A rail trip across Switzerland is undeniably romantic. This mountainous country has become synonymous with winter sports, but there’s so much more to the story.
Switzerland is blessed with spectacular natural beauty and some seriously swish ski resorts, luring in travellers who elope to the slopes as soon as there’s some semblance of snow. But train travel across the country is just as memorable as any ski trip.
Weave your way from city to city across Switzerland’s varying cantons by train; hotel hopping, tasting Bernese chocolate and glugging mugs of glühwein as you go. Aside from leaving a lighter footprint on the environment, you can take in the fresh mountain air, eat fireside fondue, and explore glorious fairy-tale forests. The trains are punctual here, too. Here’s how to do it.
STOP 1: LAUSANNE
Lausanne is Switzerland’s fourth largest city, a hilly lakeside town on the northern shore of Lac Léman. Notable for its candy-coloured architecture and upbeat energy, this picturesque Swiss city is levelling up when it comes to culture, recently welcoming Plateforme 10, a new arts district, to its colourful repertoire of things to see and do. Come winter, visitors flock here for the Christmas markets as much as for the city’s proximity to the mountains, vineyards and slopes.
First opening in 1909, the Royal Savoy Hotel & Spa is located in a residential area just a short stroll from Lake Geneva (Lac Léman). The exterior is speckled with Art Nouveau flourishes, and a grand entryway leads to a refined lobby. All 196 rooms have been restored and dressed in a subtle palette in keeping with the hotel’s grandeur. Boasting a sumptuous city spa, this lofty property offers a tranquil retreat within easy reach of the Gothic centre.
Eat & Drink
Switzerland and fondue go hand in hand, whether you’re skiing or playing urban explorer. For self-proclaimed fondue connoisseurs, the Royal Savoy’s pop-up rooftop restaurant, SkyLounge, has crafted a playful Guinness-inspired fondue to mix things up. There’s the quintessential Swiss version too, served alongside baskets of bread and – as recommended by the sommelier – a bottle of the Pierre Latine Réserve, a white wine from Lavaux that cuts right through the lashings of cheese. The drinks menu features a generous list of Swiss wines, some that have been produced in Lausanne’s surrounding vineyards just 15km away from the main city. The hotel’s afternoon tea is an extra special treat, too, presented on a tea stand with tiers of delicate sandwiches, sculptural sweet treats and champagne in crystal. For breakfast, a sweeping buffet awaits on the veranda by the lobby.
The Little Extras
The hotel’s sprawling Spa du Royal is a restorative spot for unknotting and detangling post lakeside runs. Surrounded by sunbeds and floor-to-ceiling windows, the indoor pool flows seamlessly into the alfresco pool, which means you can avoid dipping in and out of the sub-zero temperatures altogether (some of us learn the hard way).
STOP 2: BERN
Just an hour away from Lausanne by rail, Bern can be considered fairly under-the-radar in comparison to other Swiss cities such as Zurich and Geneva – despite being the country’s capital. That said, it’s not your typical capital: most of the roads are pedestrianised, there’s a lake in the centre, and sun-dappled mountaintops can be spotted in the distance on a clear day. Venture underground to discover the city’s intimate cellars, glimpse theatre productions spoken in the melodic Bernese dialect of Swiss German, and learn about the city’s history with time inside its medieval clock tower, Zytglogge. The clock tower has served numerous purposes over the years, including time as a prison and a fire observation tower.
Glamorous yet refined, with a city spa and a delightful brasserie, Hotel Schweizerhof balances work and play in equal measure. This elegant property is styled to suit the modern traveller: rooms are spacious, dotted with ports in all the right places while baths and bathrooms are generously sized. What’s more, the hotel is a short stroll away from the capital’s main railway station, where you’ll cross paths with a heady mix of families and groups of friends venturing into the surrounding mountains for their ski fix.
Eat & Drink
The hotel’s brasserie, Jack’s, is where you’ll find the locals. This fin-de-siècle style restaurant has become a local treasure over the years, supposedly for its winning Wienerschnitzel. The menu includes delicious plates of truffle tagliatelle topped with a poached egg and creamy chestnut soup. For drinks, a crisp glass of the restaurant’s independently brewed craft beer goes down a treat, or choose from a selection of top-class Swiss wines. Dining as a group? The classic Swiss apéro is a crowd-pleaser, made up of cold meats and delicious cheeses such as gruyere and reblochon.
The Little Extras
An indulgent spa awaits, catering to your post-travel needs – whether you require a major boost of hydration, or a luxury pedicure with all the trimmings. Hotel Schweizerhof’s 500 m² spa has been reimagined with a restful colour palette and plush treatment rooms. Choose from a long list of nurturing treatments covering scalp massages, reflexology and full body aromatherapy, followed by a Finnish sauna and a cold-water plunge to leave your skin feeling baby-soft.
