It has been almost 2 weeks since I returned from another great trip to Switzerland. I changed the title of this past trip from “Riding Switzerland Scenic Trains in the Snow” to “20 Trains in the 12 Days – Scenic Trains January 2020”.
Last year when I started planning this trip, my goal was to ride the 4 major scenic trains in the dead of winter and hopefully see everything covered in a nice blanket of snowy white powder. I was born and raised in Houston, Texas, we do not have mountains and we rarely see snow, if it does snow it usually doesn’t last more than 24 hours. I have ridden all 4 major scenic trains in various seasons but was picturing everything covered in snow with more snow falling. I was a little disappointed in the lack of snowfall but will have to say at least I had several sunny days and only 1 day with a slight drizzle.
Day 1 - I flew in and out of Zurich International airport. After landing and collecting my bags and handling passport control, I made my way to the train station at the airport and took the first direct train to Lucerne. I used my Marriott points to cover my stay in Lucerne at “The Hotel”, very close to the train station, maybe 10-minute walk which will be convenient for my early morning train I will need to catch the next morning.
I normally am in bed by 10 pm back home so my goal was to try and stay up until 10 pm in Lucerne which would make for a very long day, but I have heard it is the best way to beat the jetlag game.
I walked around “Old Town” Lucerne and walked the Chapel Bridge and even strolled over to the Lion Monument (under construction) before discussing a short trip to the Burgenstock Resort at the boat dock ticket office. I had seen their famous Infinity pool on the internet but wanted to see it in person. Took the boat ride across Lake Lucerne and funicular up to the resort, did some walking around at first then finally asked a girl about the pool, she took me thru a couple locked doors where I could just barely see the pool, she said they had to protect the guests privacy. A little more exploring before heading back down to the dock for the boat ride back to Lucerne stopping by Co-op in train station on my way back to my hotel where I relaxed until bedtime.
Day 2 - Early rise for the next day, had to pack and check-out so that I could get to the train station for the 7:06 to Interlaken Ost to start my GoldenPass Line eventually getting to Montreux. When I was making my plans booking the front VIP seats on the leg from Zweisimmen to Montreux wasn’t an option, if car was available then it was first come first serve, which I lucked out again and was able to get one of the front seats(photo1 & 2). I ended up sharing the front row with 2 other gentlemen and then another gentlemen and his 2 small children were on the second row. We had a great view out the front of the train, if only it was snowing…Yes there was lots of snow on the ground, but I wanted to see it falling.
Since I was only staying the night in Montreux I splurged and booked a room directly across from the train station in the Grand Hotel Suisse Majestic. It is a very nice hotel that is over 100 years old but very well taken care of and just recently had a major renovation. After checking into my hotel and dropping my bags off, I took a walk down to the waterfront promenade for some people watching and to say hello to Freddie Mercury(photo3) before dinner at La Rouvenaz, my favorite place for pizza in Montreux.
Day 3 - The train to Zermatt takes about 2 ½ hours and run about every 30 minutes, so wasn’t in a big hurry on this morning. I was able to go down to the breakfast buffet served in the dining area with huge floor to ceiling glass so that you can admire the view of Lake Leman with the French mountains in the background(photo4). After breakfast, I packed and checked out to catch a train to Zermatt.
On the short 2 ½ hour train ride the weather changed and got colder with more snow on the ground and once we arrived in Zermatt there was snow everywhere. Finally, the blankets of snow that I had been wanting and looking for. I walked from the train station to my hotel “Hotel Capricorn” pulling my suitcase behind me and all along the path I saw the white, fluffy snow covered benches and plants and trees, even the playground in front of my hotel was about 3 or 4 inches deep in snow. I couldn’t help myself and reached over to touch the white fluffy stuff...solid as a rock. It was frozen snow. I guess it melted a little then re-froze(photo6). That’s no good. Zermatt is a ski resort town and about 3 or 4 pm town gets busy with everyone coming down from the ski parks looking for something to eat. I was spending 2 nights here and was looking for something to do the next day, since I had been here before and rode the Gornergrat train and I have taken the cable cars up the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, I choose the trip to the top of Rothorn for my free day excursion.
