IT SEEMS to me that nature took its time in creating Switzerland — lovingly crafting towering snow-topped mountains and majestic glaciers, lush green valleys and milky white rivers tumbling through the verdant countryside.
Admiring the unendingly gorgeous scenery is best done at a slow pace. Using the Swiss Travel Pass for seamless travel within the country, I went on three scenic journeys — by train, by bus and by boat.
It added up to many hours of gazing through windows, but I wasn’t complaining — the constantly changing landscape was a balm to my city-weary eyes.
(Zermatt to St Moritz)
The opportunity to experience one of the world’s top scenic rail journeys doesn’t come very often. So I was delighted to climb aboard the Glacier Express, which proudly calls itself the world’s slowest express train.
Not because it moves at a glacial speed, but because it has a challenging route – it negotiates narrow valleys and tight curves, chugging through 91 tunnels and over 291 bridges as it covers the 257km from Zermatt to St Moritz in 7-1/2 hours. I ambitiously planned on counting how many of each were on our route to the town of Chur, but after the third bridge and fourth tunnel, I gave up, settled back into my comfortable seat and let my eyes feast on the spectacle unfolding outside.
The lush green summer countryside was carpeted with thousands of tiny flowers in yellow and white and purple, against the ever-present backdrop of soaring peaks and crystal-clear streams hurrying to keep pace with the train.
The frenzied picture-taking gave way quickly enough to marvelling at the never-ending, almost impossible beauty — a visual buffet of nature’s best spread.
And what a varied spread it was, on a journey of highs and lows in terms of altitude — the train descends from the highs of Zermatt (1,405m) and the Alps down to Visp (651m), climbs through the upper Rhone valley to Oberwald (1,366m) and through the 15.4km long Furka Tunnel to Andermatt and the Oberalp pass, reaching the highest point of the journey at 2,034m. It then descends through the dramatic Rhine Gorge, often called the Swiss Grand Canyon, to reach Chur, the lowest point of the trip at 585m. There, sadly, we had to alight after a six-hour ride.
If I had continued on the train to St Moritz, I would have crossed the spectacular Landwasser viaduct, arguably the most photographed section of the trip. Maybe next time!
(St Moritz to Lugano)
The first surprise of this trip was that the Palm Express was not a train, but a bus. The second surprise: The predecessor of the bright yellow bus actually used to deliver the post to remote mountain villages. The third surprise: The extremely loud three-tone posthorn is still used by the driver at some of the 12 hairpin bends during the sharply twisting descent through the Majola Pass, which connects the Engandine region with the Bregaglia valley. If he hadn’t warned us that he was going to use it, we would have jumped right out of our skins.
Leaving behind the glamorous, typically Alpine resort of St Moritz and the flat Engandine region, we said goodbye to all the snow and travelled through Bregaglia. It is distinctly Mediterranean, with its small towns and narrow lanes — some so slender that it took all of the driver’s considerable skill to get us through without a scratch.
As a bonus, we even got to see a bit of Italy as we drove along the shores of the picturesque Lake Como, before re-entering Switzerland and skirting Lake Lugano to reach the Italian-speaking part of the country, complete with the palm trees that give the bus its name.
Gotthard Panorama Express
(Lugano to Lucerne)
As the train slowed to a crawl in the 15km Gotthard tunnel and the lights were dimmed, pictures of its history lit up the walls, reminding us that the engineering marvel in the Alps at over 1,100m was opened in 1882. At that time, it was the longest tunnel in the world.
We were on the Gotthard Panorama Express, the last of our three scenic journeys, and probably the most spectacular, combining train and boat. From the sunny warmth of Lugano in the south of the country, the train snaked its way northwards through the Alps. Once again, we were surrounded by lofty peaks, mists obscuring their tops.
On the other side of the tunnel was another highlight — the Church of Wassen, which can be spotted three times as the train loops around it on its journey down the mountain. Each time, the view was different — first from above, next at eye-level and once again from below — but equally beautiful.
The first part of the journey ended at the village of Flüelen, from where a historic paddle steamer would take us to Lucerne. But there was an uncharacteristic train delay — just our luck! — and the steamer sailed without us. We had to settle for an unromantic modern boat instead.
But the pleasure of sailing on the tranquil lake, with picturesque towns clinging to its shores, more than made up for the disappointment.
After all, how could anyone stay annoyed in the midst of such ethereal beauty?
THE WRITER’S TRIP WAS MADE POSSIBLE BY DYNASTY TRAVEL AND SWITZERLAND TOURISM.
- I flew from Singapore to Zurich on Swiss. I travelled within the country using the Swiss Travel Pass.
- Carry a light jacket as it can get cool in the evenings. If you are travelling to the mountain resorts, pack a windproof jacket and sturdy boots.
- The best way to travel around Switzerland is with the Swiss Travel Pass (for 3/4/8/15 days; starting from CHF225, or S$308, for three days). It can be used on rail, bus and boat, and also gives you free entry to 500 museums, plus 50 per cent off on most mountain railways and cable cars. Travel on premium panoramic trains is included, but you must pay for mandatory seat reservations.
- You can get the pass from Dynasty Travel, which can also make your reservations on the Glacier Express or for other scenic journeys.
- Check out exclusive deals with Dynasty Travel at 6536-4966 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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