TABLE 505 – Genéve – Lausanne – Bern – Zürich

PART 1

Switzerland is one of Europe’s most beautiful and train-accessible countries with excellent international links and breathtaking scenery around almost every corner. In Switzerland, the journey is definitely as great an experience as the destination.

The national railway company is SBB (Schweizerische BundesBahn), there are over a dozen other operators, but one ticketing system covers the entire country. The Swiss have one of the top-rated rail systems in the world, known for their punctuality and frequency they are also very eco-friendly (most trains use ultra-clean hydroelectricity, and some even generate energy-saving electricity when travelling downhill). Swiss Travel Passes are a money saving option as they not only provide access to the SBB railway mainline network but also dozens of local, private companies that operate mountain trains, cable cars and buses as well as providing free entrance to some Swiss museums.

The train journey between the great cities of Genève and Zürich offers visitors the opportunity to experience a little bit of everything that Switzerland has to offer. Although it’s feasible to enjoy this journey in one day, we would argue that it is more beneficial to split the journey over several days as there are plenty of places along the way that are worth exploring.

Switzerland’s second largest city Genève is located between the Alps and the hilly terrain of the Jura and alongside the largest lake in Western Europe, making it perfect for scenic treks into the mountains as well as gentle lake-side promenades. The city centre boasts extravagant shopping, hotels and restaurants but there is also plenty of cultural activities and a thriving art scene. The Cathédrale St-Pierre twin towers can be climbed for a small fee which is worthwhile for the great view over the city and its iconic water fountain Jet d’Eau. Nearby there is also the Palais des Nations where some of the many international organisations that shape our world have their headquarters.

PART 2

We begin our journey departing from Genève-Cornavin, the city’s main railway station. The train skirts the edge of Lake Geneva before reaching the pretty little town of Nyon on the banks of the lake, set amongst the La Côte vineyards. The town has an array of Roman ruins to explore as well as a striking castle which is now a local history museum and includes an interesting display of porcelain. From the castle terrace, visitors can enjoy a magnificent view over Lake Geneva and the Alps.

The next stop is picturesque Morges, the “City of Flowers”. The town has an elegant lakeside promenade and a car-free old town with numerous boutiques and cafes as well as the historic Morges Castle which houses four museums. Morges is also the starting point of the 30-kilometre narrow gauge railway to the villages of Bière and L’Isle Mont la Ville in foothills of the Jura mountains (ERT Table 502). This short picturesque route passes through one of the main wine-growing regions of Switzerland and there are various marked hiking and bicycle trails to help visitors explore this corner of Switzerland, as well as the opportunity to sample some of the local delicacies.

Continuing around the shores of the lake, the train now arrives in the city of Lausanne, renowned as the Olympic Capital. Built on three hills, surrounded by UNESCO-listed vineyard terraces and with a wonderful lakeside setting, Lausanne is a popular holiday destination with plenty to offer. The useful metro system connects the various parts of the hilly town to the main railway station. Dominated by the cathedral, which is often regarded as Switzerland’s most impressive piece of early Gothic architecture, the attractive old town is small enough to explore on foot. As you might expect, there are also plenty of boat cruises on offer which will give you an alternative view of the beautiful surroundings.

PART 3

Last week we reached the city of Lausanne with its spectacular setting overlooking Lake Geneva. From here there are a variety of options for rail travellers wishing to explore this region. A popular choice is to continue along the shoreline of Lake Geneva to Montreux (Table 570) from where you can join the scenic Golden Pass route through the Simmen valley to Interlaken (Tables 566, 563, 560).

Table 505 presents us with two choices of route from Lausanne to Olten and beyond. The first option is the direct route via Palézieux and Romont to the Swiss capital, Bern, from where there is a high-speed link to Olten. The other route via Yverdon is definitely the more scenic option traversing the Jura foothills and also closely following the shorelines of both Lake Neuchâtel and Lake Biel. The choice is therefore some wonderful lakeside scenery or the chance to visit Switzerland’s charming capital city. On our journey today we are taking the scenic option.

Yverdon-les-Bains is located in the Jura mountain region at the southern tip of Lake Neuchâtel. The town is famous for its thermal springs as well as its rich history, with ruins of the Roman town and a 13th-century castle to explore. The town also boasts Europe’s only science fiction museum, Maison d’Ailleurs! Continuing to take in the lovely scenery along the lake shore, we reach the small town of Neuchâtel located at the northern end of the lake. In the historic Old Town, there is a medieval castle and a gothic church as well as a colourful market and lakefront promenade.

