The Best Adventures Ever - Hop On, Hop Off Swiss Trains, Boats, Buses, Trams and Gondolas

The Best Adventures Ever - Hop On, Hop Off Swiss Trains, Boats, Buses, Trams and Gondolas

Looking to explore Switzerland, I was riding in a high-tech train. A bright green meadow passed by, then a crystal-clear lake and a grass covered mountain silhouetted against a bright blue sky, all framed in the panoramic windows of Switzerland’s GoldenPass Express.

I was enjoying watching the beautiful scenery when I was asked, “Did I want the charcuterie and cheese plate or caviar and blinis with my glass of Duval Leroy Brut champagne?” That was one remarkable moment of many during two weeks of traveling by train from Zurich in the north to Montreux in the west, south to Zermatt on the Italian border and back to Zurich, all part of Switzerland’s Grand Train Tour.

Growing up in automobile-dependent Los Angeles, trains are still a unique pleasure to me. On a train, I’m not stressed out by traffic or worried about being late. I can relax, read and enjoy the scenery. So, when the opportunity to spend two weeks with a group riding the rails I said yes without hesitation.


Lucerne Switzerland

The key to exploring Switzerland was the Swiss Travel Pass. I used trains, boats, buses, trams and gondolas to travel through beautiful landscapes, modern cities, Medieval towns, Alpine villages and spectacular mountain retreats.

My first train ride was to Lucerne, only an hour from Zurich Airport. Next to the train station, I used the Swiss Travel Pass for entry into the Kunstmuseum Luzern. Zurich and Basel have larger art museums, but Lucerne’s used a modest fourth-floor space to curate thought-provoking exhibits which included the South African photographer-artist Zanele Muholi’s “Somnyama Ngonyama,” a dramatic collection of black and white photographs that explored the ways Black Women have been objectified.

A ten-minute walk from the Kunstmuseum, I used my Swiss Travel Pass to enter the elegant Rosengart Collection Lucerne. In what was once a branch of the Swiss National Bank, a building that previously curated money, now art was its currency.

Since 2002, the building has housed the personal collection of father and daughter, Siegfried Rosengart and Angela Rosengart. They acquired art they loved from artists with whom they had formed deep personal connections, Picasso, Paul Klee, Joan Miró, Chagall and Kandinsky. Siegfried was an art dealer. Angela joined him in the firm and together they sold and collected the work of many of the 19th and 20th century’s most famous European artists.


At the museum I watched a video interview of Angela Rosengart and learned that she created the museum after her father passed. All the art she collected was valuable to her for personal reasons. Picasso was a client of the Rosengarts’ and a close personal, family friend. He painted Angela’s portrait five times. Reflecting his importance to the family, Picasso had the place of honor in the street level galleries. Rosengart displayed thirty-two paintings and one hundred drawings, prints and sculptures chronologically from 1938-1969 because she wanted viewers to see the evolution of Picasso’s vision from figurative to Cubist abstraction.

The quality of the collection was also evident on the lower floor with 125 delicate drawings and paintings by Paul Klee. On the top floor there was a who’s-who of late 19th century-early 20th century art, that included Pissarro, Monet, Renoir, Liebermann, Cézanne, Picasso, Braque, Modigliani, Miró, Kandinsky, Chagall and Matisse.

Because I was on a train adventure, I was excited to visit the Swiss Museum of Transport (“Verkehrshaus”) on the northern shore of Lake Lucerne. During a guided tour, Marcel Gstädtner, head of sales for the museum, said that the complex had so much to offer, “You can spend thirty minutes, one hour or a whole day, depending on how deep you want to dive into the material.”

I saw immediately why this was the most popular museum in Switzerland. There was something for everyone, no matter their age or interest. Five separate exhibition halls created immersive, interactive experiences with rail transport, aviation and space travel, navigation and tourism, road transport and energy. The halls were packed with family-friendly, fun exhibits including making your own Lindt chocolate bar, taking an automobile crash test, a planetarium, documentaries to watch in the film theater and cutting-edge VR experiences that included climbing up the Matterhorn.

Swiss museum

One exhibit was particularly interesting to me. On this trip to Switzerland, I also planned to visit Italy. Easy enough to do because the Swiss and Italian rail systems work together. To reach Como close to the Swiss border, I wanted to travel through the Gotthard Base Tunnel. The deepest and longest train tunnel in the world, the tunnel took seventeen years to build and opened in 2016 to carry trains through the base of the Alps. Imagine a tunnel, passing under mountains and lakes so that trains traveling between Zurich and Como could speed at 124 mph to cut the travel time by an hour.

Unfortunately, just before I arrived in Switzerland, an accident closed the tunnel. I would have to take a different route to Como. But a large scale model in the Rail Transport building showed me the amazing engineering required to build the 35.5 mile long tunnel by blasting, digging and drilling.

