The Swiss Alps are possibly at their most magnificent in winter, when a thick quilt of pristine white snow transforms the landscape into a scene worthy of a Christmas card. But walking in a winter wonderland isn’t for everyone and racing downhill on skis isn’t the best way to enjoy the scenery, so what’s the answer? In one word: trains. Luckily Switzerland’s excellent railway network is a year-round affair, with some of the best scenic lines running as normal, even in the snow. We’ve picked four of the most spectacular trips through the Swiss Alps that are particularly impressive in the deep midwinter, with the added bonus of being less crowded than in summer.
The line to the summit of Mt Rigi might well be the oldest mountain railway in Europe (it opened in 1871) but age does not stand in the way of beauty here. From Vitznau on the shores of Lake Lucerne the red train chugs its way slowly up through trees so laden with snow that they look like giant cauliflowers. This is a truly memorable ride, not least for its views of the lake that peek out from around every corner.
If the oldest line doesn’t do it for you, then maybe the highest will, and you literally can’t get any higher than Jungfraujoch. At 3,454 metres up, this is the highest train station in Europe and, yes, it runs all year round in spite of that fact. From Interlaken it’s an ear-popping jaw-dropping ride up to the top, involving two changes of trains and endless photo opportunities.
In the far southeastern corner of Switzerland is a very special train ride, one that almost puts all others in the shade. This is a train running through the mountains but isn’t a mountain train. This a line that is so amazing that it has been declared a Unesco World Heritage site. This is the Bernina Express. From Chur the railway climbs over towering viaducts and through corkscrew tunnels, past snow-capped peaks and creaking glaciers. It reaches its highest point at Ospizio Bernina, 2,253 metres up, making this the highest rail crossing in Europe without cogs.