I had an email today from a friend who’s planning a trip to Europe with his wife and there’s a lot of train travel involved, including both the Bernina Express and the Glacier Express. Each traverses some spectacularly beautiful Swiss countryside and are very much worth doing.
I rode both trains probably 20 years ago and did a repeat on the Glacier Express last September, picking it up in Chur and getting off in Brig. From what I could tell, it now caters almost exclusively to tourists. And I must say I was particularly disappointed that the train no longer carries a dining car. Instead, we were all served a meal in our seats.
In fact, were I to make a repeat visit to Switzerland, I would probably not take the Glacier Express again. There is a regular schedule of other trains – all neat and clean and perfectly acceptable – going back and forth all day over the very same route and their passengers are predominantly locals and tourists watching their schillings.
I did not take the Glacier Express all the way to its terminus in Zermatt, but stopped in Brig where I spent the night at the Hotel Ambassador – not fancy, but spotlessly clean and home to a small but really wonderful restaurant – and took one of the local trains to Zermatt the next day. It’s just an hour-and-20-minute ride.
Zermatt is certainly worth seeing – for its view of the amazing Matterhorn, if nothing else – but it’s wall-to-wall with shops catering to swarms of tourists and the hotel rates are twice what they are in Brig. I had a much better time in that small hotel, dining in that excellent little restaurant and getting to know the owner and his wife. Interesting conversation, good company, and some excellent brandy. How can you beat that?