at Freieck, Janine offers us a nightcap at the hotel bar and we stick around untill it is really time to call it a night. I am pretty sure we will have another good night of sleep.
The next morning after breakfast we meet outside the hotel entrance. Janine knows its my birthday today and also that I love to escape home and travel on my birthday (instead of celebrating at home). She and the group sing Happy Birthday to me and it is a great start of the day! And it just feels great to be here on my birthday, the best birthday gift I can get.
We have a walking tour through the city of Chur; a sweet lady who is our guide accompanies us. I did not hear her name, since when she was introduced I was taking some photographs and I 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.
After the city tour we are offered a delicious lunch in Restaurant B12, which 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 while longer. There are more cities, towns and villages to visit, mountains to climbs, panoramic train routes to ride, etc. But for now I have to say goodbye.
Before we board the train, we stock up on a load of Swiss chocolate (the best chocolate there is) and some other local delicacies. Then it is time to take a “normal” train from Chur station and we return on time at Zurich airport for our flight back to Schiphol, Amsterdam. Our flight leaves at the end of the afternoon and it means the end of this amazing short break in Switzerland.
Switzerland is a country of folk customs and traditions. It is a country with beautiful and overwhelming nature, friendly people 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 take at least 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 the cheapest holiday destination, but it is definitely worth it!
Travel Blog by Elisabeth, One Lucky Traveller
September 13, 2013