With my Swiss Travel Pass in hand, I hopped on a tram to go back to the city center to Zunfthausrestaurant Pfistern (“the Guild House Restaurant Pfistern”). We sat outside on the riverside patio and had an idyllic moment as the setting sun cast a golden hue on Lucerne’s iconic, medieval Chapel Bridge. Over dinner, Damian Süess of Lucerne Tourism explained that Lucerne has been a popular destination ever since Queen Victoria’s 1886 five-week stay because, “You’re in a city but you are almost out of the city. You are so close to nature.”

Swiss food

With Mt. Rigi in the distance, swans floated on the river Reuss as the server took our orders. Given the classic Swiss menu, I couldn’t resist ordering the Lucerne vol-au-vent filled with veal, pork, mushrooms, apples raisins, seasonal vegetables in a cream sauce. The crisp, light-as-air pastry was the perfect companion for the rich, savory filling.

Hop on, Hop off

To reach the base of Mt. Rigi, affectionately called “Queen of the Mountains,” we could have taken a car, bus, train or boat. Since the Swiss Travel Pass included passage on lake boats, we chose the restored 1928 Stadt Luzern paddle boat. On a sunny, clear day, I found a seat on the open upper deck with a view of the beautiful lake. An otherwise perfect experience, I only wished I’d brought my sunscreen and a hat.

At Vitznau we traded the paddle boat for a cogwheel train. With large windows, it was easy to watch the train climb up the steep mountain. We passed houses built against the hills with backyard gardens of flowers and fig trees heavy with fruit.

I assumed that a cogwheel train would be plodding and slow, but not in Switzerland. Our train moved at speed as we passed in and out of tunnels and thick wooded areas interspersed with meadows where sure-footed long horned cows grazed on the lush green grass.

We hopped off the train at the Rigi Staffel station. While other passengers walked to the many hiking trails that crisscross the mountain, we headed to Restaurant Lok 7 for lunch. Perched on a mountain ridge, we found a table on the outside deck with views of the valley below. With classic Swiss dishes on the menu, there were a lot of choices. Green salads, spätzli, cordon blue dishes, the sauteed potato pancakes called Rösti served many ways and a variety of wines, beers and non-alcoholic beverages.


Switzerland view

At the last station, Rigi Kulm, Peter Häusermann, our guide, took us on a short walk to the peak. He told us people come here for the hiking trails and the impressive views. From where we stood, we could see Lake Lucerne and Lake Zug. Häusermann led us to the base of the Swisscom tower and pointed north. On that clear day, we could see France and Germany.

As we were leaving, we had a choice. We could take several hours and walk down the mountain. We could take the train to Vitznau and return to Lucerne by boat again. Or, we could take the train to Arth-Goldau where we could switch to a commuter train to go back to Lucerne. At that moment, we wanted the quickest way back, so we hopped on the train to Arth-Goldau.

Switzerland train

Even though there was much more to do in Lucerne, it was time to go on to our next adventure. In the morning, we boarded another cogwheel train, the panoramic Lucerne-Interlaken Express.

Riding the best train ever

To travel from Interlaken to Montreux, we changed to the GoldenPass Express operated by MOB.

In Switzerland, all trains have 1st and 2nd class coaches with comfortable seats and large windows. For the GoldenPass Express, MOB wanted to create a unique luxury class but priced only modestly more than 1st class.

Switzerland train

To reach the Prestige class coach, we walked to a separate compartment with eighteen seats. Raised higher than the other carriages to improve the view, we settled into seats that looked as good as or better than first class airline seating with foot rests and lumbar controls. Improving on the best airline seats, Prestige class seats were heated and swiveled 180 degrees, the better to watch the passing scenery through the panoramic windows.

Switzerland train

For an additional fee we could also choose a meal before we boarded. Besides a vegetarian option, there was a platter of locally sourced, sustainable cheeses and charcuterie from nearby farms. The caviar option was also local, from Frutigen south of Interlaken. Only the Duval-Leroy Champagne was from France, because, of course, champagne must be from France.

Switzerland train food

As we began the climb up the mountain to Gstaad, I experienced another special feature of the train. We had been traveling on standard gauge railroad tracks but in the mountains, trains use narrow gauge tracks. Before the GoldenPass Express, as we traveled up and down the mountain, we would have needed to change trains. That meant I would have to transfer my suitcase and, in winter, my ski equipment from one train to another. Avoiding that inconvenience, MOB created an entirely new technology, a variable gauge system. Our train could switch from one gauge to the other while the train was moving.

As I sipped the champagne, I barely noticed the slight bump that signaled the train had transitioned to narrow gauge. Amazing.


