The Swiss Travel System, one of the world’s finest transportation networks, makes group travel a breeze
Half the fun of visiting Switzerland is getting from place to place—moving around the country effortlessly by train, bus and boat—in comfort and style. While the destination may be your goal, the ride there can be an adventure in itself and an integral part of your Swiss experience. There are five big reasons why using the efficient Swiss Travel System enhances a group tour in this small European nation:
- Panoramas. Switzerland’s scenery is second to none. From majestic mountain peaks and deep ravines to flower-dotted meadows, crystal-clear lakes and fairy-tale villages, wow moments abound. All this passing beauty is viewable through ceiling-high windows that ensure you won’t miss a thing as you soak in the splendor.
- Comfort and Convenience. All you have to do is lean back and relax. Train seats offer plenty of space to stretch your legs, and there’s enough room for large pieces of luggage—unless you want to free yourself of luggage concerns by sending bags ahead via the travel system’s door-to-door service. Restaurants on trains and lake boats are another plus.
- Simplicity. Trains, buses and boats run like clockwork, so making connections is never complicated. The Swiss make it simple by synchronizing timetables—when the train comes in, the boat and post-bus are waiting. There are no time-wasting intervals between trip segments—an amazing feat considering that Switzerland’s dense public transport network totals almost 26,000 stops. The ease in connecting also holds true for travel to and from neighboring countries Italy, Germany, France, Austria and Liechtenstein.
- Swissness. Whether commuting or on vacation, the locals like to travel by train, bus and boat, so using public transportation lets visitors see Switzerland through the eyes of its citizens. To experience the country at its most authentic, it makes sense to travel like the Swiss.
- Diversity. Groups have many choices when it comes to public transport in Switzerland. Take a nostalgic funicular past grazing cows, enjoy dinner in the panoramic cabin of an aerial cableway, indulge on the Chocolate Train—the possibilities are endless.
Grand Train Tour of Switzerland
The highlights of the Swiss transport system can be enjoyed on one special route that combines all premium panoramic train lines and covers every part of the country. It’s called the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland.
Consisting of eight main sections, the epic route covers 795 miles (1,200 km) and can be started at any point—there is no prescribed direction or duration. The tour spotlights not only scenic mountain regions but also bustling cities like Zurich, Lucerne and St. Gallen. It features all four language regions of Switzerland and a variety of captivating scenery—from glaciers in the north to palm trees in the south. There are nine destinations to visit and eleven lakes to pass. Best of all, the Grand Train Tour can be experienced with one single ticket—the Swiss Travel Pass.
The route includes these five premium panoramic trains—Luzern-Interlaken Express, GoldenPass MOB Panoramic, Glacier Express, Bernina Express and Gotthard Panorama Express. Excursions on mountain cable cars, such as a trip to the Jungfraujoch or Schilthorn, can be incorporated into the itinerary.
The Glacier Express, one of the most famous train trips in Europe, travels through some of Switzerland’s most exquisite Alpine scenery. The eye-popping journey between St. Moritz and Zermatt takes eight hours, earning it the distinction of being “the slowest express train in the world.” Through panoramic windows guests experience 91 tunnels, 291 bridges and stunning landscapes from the Engadine Valley to the Matterhorn. The Matter Valley features meadows, vineyards, rugged rock faces and the Bies Glacier, the only glacier visible from the train. Other highlights include Oberalp Pass, the highest point on the route at 6,670 feet (2,000 m); Disentis Monastery, Switzerland’s oldest Benedictine monastery, which dates from the late 17th century; Rhine Gorge, the “Swiss Grand Canyon;” and castles in the Domleschg region, the largest being Schloss Ortenstein, situated on a rock overhang high above Tomlis.