Day 4 - I took it slow since the trip up to the summit was the only thing on the list. Rode the funicular up to Sunnegga, where I walked across the snow to the bar, while watching for skiers(photo7). Once at the bar I got a nice refreshing Coke Zero and enjoyed an incredible view of the Matterhorn. I guess if you can’t have blizzard conditions then the next best thing would be this day, clear and sunny. Back across the skier traffic to the cable car lift and up to Rothorn. Another great view of the Matterhorn, it was so nice I decided to sit down at one of the outside tables and order a pizza(photo8). Great pizza, great mountain view…very nice day. After spending a couple days in Switzerland, you will begin to notice that food is expensive, I found a relatively inexpensive but tasty and filling place called “Take in Doner”, I grabbed a wrap on my way back to my room. Oh, and that reminds me, Hotel Capricorn is a very nice hotel, great price for what you get, and I upgraded to a better room. I was on the top floor with a balcony and a great view of the Matterhorn…incredible view(photo5).
Day 5 – Glacier Express time!!! I reserved my seat and bought my ticket a couple months in advance, I was ready…got to the station 30 minutes early, found my car, found my seat, stowed my luggage stepped off the car to take a picture and when I returned to my seat, there was a party of people hovering around my bag, claiming it was their seat. My heart stopped when I realized I reserved a seat and bought a ticket for the train that left 24 hours prior. I grabbed my luggage and ran to the train station explaining what happened they found me a seat on the same train and lucked out it was a window seat, they let my use my ticket from the day before but I had to pay another reservation fee.
After all that excitement passed, I was able to sit back and enjoy possibly the longest train ride on my trip where I didn’t have to change trains multiple times. The Glacier Express and Bernina Express overlap some of the same trackage so I decided since the Bernina Express starts in Chur then I will just take Glacier Express to Chur spend a couple days and then board the Bernina Express.
First thing I had to do when I arrived in Chur was fix my ticket for Bernina Express, for what ever reason when I booked my train tickets I was looking at the wrong date so I had myself leaving the next day on the Bernina Express instead of 2 days later which would work with the rest of my hotel dates. They were able to fix my ticket with no problem and another catastrophe was avoided. I have never stayed in Chur before and the Hotel Chur looked good, so I booked it, I didn’t realize it was as far away from the train station as it was so I opted for a taxi after trying Uber and it not seeming to work.
After checking in to my hotel I went looking for a late lunch or dinner, I typically use yelp to get an idea but there were only a few listings on yelp and most of them only had 1 review. I ended up in “Old Town” getting lost due to not getting a good signal on my phone so map kept changing. I ended up eating across the street from my hotel at another Doner shop, this one was not as good as one in Zermatt but did the job.
Day 6 – Free day in Chur. I had nothing planned this day and made my way to the train station. I went to the information desk asking for suggestions. I like trains and I like the scenery, lady suggested a small loop, some of which I will cover on Bernina Express but decided to do it. Chur-Filisur-Davos-Landquart-Chur. First stop is Filisur, just across the famous Landwasser viaduct(photo9). I decided to get off there and hike down a trail to get to an observation point that gives you a great view of the viaduct. I packed my small drone and flew it out across the valley to try and get some good shots of the train on the viaduct, but I don’t think any of them turned out very good. After watching trains for a little while I walked back into town and had pizza at a little hotel/restaurant (photo10) that I have stayed at previously. After lunch climbed the hill to get to Filisur train station and catch train to Davos. For the rest of the stops I only had 10 minutes or less between trains, so I didn’t venture away from the station. I did see the heavy presents of security in Davos setting up for all the world leaders coming for Summit. Rest of trip back to Chur went smooth and it was dark before I got back to Chur.
Day 7 – Bernina Express – After breakfast I packed my suitcase and heading for the train station again, this time to catch the Bernina Express down to Tirano (Italy). I have done this train previously in one of the warmer months and they added to the rear of the train, an open-air car that just had a roof, but no walls. It was very nice because you could take pictures and not of the reflection of the glass in the picture. Again, it was another beautiful day with sun and no clouds, but also no snow falling. We went through some incredible scenery and small towns even cutting thru the middle of a couple small village squares. Pulling into Tirano, it was a much slower town, not much to see or do here and I planned 2 nights. After lunch I went for a walk around my hotel area, down to the “Old Town” area. I talked with the hotel owner about a place to do laundry and he gave me directions. I stayed at a place called “Bed&Breakfast Tirano”, I thought it was a hotel, but maybe it is a bed & breakfast, either way the owners also own a nice little Bistro on the corner where the included breakfast is served.
