This Scenic Train Ride Hits All of Switzerland’s Most Magical Stops — and Serves Unlimited Champagne
Taking a train through Switzerland is like riding into a fairytale. Quaint villages dot snow-peaked mountains, creating breathtaking views around every turn. From the Alps to Lake Geneva to the Matterhorn, the country was blessed with some of the world’s most picturesque landscapes, as well as a unique blend of cultures thanks to the borders it shares with Italy, France, Germany, and Austria.
All of this can only be properly digested slowly — which is why traveling by rail is the perfect fit. Rail travel allows you to sit back and take in the scene while covering all the ground that needs to be covered, and the stops along Switzerland’s routes will convince you it was built to be visited this way.
The Glacier Express whisks travelers from St. Moritz to Zermatt on an eight-hour excursion, and its brand new Excellence Class offers spacious seats; a lavish, gold bar; a curated tasting menu paired with unlimited champagne, wine, beer, and top-shelf liquor; and elegant tea time.
Todd Powell, founder of Vacations by Rail, which organizes Glacier Express adventures — and an avid European train traveler himself — shared some of his pro tips with us. Among them: Travel at the beginning or end of peak season to avoid crowds on board and in resort towns along the way. I visited in April and often found myself able to stretch out next to an empty seat.
Here are all the Swiss villages and experiences you shouldn’t miss.
St. Moritz and Pontresina
A small town that’s big on luxury, St. Moritz is filled with high-end fashion houses, and it has also hosted the Winter Olympics. Spend the night at the five-star, 160-year-old Kulm Hotel for a taste of its history.
Nearby, Pontresina has all the small-town charm, its main street filled with artisans selling their wares.
Take a funicular up to Muottas Muragl for sunset and watch the warm orange glow heat the icy blue skies beyond the peaks. Then have dinner at the rustic Romantik Hotel Muottas Muragl and end the evening with schnitzel.
Just along the Italian border and south of St. Mortiz, you’ll find Poschiavo. Along the cobbled streets you’ll find pastel-hued buildings, views of the Swiss Alps, and a medieval-style square. Architecture enthusiasts should check out the inside of Poschiavo’s quaint church, while landscape lovers will find great hiking trails.
Stop for pizza, gnocchi, and local wine at Hotel Albrici, in the square. Follow up with dessert at the gelato stand just across the way.
Zermatt and the Matterhorn
I fell into a deep sleep the moment I arrived to Zermatt due to jet lag, but this afforded me an excellent opportunity: seeing Zermatt and the Matterhorn at sunrise. Those who awake during the sunrise will be treated to a special half-hour viewing of the mountain as the sun turns its snowy white surface to blood-orange.
Wander the streets of Zermatt and then take the train up to Gornergrat. Sit on the right side of the train for the best views and photo ops of the Matterhorn. The Gornergrat Kulm Hotel, which sits at the top, is home to an incredible cream of garlic soup stewed into a whole wheat Swiss bread bowl.
Montreux will give you a taste of French architecture and cuisine, as France sits in view just across Lake Geneva. The late Freddie Mercury found solace in Montreux, and Queen recorded their last two albums there. Today, a statue of Mercury stands and a new interactive Queen experience is held in the former Mountain Studios located in Casino Barriere de Montreux. The museum houses a variety of artifacts from the band’s peak period.
The main walking strip of Montreux lines Lake Geneva and is an ideal place for a rendezvous, especially in warmer weather. History buffs will be delighted by the city’s Chillon Castle, an incredibly well-preserved medieval castle and one of Switzerland’s most-visited sites.
Visit the Fairmont’s Montreux Palace and dine at the Jazz Club for a whimsical peek into the city’s musical heritage.
Wind down your Swiss adventure with a spa experience at the Romantik’s Hotel Schweizerhof, and get your fondue fix at Barry’s, where you can craft your own plate of meats, vegetables, and carbs. Have a night cap at Avocado Bar with the aprés ski crowd.
Grindelwald is also a great launching point for multiple excursions, including paragliding in Interlaken and riding gondolas into Murren, up Schilithorn and to Piz Gloria, whose claim to fame comes from the 1968 James Bond film, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”
Schilithorn’s thrill walk hugs the side of the mountain and has two suspended, steel-mesh bridges that will make your knees quake. The most daring of travelers can waltz across a glass floor on the edge of the walkway for a view worth conquering a fear of heights for.
Swing through Stechelberg on your way down from Schilithorn, home to Switzerland’s highest waterfall and scenic hikes.