Earphones provide route and historical information in six languages, and there are two channels with Swiss music. Swiss specialties, prepared by the on-board chef, are served at your seat. The Glacier Express’s new Excellence Class (surcharge required) is a premium class in which each traveler enjoys a window seat. Limited to 20 seats per day and direction, this exclusive experience is just the ticket for high-end groups. Excellence Class amenities include concierge service, a five-course lunch with wine, a bar area, snacks throughout the day, a tablet for on-board entertainment and facts about the Glacier Express.
Gotthard Panorama Express
The five-hour journey on the Gotthard Panorama Express, an equally impressive panoramic premium train, starts in the Italian-speaking Ticino region (towns of Lugano or Bellinzona) and ends in Lucerne (or vice versa), taking travelers from the Mediterranean-influenced south through the heart of Switzerland and over the Alps to the north. Travelers marvel at the 9.5-mile-long (15 km) Gotthard Tunnel (built in 1882) and the many loop tunnels, all tributes to Swiss engineering. They also enjoy special presentations about the history and legends of places along the way. The popular photography coach has windows that open. Arriving in Flüelen, passengers transfer seamlessly to a steamboat for a three-hour ride across Lake Lucerne. The train (first-class only) offers snacks and beverages, with seat service available. Meals, as well as snacks and beverages, are available on the boat.
The Voralpen Express route between St. Gallen and Lucerne (two hours) passes through a rolling pre-Alpine landscape of green hills, picturesque villages and lovely orchards, showcasing a gentler side of Switzerland. Offering a good way to travel between the eastern and central parts of the country, the route also affords views of dramatic Alpine peaks like Mt. Rigi and passes through pretty countryside around Lake Zurich. The train crosses the Sitter Viaduct, the country’s tallest railway bridge at 325 feet (100 m).
St. Gallen, famed for its historic Abbey District, appeals to religious travelers and makes a good jumping-off point for tour extensions featuring the Lake Constance region and the Bavarian village of Oberammergau, where local citizens will be staging the once-a-decade Passion Play in 2020.
Lake Lucerne Cruises
Lake Lucerne Navigation Company’s fleet of five nostalgic paddle steamers and 15 modern motor vessels provides a variety of excursions that offer unique perspectives from the water. From Lucerne, you can travel to the origins of the Swiss Confederation at Rütli Meadow, connect to cog railways at Mt. Pilatus or Mt. Rigi, or enjoy a leisurely lunch or Sunday brunch cruise. Voyages range from a narrated one-hour tour of the Bay of Lucerne on the Panorama-Yacht Saphir to the 5½-hour Grand Lucerne Lake Cruise, a roundtrip that starts in Lucerne and goes to the other end of the lake at Flüelen in Canton Uri. Some of the vintage paddle steamers, with enchanting salons from another era, made their maiden voyages more than a century ago and are still going strong. Lake Lucerne boats operate 365 days a year, and most scheduled boats have a restaurant.
Some of the most memorable rides on the Swiss Travel System are the gondola, aerial cableway and cog wheel train trips to the summits of mountains such as the Pilatus, Schilthorn, Titlis, Jungfraujoch and Rigi.
Mt. Titlis, near Engelberg, is central Switzerland’s tallest mountain at 10,020 feet (3,200 m), has its only glacier and is reached by Rotair, the world’s first revolving cable car. The journey to the summit starts with a gondola ride before boarding the Titlis Rotair for the final twirling ride over the deep crevasses of Titlis Glacier. Once at the summit station, you can tour the Ice Cave, an attraction sparkling with neon lights, and walk onto the terrace, where panoramas of glacier-capped peaks stretch to the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau in the Bernese Oberland.
For more thrills, step onto the adjacent Cliff Walk, a cable-supported swinging walkway that qualifies as Europe’s highest suspension bridge. You can also take the Ice Flyer chairlift, hovering over crevasses 33 feet (10 m) deep as you glide down to Glacier Park, a free winter sports playground open even in midsummer. Swiss Travel Pass holders receive a 50 percent discount on Mt. Titlis rides.
