Excursions by public transport
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Although few Swiss journeys are short on scenery, there are a handful of exceptionally beautiful routes around the country which are marketed as unified single journeys. On most – after having reserved a seat the day before for a few francs – you just sit back, flash your travel pass and drink in the views. Some require you to change from train to boat, or bus to train, but you never have to walk more than the length of a station platform, and timetables always allow enough leeway that you’re never in a hurry. Plus, of course, you can always send your heavy bags ahead. Some of the more spectacular routings run special panoramic train carriages, either with partial or total glass roofs, or (in first class) with some raised seating inside a transparent bubble in the roof giving 360-degree views, but for these – and for extras such as onboard lunches – you always pay a supplement. For information, timings and routings, you should check well in advance, either at train stations or at larger tourist offices anywhere in the country. Note, too, that it’s easy to follow the same routes on ordinary trains and pay no extras, or to get on or off at intermediate points: the Centovalli line, for instance (see here), is worth exploring regardless of its marketed Lötschberg add-on. And, it should be added, these are only the trips in the spotlight: equally spectacular shorter rides such as Chur to Arosa, or the tiny Lauterbrunnen-to-Mürren line, don’t get the glossy-brochure treatment.

We’ve described the journeys roughly north-to-south, but all make the return trip as well. Most need advance reservation, and some cross international borders (passport needed). Note that some tour operators will let you add these excursions to a package holiday (at the time of booking) for bargain rates.

Bernina Express or Heidiland Bernina Express Various routes from Chur, St Moritz or Davos over the high Bernina Pass and through the gorgeous Val Poschiavo to Tirano (Italy), where you switch onto a postbus and skirt Lake Como to Lugano. Total, including a couple of hours in Tirano, 8hr. June–Oct daily. Reserve at any train station. Panorama carriages.

Glacier Express A spectacular and understandably popular route, and – given its ups and downs – the slowest express in the world (average speed 30kph). From St Moritz (1775m) or Davos down to Chur (585m), then up the Rhine valley to the high Alps, crossing the Oberalp Pass (2033m) to Andermatt, through the tunnel beneath the Furka Pass and down the Rhône valley to Brig (671m), before climbing to Zermatt (1604m). Total 8hr, 291 bridges and 91 tunnels. Daily. Reserve at any train station (also reserve for the dining car). Panorama carriages.

Golden Pass Flagship panorama route from Luzern to Geneva, running via Interlaken, the expansive countryside around Gstaad, Montreux, and the Léman lakeshore, with a variety of different panoramic carriages on various legs of the journey. Total 6hr. Daily. Reservations needed for some stretches; ask at any station.

Lötschberg–Centovalli South from Bern beneath both great Alpine ranges, courtesy of the Lötschberg tunnel into Canton Valais, and the Simplon tunnel from Brig to Domodossola (Italy), where you switch to the tiny, rackety trains which ply the wild and gorgeous Centovalli east to Locarno. Total 4hr. Daily. No reservations needed.

Palm Express Postbus from St Moritz over the Maloja Pass into the dreamy Val Bregaglia, crossing the border to Chiavenna (Italy) and the shores of Lake Como, then crossing back into Switzerland before ending at Lugano. No train-track exists on this route. Total 4hr 15min. June–Oct daily; Nov–June Fri–Sun only. Reserve at St Moritz bus station (081/837 67 64), or Lugano bus station (091/807 85 20).

Rhône Express Memorably diverse scenery, with a boat ride from Geneva to Montreux, and a train running the length of the Rhône valley up to Brig, changing again for the rack railway to Zermatt. If you take the whole package (with a hefty supplement), you get the boat ride on an old-time paddle steamer with three-course lunch included and first-class transport all the way; otherwise, it’s easy to link ordinary boat and train services together to form the same ride without supplements. Total 9hr. June–Sept daily. Reserve at 022/741 52 30.

William Tell Express Another incredibly beautiful journey, from Luzern by boat across the whole of Lake Luzern to Flüelen, then a train south, corkscrewing its way up into the Gotthard Tunnel beneath the Alps and then down again through the Ticino to Lugano. If you go for the whole package, you get a three-course lunch in a lake paddle steamer, plus first-class panorama seating on the train. Avoid the supplement by making your own way. Total 6hr. May–Oct daily. Reserve at 041/367 67 67.

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