STOP 3: BURGENSTOCK RESORT VIA LUCERNE
Taking an hour by train, the route from Bern to Lucerne follows a scenic trail across icy vistas and an intricate tapestry of meandering streams. Lucerne’s great lake is at the heart of this compact Swiss city, framed by hulking mountains and historic towers that straddle the city’s cobblestone streets. To add to the experience, Burgenstock Resort, high in the Swiss mountains, can only be reached by a boat-funicular combination.
The journey from Lucerne to Burgenstock mountain takes around 15 minutes by boat. It’s an exhilarating experience racing to the swanky catamaran from the main railway station. If you can brave the cold, it’s worth sitting outside during the journey to take in the lights and meditative lake views, day or night. Then you’ll move to the funicular, a Swiss invention that scales up (and up) towards the hotel’s secret entrance, a suave introduction for what’s to come.
The Burgenstock Resort dates as far back as 1871, always luring in a rotating carousel of glitzy guests. Audrey Hepburn married Mel Ferrer in the chapel nearby, and a scene from Goldfinger was filmed here. Today, wellness has become central to the hotel’s offering, as seen in the sprawling renovation of the Alpine Spa.
Eat & Drink
The resort’s storied past is inextricably linked to its culinary history. Casar Ritz and his French Master Chef, Auguste Escoffier, both worked in Lucerne, developing some of their finest recipes just beyond these mountain ranges.
Today, the property boasts seven restaurants and three bars, including the Michelin-starred RitzCoffier, a homage to Ritz and Escoffier’s collaboration. Breakfast at Spices Kitchen, the hotel’s Asian restaurant, is the opposite to cosy: floor-to-ceiling oriel windows frame the interior and the design is fancy, but minimal. As for breakfast, medicinal smoothies are served alongside colourful bowls of fruit. By night, the restaurant specialises in comforting plates of Japanese, Chinese, Indian and Thai cuisine.
Oak Grill & Pool Patio feels more rustic and fits with the farm-to-table theme. Wild herbs and vegetables are freshly picked from the local farms, while fresh alpine seafood is sourced straight from the lake. Tuck into wood-fired delights by the fireplace with a glass of the Obrecht pinot noir and be sure to order the beef tartare – a light but flavoursome starter topped with wild mushrooms.
The Little Extras
All bedrooms at Burgenstock Resort have dress-circle views of Lake Lucerne, whether you’re lazing in the bathtub the size of a jacuzzi or reading by the fireplace. Unless, that is, it’s a cloudy day and a bed of mist settles over the lake concealing the view – which can happen at a moment’s notice. Even then, it’s cosy. Other little luxuries in the Bay Suite include gorgeous dual sinks, Acqua di Parma products, a lounge area with a fireplace that partitions the room, and a windowed reading nook. And let’s not forget the handmade chocolate globe on arrival.
Be sure to block out a few hours to make the most of the Alpine Spa, arguably the property’s star attraction. Covering 10,000 square metres, every detail has been innovatively thought out to create a restorative and luxury spa experience, from the choice of teas and nibbles on offer (endless Moroccan mint with fresh and dried fruit), to the varying saunas and relaxation rooms. For maximum escapism, there’s a sensory floatation pool designed with individual capsules. Soak up the soft ambient music and a dreamy lightshow as your body adjusts to its weightlessness, a sensation that’s bizarre at first, but oh-so-soothing. The alfresco infinity pool, which connects to the indoor pool, is where you’ll find us, following a KOS Paris Full Body Invigorating massage.
For keeping busy, there’s a smorgasbord of activities on the agenda, whether you’re visiting in the winter or summer months. Embark on a wild cliff walk that leads to the towering Hammetschwand lift, the highest elevator in Europe, and see Lake Lucerne from above on a helicopter ride with a private chef. To top it all there’s a plush cinema room, in case Netflix in bed doesn’t quite cut it.
Beyond the hotel, Waldhotel Health & Medical Excellence is where you’ll find the wellness heads – the serious kind. After all, it’s a hotel and a certified hospital at the same time. Boost your immune system with a cryotherapy session, book in a pilates class that, somehow, someway, will make you ache the next day from just 30 minutes of practice (even if you think you’re a pro). And after a healthy (read: character-building) morning of hardcore wellness, there’s a luxury spa to retreat to for a much-deserved pamper. That, followed by a kombucha-making mixology class, is enough to make you curious to return. Cryotherapy round two? We’ll see…