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When the journey is the destination

This summer, we explored Switzerland solely by public transport, putting the 1st Class Swiss Travel Pass to the test. Home to the world’s densest transport network, Switzerland is very well connected, meaning your destination, no matter where it is, is a few baby steps away.

The 1st Class Swiss Travel Pass is a single, convenient ticket that enables tourists to explore Switzerland from end to end by train, bus and boat on 3, 4, 6, 8 or 15 consecutive days. The pass provides access to public transportation in more than 90 cities and towns, some mountain excursions such as Rigi, Stanserhorn and Stoos, and free admission to more than 500 museums, including the more expensive ones such as Zurich’s FIFA Museum.

Children under 16 travel for free when accompanied by a parent holding a ticket. The Swiss Travel Pass includes unlimited travel on premium panoramic trains (though seat reservation fees and/or surcharges apply).

Our familiarisation trip begins in the wee hours at Zurich Airport as Michaela Geiger, Manager Media Marketing, Swiss Travel System (STS), welcomes us.

Our baggage is promptly collected at the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) ticket office/gift shop within the airport so we may explore Switzerland handsfree, while our baggage arrives at its designated address. This baggage drop-off service, available across Switzerland, is very convenient and is worth the added cost, especially if travelling in a group, carrying very large bags and for business and corporate travel.

We head straight into the train station, ideally located at the underground level, connecting all of Switzerland and Europe.

Four scenic trains and a few more hours later, we reach our first stop, Vevey, a sleepy lakeside town made alive by a bright summer sun.  

The four-star Hotel Astra Vevey is a hop away from the train station and makes a good base for exploring Montreux’s Riviera, part of the Canton of Vaud. A tour around the old town of Vevey reveals little art boutiques, cafes, chocolatiers and heritage buildings. The best part of Vevey, however, is the sunny lakeside as people take to dipping in Lake Geneva to cool off from the soaring summer temperatures.

Rents in Vevey are high; locals love their peace and quiet here. It is said that famous people feel at ease in the anonymity offered at Vevey, which was also the home of Charlie Chaplin on the last leg of his life’s journey.

A cruise tour on Lake Geneva is the undisputed highlight – cruising along the famous Lavaux UNESCO World Heritage area, with its lush green vineyards that have evolved over a millennia. Sunbathing on the top deck is reserved for 1st class ticket holders, so our travel-tired souls are fully rejuvenated as we head back to Hotel Astra Vevey with its cosy and inviting open-air rooftop Jacuzzi.

The dinner at the restaurant La Coupole in Hotel Astra rounds off day one of our trip perfectly.

The next morning, we head to Chillon Castle, a site that has been occupied since the Bronze Age. The history of the castle is marked by three great periods: those of the Savoy family, the Bernese bailiffs and the Canton of Vaud. On site is Café Byron, named after one of its most famous tourists, who visited more than once and also left graffiti on the walls behind like any self-respecting romantic poet would.

After an invigorating tour of the castle, it’s time to hop on a bus to the famously musical town of Montreux. A quick walk, a few flights of stairs and five minutes later, we reach the Grand Hotel Suisse Majestic, Autograph Collection, for a leisurely lunch with stunning lake views.

A traditional resort town, Montreux’s most famous export today is the Montreux Jazz Festival, which was first launched in 1967. Tiffany Duc, PR and Media Manager, Montreux- Vevey Tourism, takes us on a whirlwind tour around the town and peppers it with anecdotes of famous musicians. Several famous songs have been inspired by Montreux. It is home to a commemorative statue of legendary rockstar Freddie Mercury, and one of the top experiences Montreux offers is a visit to the Queen recording studio.

Queen Studio Experience Montreux is a slice of paradise for fans of the British rock group. It is located in the former Mountain Studios, where Queen recorded its path-breaking music from 1978 to 1995. Today, located in the Casino Barrière de Montreux, the museum was inaugurated by band-member Brian May in 2013.

On a tight schedule, we are whisked away on an hour-long rack-train ride up to Rochers-de-Naye, offering stunning views of the Alps and Lake Geneva from about 2,000 metres above sea level. It’s a consummate hiking haven in the summer offering a misty playground of exploration and reconnecting with nature; in winter, it takes on the avatar of a winter sports destination. 

After a light hike and steaming coffee, we meander through charming, scenic trains to return to Vevey for a dinner at Ze Fork, one of the top restaurants in town, effortlessly combining creative degustation menus and down to earth service.

The next day is spent freestyling on trains discovering various secondary towns and experiencing the kid-friendly Globi Express with Andreas Nef, Market Manager, UAE, UK, South Korea, Australia and Japan for STS. Together we head to Lucerne, where Madeleine Winkler, our guide for the hour, battles the rain to show us a little glimpse of Lucerne and its iconic wooden bridge.

