The Joys of Slow Swiss Trains

A It's breakfast time on the run between Bern and Geneva. The table linen is perfectly white, the coffee is piping hot and the rolls are warm. Outside the view is picture-book perfect: fields of deepest green scattered with high-gabled farmhouses against a backdrop of alpine peaks. Inside, tranquility rules. Only the waiter stirs. Beyond the Swiss border the world may be hurtling to ruin, but nothing will ever disturb the timeless calm of a Swiss dining car.

OK, so I like trains everywhere. Rail travel is good. It's soothing, hassle-free and kind to the planet. But no one does railways quite like the Swiss. The solid national virtues—efficiency, cleanliness and scrupulous time-keeping—make them natural managers of their own matchless network. The stations are temples of order and calm (remember this is the country that gave the world valium and Ovomalt), staff in well-pressed uniforms speak shamefully good English and almost every journey is enhanced by some eye-popping scenery.

Swiss engineers take a casual view of gradients. The world's highest railway station stands just beneath the Eiger at a dizzying 3,454 meters (11,332 feet). No traveler in search of the sublime should miss a spell on the narrow-gauge Glacier Express (possibly the slowest express in the world) that takes nearly eight hours to trundle its way from Zermatt to Davos.
But even the main lines have some spectacular moments. For simple grandeur try the route down into Italy through the central massifs from Interlaken to Domodossola. (For swank tourists with time to spare there's the grander William Tell Express with a paddle-steamer ride on the lakes included).

Look south from the line along Lake Leman and there's Mont Blanc.
The Swiss aren't faultless. Discerning drinkers might prefer the beer to the (Swiss) wine from the trolley, and the food in the buffet may be a tad heavy for some tastes. One glance at a traditional Swiss menu can clog the aorta. Comfort standards are not always much above adequate. An austere strain in the Swiss makeup means the seats may be a tad too hard for the very longest trips. And like almost any other form of activity in Switzerland, rail travel is expensive. The two-hour ride from Bern to Geneva will cost a hefty 45 Swiss Francs (about $55). (Book your tickets at http://www.sbb.ch/en/. But be forewarned: few Swiss pay the full fare. Invest in an annual season ticket and every fare on the network is halved) But even the shortest trip is balm to the troubled soul. Cheap at almost any price.

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