I sip my champagne and take the last bite of my succulent cherry cheesecake as the train chugs through a tunnel. I have just finished a three-course lunch consisting of traditional Swiss dishes and as the darkness of the tunnel gradually brightens, I prepare for yet another breathtaking experience. This time it’s the picture-perfect view of the snow-capped mountains glistening in the summer sun, while close by the meadows are swaying with long grass and wild flowers. I revel in the sense of serenity that envelops me as I relax into the rhythm of the train surrounded by the beauty of Switzerland.
I am riding on what has been called the world’s slowest express train, the Glacier Express that runs from Zermatt to St. Moritz. I’m in no hurry: I believe that true luxury in travel is about the journey, more than the destination, and I am conscious that the entire trip will take approximately seven hours, stopping at a number of other locations, such as Andermatt and Brig. Passengers can get off or on at any of the intermediate stops.
Through the generously-sized windows, the stunning landscape awe-inpsiring, whatever the season. All year round the snow-covered Alpine peaks reach for the sky, and now in spring they are accompanied by roaring mountain streams, lush meadows, historic fortresses, picturesque villages, refreshing mountain lakes, and quaint hamlets.
Some of the most famous sights include the Matterhorn, the mountain of all mountains; the Dom, which at 4,545 metres is the highest mountain entirely on Swiss soil; and the Piz Bernina which is the pride of the entire region. However, the high point, in every way, is when the train reaches the Oberalp Pass at 2,033 metres. From here there is a truly memorable view of the grand mountains that grace the area.
The route also runs through parts of the Swiss National Park, where animals are not hunted, trees are not felled and meadows are not cut. You can see the same uncontaminated landscape that people would have encountered five thousand years ago. Rare and unimaginably exquisite, it is a gem along the tracks.
St. Moritz, source: swiss-image.ch
Switzerland had been part of the aristocracy’s Grand Tour from the 19th century, but it was in the 1920s when train travel through Switzerland first became popular. Adventurous reports from Alpine pioneers fired the imagination of the travel-keen upper-classes and they discovered the rustic charms of the Swiss Alps. Hitherto remote mountain villages such as Zermatt and St. Moritz were transformed into chic health resorts.
As the numbers of visitors increased, local railway companies saw an opportunity and introduced routes purely for sightseeing. The Glacier Express was owned by one of the three major rail-companies of the period, initially VZ, later BVZ, now Rhaetian Rail. It made its first trip on 25 June 1930, from Zermatt to St. Moritz. Eighty-five years later, the Glacier Express is still an unusual example of train tourism.
Many of the stops along the route are famous as world-class luxury resorts and shopping areas. St. Moritz is much loved by high society, and it offers a superb range of outdoor activities, from snow polo and snow driving right through to winter sports and summer excursions.
In the warmer season, lovers of the open air can enjoy the stops along the tracks, exploring the natural habitat by hiking and mountain biking, be it in Zermatt, in the Goms, in Davos or in the Engadine. There are hundreds of kilometres of trails, well-marked paths and routes alongside glaciers and mountain lakes, through vineyards and larch forests, and across meadows.
Whether you prefer an adventurous and challenging journey or a relaxing tour for the entire family, there is something for everyone. No matter where you venture, you'll feel the invigorating energy that makes Switzerland the jewel that it is. And the Glacier Express takes you there – slowly.
For further information see www.glacierexpress.ch