In association with Switzerland Tourism
Whenever I return to Switzerland, for work or leisure, or a bit of both, the thing I always look forward to most of all is travelling around the country. There’s no need to hire a car. Every corner of every canton is covered by public transport, from high speed trains between the big cities to postal buses between Alpine villages. Wherever you’re going, whatever the weather, the Swiss Travel System will find a way to get you there.
Of course it’s not entirely infallible, and I suppose things must go wrong sometimes – but in the thirty years I’ve spent exploring this efficient little nation, I can’t recall a single disruption or delay. You might think such a mountainous country would be particularly prone to mishaps, but for once the stereotypes are completely true – come rain, shine or snowfall, Swiss trains really do run like clockwork (and so do their trams, boats and buses). Here, there’s no such thing as the wrong sort of snow.
Naturally, this sort of efficiency costs money. No-one is pretending public transport in Switzerland is dirt cheap. Swiss residents are happy to pay a decent price for a network they can rely on, but the good news for British visitors is that we can travel around their country at a hefty discount. Just buy a Swiss Travel Pass online (before you leave the UK) and you can enjoy unlimited travel throughout Switzerland, by bus, tram or train – and even on the water.
There are various durations, from £178 for three days to £395 for 15 days, with reductions for 16-25 year-olds. Children under 16 are half price, and under sixes travel free. If you’re taking your children, get a complimentary Family Card and your kids can travel for no extra charge.
That one-off payment is very convenient – no need to buy individual tickets. It means you’re free to change your plans – you’re not tied to particular trains. It feels great to jump on a passing train on a whim, and head off somewhere you’ve never heard of. And the Swiss Travel Pass includes lots of other perks as well. It buys you free admission to more than 500 museums, and half price fares on most mountain-top trains and cable cars.
In Switzerland, even routine journeys are often spectacular, but the Swiss Travel Pass also covers several mountain excursions which will really take your breath away. The Schilthorn and Stanserhorn mountain excursions are among those included in the price of the ticket, but the one I like best is the journey up Mount Rigi. It’s called the Goldener Rundfahrt (Golden Round Trip) and when you try it, you’ll see why. Take the ferry from Lucerne to Vitznau, then transfer to the cog railway (Europe’s oldest – and steepest) for the ascent to the summit. You can then come down by cable car.
However my favourite way to while away the time with this all-inclusive ticket is to hop on and off the ferries that crisscross Lake Geneva. Like all the nicest journeys, these impromptu voyages are usually entirely unnecessary. All the ports along the Swiss shore are on the same train line, and you can travel between them by rail far quicker than you can by boat. But if you’ve got a few hours to spare, there’s nothing better than chugging slowly through the clear cool water, from Montreux to Lausanne, or across to Evian, on the French shore.
On Lake Constance, you can travel across two borders, from Rorschach or Romanshorn, in Switzerland, to Bregenz (in Austria) and on to Lindau and Friedrichshafen (in Germany). Now I know what Robert Louis Stevenson meant when he said it was better to travel hopefully than to arrive. Maybe he had the Swiss Travel System in mind.