Switzerland’s always-on-time transportation system can get you across the country on a fast train, up to the top of a mountain via ski lift, cable car, or cog railway, or around a lake for a leisurely cruise, and in many cases even provide you with a great meal in the process.
Most of the country’s trains are part of the SBB (Schweizerische Bundesbahn, Swiss Federal Railway system, www.sbb.ch) and connect with local buses, local railways, municipal light rail (tram) systems, and lake and riverboats, making door-to-door travel as easy as consulting an uncomplicated schedule online or at the station.
If grabbing a quick meal on the way to catch your train or even at the station isn’t an option, remember that many Swiss trains offer onboard food service, either from an “elvetino” cart that makes the rounds several times during longer trips on inter-city (IC) and inter-regional (IR) trains.
Elvetino, an international company based in Zürich, is a subsidiary of the SBB and provides 15 point-of-sale counters in train stations in Switzerland, about 100 mini-bar-style food carts, and 88 dining cars on Swiss trains as well as on some international routes that originate in or pass through Switzerland.
Elvetino carts come equipped with mineral water, Coke products and Swiss soft drinks, bottled fruit juices, wine and beer, and freshly made coffee, decaf, and tea. A variety of sandwiches and snack foods, both salty and sweet, are also available.
Dining cars on some trains also feature a casual stand-up bar area for coffee and drinks, both soft and alcoholic, and are a great place to chat with other passengers or have a stretch if you’ve been sitting for a long time. Dining car menus offer both snacks and full meals: Breakfast selections include typical beverages along with croissants, both plain and filled, a variety of breads with butter and jam, muesli with fruit and yogurt, and occasionally cold meats such as cured ham from the Grisons.
The all-day menu includes a hot soup and both green and mixed salads, plus a tempting array of hot and cold dishes that include creamed veal ragout with morels, crêpes filled with ricotta and spinach, bass baked with a tomato and scallion sauce, and vegetarian options such as lemon risotto with asparagus. Dining cars have a more elaborate beverage menu with a larger choice of wines. And a reasonably priced kids’ menu with several choices is always on offer.
Aside from catching a quick meal on a train to save time at your destination, the Swiss transport system offers several train excursions that include either snacks or meals at your seat or in a specially designed dining car.
The Glacier Express covers the route between Zermatt, the Matterhorn’s hometown, and St. Moritz to the east in a little less than eight hours. While express might not be too accurate a term to describe this ride, the glass-topped panorama cars fill the hours with breathtaking mountain views and make for a relaxing day away from shopping and museums.
The Bernina Express travels between Chur, the capital of the Grisons, and Tirano, just over the border in Italy’s Valtellina region.
The William Tell Express starts out with a three-hour cruise on Lake Lucerne that includes a three-course meal in the ship’s belle époque style dining room. Swiss history is on the menu as the ship passes the Rütli Meadow where the Swiss Confederation was formed in 1291, the mythical 100-foot-high Schiller Stone that protrudes from the lake, and Tell’s Chapel that commemorates the site where William Tell leapt from his captors’ boat. When the ship arrives at Flüelen, passengers disembark to a first-class panorama train car and see the legendary St. Gotthard pass on the way to Locarno or Lugano in Ticino.
Two train excursions will get you right back to your starting point after a fun and tasty outing: The Cheese Train and The Chocolate Train.
The Cheese Train runs Fridays to Sundays from December to April and leaves from the Montreux train station at 10:30 A.M. Guests are welcomed with cheese and wine and then take a 1-hour trip to Chateau-d’Oex (pronounced day) in the middle of cheese-making country. A demonstration of artisan cheese making precedes a lunch of fondue and dessert and a visit to a local museum filled with antique hand-cut silhouettes rounds out the day.
The Chocolate Train operates between Montreux and the Cailler chocolate factory in Broc. On the way, passengers visit the town of Gruyères, home of the famous cheese and sample some at a show dairy. A brief visit to Gruyères castle follows. Back to the train for the short trip to the Cailler factory for visuals on the history of chocolate, a factory tour, and chocolate tasting. Unlimited sampling concludes the chocolate feast before the trip back to reality and Montreux.
A Swiss Pass (www.swisstravelsystem.com) will make any travel in Switzerland (culinary, business, or leisure) a breeze. Accepted on all SBB trains, local buses, trams, and many lake boats, a Swiss Pass saves you from waiting in line to purchase tickets whether in a train station or at a tram stop. Available for either first- or second-class travel, a pass may be purchased in increments of several days to a month; special rates for children and families apply. Swiss Passes are available worldwide and they also provide free admission to over 470 museums across the country.