The Itinerary: Switzerland (via Germany)
While Copenhagen was chilly, my heart was on fire for Denmark. Its sweets, coffees, and lovely locals had me forgetting that I’d only brought jeans and a hoodie for warmth. But just like that, it was sadly time to leave Scandinavia, a region made up of Norway, Sweden and Denmark where I fell so much deeper in love with train travel.
Next up on the itinerary was Switzerland, but not before I spent eight hours drinking beer in Hamburg, Germany while on a layover. Altes Mädchen is the perfect place to settle in for some burgers and brews. The biergarten serves different varieties from around the world as well as its own varieties. The establishment is only two stops from Hamburg Hauptbahnhof (Central Station) on the subway, but beware: Germany Central Station is crazy in every sense of the word – crowds, confusion, parties, booze, and whatever else the Germans please. Visitors on a layover can store their luggage in a locker near platform 5/6 by a bakery stand. Just make sure you have coins – I didn’t, but the nicest group of drunk Germans came to my rescue. Thanks, guys! Prost!
Inspiration for the hamburger came from Hamburg, so of course I ordered one!
From Hamburg I took an overnight train to Zurich which was a unique experience. I was in my very own deluxe sleeper car (with sleeping aid in hand) but as it turned out, I slept very well that night rocking back and forth with the gentle twists and turns of the train. There wasn’t any Wi-Fi on board, so I took a breather from my computer and phone while I watched the German sun set out my window before bed. I highly recommend overnight trains in order to save daylight hours for sightseeing!
From Zurich, I immediately went to St. Moritz via one of the most beautiful train rides I’ve ever experienced. I was like a mad woman onboard this car, going from right side to left side snapping pictures and videos like crazy. Thankfully there was nobody in my entire row which gave me free range to bounce back and forth like a ping pong ball.
If you’re looking for glamor, charm, ambience, excitement and the opportunity to ski in one of the most fashionable areas of the Swiss Alps or, perhaps, even the world, head to St. Moritz. The sun shines on this ritzy destination an average of 322 days a year, making it a good option during summer and the ever popular winter months. You don’t ski? Perhaps you kite-surf then. Try you skills out with these pros!
Funny story about the photo above. Apparently there are two Waldhaus hotels in St. Moritz and I tried checking into the wrong one. Luckily, that 45 minute detour led me to the lake pictured above where I witnessed some incredible scenery! Like I said previously, the journey is much more important than the destination. Just so you know: Head to the Waldhaus am See Hotel, the perfect spot to take in the city on the waterfront.
After relaxing in St. Moritz for a few days, I was beyond excited to finally arrive in Zermatt, Switzerland for a few reasons: #1 – to see the famous Matterhorn, #2 – to arrive via the world’s slowest express train: the Glacier Express! #3 – you don’t need any more reasons.
All I needed to do was show my Swiss Travel Pass and I was onboard the world’s most scenic train ride for the next 9 hours. That may scare some of you – to be on a train for 9 hours during the middle of the day. I was apprehensive myself, but between the jaw-dropping scenery, the three-course gourmet meal served for lunch and the most incredible office space I could ask for, I was in Swiss heaven.
I can only imagine the scene during winter – blanketed white landscapes, dreamy rolling hills below dramatic clouds packed with snow…the stuff of fairytales. Well, so was summertime. I lived it in First Class of car 22, seat 21. You don’t get these views from a plane:
More Swiss people ride trains every year than any other nationality out there. I would, too, if the passing landscapes looking like this. More than 200,000 people experience the Glacier Express each year as well, and for good reason. If you can spare the time, and you should, this day will be more memorable than any long-haul flight. The most memorable part? My first Matterhorn viewing.
To meet me at the train station was Amandé Perrig, and to say he knew everything about Zermatt and its surroundings was an understatement. He’s climbed the Matterhorn more than most, he’s skied the Swiss Alps into Italy countless times, and he knew just about everyone who passed us as we began our tour of the city.
The area has only 6,000 locals but come winter and summer peak times, the place lights up with tourists to bask in the wintery mix and fresh mountain air. You can ski year-round in Zermatt as the tip top slopes have ski on them 365 days of the year. I decided to wait until I could property do the mountain justice and make snow angels all over the city. What surprised me the most about this slice of paradise was that it’s a car-free city. The only “cars” allowed are small electric buggies used by hotels for transport purposes.
Zermatt tips: Try raclette. It’s a type of semi-hard cheese originating in Switzerland that will leave your tastebuds craving more until your return. Stay at the SCHLOSSHOTEL, a lovely establishment tucked away behind a quiet street right off the main square. Ask for a room with a view of the Matterhorn. Lastly, wake up early to make a Matterhorn sunrise viewing. At 5:15am, take the Sunnegga Express up to Sunnegga and then change to the gondolas up to the peak Rothorn. The unforgettable play of colors combined with the unique panorama of the Rothorn makes sunrise truly a unique experience. Alpine breakfast buffet at the cosy restaurant is waiting.
My stay in Zermatt coincided with the 150 anniversary of the Matterhorn’s first accent by Englishman Edward Whymper and two mountain guides from Zermatt. It was a dramatic affair as four other members of the roped team were killed on the descent when one slipped and pulled the other three with him down the north face. The three survivors were later accused of having cut the rope below to ensure that they were not dragged down with the others, and it’s a mystery that’s still talked about today.
The Swiss city commemorated the anniversary by lighting up the route taken (Hoerneli ridge) by the first explorers on their quest to conquer the mountain. The energy was so electric during the celebrations that I almost didn’t board my train to Geneva. I bought a Toblerone (the candy is in the shape of the Matterhorn!) for the ride and told myself I’d soon return.
Geneva was a dream, mostly due to my accommodations where “no request is too large, and no detail too small.” I’m referring to the Hotel d’Angleterre that boasts a prime location in front of Lake Geneva and the Jet d’Eau.
My Exclusive Lake Room was oh so comfortable, and with traditional afternoon tea overlooking the lake alongside the chic Leopard Bar, one thing was certain: it was hard to go beyond the hotel’s front doors. I had everything I needed, but Geneva was waiting.
Throughout my few days, I explored the waterways and nature-filled areas of Geneva. I had no idea I could be in the old town surrounded by an ancient maze of small streets and picturesque squares one minute and in the middle of lush green forests the next. Take these outdoor scenes for example.
Locals flock to the river to bask in the summer sun. I love the laid-back vibe of this city. Some visitors will misconstrue the relaxed scene for boredom, but Geneva’s beauty and close proximity to ridiculously gorgeous attractions will have me coming back for more. Until next time, Switzerland!
The Road Les Traveled was welcomed aboard Rail Europe among other partners as a guest, however my opinions are as always, my own.