Even people who have never been to Switzerland feel like they have been here. That is the power of the country’s established image, its tremendous merits.
It seems that the whole world already knows that it is best to take a picture of the Matterhorn at dawn, that one of the most extreme tracks, with a practically vertical slope somewhere in the middle, is the Diavolezza in St. Moritz, that good fondue cannot be enjoyed without real Swiss wine. But often the main impression of a country comes from the taste and the odour of something edible, and the place where you tasted it.
AND THEN …
Bahnhofstrasse with its festive illuminations, the platform, and the start of your journey… A big piece of traditional Christmas pie—Stollen—carefully packed in a box (size: exactly for one piece!) with a ribbon that you bought in one of the central coffee houses of Zurich while waiting for your train. A paper glass with mulled wine. These two complicated flavours and their odours mingle together and forever become part of your memories of winter-time Switzerland and its festive atmosphere.
And then the almost inaudible movement of the express train along the famous Gotthard mountain route, your eyes fixed on the landscape. One after another you pass the 205 bridges (including the highest bridge in Switzerland, standing on a preserved ancient Roman aqueduct). Several tunnels (the St. Gotthard tunnel, 15 km long and once the longest mountain tunnel in the world) considered miracles of engineering. A multitude of natural «pictures» with gradually changing flora and smooth transitions from one time to another. From the dampish winter of Zurich, along the twisting mountain railway lined with spruces standing in white snow coats at the Alpine foothills to Lugano.
The route, laid over one hundred years ago across the famous St. Gotthard pass, also has historic value: the great Russian commander Suvorov is still honoured and respected here.
The road connects the north and the south of the country, the authentic winter of the Alpine peaks with the almost eternal blooming summer of the Italian Canton of Ticino. It goes through the popular ski resorts of Andermatt and Sedrun to the outdoor park called «Switzerland in Miniature» and the medieval castles of Bellinzona. The ordours of Zurich, the trains, the taste of Christmas and the air that even in winter is imbued with the warm waves of Lake Maggiore… It is very Swiss: a mixture of aromas and feelings. That is why, after skiing, you can take one of the panoramic express trains and in about an hour you will be at Lake Lucerne to finish a winter’s day with a quiet southern lakeside trip.
FROM SHIP STRAIGHT INTO SNOW
You can easily get to any ski resort in Switzerland by train or by bus, but you can also start your skiing holiday on a warm ship’s deck enjoying a cup of coffee and the coastal (and, by the way, not at all wintry) landscapes – Lake Lucerne is for all the year round. The lake ships deliver travellers from Lucerne, Hertenstein, Weggis and Vitznau to Beckenried. You can then get from the berth to the resort or hotel you need by the ropeway from Weggis to Rigi-Kaltbad or by the rack railway from Vitznau to Rigi that was ceremonially opened in 1871 and which was the first railroad of such kind in Europe.
ROMANCE A LA BELLE EPOQUE
If you hanker for more and thus take a railway trip to the Shynige Platte, located at 2,068 meters altitude, you will feel as if you are back in the Belle Epoque. The train and its decor will remind you of the glorious past of the mountain railway engineers. The route winds its way along the rack railway lines opened more than 100 years ago, in 1893, from Wilderswil, which is only 4 minutes by train from Interlaken. The seven kilometers to the top take about 50 minutes — the train goes through thick forests covered with snow, which look like Christmas cards, and the changing views from the window of the Eiger, the Monch and the Jungfrau mountains seem almost unreal. The Shynige Platte is a starting point for walks to the Daube and Gumihorn and for more difficult mountain hiking to Oberberghorn.
Travelling by public transport in Switzerland is quick, convenient, quiet and comfortable. With clockwork schedules and verified routes as offered by the Swiss Travel System (STS), you can easily take another train if you delay and change your route. In order to solve problems related to carrying luggage and skiing gear, especially important during a ski resort trip, the Swiss have created an ideal luggage transportation system. All tourists (arriving in, leaving or traveling through Switzerland) can choose from a wide selection of attractive and efficient solutions. New services have recently appeared: Flight Luggage Express (for travelers from other countries: luggage brought by any airline carrier to Zurich or Geneva is delivered to the appropriate railway station in Switzerland, where it can be picked up after 6.0p.m. on the same day);
Flight Luggage Door-to-Door (the luggage is delivered from the destination airport directly to your hotel); and Luggage Express (if the route runs through Switzerland, passengers may check in their luggage at the closest railway station before 9.00 a.m. and retrieve it at the destination station after 6.00 p.m. on the same day. This service is available at more than 30 railway stations throughout the whole of Switzerland).
Furthermore, a new option has arrived — ELVIA «luggage insurance», which allows for an insurance indemnity of up to CHF 2,000 in case of delays, damage or loss of luggage.
For almost 30 years, the Swiss Travel System (STS) has paid great attention to family trips. Upon a preliminary request, families get a free Swiss Family Card with each STS ticket. This allows children (there may be several) under 16 to travel by public transport free of charge if accompanied by at least one of their parents. Children travelling in Switzerland alone, or with grandparents or other relatives, get a discount of 50% on all STS tickets.