The best way to see the world is to travel by train. Sometimes, it doesn’t even matter where you’re going, because viewing the countryside is an end in itself. In these cases, the journey is the main event not the destination. Two unusual and amazing train journeys travel high in the Swiss Alps over incredible bridges along glistening glaciers or have unparalleled luxury from the golden age of railway travel.
The Glacier Express, Switzerland
The Glacier Express has been called the slowest express train ride in the world as well as the most beautiful. It takes eight hours to travel from Zermatt to St. Moritz or Davos which is just over 180 miles. The train passes through 91 tunnels, over 291 bridges and climbs to 6,670 feet at Overalp Pass and back to earth again. It twists and turns in many spirals to reach the high elevations. The rack-and-pinion system is used for ascending steep grades and for descending on the other side. It crosses both the Rhine and the Rhone Rivers and reservations are mandatory.
Travelers are served a gourmet lunch at their seats that includes Swiss wine, so they dine in panorama coaches that let them view the Alps as if they are flying among the mountain tops. When the train crosses the Landwasser Viaduct in the south-east of Switzerland near Filisur, travelers gasp in amazement. Opened in 1904, the viaduct is a wonder of Victorian engineers.
It is possible to take the Glacier Express in one day and be overwhelmed by the scenery, but travelers can also ride the train during the day and spend the nights in hotels along the route. The train passes through the Rhaetian Railway UNESCO World Heritage Site and the spectacular landscapes of Albula and Bernina. Many passengers join the train in Brig which is a transport hub for the cross into Italy. The town is on the Rhone River and has the Stockalpenschloss which is an impressive castle.
Viewing Life in Switzerland
The Glacier Express is a working train with panorama cars to attract tourists. The usual view from trains as they enter cities and villages is the back of the house, not what is meant to be seen. On this train, the back and front are one, and what travelers see is idyllic villages and cities nestled in the high, Swiss mountains. Today, travelers can take this amazing ride all year round. The coaches are air-conditioned and are comfortable even in winter. In fact, winter is considered the best time to take the ride.
The Venice-Simplon Orient Express
Considered the most famous railway journeys in the world, the Venice-Simplon Orient Express travels from London to Venice via Paris, Innsbruck and Verona. There are also routes to Vienna, Budapest, Istanbul and other cities. It runs between March and November and is considered a luxury holiday. Travelers see the gorgeous countryside as they glide through Europe.
The Luxury Accommodations
Overnight passengers have their own compartments. They are decorated in exactly the same fashion as they were in the 1920s. Each cabin has a steward who is responsible for the passengers and can be called by a bell in the cabin. He will arrange the compartment from day traveling to sleeping mode, serve breakfast and tea, keep passports and help with reservations for lunch and dinner. Travelers are asked to keep their luggage to a minimum with one hand luggage and overnight bag in the compartment. A suitcase can be checked through to the destination.
The Social Life En Route
All meals are included in the fare excluding alcohol. The dining cars are beautifully appointed with impeccable service and the meals are gourmet quality. Light snacks and drinks are available 24 hours at extra cost. Many travelers wear evening dress for dinner, but everyone is expected to wear appropriate clothing including a suit and tie for gentlemen and equivalent standard for ladies. During the day, they recommend casual but smart attire.
The Bar Car has a baby grand piano that adds to the welcoming ambience. Royalty, heads of state and celebrities are often seen in the Bar Car enjoying the unique atmosphere.
If a visa is required for visiting a country on the route, it will still be required even if the passenger only transits the country. Travelers are responsible for any visas required. European Union citizens only require a visa for Romania and Turkey. The visa will be issued at the Turkish border and the Venice-Simplon Orient Express will get the Romanian visa if they have the full passport information on the booking form.