Day 8 – Laundry and Explore – As the owner said, there is a self-serve laundry place within 10 minutes. I started there and did a quick load, then walked down to the main square where old cathedral is located. While down there I head the train signals dinging and noticed the train just cutting across the square and taking up part of the road. After the cathedral I walked thru “Old Town” and took some cool pictures of the architecture and then had a big dinner at Hotel Ristorante, just across the square from the train station(Swiss), there is also an Italian train station in the square.
Day 9 – Heading to Lugano through Italy – When it is not winter, the Bernina Express offers a bus to take you from Tirano to Lugano, but in the winter the bus doesn’t run so I decided to do the Italian train from Tirano to Monza and change trains from Monza to Lugano.
After arriving in Lugano, I grabbed a taxi (Uber doesn’t work in Lugano) to my hotel, “Splendide Royal Hotel”. Originally, I booked a hotel near the train station, but it was undergoing to renovations and wasn’t ready, so that hotel booked me at their sister hotel. They also gave me an upgraded room with a balcony on the lake side. It was another incredible hotel, to bad I was only going to be in it for less than 24 hours. I think I made the most of it, after a quick trip down to the “Old Town” at the base of the train station for a little window shopping and pizza for dinner I came back and was able to squeeze in a 30 minute massage at the new spa the hotel just added. I just wished they could have done 1 hour after all the walking and carrying all my luggage. Either way it was nice, and I think I slept better that night.
Day 10 – Gotthard Panorama route, in winter – Splendid Royal Hotel was another great hotel that I stayed at on this trip that had an incredible breakfast buffet. I even complimented them for having crispy bacon. Same old story, after breakfast packed and heading for train station, this time in free hotel shuttle.
When it is not winter you can take the Gotthard Panorama Express from Lugano to Lucerne. Since it is winter, I had to just follow the route and do it on regular trains. Taking train from Lugano to Airolo and then to Fluelen, then boat for the almost 3-hour ride to Lucerne.
After getting to Lucerne and making my way back to “The Hotel” where I stayed at the beginning of this trip, I was ready for dinner and relaxing time. Across the bridge and over to the restaurants that line the water I was craving for some German food.
Day 11 – Free Day – I sat this day aside to meet up with a friend, but she was unable to get away, so I had to come up with another plan. I have done the day trip from Lucerne to Mt. Rigi before, I want to do Mt. Pilatus, but the cog train doesn’t run in the winter so maybe come back in a non-wintertime and do Mt. Pilatus. Another option was Mt. Titlis ski area. I choose Mt. Titlis, 45-minute train ride to Engelberg, 15-minute walk over to lifts. Mt. Titlis has a couple activities to do up on top of the mountain. The Ice Flyer is a ski lift that takes you out over the glacier and back, I didn’t do this. I did do the cliffwalk, which is a bridge that goes from peak to peak, simple cable bridge and you can see thru. After playing around outside in the cold and holding my cameras my fingers were having a hard time bending so went inside and found a nice table with a great view of the surrounding mountains and ordered pizza. After lunch went back over to the bridge one last time…that is when I fell, right on my butt…slipped a couple times but caught myself before this time happened too fast. Thankfully I wasn’t hurt and gather myself up and felt like it was time to go. Back down the mountain walk back to train station and 45-minute train back to Lucerne. For my last meal in Switzerland I wanted to go somewhere nice and still had a desire for German, maybe a wiener schnitzel. I talked with my hotel and they set me up a reservation at Wirtschaft zur Ente. That did the trick, delicious wiener schnitzel and time for bed. Have to get up early and start heading home.
Day 12 – Heading home – Up early again re-arranging suitcase and getting to train station early so that not in too much of a rush when I get to Zurich Airport. After dropping off my big suitcase then I was able to do some shopping and I have found that chocolate fits everyone, don’t have to worry about it being too small or big or wrong color, boy or girl…just chocolate.
My video about the trip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PA19imCwCTk