Journey from Lugano to Lucerne then Chur and Arosa by rail

Traveling Switzerland by Rail

Without doubt the best way to travel through Switzerland is by rail. The extensive system follows the contours of the landscape and when it can't go over a mountain it goes through it. The train takes the strain and passengers are free to sit back and watch the valley and mountain landscapes. Taking a halt at lakeside cities is a refreshing way to sample the delights of this country.

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In an attempt to get into "character" I watched endless Swiss railway travel on the T.V. and many a time found myself drifting off to sleep. Thus prepared, I set off to discover the joys of just a small part of Switzerland by rail.


Arriving at Milan's Airport I take my first train to my first stop, the lakeside town of Lugano. This city is an ideal travel base to tour the Italian lakes of Como and Maggiore. Close to Milan, it is home to its fair share of international stars of screen and fashion.

The main language in Lugano is Italian but German is another language commonly spoken. It's all very confusing to hear so many languages spoken -- French being another.

Mount San Salvatore and Bre are within a short bus ride from the centre of Lugano. From 912 meters above the lake, San Salvatore offers a very interesting perspective across the Lombardi plains. The surrounding hills are ideal for trekking, mountain biking, abseiling and rock climbing. For the young and active the hills are alive with adventure.

From the central train station a funicular takes you down the hillside into the heart of the old town. First operational in 1890 it has been much used by those not inclined to walk. The cobbled street city itself is small, taken over by chic shops with luxury goods far beyond my reach.

I made my way to the lakeside for a view. A small park area is a pleasant oasis from which to people watch. It became quite clear that the costs and expense of everything here are high. Having worked up an appetite I found a little gem, the Biergarten Della Posta where I decided upon a local speciality of tiny lamb chops rolled in breadcrumbs.

Fluelen to Lakeside Luzern (Lucerne)

The next morning after an ample buffet breakfast I made my way for my early train departure on the Wilhelm Tell Express train. This scenic route has been in operation since 1882 and my next destination was Luzern. The journey takes you through the verdant hillsides with gravity defying trees along side ribbons of vertical water falls of the St. Gotthard range. The longest tunnel on the way is the Gotthard.

Arriving at Fluelen disembark for a leisurely 3 hour cruise upon Lake Luzern on one of the many lake paddle boats. With luck I traveled aboard the the oldest steam powered paddle boat, being commissioned in 1901 and it is still going strong. I was mesmerized by the gleaming chrome and bright red paint of the pounding twin steam engines. Am I becoming a steam engine fanatic too?

Luzern is the capital of the German speaking canton. Since Medieval times it has been an important trading centre with high city walls with towers to guard its position. A walk atop the city walls gives you a change to glimpse some great views. The Zyt clock tower built in 1535 is unique in that the clock still chimes and just before all of the other town clocks.

The river Reuss was spanned by the famous 200 meter long Chapel Bridge built in 1333. It has a gruesome and checkered past. The central Water Tower was used for torture in medieval times with the river below being used as a dumping ground for corpses. A fire in 1993 nearly destroyed the wooden structure but much was saved, and now is sympathetically restored.

The old city of fresco painted townhouses is a joy to walk around. Yes, shops have taken over somewhat but if you wander in the evening it has its moments. The National Transport Museum is found on the lakeside and if you really want an insight into the rail history of Switzerland it is a must see. Luzern is also the home of the sleeping lion monument to fallen soldiers in a 1792 conflict. It is found in a quiet oasis that Mark Twain visited, who loved the sad sight of the wounded lion curled into its niche on the cliff face.

The real joy of Luzern is the massive expanse of lake, where locals enjoy summer. Hire a bike and use the cycle paths alongside the lake before taking a dip to cool. I overnight-ed at the lakeside Backpackers Hostel which makes a pleasant option for those on a limited budget.

Onward to Chur and Arosa

Next morning I took the 10 minute lakeside walk to the Bahnof to board the Voralpen Express for my next scenic train trip. I did not travel the full length of the trip to Lake Constance but changed trains to Chur part way.

Chur, another canton capital, has an old town taken over by beer taverns for the young. If you are out to party all night, it is an ideal base. But I had come for a peaceful night. I headed up hill by train on the quaint Arosa line, the real reason for venturing here.

The gaily painted carriages leave the station in Chur and vie with the local rush hour car traffic on rails laid into the main road. As one would expect the cars give way. The train then head uphill through "chocolate box" image scenery that epitomizes everything typically Swiss. Green lush fields full of belled cows drift past.

With numerous tunnels and death defying trestle bridges to traverse the train arrived safely into the station of Arosa. A popular winter resort for skiing it also has a short summer season from mid June til mid August. When staying overnight in Arosa the complimentary Arosa Card is all you need to flash.

The resort is very family friendly with plenty of activities. It is lucky enough to have two lakes but tiny in comparison to Luzern. Stepping from train to footpath the view of the Upper lake of Arosa is right there in front of me. I walked the lakeside path to my hotel and come upon the boathouse and can't resist taking to the water on a rowing boat. For the energetic there are mountain bikes to hire. For those wanting a loftier view take a trip up to 2700 metres by bus and cable car.

The lower lake is for swimming and water sports and the rope adventure park is very popular. A theatre has opera and jazz music during the summer evenings. The peace and quiet, clear air and cleanliness leaves one restored.

Next morning I headed downhill on my brightly painted train back to Chur for an international train to Austria. Leaving the clean and orderly Switzerland I briefly passed through Lichtenstein before slipping into Austria, not before the gleaming Swiss engine was swapped for a more well used Austrian one.

In four days I had travelled through four countries and enjoyed a brief visit to three lakeside cities. Now that's what you call a whistle-stop tour.

Feeling a little like David Attenborough I did my fair share of train spotter spotting too. Did I spy any? These shy creatures are still to be found in their platform habitat, are over 60 and armed with very expensive looking digital cameras.

And unlike watching paint dry- the ever changing landscapes were refreshing and not once did I fall asleep.

Read more about train travel around the world

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Caz Crutchley is a freelance, British born travel writer residing on Malta in the centre of the Mediterranean for some years. This is an ideal base for her independent travel trips to many of the usual travel destinations. However, her love of venturing off the beaten track has helped her discover places and people who with their stories have enriched the travel experience. Through her travel writing she hopes to encourage other less adventurous travellers to broaden their travel horizons too.

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Updated: October 16, 2016

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