After we arrived at the station, we walked through the village on Alte Lauenenstrasse, past the Posthotel Rössli and upscale shops like Dolce & Gabbana. All the three-story Alpine buildings were built out of wood, with peaked roofs, balconies and brightly colored flower boxes, most filled to overflowing with petunias and geraniums. With the mountains in the distance, people sat outside at outdoor cafes or strolled up the street, window shopping and talking. The laid-back feeling reflected Gstaad’s slogan of “Come up – Slow down.”

Switzerland chalet

Claudia von Siebenthal, the guide for our tour of Gstaad, said that since 1962 only wooden structures can be built in the Gstaad Valley. Designed to be people-friendly and car-free, the village has been popular since the 1950s and 1960s when artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Marlene Dietrich visited. Gstaad also attracted long-time celebrity residents like Blake Edwards and Roger Moore. Julie Andrews felt that Gstaad was her safe retreat, “the last paradise in a crazy world.” She so loved Gstaad, she gifted her husband, Blake Edwards’ sculpture, “Sitting Duck,” which graced the fountain in the middle of the Village.


The next day, we drove ten minutes outside of Gstaad to the Gelten-Iffigen Nature Reserve. We followed a well-marked path through a meadow where Simmentaler light brown and white dairy cows were grazing. Walking with us, Ranger Erich Käser explained that we were in a protected area, a place for picnics and hiking on the many mountain hiking trails. We walked past Lauenensee Lake with towering, craggy Hahnenschritthorn above us.

Switzerland coffee

With a view of the mountain and the lake, we sat outside at Restaurant Lauenensee. Sheltered from the bright sun by large umbrellas, we ordered coffees and slices of a delicious plum custard cake with whipped cream, the perfect treat after a hike in the mountains.

Switzerland cheese plate

On the way back to the village, we stopped at the Cheese Grotto operated by the Molkerei cheese shop in Gstaad. I’ve visited grottos in Switzerland before. Usually very spartan, a room is created in the side of a hill where cheeses are stored until they mature. In the mountains, the earth acts as a natural refrigerator with 70% relative humidity and a temperature between 45F-55F.

The Cheese Grotto was on a grassy hill above Gstaad close to where cows were grazing. A joke we often heard was that if there were 11,000 people living in Gstaad, there were as many dairy cows.

René Ryser manages a cooperative of sixty-five farmers whose raw milk is used to make Alpine and mountain cheese AOP (“Appellation d’Origine Protégée). With a Cheshire cat smile, he gestured that we should follow him as he climbed down a steep wooden ladder into darkness.

At the bottom of the ladder, we entered a cavernous space illuminated with candles. Surround sound speakers played “Amazing Grace” performed on a Swiss Alp Horn. We looked up at row after row of 20 lb. cheese wheels. This was no ordinary grotto and Ryser clearly enjoyed the spectacle as he welcomed us into his “cathedral” where he served us a tasting of cheeses and a local wine.

But there was more cheese to come. Ryser had prepared another treat.

Switzerland fondue

No visit to Switzerland is complete without eating fondue. Back on the grassy hill, Ryser gestured that we should climb into a people-sized wooden fondue pot. We loved that we were going to sit in a fondue pot while we ate fondue. As the fondue pot bubbled, we twirled cube after cube of bread into the molten cheese. With the sun dipping below the mountains, I stabbed a last cube of bread, dipped it into the still bubbling cheese and smiled as I chewed.

With almost fifteen-hundred lakes and forty-eight mountain peaks higher than 13,000’, Switzerland is a country of superlatives. For a close-up experience of a mountain in the Vaud Alps, a thirty-minute bus ride took us to Col du Pillon where we boarded the GLACIER 3000 cable car. In two fifteen-minute cable car ascents, we traveled from almost 5,000’ to almost 10,000’.

Switzerland mountains

We were joined by Dylan Schai, our GLACIER 3000 guide. As the cable car climbed up the mountain, we looked down at a narrow valley. Schai explained that a millennia ago, a slow-moving glacier created the valley. Above the tree line, we saw a moonscape of jagged rock with two glaciers facing each other. He told us, “In one year, I have seen a change in the glaciers. The two used to connect. Now they have separated.”

Switzerland tourists

The still majestic Tsanfleuron glacier is over two miles long and 165’ deep, but, Schai told us, if winter snowfalls don’t replenish the glacier and summer temperatures are hotter than before, the glacier will continue wasting away.

Switzerland ski lift

At the top, at the Cabane-Scex Rouge (“Red Rock”) station, we took the Ice Express chair lift down to the Tsanfleuron glacier. In winter the area is a popular destination for experienced snowboarders and skiers. The longest run, Combe d’Audon, is an almost 4 ½ mile slope that descends from 9,842’ to 4,265’. Because the chair lift support towers are anchored in the glacier, constant maintenance is required because the glacier is always moving.