From Neuchâtel, it’s a short hop to the city of Biel / Bienne located at the north-eastern tip of Lake Biel. The city is officially bilingual with German and French equally spoken and is renowned as the hub of Swiss watchmaking with Swatch, Rolex and Omega all located here. There are boat trips along the Aare river as well as lake cruises, locations for swimming and multiple mountain hiking trails. From Biel / Bienne there is a direct rail route to the city of Bern (Table 513) from where you can continue your journey via the high-speed route.

TABLE 951: Salzberg – Innsbruck – Lindau

(Part 4/4)

For the final section of this very scenic route, we leave behind the Arlberg Railway and reach Feldkirch, a pleasant medieval city on the border with Switzerland and Liechtenstein. It is nestled in a picturesque place where three valleys meet and includes a well preserved old town and the dominating edifice of the ancient Schattenburg Castle. It is also the best jumping-off point for exploring Liechtenstein which can be easily reached by bus. The buses are reasonably priced and transport you up into the hills for wonderful views to the sounds of cowbells, and onwards into Switzerland if you wish.

Next is Bregenz, the capital of the Vorarlberg region, which lies on the eastern shores of Lake Constance, the third-largest freshwater lake in Central Europe. From April to October, Vorarlberg Lines offer a number of sightseeing lake cruises, which can be especially beautiful at sunset. Just off shore is the city’s floating Lake Stage, home of the famous Bregenz Festival held each July and August. The festival is one of Europe’s most popular, featuring prominent operatic figures and major musicians and orchestras. The city itself lies at the base of the Pfänder Mountain. A six minute ride on a panoramic gondola takes you to the summit from where you enjoy fantastic views of the Swiss Alps, Lake Constance, and surrounding mountains. On a clear day, some 240 mountain peaks can be visible.

The final stop on this route is Lindau. This historic town is actually an island on the eastern side of Lake Constance and connected to the mainland by a road-traffic bridge and a railway dam leading to Lindau Hauptbahnhof. Full of medieval and half-timbered buildings it’s a popular tourist attraction, especially during summer. Boat tours are available from the pretty harbour, home to a famous lighthouse which is well worth a visit, or you can just sit and admire the view of Austria and Switzerland and the Alps across the lake. Lindau also provides you with a connection to another scenic railway, the Bavarian Allgäu railway (Table 935) which runs through southern Germany to Munich.

(Part 3)

This month we are looking at a route that consistently appears in any top ten of the best scenic rail routes in Europe. Table 951 from the timetable can be used to plan your journey through stunning Tyrolean Alpine scenery. Beginning in Salzburg the route heads towards Innsbruck taking a route which passes briefly into Germany via Rosenheim, then along the beautiful Arlberg railway finishing on the eastern side of Lake Constance in Lindau.

Following on from Jenbach the route now heads to the stunning city of Innsbruck and the start of the Arlberg Railway. Innsbruck Hbf is one of the busiest stations in Austria with around 450 trains passing through the station daily. As soon as you step onto the platform you are met with views of the mountains on one side and the Bergisel Olympic ski jump on the other. The delightful old town (Altstadt) offers access to the main tourist attractions, including the famous Golden Roof, a balcony which gets its name from the 2,657 fire-gilded copper tiles that adorn its roof. Nearby is the elaborate Gothic Imperial Palace and Imperial Gardens with its giant chess boards and diverse plants and trees. Reaching the mountains is easy, with a ride on the spectacular modernist Hungerburgbahn funicular from the city centre followed by a series of cable cars to whisk you to the summit of the Nordkette range for one of Europe’s most impressive vistas.

The 157 kilometres from Innsbruck to Feldkirch are the most spectacular of the entire route. The line climbs to over 1,200 metres above sea level (one of the highest lines in Europe) following the course of the Inn River to the busy hub of Landeck where we then enter the mountain section of the Arlberg Railway. In this section trains pass through 14 tunnels and 20 galleries that serve as protection from falling rocks and avalanches. One of the most iconic moments is crossing the iron arch of the Trisanna Bridge, just outside Landeck. Raised 87 metres over the river valley, the bridge is overlooked by Schloss Wiesberg, a 13th-century castle set on a woodland cliff. Between the major ski resorts of St. Anton and Langen a popular playground for Europe’s Royal families, is the 10,249 metre long Arlberg tunnel, where we leave the Tyrol and enter Vorarlberg. If skiing is not your thing, or you are visiting in the Summer, this area offers plenty of spectacular walking routes, boating, bathing lakes and other sporting options.

