The hidden gems of Switzerland’s public transport
Gornergrat? Been there. Glacier Express? Done that. Fans of Switzerland already know and love the country’s public transport gems. But there are many trips and means of transport that are less well known. So, now’s the perfect time to discover some of these hidden treasures – and Switzerland has plenty.
With 13,488 trains, 6,390 trams and buses, 155 boats and over 40,000 cog and funicular railways, Switzerland has the world’s densest public transport network (Source: SPTU, 2016/17). Obviously you don’t know them all, so a trip to some of Switzerland’s lesser known regions and valleys is doubly worthwhile. A wealth of unique experiences await you on Swiss public transport. So jump on board for some insider travel tips.
Verticalp Le Châtelard
Funicular railway, panoramic train and mini funicular in one? Why yes! The Verticalp in Le Châtelard boasts probably the most exciting combination of spectacular mountain railways that Switzerland has to offer. First, you take the funicular railway towards Les Montuires. The steep track and roof windows allow you to enjoy spectacular views of the lake and mountains throughout your journey. When you arrive at the top, the seemingly unremarkable panoramic train is just a short walk away. It looks a little like the urban trains you see in any big town or city, but the similarity ends there. With its open-top carriages this train offers the ultimate panoramic experience. A gentle mountain breeze accompanies you as the train hugs the mountainside on its way to the foot of the dam. And from there things get cosier: the mini funicular, which can carry up to ten people, takes you to the Lac d’Emosson (at 1,930m altitude), Switzerland’s second-largest reservoir. Enjoy a trip to the heart of the Valais mountains!
The Hammetschwand lift
At 152 metres in length, the Hammetschwand lift on the Bürgenstock near Lucerne was not only the world’s longest lift, but also the fastest. It was not for the faint-hearted, and passengers would often come off it looking as pale as a piece of Swiss cheese. Which is why these days the lift travels more slowly. But the journey, which takes just under a minute, has been wowing passengers for 110 years and is still just as spectacular as the panoramic views of the Alpine foothills, Lake Lucerne and part of the Alps that you can enjoy from the top.
Fairytale cable car
Once upon a time, there was a tiny village called Grächen, nestled in the mountains of the Valais. It was typically Swiss from head to toe, with green meadows, grazing cows, imposing mountains and pretty wooden chalets. But this village had a little secret: cable cars secretly set off from the centre of the village to take visitors to Hannigalp. These are no ordinary cable cars. Each one is dedicated to a specific fairytale, so you can travel to the summit in the company of Little Red Riding Hood and the Brave Little Tailor. The outside of each cable car is decorated with scenes from the fairytale, while inside, the tales are narrated by Swiss actress Silvia Jost. Each story lasts exactly the length of the actual journey. Look forward to a simply magical experience.
River boat trips in Switzerland
Cruises in Switzerland are both exciting and comfortable. They are available on the country’s numerous lakes, and on rivers such as the Aare. The MS Siesta sets sail from Biel-Bienne, passing picturesque landscapes and pretty villages on its way to Solothurn. As well as the stunning views, you can also enjoy a glass of fine wine in the on-board restaurant during the journey, which takes just over two hours.
Fans of river cruises should also venture to the French border to enjoy a river cruise to the Saut du Doubs, which depart several times a day from Les Brenets. If you’ve never heard of it, you don’t know what you’re missing! The trip takes you to the eponymous 27-metre high waterfall, the Saut du Doubs – also known as France’s Niagara Falls. It’s definitely worth a visit.
Gonten and the Hoher Kasten
A trip to Gonten in deepest Appenzell with its picture postcard scenery allows you to experience the traditional and untouched side of Switzerland. The journey on the Appenzell Railway starts in Gossau or St Gallen. The train meanders past houses, lush green meadows and more than a few cows on its way to Appenzell. The carriages are also dedicated to Swiss customs, with the seats in newer trains decorated with words from the local dialect, such as ‘Gäässbueb’ (the boy who leads the Alpine cattle drives) and ‘Senne’ (Alpine herdsman and dairyman). On arrival you can wander around the small town of Appenzell or travel on to Gonten – the ideal starting point for hikes in the region.
A detour to Brülisau on foot or by train and bus is worthwhile (just an hour away from Gonten). From there, you can take the cable car to the Hoher Kasten (at 1,793 metres altitude). And a tip: when you reach the top, make sure you visit the summit restaurant for a coffee, a bowl of soup or a copious lunch. What’s so special about this restaurant? It revolves 360 degrees, so from the comfort of your seat you can take in the spectacular panoramic views stretching from the surrounding mountains and valleys to Austria to the east.
Zug – worth a second look.
What could be more fitting than a trip to Zug, a town that is inextricably linked to public transport (Zug means ‘train’ in German)? Located between Zurich and Lucerne, the town may at first seem unremarkable, but the lake and mountain of the same name offer a relaxing day or half-day trip for every visitor. Whether you’re after a summer brunch, a pasta buffet or simply a pleasant afternoon cruise, a boat trip on Lake Zug is a must. You are then just a short bus and funicular train ride from the Zugerberg. Although not particularly high (925m) and at first glance unimpressive, don’t be deceived. The local mountain has plenty to offer: scooter trips, Segway tours, hiking and cycle paths, an adventure playground and excellent gastronomy. The view is also pretty special. This trip definitely deserves a place in your itinerary.