From the chair lift, we walked across a quarter mile of gravel and mud, stepping over snow-melt streams to reach the glacier that stretched across a wide, rocky expanse. Schai encouraged us to walk out onto the Tsanfleuron glacier. Slick from the melt, we stepped carefully and held onto the bright yellow cords that marked a safe route that avoided crevasses.

Switzerland glacier

Our shoes muddy and wet, we walked up steep stairs to the Peak Walk by Tissot, the Swiss watch maker. The fog had closed in so we could barely see what was in front of our feet. Holding on to the steel cables, we walked slowly across the 350’ long suspension bridge that hung like a silken thread between two jagged peaks, View Point and Scex Rouge.

Switzerland mountains

When we reached the peak with a small viewing platform, Schai pointed into the fog, saying he wished we were here on a clear day. We did too. Then we would have an amazing view of the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc, Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, all above 13,000’ tall.

When it was time for lunch, we gathered around a long table in Restaurant Le Carnotzet’s cozy Alpine dining room.

Hiking and the invigorating mountain air gave us a good appetite. And, as Schai told us, because in Switzerland there is “never enough cheese,” fondue was ordered with a side of steamed small potatoes, pickles, a large wooden platter of charcuterie from Gstaad and a bottle of Calamin AOC Grand Cru, a crisp white wine from the Lavaux. Dessert featured apricots also from the Lavaux as a sorbet and as Abricotine, a potent clear spirit like grappa.

Well-fortified with cheese and Abricotine, we took the gondola down the mountain, climbed back on the bus and returned to Gstaad. We rejoined the GoldenPass Express that took us west from Gstaad to Montreux. At the Visp station, we changed to the Matterhorn Gotthard Railway to travel south-east to Zermatt close to the Italian border.


We were told to call the Grand Hotel Zermatterhof a half hour before the train reached Zermatt. Why? I wasn’t certain. We arrived in the dark, in a steady cold drizzle. Walking out of the train station with our umbrellas unfurled, we waited. But not for long. The hotel’s electric, black mini-van zipped around a corner and stopped in front of us. We quickly took refuge in the van and off we went on rain slicked streets.

Switzerland hotel

This was our first taste of Zermatt’s version of Swisstainable travel, emphasizing the protection and enjoyment of the environment. Zermatt only allows small electric vehicles in the city, with emergency vehicles as an exception.

Switzerland Zermatt

After the darkness and drizzle of the night, the morning sun showed me what I could not see the night before. After a great night’s sleep in the 5-star Grand Hotel Zermatterhof, I pulled back the curtains to see the Matterhorn. As Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz would have said, we definitely weren’t in Kansas anymore.

Switzerland chalet

A luxury destination, a favorite of hikers, skiers and mountain climbers, at more than 5,000’, Zermatt is a gateway to the Matterhorn. As iconic as the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty or the Grand Canyon, the massive Matterhorn at 14,692’, half the height of Mount Everest, captures the imagination of everyone who visits the area. On a clear day, against a bright blue sky, the jagged mountain peak, seemingly unworn by wind and weather, looked carved, like a giant sculpture.

Switzerland restaurant

After a delicious breakfast in the Grand Hotel Zermatterhof’s elegant Brasserie Lusi dining room, we walked down the hill from the hotel and boarded the Gornergrat cogwheel train across the street from the Matterhorn-Gotthard-Bahn station. Our guide told us to “rush to get a seat” because the train was always crowded and to hold onto our ticket because we would need it on the way down.

Switzerland view

The train’s panoramic windows gave us a view of Zermatt and the changing landscape as we moved up the mountain. By now I had learned that Swiss cogwheel trains can travel at speed. The Gornergrat train was especially fast. We zipped through tunnels and a pine forest until at the Riffelalp station at 7,290’ we saw the Matterhorn in the distance. Two more stops and we reached the last station at 10,134’. Amazingly, the trip took only forty minutes.

Switzerland train

As soon as the train arrived at the Gornergrat station, everyone rushed to the observation platform that faced the Matterhorn. We took photographs of ourselves with the mountain behind us. But there was so much more to see and do at Gornergrat.


Look, Eat, Hike and Ski

On the observation platform, we not only looked up at the Matterhorn and the mountain range called the Monte Rosa massif but down at the glaciers below.

Switzerland glacier

To enjoy the mountains and the glaciers up close, there were hiking trails and ski runs. For those who came to relax, there was a cafeteria style restaurant and Restaurant vis-à-vis that prepared delicious made-to-order dishes like the tagliatelle with tomato chutney and Belper Knolle cheese that I ordered.

Switzerland food

For those who wanted to stay overnight on the mountain, there was the highest hotel in the Swiss Alps, the 3100 Kulmhotel close to the observatory. Imagine, we were told, what it would be like to stay at the hotel and view the stars on a clear night at this unique destination.

Returning to Zermatt, we could take the Gornergrat train, or, we could walk on the hiking trails that wind down the mountain. Since our ticket allowed us to hop on, hop off, we did both.

