Mountain magic

Mountain magic

Take a scenic train journey for some alpine views and bucolic charms, connecting two of Switzerland’s best resort towns St Moritz & Zermatt, writes Prachi Joshi

Glacier Express in the Rhine Gorge

While a summer in Switzerland has most tourists flocking the hot favourites Zurich, Lucerne, and Interlaken, not to mention the soaring peaks of Jungfrau and Titlis, here’s one way to venture off the usual tourist circuit and explore a different part of the country. This alternative route includes an exciting train journey, too.

By the lake

Considered the birthplace of Alpine winter tourism, the resort town of St Moritz is as appealing in summer. The breathtaking Lake St Moritz is the star attraction where you can go sailing or swimming. Take a walk around the town and admire the architecture, which is a quirky mix of old and ultra-modern. The Engadier Museum (museum-engiadinais.ch) is a good place to learn more about alpine culture. This cosy house museum is choc-a-bloc with furnishings and artefacts from the 13th to 19th centuries. Get the interactive tablet e-guide for a more immersive experience. Another peculiar attraction is a 12th century leaning tower, the only remnant of the St Mauritius Church that was destroyed over a century ago. At 5.5°, its incline is more than that of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. There are plenty of outdoor activities around St Moritz. Go hiking or trekking or mountain biking; the Corviglia Flow Trails in Engadin are especially enjoyable for bikers. Or how about some yoga by Lej da Staz, a picturesque little lake near St Moritz? Sign up for a private yoga lesson with Alpine Yoga (alpineyoga.com), which offers one-off classes and longer retreats in stunning locations. For a spectacular bird’s eye view over St Moritz and the surrounding Engadin Valley, take the bright-red funicular up to Muottas Muragl. Romantik Hotel’s panoramic bar and restaurant at the summit is perfect for a sundowner followed by dinner.

Winter in Zermatt
Winter in Zermatt

Another must-do activity in St Moritz is to indulge in a spa treatment. The region has been known for its therapeutic spas for centuries. The Spa at Grand Hotel des Bains Kempinski is very popular, in fact, one of the healing springs originates inside the hotel building. Foodie travellers can head to Hatecke, an artisanal butchery and deli to try the salsiz, a dried and smoked sausage that’s sliced and served with assorted local cheese and salad leaves. A sweet treat not to be missed is the Engadiner Nusstorte or Engadin walnut cake, a delicious short-crust pastry filled with walnuts, honey, and caramel. Try it at Hauser’s Confiserie in St Moritz town.

Take it slow

It’s called the slowest express train in the world, covering 291 km in about eight hours. But as they say, “it’s the journey, not the destination”. The Glacier Express takes a meandering route through three cantons — Grisons (or Graubünden), Uri, and Valais — as it makes its way from St Moritz to Zermatt. The route passes through a quintessentially Swiss backdrop of snow-covered peaks, deep gorges, meadows carpeted with alpine flowers, green fields with cows, and a succession of tiny, charming villages. Every seat is provided with earphones so you can listen to the commentary as you pass by places of interest like the Rhine Gorge — with its dramatic cliffs and the river flowing below — it is called the Grand Canyon of Switzerland.

The train passes through 91 tunnels and over 291 bridges. The curved sweep and tall arches of Landwasser Viaduct are particularly photogenic. It’s a comfortable journey and both the second and first class have panoramic windows.

Inside Engadiner Museum St Moritz
Inside Engadiner Museum St Moritz

Reserve your meal in advance and enjoy a multi-course menu of local delicacies paired with Swiss and international wines. The Excellence Class, launched last year, offers an even better travelling experience. For starters, there are only window seats guaranteeing you an uninterrupted view throughout the journey. The coaches are stylish with wood panelling and leather seats. The on-board Glacier Bar is open for you to refresh yourself with an aperitif or a cocktail. For lunch, savour a five-course wine-paired meal with regional specialties, followed by afternoon tea. One of the high points (literally) is the Oberalp Pass, which, at 2,034 mt, is the highest section of the route. Even in peak summer, you may see snow on this stretch of the journey. The train makes a brief photo stop at the pass. From here, the train descends towards Zermatt... keep your eyes peeled for the Matterhorn. It’s one of the highest peaks in the Alps with an unmistakable near-symmetrical pyramidal shape made famous by the chocolate brand Toblerone.

Hatecke Salad
Hatecke Salad 

High above

As the train slowly chugs towards its final destination, you’ll feel like you’re arriving into a fairy-tale town. Zermatt is car-free but that doesn’t mean you have to lug your suitcases around as most hotels offer an electric buggy for railway station transfers. Visit the Church of St Mauritius in the old town and then head over to the Zermatlantis Matterhorn Museum. This is a recreation of a traditional alpine village and also has many interesting exhibits about the Matterhorn. Near the Grand Hotel Zermatterhof, don’t miss seeing a collection of about 30 houses, barns, and grain stores built in the original Walser style dating back 500 years.

Spread out at the base of the mighty Matterhorn, the mountain beckons from every corner of Zermatt. Matterhorn Glacier Paradise (matterhornparadise.ch) is Europe’s highest mountain station and is easily accessible by a cable car. The recently unveiled Crystal Ride, which is adorned inside and outside with Swarovski crystals, has panoramic cabins and glass floors that give a stunning view as you ascend. From the viewing platform, get a unique 360° view over 38 peaks and 14 glaciers spanning Switzerland, France, and Italy. Later, visit the underground Glacier Palace, a fascinating ice world where you can walk along the floor of an actual crevasse (crack in a glacier) and admire ice sculptures. There’s also a café, a restaurant, a cinema lounge, and a gift shop.

On your way down by the cable car, get off at the middle station Furi and have lunch at the Restaurant Furri. This rustic spot, with an outdoor seating area, offers local Valais cheeses and meats as well as home-style dishes like rösti (grated potatoes) smothered with cheese and topped with fried egg.

In Zermatt town, try typically Swiss delicacies like raclette, fondue, and rösti at Restaurant Schäferstube, an atmospheric restaurant at hotel Julen.

With its snug, timber-lined ambience, cowbells and hunting trophies, it’s an ideal dinner spot.

 

Fact File

Swiss flies direct from Mumbai and Delhi to Zurich, which is well connected to St Moritz (3-hour train journey) and Zermatt (less than 4 hours).

Currency is Swiss Franc, CHF1 = INR 73.

The Glacier Express runs every day except from mid-October to mid-December. The journey from St Moritz to Zermatt (or vice versa) takes about 8 hours (glacierexpress.ch).

In St Moritz, stay at Grand Hotel des Bains Kempinski set in an iconic 19th century building with a Michelin-starred Ca d’Oro restaurant and an excellent spa (kempinski.com)

In Zermatt, stay at the boutique 22 Summits hotel with minimalist, wood-panelled rooms that give unparalleled views of the Matterhorn (22summits.ch)

 

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