Your panoramic window offers a ringside view of snow-capped mountains, icy blue lakes and charming townscapes, sometimes all within a space of a few minutes. One of my recent discoveries in Switzerland was Oona Caviar (the first Swiss caviar from sturgeon which are bred in naturally warm mountain spring water in the heart of the Swiss Alps). As I sampled this exquisite caviar with a glass of Champagne on my most recent train journey in Switzerland and enjoyed the views, there was another kind of magic happening under my feet.
The Swiss love their trains. It’s not just one of the most efficient train networks but is also among the densest in the world. In 2021, the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) carried close to 9 lakh passengers per day in 11,260 trains on a 3,265-kilometre-long network with 804 stations. Yes, the Swiss are obsessed with numbers.
The GoldenPass express is the newest train to join a long list of iconic Swiss train journeys. It represents a fruition of the dream of Swiss train pioneers who envisioned a direct link that connects three of Switzerland’s most scenic destinations — Montreux, Gstaad and Interlaken, more than a century ago.
Switzerland’s train network boasts of a long list of technology and engineering breakthroughs. For instance, when the 57-km long Gotthard Base tunnel was opened to in December 2016, it became the longest railway tunnel in the world. The GoldenPass Express was also made possible by a technological feat — a variable gauge bogie. It’s almost seamless magic that happens each time the train passes through Zweisimmen, a small town that was transformed into a spa and winter tourism destination with the completion of the Spiez-Zweisimmen-Montreux railroad in 1905. The train switches almost magically from metric track to
a standard track thanks to its variable gauge bogie. It also allows the carriage to rise 20cm to reach the platforms of the standard track line.
The GoldenPass Express commences in Montreux and takes first class Swiss train experience to a new high. There are just a few seats in the all-new Prestige Class enclosure. These heat-controlled leather seats with an array of controls won’t look out of place in a luxury automobile. The seats are raised by 40 centimetres to allow you to completely immerse yourself in the landscape. They also offer a unique 180-degree option allowing you to always be in the direction of travel. The menu showcases the finest Swiss regional produce including fine wines from Vaud.
Connecting the dots
Every visitor to Montreux will tell you about the 13-km long trail that runs along the Lake Geneva (aka Lac Léman). Almost all roads lead to the lake and most Montreux tales begin at Lac Léman. The Freddie Mercury legend tops that list. His romance with this charming Swiss town began during his first visit for the Montreux Jazz Festival (held in July since 1967) in the 1970s. Queen eventually recorded six albums here as Montreux became a home of sorts for Freddie and the band.
Queen fans still travel from all over the world to pay tributes at the iconic Freddie Mercury statue on the edge of Lake Geneva. These fans also make a customary stop at ‘Queen — The Studio Experience’, that’s just a five-minute walk from the statue. It’s at the Casino Barrière de Montreux, home to the legendary “Mountain Studios” that has played host to iconic artistes and bands like David Bowie and The Rolling Stones. Just a few steps away from the Freddie Mercury Statue (that was commissioned in 1996) is Montreux Noël. Montreux’s Christmas market (typically set up in November) is the second-largest in Switzerland. The Wooden stalls are set up on the lakeshore with fairy lights and showcase everything from decorations, clothes and jewellery. Most visitors wrap up their visit with a warm glass of mulled wine. The perfect night cap before your GoldenPass journey the next morning.
A luxury winter playground for some of the world’s most influential celebrities, Gstaad is a hub for winter sports with over 40 chair lifts. Skiers and snowboarders can take their pick with 200km of slopes situated between 1,000m and 3,000m above sea level. There are numerous tobogganing runs and 42 kilometres of perfectly groomed cross-country ski trails. There are around 185 kilometres of winter hiking trails. Adrenaline seekers also indulge in Bavarian curling in the centre of Gstaad or glacier and helicopter skiing. It’s also one of Switzerland’s most photogenic spots. Choose from the idyllic waters of Lake Lauenensee with its waterfalls and raised bogs, the narrow streets and alleyways of the historic village centre of Saanen or the peace and quiet of the idyllic mountain village of Abländschen
Indians love Interlaken. It was here that Yash Chopra fell in love with Switzerland during his honeymoon in 1970 and made Indian film audiences romance Swiss landscapes though films like Chandni and DDLJ, a love affair that continues to this day. Most trails begin in the heart of Interlaken town that’s also home to a larger than life statue of Yash Chopra. It’s not just Bollywood legends here. The 2,970-metre Schilthorn offers sweeping views of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau; it also takes you back the world of James Bond. This was the shooting location for the 1969 Bond film - On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Most Bond fans also make time to check out the interactive Bond world museum Interlaken is a great spot for hang-gliding — a short 20-minute flight with a professional tandem pilot gives you stunning, birds-eye views of the lakes and the Bernese Alps including the famous Jungfrau. The Funky Chocolate Club is a hub for chocolate fans (who isn’t!) and families alike. This fun course takes you through the origin of Chocolate before you don the Chef’s hat and make your own chocolate bar with signature ingredients.
Fairmont Le Montreux Palace: You’re unlikely to get a better view of the Lake Geneva from any other luxury hotel in Montreux. Encircled by the Swiss Alps and on the banks of the Lake Geneva, this iconic hotel is a local legend since 1906 with its Belle-Époque architecture and outstanding service standards (www.fairmont.com/montreux)
The Carlton-Europe Vintage Adult hotel: Has welcomed guests since 1898. This quaint boutique hotel is just 200 metres from the Interlaken Ost railway station and the perfect hub to explore Interlaken. Regulars swear by Chalet Beizli, the hotel’s charming Swiss restaurant (www.carltoneurope.ch)
Alpina Gstaad: This 56-room sanctuary is one of Gstaad’s preferred luxury abodes and built with local design elements. The hotel is home to a Havana-inspired cigar room and a classic Swiss restaurant. Other diversions include Megu for authentic Japanese cuisine and the first Six Sense Spa in Switzerland with a breath-taking outdoor pool with vistas over the surrounding ‘mountainscape’. (www.thealpinagstaad.ch)