And then imagine a synchronized travel system where trains glide over gorges spanned by towering bridges, and burrow through mountains as if tunneling into a world where past and present become one, and the future doesn't seem to matter.
Where boats and lake steamers drift past honey-colored villages, or a brilliant profusion of flowers, or the watchful serenity of medieval bell towers. Where cable cars float gracefully suspended on wires that disappear into another realm. And where funiculars climb vertical pathways to settings that peer into a miniature world below.
There is such a place. A place where transportation is an art form, where travelers can make the scene while mother nature creates the scenery. A place we know as Switzerland.
The Swiss Travel System is unique. It is an exercise in precision. Perhaps Paul Theroux said it best when he wrote that, “Travel is flight and pursuit in equal parts.” There is no better place to experiment with that theory than in Switzerland.
In Switzerland, you can travel for travel’s sake, free to experience the exhilaration of discovery along serpentine ribbons of steel, through an ever-changing array of scenery.
Not only is Swiss transportation a masterpiece of access, it is also a marvel of engineering. It is a system that combines comfort and convenience with clockwork coordination to make the process of travel a delight.
The Swiss Travel System is a concept that traces its roots to more than a century of development. Perfected over time into a superb method of moving travelers throughout the country, it managed to conquer overwhelming geographical barriers while maintaining the delicate balance between man and his environment.
There are times when traveling by rail through Switzerland can make you feel temporarily transported into the pages of Alice in Wonderland or Gulliver’s Travels. In one moment you may feel larger than life, in control of the landscape. Then, in the next, you are miniaturized by the awesome magnitude of the Alps.
Trains are the heart of the travel system, linking the Swiss Federal Railways with more than 400 privately operated lines to form a synchronized method of travel. Swiss railways can take you to the highest train station in Europe, or glide past glaciers that rise to the crest of the world, or simply coast past rivers and lakes filled with constantly changing panoramas that are a feast for the senses.
But the secret of the system lies in its ability to link other forms of transportation with the rail lines into a cohesive unit that ultimately becomes a traveler’s dream. To be sure, the trains are its heart, but they are connected throughout the country by buses and trams that continuously unite central access points with outlying areas. Swiss Postal Buses are scheduled to arrive and depart within minutes of regular train services, taking passengers, as well as mail, to remote areas not serviced by trains.
In Switzerland, every major city is situated on a lake or a river, or both. Therefore, many towns have lake steamer services that offer another form of travel that also joins the rail lines. Other places have funiculars that go directly from the railway station to the center of the city. There are even some destinations where funiciulars and lake steamers coordinate so that travel is fast, convenient and virtually seamless.
Rack railroads are also part of the system, and there are cable cars as well. At points where cars can no longer drive over mountains, just look around, there’s probably a spot where you can drive onto a train and tunnel your way to the other side of the Alps by rail.
It has been written that “some of life’s most exhilarating pleasures are the simplest. ” The Swiss Travel System is positive proof of that statement.
Travelers today yearn for independence and the ability to explore at their own pace according to their own whims and fancies. That’s because the nature of travel is completely personal. No two people ever share quite the same experience regardless of the time, the place, the companions or how often they go.
There was a time when flexibility was an expensive travel proposition, but no more. The far-reaching range of Switzerland’s transportation system makes independent travel a reality that is not only delightful, but affordable.
If your gateway is Zurich or Geneva, both airports have railway stations which make the connection from planes to trains fast and convenient. Also, distances are short in Switzerland, and that compact size combined with the versatility of the travel system makes it easy to use one or two cities as a base and take day-trips throughout the country.
Switzerland has many one-of-a-kind train trips that glide over, around and through the country. There are five classic rail journeys in the country. This series will explore the joy of traveling on each of them and explain why each is unique.