Thanks to a well-employed daughter, lately the Lady-in-my-Life and I have been able to shack up occasionally in the city of Basel. Since said daughter is now on her way back to the US of A, we made a quick in-and-out as the removal men were packing up.
We took a three-day pass (in truth, a delayed anniversary present) on Swiss Railways, and put it to good use.
Basel through Bern to Zermatt, changing at Visp (have to lurve these Swiss names). That took us through all 35km of the Lötschberg tunnel. One way or another I have this fantasy of Swiss engineers boring holes through the country, in imitation of Emmental cheese.
At Visp it gets exciting, for one changes to the metre-gauge BVZ and rack-and-pinion sections at up to 12.5%.
We arrived at Zermatt in time for a leisured lunch (bottle of wine included) before the Gornergrat — 35 minutes of rack-and-pinion to rise to 3,089 metres. Or to the unreconstructed (like me) that’s 10,135 feet above sea-level. And leaves me breathless — both from the view and the altitude.
We had asked which of the two ascents to do — the complicated Klein Matterhorn (three different gondolas and lifts) takes one even higher, to something like 12,750 feet — but we were told the view from the Gornergrat was the more spectacular. I’m prepared to believe it. And — ooh, look, here comes that train …
Back down again to a wander through Zermatt. It was around now that I realised my three-day rucksack was deficient of spare shirts. So, after general closing time, a swift outing to a souvenir shop: which is how I now possess two discounted tee-shirts, both advertising Zermatt.
Nothing in Zermatt comes cheap — but I rate the Schlosshotel Life & Style, down a side-lane, and near the two railways stations.
The big one: the Glacier Express.
We missed out on the morning operation, which starts in Zermatt and goes all the way to St Moritz. I had worked out that it was possible to do the route on service trains, with several changes. The daughter, though, played a blinder. She discovered the powers that be have decided on an afternoon version, billed as the Sunset Express, arriving at St Moritz at just on 9pm. This starts from Brig, so we headed off on the BVZ regular service for the first stage, but not missing any of the 91 tunnels and 291 bridges on the 180-odd miles. It’s also very new to the schedules, so we shared the panorama car with just one other couple (and they debouched at Cher).
Yes, it is as spectacular as they promise. There’s something divinely decadent about a three-course meal, with white wine, served as the scenery slowly passes.
Back to Basel, the long way.
We’d played with the notion of heading on to Tirano, and taking the Bernina Express posts across to Lugano, then back up to Luzern on the Gotthard Express. A fine notion, but the only timing for the postbus out of Tirano was early afternoon — which seemed very much a waste of a day.
Instead we did service train from St Moritz to Thusis (and a second helping of the Landwasser viaduct), postbus to Bellinzona, then service trains to Erstfeld and Flüelen. This meant slow-and-easy ‘over the top’ rather than through the long Gotthard tunnel. At Flüelen we transferred from train to paddle-steamer Gallia for the full length of Lake Luzern — and another dining experience. We were kicked out of the first-class lounge, but the fodder and service among the lower orders is just as good.
Finally a walk from the port to Luzern’s railway station and the non-stop train back to Basel.