We must take one more train journey to rest our heads for the night. This time it is a train to Engelberg in the canton of Obwalden for an overnight at Kempinski Palace Engelberg Titlis Swiss Alps the only five-star superior hotel in town and a masterpiece in approachable luxury.

Perched high in the mountains in the heart of Switzerland, located only a short distance from Lucerne, the Kempinski Palace Engelberg sits at the foot of the Titlis mountain. The historic Grand Hotel from 1905 combines the charm of the Belle Époque era with the most modern luxury comfort.

Dinner at the Cattani Restaurant is a lavish affair and clearly the Swiss and tourists alike think of this restaurant as a popular place to return to. We have a vegan, a vegetarian, a complete carnivore in our group and some halal eaters, and all of them leave satisfied, though perhaps a bit too full of chocolate from the delicious dessert.

The rooms and suites are luxuriously fitted while keeping elements of authenticity, just as expected from the Kempinski brand. The views from the little balcony are stunning: Swiss Alps as far as the eye can see.

The next morning, breakfast is a quaint and quality affair. Food just tastes better in Switzerland, I find myself saying. The fruit, the bakery rolls, the yoghurts are effortlessly fresh and flavourful, the standard of produce is high in Switzerland in general, Kempinski just takes it several notches higher.

We head out on the last leg of our Swiss fam trip with Rayomand Choksi of Titlis cableways, hotels and restaurants, responsible for Middle East and India markets. The agenda: discover the eternally snowy playground of Mount Titlis, followed by a wholesome lunch in one of the highest restaurants in Switzerland and a leisurely stroll alongside the placid Lake Truebsee.

We walk lesser than 10 minutes from Kempinski Palace Engelberg to reach the cable car station, and ascent to the top of Mt. Titlis with the Titlis Xpress and the TITLIS ROTAIR – the world’s first revolving cable car. The Swiss Travel Pass includes up to 50 per cent discount on many mountain excursions such as Engelberg-Titlis.

This is where we spend bulk of our morning frolicking in the snow, building up an appetite. We try the Titlis Cliff Walk, a spectacular suspension bridge high up at the peak, Europe’s highest situated suspension bridge at 3,041 metres above sea level. This is followed by the Ice Flyer Chairlift, a wonderful way to experience the expansive white glacier below. Titlis Glacier Park offers multiple rounds of snowtubing and tobogganing facilitated by automatic travelators for the journey uphill. Titlis Glacier Cave on 3,020 metres, offers a world of ice in the heart of the Titlis Glacier, ringed by glittering ice walls, a way to experience the glacier from the inside.

Lunch at Titlis Panorama Restaurant (3,020 metres above sea level) is delicious and everything on the menu can be entrusted with generous portions and oodles of taste. The restaurant also has a separate halal menu. 

Next, in an attempt to justify a three-course meal, we head for a leisurely stroll down Lake Truebsee at 1’800 metres above sea level. This scenic alpine lake’s Mountain Flower trail will leave nature lovers besotted. Adventure seekers may paddle on the lake Truebsee with one of the rowing boats freely available or take a leap of faith on the Truebsee Flyer zipline and the Bag Jump Tower, two feats that we sadly missed.

For spectacular views of the surrounding alpine peaks and the sky above Titlis, Choksi recommends the Space Camp on the top of Titlis or an overnight experience, which happens to be completely sold out for this year.

Tired, we head back to Kempinski Palace Engelberg straight to the 880 square metre rooftop spa, where on hindsight, it would have been great to schedule a massage but the bio sauna was just as revitalising.  

 


 

HANDY TIPS FROM EXPERIENCE

1.  Arrive at the station 15 minutes ahead of time, especially if you have large bags with you

     • If you have large bags with you, consider investing in SBB’s luggage drop-off service that aids in travelling hands-free  without having to drag your bags

2.  First class is usually placed in the first cabin/car or the last of the train, is significantly more spacious than second class   and also emptier

     • First class tickets/pass holders have access to the top viewing deck on boats

3.  Trains are not displayed in terms of numbers on digital screens but the terminal names so make sure you know your terminal/direction

     • Take a printout of the ticket for ease

     • Download the SBB app

4.  Get a data connection as Wi-Fi is not available on all trains
     • Or just go device free and enjoy the view                

5.  It is okay to eat on trains. Some of the trains do have a restaurant car but mostly commuters pack light meals or buy food from stations

6.  Most trains have ample device charging sockets. It is easy to work on laptops on trains, listen to music

7.  Some trains require a seat reservation fee but first class usually permits non-reserved travel in most cases

8.  You may be required to show your ticket or your pass so ensure you have enough battery on your phone to show your ticket or keep a print out handy. Also keep some form of photo identification ready.

 

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