Friday, September 5, 2014

Switzerland’s Golden Pass: Three train trips in one (Part 1)

Golden Pass departs Montreux, Switzerland  
SWITZERLAND, September 5, 2014 – The Golden Pass route from Lucerne to Montreux is designated as one of the five classic rail journeys in Switzerland.  It combines three diverse routes that connect mountains, woodlands, lakes, vineyards and even castles with several of Switzerland’s most popular destinations.  Best of all, Eurailpasses and Swiss Rail Passes are accepted for travel along the entire route.

Lake steamer, Lucerne, Switzerland
Heading from the lovely resort village of Lucerne, the first leg of the journey travels through the Brunig Pass to Meiringen and then on to Interlaken.  Though the distance is relatively short in terms of miles, and the pass is only about 3,000 feet high, the rapid increase in elevation combined with the logistical maneuvering of the train requires additional time for the rack-and-pinion system to negotiate the terrain. 
Depending on which train you choose, the journey takes between 75 and 90 minutes through cool, densely forested hills.  Three small lakes, Alpnach, Sarnen and Lungern, are a visual treat for riders as the train glides past mountainside villages and sheep graze at the base of the heavens. 

Sherlock Holmes statue, Meiringen

If time permits, Meiringen is great place for a brief visit, especially if you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes.  It was in Meiringen that the great, fictional British sleuth chased down his arch-enemy, Professor Moriarity.   Eventually the two adversaries engaged in hand-to-hand combat before falling to their deaths at nearby Reichenbach Falls.  Enthusiasts were so upset by the demise of their beloved detective that author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was later obliged to revive his character for future mysteries.

If you bother to get off the train, there can be no doubt about the influence Sherlock has had on the community.  The railway station features a full-sized mock up of Holmes flat at 221-B Baker Street in London.  There is also a statue honoring the illustrious consulting detective that features clues from each of the Holmes novels and short stories.

Replica of Holmes residence at 221B Baker St.
A hotel and pub bearing Holmes name are all the proof you need to know this was the site of The Final Problem.  Ambitious travelers may want to hike to the top of Reichenbach Falls, but for the less hardy there is a seasonal funicular that takes visitors to the summit.

From Meiringen, the delightful woodcarver’s village of Brienz is just a 20-minute train ride.  Tucked between the mountainside and the northern shores of the Lake of Brienz, this picturesque town is the home of Lötscher, the only authentic Swiss cuckoo clock maker in the world today.

If they choose, rail pass holders can take advantage of another bonus in Brienz.  Lake steamers make frequent cruises between Brienz to Interlaken, including a stop near the spectacular Giessbach waterfall which spills dramatically into the lake.  As a side note, the train to the top of the falls, the Giessbach-Bahn, is the oldest funicular in Europe.
Overlooking the Lake of Brienz near Interlaken, Switzerland
The steamer pier is just a short walk across the tracks in Brienz.  Boat trips take about an hour, and travelers can reconnect for their onward journey on the Golden Pass in Interlaken.  Passengers with less time, or no desire to sail, can continue by rail around the perimeter of the lake.

In most places, the segment of the Golden Pass between Interlaken and Zweisimmen would be considered a premier rail journey.  In Switzerland, it is more of a pleasant diversion between the perpendicular upheavals of rock in the Alps and the gentle carpet-like progression of rolling farmland.  This leg of the route is one of those in-between places where intoxicating images whisper tales of discovery.  Sit back.  Relax.  Enjoy the ride.

The tiny village of Zweisimmen, Switzerland
Zweisimmen is the terminus of the BLS rail line and the starting point for the third portion of the Golden Pass, the MOB train, which travels to Montreux.  The chalet-filled toy-like village is also the gateway to the world famous jet-setting resort of Gstaad just down the tracks.

Nestled in the heart of a wide valley floor, Zweisimmen lies at the center of a popular ski region, but it is difficult to believe when you are there.  In Zweisimmen the Alps do not swallow the sky as they do in other sections of Switzerland.  Winter is for skiing, but the summer season brings a profusion of flowers and fantastic hiking and walking trails.
While waiting to change trains, Zweisimmen is a great place for some last minute shopping, a relaxing stroll, a refreshing glass of beer or a cup of hot chocolate.  Montreux, on the banks of Lake Geneva, is just an hour and a half away.
Rolling countryside of the Golden Pass route in Switzerland
Prepare yourself for vast expanses of rolling countryside before concluding your journey along serpentine ribbons of steel through tiers of neatly manicured vineyards.

Making tracks through Switzerland from Lucerne to Montreux, or vice-versa, is a "golden" opportunity.