This is city, err, 23b. It was an extra bonus stop in between city 23 (Geneva) and city 24 (Zurich). And boy, what a bonus!
We started from our trip with a train from Geneva to Montreux. Though, of course, we stopped in Geneva train station to stock up first – coffee, croissant and a pain-au-chocolat, plus a few more chocolates from Läderach (our Swiss chocolate bill kept climbing!). We’d also visited Migros for some lunch provisions, so we were fully prepared for what Greg had warned was a long train journey. The trip to Montreux was fairly short, and perfectly pleasant. It was at Montreux that the real fun began, when we boarded the famous Golden Pass panoramic train. This journey was to take us finally to Lucerne, though it was a deliberately convoluted route. The first leg was from Montreux to Zweisimmen, the second took us to Interlaken, and finally onto Lucerne. Greg confessed at being somewhat nervous when he booked the journey as each of the three legs has a set start time, and the connections are very quick (such as 5 minutes!). However in practice all the logistics went perfectly smoothly. Each time we arrived, precisely on time, at our destination station we found that the next train was sat waiting for us on the next platform, and we never felt rushed or at risk of missing a connection.
At Montreux we boarded the special panoramic train carriage, which had larger than normal windows, and extra windows in the side bits of the roof, meaning that much of the side of the train was glass affording an excellent view of the passing scenery. Greg had planned this as a real treat, and had reserved seats for us in the 1st class carriage. This had less seats in it, which were further apart from each other, so very little of the view was blocked by fellow passengers. In addition our carriage had empty seats at the end just next to us, so I was able to get up and take advantage of the extra space to grab photos. All this intro is intended to set the scene for an amazingly beautiful train journey, absolutely up there with the best I’ve ever experienced (such as in Alaska).
The train company describes the beginning thus, and with no exaggeration:
“Starting with the Mediterranean ambiance of Montreux, the train climbs above the lake and passes through a tunnel. Coming out at the other end, you find yourself among alpine forests, bubbling mountain springs and picturesque mountain villages. The train continues to Zweisimmen, transporting you through fairytale landscapes.”
Fairytale is right – the landscapes look picture perfect; as if customised for the front of a postcard or coffee-table book. The alpine vistas were truly beautiful, and we had our breath taken away by vista after vista for pretty much the whole journey. We also noticed our seat neighbours (who turned out to be from China, just outside Hong Kong) were similarly impressed. In fact at one point Greg remarked that it seemed to be a photo competition between myself and the lady (taking photos from a moving train is tricky, not least due to reflections from the window glass, but I had to try!). The views were magnificent throughout, and reasonably varied. We saw lakes, waterfalls, mountains, meadows, rivers, valleys, and many alpine villages which looked like they’d been drawn idyllically by Disney. We were also amazed by the location of some of the houses, perched precariously throughout the landscape on steep slopes, often without a visible road or track to them. I wrote no blog on this train, as I was thoroughly mesmerised by the view out of the window.
The weather was somewhat mixed – some blue skies, but also a blend of sun and cloud. In many ways this conspired to make the landscape appear more mysterious and added to the atmosphere of the trip. It did start raining just before hitting Lucerne, so we scurried quickly out of the train station and across the road to the pier where we were to catch the boat on Lake Lucerne! The rain, though intense, passed quickly. So I was soon able to prowl the deck and take pictures as we travelled to our destination, Weggis. The lake was surrounded by fantastic views, with numerous mountains rising up swiftly from the shores to dominate the skyline. Getting a decent photo was much easier on the boat than the train, though clouds ensured my shots were likely to turn out moody rather than alpine blue. Weggis itself was a small town caressing the lake shore, and our hotel was right opposite the boat docking station. Called PoHo, or more fully the Post Hotel, it was a modern style and just to the right of check-in was their internet lounge with iMacs. Our room was very pleasant, with a view of the lake and the mountains on the far shore. The hotel also had a small spa, which we made use of quickly. It was very well designed, with a small sauna, steam room, ice bucket, two foot-baths and a relaxation room. We were the only guests there, so it felt like our own private facility for the hour or so we were there. There was also a fine looking pool and a well equipped gym, though we didn’t use them. After the spa we changed into smarter clothes, and went in search of food. Weggis was as expensive as the rest of Switzerland so there was nothing available that we’d class as good value by British standards. However we found a nice enough restaurant, which was next to the hotel and served traditional Swiss fare. We had grilled veal and veal cordon-blu respectively, with an interesting and tasty selection of vegetable side dishes.