Switzerland mountains

At Rotenboden, the second-to-last train station, there was the oft-photographed Riffelsee. From above, the small lake wasn’t impressive. But, walk on the well-marked trail down the hill from the station, through the Alpine Garden of native plants to the edge of the lake and look up. On that clear day, the Matterhorn was reflected on the surface of the lake. Instagram-beautiful, the majesty of a snow-covered peak was reflected in the still waters of the Riffelsee.

Switzerland hotel

While we were in Zermatt, we had meals at several restaurants. At Restaurant Schäferstube in the Hotel Julen, we had a traditional Swiss meal of raclette. The hot melted cheese was served with a plate of air-dried beef, boiled potatoes, cornichons, pickled small onions and a fresh fruit plate for dessert.

Switzerland food

The intimate, rustic Zermatterstübli also served raclette and fondue but had a full menu of Italian-inspired dishes that included fresh green salads, pastas, risotto, meat, chicken and beef. When we visited, the daily special was freshly harvested wild chanterelles, served with pasta, risotto or in a salad. I was very happy with the linguine and chanterelles.

The next morning, we walked ten minutes to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise station to ride a panoramic gondola to the highest cable station in Europe at 12,739’. At that elevation even in late summer, there was still a lot of snow. For a modest, additional fee, we chose the Crystal Ride gondola so we could have a view below our feet.

Switzerland gondola

As we rode up the cable car, we looked down through the thick glass floor as we passed over fourteen glaciers, scarred with age. In the winter, we would have watched skiers traveling down the mountain. We didn’t see skiers that day but we rode in the gondola with a group who had just happily completed a challenging technical climb.

At the top, we walked to the Matterhorn Alpine Crossing. Switzerland and Italy meet on the top of the peak. A two-minute walk from the Swiss gondola station and we stepped over the border into Italy at the Testa Grigia-Plateau Rosa station. I wish we had been there earlier in the summer so we could have taken the gondola down to Breuil-Cervinia, a village in the Italian Alps.

Switzerland ice cave

Before returning to Gstaad, we explored the Glacier Palace, another attraction on the mountain. Fifty feet below the surface of the glacier, we walked through crisscrossing ice tunnels where we stopped to admire elaborate ice sculptures. In the Cinema Lounge, we settled into cozy egg-shaped chairs suspended from the ceiling and watched an inspiring wide-screen documentary about the mountain.


Instead of going all the way to the bottom, we stopped at Furi, the next to the last station. We walked down the hill to the left, following the yellow signs to zum See (meaning, “to the lake,” but there isn’t a lake). We passed through wooded areas, across hillside meadows with grazing cattle, past ancient wooden storage buildings with giant round stones on their foundations we learned were to keep out mice, a fast-flowing stream and into Restaurant zum See. There was a rustic dining room inside but the weather was good, so we sat outside to enjoy the clean, fresh mountain air.

Switzerland dessert

For lunch we ate at picnic tables. We were served an Alpine meal of tagliatelle in a tomato sauce, glasses of Pinot Noir Du Valais and, for dessert, a refreshing cremeschnitte with triangles of crisp mille-feuille and generous servings of wild berries in custard, topped with whipped cream.

All the food was homemade with many of the ingredients harvested from the restaurant’s gardens or foraged on the mountain. We met the friendly owners, Marion and Marcus Mennig, who had lived in New York City for many years before settling in Zermatt. From the restaurant, the easy walk down the hill to the village took us 30-40 minutes.


When the group trip ended, I used my remaining four days on the Swiss Travel Pass to explore Zurich and the surrounding area.

After a several-year expansion, the Kunsthaus Zurich is now the largest art museum in Switzerland. The Chipperfield extension, the newest building, makes a statement even before you see the art. Inside the entry plaza, I bent backwards to look up at the ceiling that soared above a marble floor and a wide staircase. From a skylight and the windows on the north wall, light flooded into the space and illuminated a gloriously colorful large-format textile by the Polish-Romani artist Malgorzata Mirga-Tas.

Switzerland art

I allowed a full day to explore the museum’s collections. Ranging from the Dutch Golden Age, Impressionists, Italian painters of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, Claude Monet’s room-sized painting of water lilies to modern artists and so many more, the Kunsthaus Zurich is a must-visit.

Switzerland museum

In the Chipperfield extension, I was especially struck by the Merzbacher Collection on the second floor. Werner and Gabriele Merzbacher’s art collection of 19th and 20th century art took my breath away. As much as I enjoyed being in the presence of such exquisite art, I was as impressed with their personal history, which was posted on a wall in a side gallery.

Werner Merzbacher and his family suffered terribly during the Holocaust. But after WWII, he created a revived life for himself and Gabriele whom he met in the United States. Their collection of Fauvist and Expressionists showed how a love of art engaged them even after so many difficulties. Their collection of Fauvist and Expressionists art was exceptional and yet one of their newest acquisitions was engaging in a very different way.