(Part 2)

This month we are looking at a route that consistently appears in any top ten of the best scenic rail routes in Europe. Table 951 from the timetable can be used to plan your journey through stunning Tyrolean Alpine scenery. Beginning in Salzburg the route heads towards Innsbruck taking a route which passes briefly into Germany via Rosenheim, then along the beautiful Arlberg railway finishing on the eastern side of Lake Constance in Lindau.

Leaving Salzburg, we travel 120 kilometres through pretty Bavarian countryside directly to the border town of Kufstein. As there are no stops within Germany there is no requirement for border controls. Known as the “Pearl of the Tyrol”, the medieval town of Kufstein is situated between the Brandenburg Alps and the Kaiser Mountains. Its greatest landmark is the Kufstein Fortress situated high above the city and is reached via the Festungsbahn funicular railway. The fortress now houses a museum and is worth a visit for the stunning view over the town and nearby mountains.

The next stop is Wörgl Hbf, an important railway junction where the line from Salzburg via Zell am See meets the main Munich to Innsbruck route. More than 12,000 travellers pass through this station daily, nearly as many people as live in Wörgl itself! The area is a popular alpine ski region and also home to a huge water park and spa. There is also a vast network of hiking trails where you can explore the spectacular Tyrol mountains

Next is Jenbach, the starting point for two narrow gauge railways. This makes an unusual station as there are tracks with three different gauges: the standard gauge railway line of the ÖBB, the 1,000 mm gauge Achenseebahn (Europe’s oldest steam cog railway) which transports tourists along seven kilometres to Lake Achensee (Table 956) and the 760 mm narrow gauge Zillertalbahn (Table 955). At Lake Achensee timetables are co-ordinated so that passengers can transfer to the steam boat ferry to continue their scenic exploration of the area.

(Part 1)

This month we are looking at a route that consistently appears in any top 10 of the best scenic rail routes in Europe. Table 951 from the timetable can be used to plan your journey through stunning Bavarian Alpine scenery. Beginning in Salzburg the route heads towards Innsbruck taking a route which passes briefly into Germany via Rosenheim, then along the beautiful Arlberg railway finishing on the eastern side of Lake Constance in Lindau.

There are two rail routes between Salzburg and Innsbruck, the other route, shown in Table 960, remains entirely in Austrian territory but is slower and trains are less frequent. With both routes offering some wonderful scenery travellers are spoilt for choice and could perhaps chose the alternative route for a return journey.

Salzburg Hbf our starting point is a 20 minute walk from the city centre. This major rail hub has a wealth of domestic and international connections including to Wien (Table 950) and Munchen (Table 890). Because it lies on the border with Germany, the station is administered jointly by Austrian Railways (ÖBB) and German Rail (DB). Seat reservations are optional on most trains but cheaper tickets can be purchased by pre-booking.

Salzburg is a tourist favourite, famous as the birthplace of Mozart and the setting for The Sound of Music the number of tourists can outnumber locals by a large margin in peak times. The city is also internationally renowned for its baroque architecture with the historic centre being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The must see Hohensalzburg Fortress towers over the town and is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe. Reach it via the Festungsbahn, Austria’s oldest funicular railway. At the top visitors get fantastic views of the city and surrounding mountains.

Route No. 36: “Swiss lakes and mountains”

As a continuing feature we will be highlighting a selected route from our guidebook ‘Europe by Rail’ written by Nicky Gardner & Susanne Kries, every week.  Below is an extract from the book. To find out more, the guidebook can be purchased through our website for £15.99.

This week we are looking at: Route No. 36: “Swiss lakes and mountains” which begins in Zurich, passing through Lucerne and Montreux, ending in Geneva.

This route nicely explores the Switzerland of the imagination – a place full of Alpine meadows, cow bells and snow-capped peaks. With some of Europe’s most efficient rail services running even into remote Alpine valleys, there is plenty of scope for really getting off the beaten track.

We start in Zurich, heading south for a brief but tantalising encounter with Lake Lucerne, before striking south-west into one of the most serenely beautiful parts of the Alps. You’ll see a lot of the Bernese Oberland on this route. Our favourite section is the steep drop down to Montreux on the shores of Lake Geneva. West from Montreux we cruise through the Lavaux Vineyards to reach Lausanne, before embarking on the final leg along the lakeshore to Geneva.