Friday, September 12, 2014

Switzerland's Golden Pass Train (Part II)

Castle of Chillon, Montreux, Switzerland
SWITZERLAND, September 12, 2014 – Switzerland’s Golden Pass connects three rail journeys into a single trip that combines diverse scenery linking the German region of the country with the French.

The first section travels from Lucerne to Interlaken over a rack railroad that glides through forested mountains beside glacial lakes.

Golden Pass from Zweisimmen to Montreux
The middle portion of the GoldenPass passes delightful villages and farms en route from Interlaken to Zweisimmen where travelers change for the panoramic final leg.  With model train sensations, Zweisimmen is an easy place to take a stroll or enjoy a snack before completing the adventure.

Some MOB trains have special services available.  Passengers seeking a truly unique experience can reserve limited VIP seats at a picture window in the front of the train.  By placing the engineer over the first coach, travelers are able to look directly out to the tracks as the train moves through the countryside.

Another option is the “Golden Pass Classic” featuring vintage refurbished cars from the Orient Express.  Reservations for groups are required and they are highly suggested for individuals, especially during high season.  Special supplements only apply to VIP seats, and reservations for these seats are compulsory and should be attempted well in advance.

Though more difficult to obtain, the VIP panoramic seats are preferable to the vintage rail cars.  After all, Switzerland is all about scenery, and a window seat that nearly puts you on the tracks is a rare opportunity.  In a vintage coach, once you adapt to the historic ambience, it’s really just another carriage.

Gstaad, home of the rich and famous
Just 30-minutes outside of Zweisimmen, the allure of the high-society lifestyle of Gstaad beckons.  Here the course moves along a singular track through an expanse of the valley that is so vast it creates feelings of being transformed into an elaborate HO scale model train layout.  Ahead are the promise of bold new dimensions of freedom that deliver you from the repetitions of day-to-day living.
If you can afford the price tag, Gstaad is a year-round fantasy world filled with international celebrities, luxurious hotels and extravagant shopping.  This is lifestyles of the rich and famous to the extreme.  Noted entertainers, diplomats and world leaders are frequent visitors, and many luminaries such as Julie Andrews, Roger Moore, Jeanne Moreau, Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor have or had part-time residences there.

Rolling Swiss countryside near Chateau d'Oex
Departing Gstaad, the MOB proceeds to Chateau-d’Oex (pronounced Chateau Day), which has become world famous as a center for hot air ballooning.  With its extensive breadth, the train hums through the valley in the silence of the surroundings.  So serene is the setting, the silence seems to have a sound of its own.
Ballooning is a year-round activity in Chateau-dO’ex, but, since 1979 it has held a balloon festival during the last week of January each year.  Enthusiasts from all over the world annually converge on the tiny village to participate.  The area has even become so popular that in March of 1999, Chateau-d’Oex was the starting point for the first hot balloon to circumnavigate the globe.

Golden Pass travels through huge vineyards near Montreux
The final stretch of the route leads to Les Avants where the train begins its descent to the Lake Geneva region and Montreux.  Traveling in this direction is preferable because the serpentine route zigs and zags its way through seemingly infinite vineyards with breathtaking views of the lake and the impressive Castle of Chillon in the distance.
The vineyards are often surprising to travelers since the country is not noted for its wine production.  The reason is simple.  Though Swiss wines are excellent, the product is not exported as the Swiss choose, selfishly or wisely, to consume the beverage themselves.
Montreux is the final stop for the MOB, but the Swiss Federal Railways have numerous fast and easy connections along the shores of Lake Geneva to Vevey, Lausanne and Geneva, including Geneva’s international airport.  For travelers with more time, there is also frequent lake steamer service between Montreux and Geneva, and the boats accept both Eurailpasses and Swiss Rail Passes at no additional cost.

Giessbach Falls near Interlaken
Though not the fastest way to get from Lucerne to the Lake of Geneva, Golden Pass trains may be the most relaxing.  Combining the diversity of landscapes with a variety of destinations and first-rate services along the way, there’s little doubt that this rail journey is a “golden” opportunity.