Switzerland art

I had heard about an installation of “Turicum Pixel Forest” by the Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist but I was having difficulty finding it. A member of the museum staff pointed me in the right direction. His parting words were, “You’ll be going down a rabbit hole.”

Tucked into a side gallery, Rist had filled a large space with strings of lights hanging from the ceiling. Music interacted with the lights. Red. White. Blue. Pale green. Purple. People stood against the walls to take in the entirety of the installation. Some people had settled on the floor and on couches, allowing the music and changing colors to envelop them. The experience was so soothing, I stayed longer than I planned.

Switzerland hotel

Switzerland desserts

From the Kunsthaus, I took a tram to Sprüngli on Bahnhofstrasse, one of Zurich’s most beloved destinations. Sprüngli is many things to many people. Besides the Art Nouveau main store, there are also Sprüngli cafes and kiosks around the city, at the train station and airport. Sprüngli serves sandwiches, soups, salads and savory tarts, but the main attractions are the high-quality confections. In the store, I wandered between glass-fronted displays, admiring the chocolates and colorful mini-macaroons called Luxemburgerli that could be purchased individually or in boxes.

Switzerland dessert

On the sidewalk patio, I ordered my favorite Sprüngli dessert, the “affogato al caffé,” espresso with vanilla ice cream. A simple sounding dessert, but the quality of the ingredients made for a special afternoon treat. The astringent espresso cut the richness of the high-quality ice cream and the hazelnut topping provided a crunchy finish that was so perfect I was tempted to order another helping.

With my Swiss Travel Pass, I took day trips to destinations within an hour of Zurich. I returned to Lucerne and visited Bern. On a whim I hopped on a train going north. The train tracks ran parallel to a highway, suburban neighborhoods with low slung apartment buildings, office parks and shopping centers with markets and shops. The train passed grazing cattle and horses south of Egilsau and vast fields of cultivated sunflowers in Rafz. This wasn’t the dramatic, panoramic landscape of the Alps, but the landscape was beautiful in its own way.

In the fifty-minute ride, I barely had time to finish my Americano and eat my breakfast ham and cheese croissant that I bought at the Oscar Café in Zurich HB before the train arrived at Rheinfall, almost on the German border.

Switzerland scenery

Said to be the largest waterfall in Europe, the roar of the water was deafening. On the viewing platform, visitors took photographs and selfies as the water crashed onto boulders worn smooth over millennia. The more adventuresome climbed to the large rock in the middle of the falls, the better to feel the power of the raging waters. Yet, for all the noise of the water, the waterfall was old news for a dozen ducks who were quietly napping only a few feet from the falls.

Looking at the falls wasn’t the only reason to visit Rheinfall. This was a hiker’s paradise with a dozen well-marked trails including a leisurely, forty-five-minute walk along the river that led to Schaffhausen, a lovely Medieval village to the north.


To cross the falls, I took the trail over a railroad bridge with lovers-padlocks on the chain link fence. After climbing to the top of the hill, I rewarded myself with a vanilla gelato from a kiosk surrounded by fiberglass statues of friendly cows.

I couldn’t come to Rheinfall without taking a boat ride across the water. The path down to the dock was steep. I paid a small fee so I could cross to the other side. For slightly more, I could have taken a 15-minute ride that looped close to the falls. I didn’t have time that day, but I watched with envy as people passed so close to the rushing waters that they were sprayed with the cold, clear water.


On the way back to Zurich, I saw the Hardbrücke station coming up. I jumped off the train and walked two blocks to Frau Gerolds Garden.

Last time I was in Zurich, I discovered the Garden, a laid-back gathering spot with flowering plants growing out of pots and mature trees sheltering brightly colored picnic tables and chairs. In the late afternoon, the café and bar were closed, but Cassare was open so I looked through the African fashions that were for sale. If my wife had been with me, she would have liked the brightly colored blouses, dresses and accessories.

The weather was perfect, ideal for a walk along Viaduktstrasse to check out the shops, clubs and restaurants that were built under the SBB viaduct. I wandered into Markthalle on Limmatstrasse. I quickly realized that this was a must-visit spot in Zurich West. Tucked beneath the Roman style viaduct bridge, the covered market had more than a dozen stalls offering quality food and beverage products. Some like Berg and Tal sold local products as varied as gin, sausages and chocolate.

Swiss shop

In the airy space, there was Restaurant Markthalle, a wine tasting bar, an oyster bar and stalls serving gyoza, ramen and pies. Seeing all that food made me hungry so I ordered a plate of gyozas from Gyoza Yokocho and sat on a repurposed wine barrel to enjoy a delicious snack.

