What does just the mention of Switzerland invoke? Neutrality? watches? banking? gorgeous scenery? cheese? first class ski resorts?
Everyone has a different picture that pops into their head when this country is mentioned. For me, it’s TRAINS! Sure, I know the country is jaw dropping gorgeous, pristine in it’s housekeeping and runs on schedule like their famous clocks. But…..TRAINS!
I had the wonderful opportunity to join a highly select group of travel consultants on a train vacation to Switzerland in March. Knowing weather would be unpredictable didn’t affect my decision to go, as we were going to travel on some of the most iconic trains in Europe.
We arrived in Zurich and then trained to Lucerne, our first stop. Our stay was at Lucerne Palace along the major promenade. A five-star property within easy walk of old town. Lucerne activities can include Lake Lucerne, of course, Pilatus – a mountain massif overlooking the city – reached by cable car and cog railway hanging off the mountain. Not for faint of heart.
The following day, we traveled by train to Bern, the Swiss capital. Built around a crook in the Aare River, the city recalls back to the 12th century. We had lunch at the Leading Hotel of the World, Bellevue Palace. A beautiful Belle Epoque building and the only grand hotel in Bern. Very traditional in décor and ambiance. Bern is a beautiful, easily walkable city. The Aare River is actually turquoise.
Continuing on to Interlaken West by train, we arrived into a fairy world of craggy, snow capped mountains, green parks and blazing blue lakes, Lake Thun and Brienz. This area is in the Bernese Oberland region, hence the name for the famous scenic train. I found this small town to have a great deal of serenity. Our hotel, the Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel and Spa, is a perfect location around the main park square of the town. It was fun to sit out on my balcony facing the park and watch all the paragliders come in at the end of the day. What a rush!
And the treat I’d been waiting for after breakfast the next morning was the ride up to “The Top of Europe” or the Jungfrau Glacier. We had the added treat of having a personal Swiss Rail guide to join us to tell us stories about the train and about her own life growing up in this magical area.
The scenic train ride up to Jungfrau cannot be described in words, nor appreciated in photos. One must experience this first hand. It was very cold and windy, but the most sunny, bluebird day. Sparkling snow and bright sunshine. The trip down was equally as exciting as you viewed scenery from a much different perspective.
The following day, another iconic scenic train, the Glacier Express to Andermatt – located between it’s more recognizable sisters, St. Moritz and Zermatt. Our kip for the night was the contemporary Chedi Hotel. The photos will tell all about the Chedi. My suite was huge, comfortable and one of the most comfortable beds in which I’ve every slept.
The village of Andermatt is very small but still boasts some very old and very historic buildings. One interesting fact that in this area the Swiss government built many enormous caves to secure the Swiss people. Supposedly large enough with its bunkers and network of tunnels to hold the entire population of Switzerland. These massive rock shelters are actually all over Switzerland, not only in Andermatt. Our last look at Andermatt as we headed down the mountains to the verdant valley of Bad Ragaz, “Bad” meaning spa town.
Here, Spring had definitely arrived. Lush greenery all around, flowers, the Alps rising straight up from the valley floor. We stayed in the Spa Suites which is their most contemporary and newest addition to this compound of hotels.
The Grand Resort comprised of two hotels: Grand Hotel Quellenhof & Spa Suites and Grand Hotel Hof Ragaz, continues this tradition of health and wellness with its 12,800-square-meter spa, one of the largest in Europe. The sprawling complex features ten spring-water-filled indoor and outdoor pools, three sauna and steam bath zones.
This spa village is 8 km from Lichtenstein capital of Vaduz. You can easily bike there with the complimentary hotel bikes. Not knowing anything about this area, this became my favorite stop on this entire trip of amazing stops and hotel stays.
Sadly, leaving Bad Ragaz we continue on to our last stop, Zurich and our stay at the epochal Dolder Grand Hotel. Enough cannot be said about this hotel with its one-of-a-kind suites, luscious spa and services and the caliber of the food.
The vagabond looking guy snoozing in the corner is actually an art installation that is located right beside the check-in desk at the Dolder Grand. We stayed in the newest addition, the spa suites – contemporary décor opposed to the traditional in the main hotel building. But the access to the spa is right there.
We had a private tour which I think everyone should take the time to experience. It was to the newest developing area of Zurich with cafes and bistros under the arches of bridges, cargo containers as boutiques, vintage resale shops – it was fresh and vibrant. Also where we found the old black and white photo booth.
The following day, we went to Old Town and I instantly fell in love with the Widder (Vidder) Hotel in the old city. Boutique, hip, trendy, central walking location – Zurich is a city I feel deserves much more time than just 1 or 2 nights.
Switzerland is a cornucopia of dramatic scenery, daring food experiences, impeccable service and a country-wide mass transit service not to be rivaled – and ON TIME.
My top suggestion when training around Switzerland: Plan ahead to have your luggage forwarded to your next stop so you don’t have to handle it on and off trains. Swiss Rail supplies this service and for the convenience. The express service takes your bag from your hotel by 9AM in the morning and it’s at your next hotel by 7PM that night.