Table 550: Zürich and Luzern – Lugano – Milano

PART 1

This month we are in Switzerland travelling from Luzern to Milano. The journey takes around four hours covering a distance of 263 kilometres. The journey takes you via The Gotthard Base tunnel crossing the Alps. It is the world’s longest and deepest railway tunnel at 57 kilometres.

Our journey begins in Luzern amongst the snow capped mountains on Lake Luzern. The city is well known for its stunning medieval architecture, history, culture and spectacular scenery.There is plenty to explore and one of the most famous attractions is the Chapel Bridge that stretches across the River Reuss. Dating back to the 14th century it is the oldest covered wooden bridge in Europe. The interior has paintings in the ceiling vaults representing Luzern’s history.

The medieval Old Town on the right bank is beautiful and offers narrow, cobbled streets with great shops and restaurants, picturesque squares, fountains, and buildings with colourful façades. Close by is the old city walls with 9 towers. Climb to the top of the towers for stunning views across the city.

Don’t miss the Swiss Museum of Transport, this unique museum offers everything from Switzerland’s first diesel locomotive, aircraft, cars and horse drawn carriages. It is also home to the Swiss Chocolate Adventure where you can learn about the history and manufacture of Swiss chocolate.

Other must see attractions include the Jesuit Church built in 1666, the Franciscan Church with one of the most ornate pulpits in Switzerland, Spreuer Bridge built in the 16th century, The Lion Monument carved into a former sandstone quarry which represents the Swiss Guard and not forgetting beautiful Lake Luzern, Switzerland’s fourth largest lake.

PART 2

This week we continue our journey leaving Luzern and head to Arth-Goldau. Sit on the right of the train for stunning views over Lake Zug and the mountain peaks on the far shore.

Arth-Goldau, situated between Lake Zug and Lake Luzern, lies in the heart of a cherry tree region and is an important railway junction along the Gotthard line. The rack railway leading up to the “Queen of the Mountains”, Mount Rigi, offers superb panoramic views across the Alps.

Over 200 years ago Goldau was destroyed by a massive landslide after heavy rainfall. Take a themed walk along the ‘Landslide Trail’ or visit the Landslide Museum in the village for an insight into this natural disaster.

Also close by is the Goldau Nature Park and Zoo with 100 native and European animals including deer and moufflon sheep in a large free-range area, and wolves, lynxes, wild boar and wild cats in large enclosures.

Don’t forget to take a boat cruise on Lake Zug, the perfect way to relax and take in the scenery.

Continuing south from Arth-Goldau you pass Lake Luzern on the right and head towards the start of Gotthard Base tunnel at Erstfeld, emerging around 20 minutes later at Biasca.

PART 3

This week we are exploring the medieval town, Bellinzona the capital of canton Ticino at the foot of the Alps by the Ticino River. Bellinzona is famous for its three UNESCO World Heritage castles, it also has several 15th Century churches to explore and plenty of charm.

The historic old town has beautiful, colourful buildings and alleys and a lovely atmosphere. In the main square you will find the church of Saint Pietro e Stefano, a magnificent baroque church with an ornate interior, a beautiful pulpit decorated with marble and various ancient paintings. Saturday is market day in the old town, so take a stroll and explore the bustling market selling local produce, artisan food, freshly made sweet and savory treats and traditional handicrafts.

From the old town you can walk to the castles or take the shuttle, passing vineyards, streams and forests with beautiful panoramic views of Bellinzona valley and the surrounding snow capped mountains.

The three castles include Castelgrande, Montebello and Sasso Corbaro. Castelgrande is the main castle and sits on a rocky plateau above the town. Enjoy a walk around the vast grounds. Climb up the two towers for spectacular views and visit the museum for an insight into the history. Montebello Castle is the most picturesque of the three castles and houses an interesting archeological Museum. Sasso Corbaro is the highest castle on the hill and offers the best views of the area.

PART 4

This week we are finishing our journey in the city of Lugano. From Bellinzona we head south through the 15.4 kilometre Ceneri Base Tunnel. This newly opened tunnel between Bellinzona and Lugano is the last section of the new railway link through the Alps and takes around 20 minutes to pass through.

We reach Lugano on the northern side of Lake Lugano, surrounded by mountains. This picturesque city blends Italian, Swiss and Mediterranean influences.

The old town has a lovely atmosphere, is traffic free, and filled with shops, restaurants and cafes. The 16th century San Lorenzo Cathedral is beautiful with its giant tower and stunning views over the old town, lake and mountains.

For the best views of Lugano head to Monte Brè to the north or Monte San Salvatore to the south. You can reach both mountains by the funicular railways. At the top you can enjoy the spectacular panoramic views. From Monte Brè there are various walks and hikes including a walk down to the old village of Brè. From Monte San Salvatore you can walk to the villages of Carona, Morcote, Melide and Figino.

Lake Lugano is a definite highlight. Take a stroll along the beautiful waterfront or enjoy one of the many boat trips on offer, the perfect way to relax and see the mountains and picturesque villages. There are also lots of parks to explore around the lake including Parco Civico with ambling paths, flower gardens and manicured lawns.

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.

Route No. 16: “Touring the Rhine Valley”

ROUTE OF THE WEEK

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.

PHOTO: The Hohenzollern Bridge is used by all trains crossing the Rhine to enter Cologne from the east. Cologne's great cathedral, seen in this shot, is right by the main railway station. Photo by Dirk Ziegener posted on FreeImages.com

PHOTO: The Hohenzollern Bridge is used by all trains crossing the Rhine to enter Cologne from the east. Cologne’s great cathedral, seen in this shot, is right by the main railway station. Photo by Dirk Ziegener posted on FreeImages.com

This week we are looking at: Route No. 16: “Touring the Rhine Valley” which runs from south from Cologne in Germany through the Black Forest to Zurich, Switzerland.

This is one of Europe’s classic rail journeys, as the route south from Cologne hugs the River Rhine and then, once past Koblenz, follows the dramatic Rhine Gorge upstream. Moving over the imperceptible divide from northern into southern Germany, we leave the Rhine Valley and continue through the Black Forest in to Switzerland

Suggested Itinerary:
Our starting point is Cologne, which is nowadays just a short hop on regular high-speed trains from Amsterdam (ERT 28), Brussels and Paris (both ERT 20). Travellers from Britain can leave London on a morning departure on Eurostar and, with just one change of train in Brussels, be in Cologne to start Route 16 by early afternoon. There is no compulsory seat reservation on any of the trains in this route. Holders of InterRail and Eurail passes can thus follow the entire route without paying a cent in supplements. This is, therefore, a journey well suited to spontaneous travel. Cheap tickets, valid only on regional trains, are available for all but the final leg from Schaffhausen to Zurich.

Heidelberg is the obvious place for an overnight stop. If you decide to travel from Cologne to Heidelberg in a day, we especially recommend using one of the two morning Eurocity trains which run up the Rhine Valley from Cologne. These two trains (EC7 and EC9 respectively) are both formed of very comfortable Swiss carriages and each train has an excellent restaurant car. It is a two-and-a-half hour journey from Cologne to Mannheim, where you’ll need to change for a connecting train to Heidelberg, just a dozen minutes away.

If the weather is good and time no object, think of doing part of the journey by boat up the Rhine; the best place to do this is definitely between Boppard and Bingen (ERT 914a). Holders of Eurail and InterRail passes receive a 20% discount on the regular fares on all shipping services shown in ERT 914a.