The next morning was an early start – we apparently had a busy day planned. We checked out, and left the luggage with the hotel to look after for us. We started our journey with a boat, which we caught for one stop to Vitznau. At Vitznau we had a 5 minute connection, but as ever Swiss efficiency was on show and the train was sat at the platform waiting for us, a hundred metres or so from the boat dock. This was a rather special train, and the nice ticket man at Weggis boat station (who had very helpfully and efficiently sold us all the tickets we’d need for the day) had advised us to sit on the left hand side for the best views. We did this, and soon the train pulled away – or should I say up, as the incline was very steep. This was a cog train, which was to take us up Rigi – termed the Queen of Mountains by the Swiss. The views as we ascended were breathtaking – even after having become accustomed to the local scenic beauty during our train journey of the day before. The track was extremely steep, and the stops were tiny – some seemed to serve a few houses at most. Our early train (2nd of the day) was obviously the post train, and at each stop the lady driving would lean out of the cabin and out some post into the postbox by the tracks! We passed by a small village with a few shops and hotels on our way up called Rigi Kaltbad, which Greg said we’d be returning to. We stayed on the train to the last stop, Rigi Kulm, just below the summit, where we alighted. Greg explained that the plan was to explore the summit and then take a slow amble down the path back down to Rigi Kaltbad. This proved to be a real highlight of the trip for me, and a magical excursion.
The summit itself commanded outstanding views of the local landscapes, including the lake now far below us, some stunning alpine valleys scattered with lonely huts, and an array of snow-topped mountains in the distance. We drank in the view for a while, and obviously I took a load of photos. We then began our slow descent, which was signposted to take an hour but which we took at a very modest pace and spread over about two. There weren’t many other walkers, and at one point we sat on a bench in front of a particularly beautiful vista and enjoyed the changing light as we ate some crisps and listened to the sound of the bells on the nearby cows. I currently count that as my favourite meal of the trip so far! We took what was labeled as the ‘flower path’ down, though at this time of year there weren’t many flowers on display. The weather was fairly changeable – we had generally good visibility though clouds came and went. It also showered briefly a couple of times, but never a enough for me to get my proper waterproof out. And in recompense around every corner a beautiful new view opened up for us to enjoy. The two hours went by too quickly, and we soon found ourselves at Rigi Kaltbad. From here we caught a cable car down to Weggis, where we had started. The cable car ran every half hour, and took only 10 minutes to return to the floor of the valley – a short, but very steep, journey.
After returning to earth we retrieved our luggage from the hotel, where we had stowed it a few hours earlier (but which seemed like a world away). We then grabbed lunch at a local restaurant, and enjoyed some really nice pasta. It was now time for a final boat trip, from Weggis all the way to Flüelen, at the end of Lake Lucerne. The trip proved to be a suitable end to our city extension, as we enjoyed very fine views all the way during the journey, which lasted about 3 hours though it felt like less. Several of the stops along the way were interesting, and we couldn’t quite understand how some had become established as ferry stops as they seemed tiny outposts with just one hotel/restaurant. The final approach into Flüelen was fascinating as we were able to admire the road which runs around the lake at that point, and which is literally cut into the rock in parts – must be an interesting drive!
From Flüelen it was a train to Zug, and then onto our next stop… Zurich!