The Swiss Travel Pass fully covers the trip up the Schilthorn, a 9,700-foot (2,970 m) peak reachable in four legs on the aerial cableway that starts at Stechelberg in the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Visitors are rewarded with 360-degree views of 200 peaks and vistas that extend to Titlis, Mt. Blanc and the German Black Forest. You can savor the Alpine splendor over lunch at the Piz Gloria revolving restaurant. The mountaintop’s interactive exhibition Bond World harks back to the Schilthorn’s role as a filming location for several scenes in the 1969 James Bond thriller On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The new 007 Walk of Fame also enthralls Bond fans. When changing cable cars at the Birg station, be sure to take the Skyline Walk for great views and test your nerves at the Thrill Walk, which offers bottomless perspectives via see-through platforms anchored to the cliff face.
Themed Day Trips
Chocolate and cheese represent the pinnacle of Swiss culinary expertise, and these tasty treats highlight seasonal rail excursions from Montreux. The full-day Chocolate Train package starts with coffee and chocolate bread served in the Belle Epoque railcars that make a spectacular climb above Lake Geneva.
Shuttle buses in Montbovon transport passengers to the first stop—La Maison du Gruyere cheese factory—for touring and tasting. Free time for lunch and shopping in Gruyeres Village is followed by a shuttle to La Maison Cailler chocolate factory in Broc. The train returns to Montreux in late afternoon.
The Cheese Train, another all-day culinary adventure, departs Montreux or Zweisimmen for Chateau d’Oex for a closeup look at cheese production. Highlights include a visit to Chalet Bio show dairy, cheese fondue at Le Chalet restaurant, and admission to the Museum Vieux Pays-d-Enhaut (Swiss arts and crafts) or Espace Ballon house of hot air ballooning. Though the Cheese Train is scheduled only on Fridays to Sundays from early January to late April, groups of ten or more can request other dates throughout the year. Swiss Travel Pass holders receive a generous discount.
Swiss Travel Pass
Exploring Switzerland is easy with the Swiss Travel Pass, an all-in-one ticket to the country’s transportation network. Available to foreign visitors only, the pass is good for unlimited travel by train, bus and boat for 3, 4, 8 or 15 consecutive days. With the Swiss Travel Pass Flex it’s also possible to freely select the days within a month. Pass holders get unlimited use of public transport in more than 90 cities and towns, plus free admission to more than 500 museums. Children under the age of 16 travel free if accompanied by at least one parent. The bargain even includes free or discounted rides on mountain cableways. Also the premium panoramic trains are included (only the seat reservation needs to be covered).
The Swiss Travel System’s Express Door-to-Door Group Luggage plan takes the hassle out of transporting luggage for groups traveling through Switzerland by train, bus and boat. The program’s aim is to encourage groups (from 10 to 50) to use Swiss public transport. Available for 200 Swiss francs (about $200) per shipment, the plan offers pick-up and delivery the same day—bags picked up by 9 a.m. will be delivered to the hotel, station or any other Swiss address by 6 p.m. that evening. A similar plan, Express Foreign Airport-to-Door Group Luggage service, is available for groups arriving at Zurich Airport, with luggage transport available between any foreign airport and any Swiss address.
For a special celebration or a meeting or seminar, your group can charter an entire train or book carriages attached to a scheduled train.
The Red Arrow “Churchill” can be chartered on the route of your choice. Accommodating up to110 guests, it is named after British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who traveled across Switzerland on this train during his visit in 1946. The Red Arrow “Churchill” offers 28 tables, a fully stocked bar, an onboard kitchen for catering, a loudspeaker system and wireless handheld microphone.
The charter coach “Le Salon de Luxe,” ideal for meetings, is a conference room on wheels. Consisting of two roomy saloon carriages, it offers armchairs, sofas, side tables and chairs, with configurations customized for the client’s specific needs. Features include catering, custom lighting, a loudspeaker system, projectors and screens, and a wireless handheld microphone and headset. “Le Salon de Luxe” can be attached to a scheduled train or deployed as a special event train.
By Randy Mink