Switzerland food

In addition to Markthalle, I discovered great food choices in Zurich. Zipping around town on trams, for lunch one day I had delicious sushi at Hoikoi on Sihlfeldstrasse. For dinner I ate at cozy Restaurant Alpenrose, a restaurant serving locally sourced products and wines in an intimate dining room or outside with a view of Limmatstrasse. Another night, I had a spicy, multi-course meal at Neni an Israeli restaurant in the very fun 25Hours Hotel Zurich Langstrasse.

When it was time to go home, my last train ride took me to the airport. I had come full circle, arriving and departing from Zurich Airport. The key to making the trip so pleasurable was the Swiss Travel Pass. I could hop on and hop off whenever I wanted. I could travel between cities, stop for a meal, visit a museum, take a boat ride or hike up a steep mountain. I had traveled on trains, boats, buses, trams and gondolas. Comfortable and efficient, they made my visit to Switzerland a memorable delight.


The MySwitzerland website is a good starting point for any visit, with information about destinations, transportation, seasonal activities and accommodations.

Trains and the Swiss Travel Pass

The Grand Train Tour of Switzerland. Check the website for descriptions of eight train itineraries that travel 800 miles around the country and, at 11,362’, the highest train station in Europe is the Jungfraujoch.

Swiss train station

Purchasing a Swiss Travel Pass for 3, 4, 6, 8 or 15 consecutive days for 1st or 2nd class is the best way to explore Switzerland. The pass gives unlimited use of lake boats, buses, trams, trains, some mountain lifts, a great many museums and even buses in Liechtenstein. Check the website to see which of the museums are either free or discounted with the Swiss Travel Pass.

Swiss train

Free and easy to download, the SBB App allowed me to easily navigate the train system. I could see which trains were available, at which time and how many stops the train made. That information allowed me to travel around Switzerland on my own schedule. Some days I carefully planned a trip. On other days I let a sudden whim send me off on an adventure.

Almost all Swiss trains have electrical outlets available in passenger compartments. Located mostly underneath the seats or tables, they require Swiss-style plugs. WiFi is not available.

Except for a few steam locomotives used for nostalgic rides, all of Switzerland’s trains are electric. Clean, reliable, quiet and comfortable, whenever the train was a double decker, I always looked for a seat on the upper level to have a wide-angle view of the passing landscape.

The GoldenPass Express, a panoramic train connecting Interlaken in the German speaking Bernese Alps with Montreux on Lake Geneva in the French speaking west. Included in the Swiss Travel Pass, the train also offers added comforts at modest, additional costs. Check the website for information regarding the Prestige class and onboard catering choices which must be ordered before boarding. Making a seat reservation is advised.


Located in the Bernese Oberland, a German-speaking region in the western part of Switzerland, in the municipality of Saanen, Gstaad is well-known for hot air ballooning and summer activities of hiking, bicycling and events like the Menuhin Classic Music Festival, and in winter for skiing, hiking and tobogganing. The official website Gstaad (Come Up/Slow Down) has a great deal of information including many events like Country Nights Gstaad, Sommets Musciaux de Gstaad, Swatch Beach Pro Gstaad, EFG Swiss Open Gstaad and Hublot Polo Gold Cup Gstaad.

GLACIER 3000, 1865 Les Diablerets, Col du Pillon, +41 24 492 33 77. Besides hiking, skiing, Peak Walk by Tissot and Restaurant Le Carnotzet, there is also the Alpine Coaster, dog sled rides, a shop selling watches, clothing and souvenirs and a scenic helicopter ride. All outdoor activities are weather dependent.

Guide: Claudia von Siebenthal Fust, Explora Gstaad, +41 79 629 18 85,

Molkerei Gstaad, Lauenenstrasse 24, 3780 Gstaad, +41 033 744 11 15. A cheese shop with a selection of local and international cheeses. To enjoy fondue on a picnic, order a backpack with a package of a three cheeses-fondue mix, a pot, portable burner, long forks and bread. Then find a picnic spot around town, on Hahnenschritthorn or hike to one of the six Fondueland Gstaad sites with oversized fondue pots like the one at Cheese Grotto. Check online to book a tour of the Cheese Grotto.

Posthotel Rössli, Promenade 10, 3780 Gstaad, +41 33 748 42 42. The 3-Star hotel is comfortable and rustic and located in the middle of the village, with easy access to shops and restaurants.

Gelten-Iffigen Nature Reserve. The Swiss Alpine Club SAC website has information about the Reserve, but only in German.

Lauenensee Lake.

Restaurant Lauenensee, An der Ledi, 3782 Lauenen near Gstaad, +41 33 765 30 62. No website.

Restaurant Le Carnotzet at Glacier 3000. Dining available inside and outside on the deck as well as grab-and-go snacks.


