Smooshing their skiis across the deep snow, a mother and child stop to wave as the shiny red Glacier Express whisks us smoothly through some of the most beautiful scenery in Switzerland. Stocky horses eat from a huge bundle of hay thrown into a clearing beside a ramshackle collection of farm buildings. A short distance from a huddle of wooden houses a small white church looks like something from a kiddie’s toy set. Sunlight catches on the little windows of Swiss chalets huddled into the mountainside and bright flowers bravely perk up their heads from window boxes.
An old barn, or maybe a cottage, appears to be sinking into a giant, soft duvet. A tiny station zooms past us – quaint curved roofs laden with snow and a deserted platform serving the hamlet beyond. Looking out of the rear cabin of the train, the air has a sharp, crisp tang to it with almost no scent and the only sound is the whooshing of the wheels on the railway lines. It’s as if the whole world is one enormous, moving picture postcard – only it’s better than any photo and is most definitely for real.
Back inside the train, the understated luxury of the Glacier Express encourages passengers to relax, indulge in delicious food and drink and enjoy the movie reel that is the archetypal Swiss snow-scene obligingly revealing itself in endless beauty outside the window. People set up their cameras, open guide books, lay out maps, take out notepads or simply lie back in comfort, to make the most of one of the world’s loveliest and most scenic train rides. A quarter of a million passengers a year take this journey – and surely not one of them could ever become blasé about the scenic delights that this trip encompasses.
The excitement starts at the first sight of the train. With its iconic red livery and panoramic windows, it has a sleek, refined look that reflects the modern lavishness of the interior. In first class the big seats give plenty of space to spread out and the service is superb, as you’d expect. Running between Zermatt and the still-trendy-after-all-these-years St Moritz since 1930, the first line ran from Landquart to Klosters and then Davos in the late 19th century. The ‘Rhaetian Railway in the Albula/Bernina Landscapes‘ is now in the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites – and we can see why.
The journey time of 8 hours has earned the Glacier Express the nickname ‘The Slowest Express Train in the World’ and I, for one, am grateful that is the case. I had travelled from Interlaken, joining the train at Visp, all smooth connections running with Swiss precision. Passing over hundreds of bridges, across towering viaducts, through seemingly endless deep tunnels and up mountainous passes we experience an amazing engineering marvel as well as a natural wonder. It’s ever so slightly decadent to be having champagne at 11.30am but then, the scenery outside is sparkling so it is seems the right thing to do!
Handy headphones share snippets of fascinating information about the places we pass – a gong rings to let us know when to tune in – or not … We pass Brig in German-speaking Valais with the magnificent Stockalper Palace. This town is the starting point for a wide range of hiking trails; it’s where we see the mother and child waving. 12th century Andermatt is gone in a flash and then the train pulls its way up the Oberalp Pass, using sturdy cog wheels to ensure we reach 2033 meters safely. Oh the views; words really can’t do them justice here … Past Disentis, the largest Romansch-speaking community in Switzerland. I want to get out and hear this ancient language, but we are moving on, now through the huge stony Rhine Gorge as this long river joins us for a pleasant meander on our way to Chur. Again the traveller is tugged to visit Switzerland’s oldest town with a history covering 5000 years. Quaint old buildings jostle alongside contemporary architecture and little lanes beg to be discovered. A major highlight of the trip comes as we cross the Landwasser Viaduct; as the Glacier Express curves sinuously around we get a glimpse of its arches and the mighty drop before we enter another long tunnel.
In between all this sightseeing, glasses are filled with fine wine, a tasty casserole is served and schnapps is poured from on high by a charming waiter. People chat, take photos, make notes and simply revel as nature and man combine in harmony to provide a stunning outlook. The sun slowly sinks further down the clear blue sky and the light dims as we pass snow-covered fields into the lush Engadin Valley and our destination, St Moritz. I don’t want the journey to end. For one glorious day I have been transported in luxurious style through some of the best scenery in Europe, able to unwind, relish the sunlit, glittering panorama all around and enjoy train travel at its quirkilicious best
I was on a magical Railbookers Switzerland Holiday travelling by rail from Carnforth to Interlaken, where we rode the famous Jungfrau train to the top of the mountain, and had fun in Saint Moritz. Many thanks to Switzerland Tourism for a very warm welcome to their beautiful country.