For information about Lucerne and the Lake Lucerne Region, please use the informative tourism website. At the Lucerne railway station, the tourism information office is close to platform 3. You can ask for information and pick up copies of “The Official Lucerne City Guide,” “Freizeit-Erlebnisse Leisure Tip” and “Highlights” with invaluable maps and information about local attractions, events, restaurants, hotels, shopping, museums and tours. Also, pick up the “Friendly Toilet” map with the locations of public restrooms in Lucerne, something that should be available in every city.

Even if you have the Swiss Travel Pass, when museums are a priority, a two-day Lucerne Museum Card provides access to nine museums.

Lucerne has many attractions, not the least of which was the farmers market I saw Tuesday morning in front of the Jesuit Church, alongside the Reuss River, to the west of Chapel Bridge. Large stands sold fresh produce, fruit, milk, meats and cheeses, perfect treats to take on a hike or with you on a train trip.

Guide: Peter Häusermann, oRIGInal, +41 79 865 19 49,  oRIGInal-the friendly Rigi hosts.

Hotel Monopol Luzern, Pilatusstrasse 1, 6003 Lucerne, +41 41 226 43 43. The 4-star hotel was a block from the Lucerne railway station with easy access to public transportation by rail, tram and boat.

Switzerland hotel

Kunstmuseum Luzern, 4th floor, Europaplatz 1, 6002 Lucerne, +41 41 226 78 00. Please check the website for current and upcoming exhibitions.

Mt. Pilatus, an hour southwest from Lucerne, at 6,983’, the towering mountain range can be reached by the Pilatus cogwheel railway, the world’s steepest. Once you reach the top on the modern, panoramic train, there are hotels, restaurants, an observation deck, a rope park that tests your balance and extensive hiking trails ranging from easy scenic walks to difficult, steep treks. Book train tickets, hotel and restaurant reservations online.

Mt. Rigi. The train to Mt. Rigi as well as the trains to Mt. Titlis and Mt. Pilatus are included with the Swiss Travel Pass.

Restaurant Lok 7, Staffelweg 6410, Rigi Staffel, +41 41 399 87 22.

Rosengart Collection Lucerne (“Sammlung Rosengart”), Stiftung Rosengart, Pilatusstrasse 10, CH-6003 Luzern, +41 41 220 16 60.

Lucerne museum

The Swiss Museum of Transport (“Verkehrshaus”), Haldenstrasse 44, 6006, Lucerne, +41 41 375 7575.  Discounted entry price with the Swiss Travel Pass.

Zunfthausrestaurant Pfistern, Kornmarkt 4, 6004 Luzern, +41 41 410 36 50.


The Zermatt website has a newsletter, lists of activities and a link to the Matterhorn blog. Although much of the blog is in German, the very helpful “Categories” in English is on the bottom of the webpage.

Grand Hotel Zermatterhof, Bahnhofstrasse 55, 3920 Zermatt, Switzerland +41 27 966 66 00,

The Gornergrat Railway, cogwheel train from the Zermatt train station to Gornergrat at 10,132’.

Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, Schluhmattstrasse 28, 3920 Zermatt, +41 27 966 0101.

Zermatterstübli, Bahnhofstrasse 64, 3920 Zermatt, Switzerland, +41 27 968 19 40.


The official Zurich website has a wealth of information about accommodations, shopping, transportation, excursions and gastronomy.

25Hours Hotel Zürich West, Pfingstweidstrasse 102, 8005 Zurich, +41 44 577 25 25 and 25Hours Hotel Langstrasse, Langstrasse 150, 8004 Zurich, +41 44 576 50 00, located close to Zurich HB, the central train station.

25Hours Hotel Zürich West

Cassare, Geroldstrasse 23, 8005 Zurich, +41 44 272 23 23. Located in Frau Gerolds Garden.

Confiserie Sprüngli, Bahnhofstrasse 21, 8001 Zurich, +41 44 224 46 46.

Frau Gerolds Garden, Geroldstrasse 23, 8005 Zurich, +41 78 971 67 64. Website only in German.

Gyoza Yokocho, Located in Markthalle. Website only in German.

Hoikoi Sushi Bar, Sihlfedlstrasse 56, 8003 Zurich, +41 44 450 61 16. Website only in German.

Kunsthaus Zurich, Heimplatz 1/5, 8001 Zurich, +41 44 253 84 84,

Markthalle, Markthalle im Viadukt, Limmatstrasse 231, 8005 Zurich,,  +41 44 201 00 60. Open every day from the morning to the evening. Closed on Sunday.

Neni Zurich, 25Hours Hotels Zurich Langstrasse, Langstrasse 150, 8004 Zurich, +41 44 576 50 00,

Restaurant Alpenrose, Fabrikstrasse 12, CH-8005 Zurich, +41 44 431 11 66. Website only in German. An English language description is available on the MySwitzerland website.

Switzerland food

Rheinfall, 8212 Neuhausen am Rheinfall