GENEVA, SWITZERLAND: Travelers seeking the ultimate in a luxurious European getaway, need look no further than Switzerland. From first-class train travel to five-star accommodations to some of the world’s most beautiful scenery, this country seems to have a corner on the market. Following a circular train route from Bern to Geneva is effortless and sure to please the most discriminating traveler.
Getting to Geneva, Switzerland
Swiss International Airlines offers several flights from the U.S to Geneva and was voted the best in Europe by travel professionals. Business class modular seating provides individual space with your own screen for watching movies and lay-flat seats, which are particularly nice on long-haul flights.
After arriving in Geneva Airport, you will want to head downstairs to the train station. The Swiss Travel Pass can be purchased ahead of time and allows you to travel for a certain number of consecutive days within a month. A first-class ticket is about 30% more than second class but affords more options, including better seats, less crowded cars, and generally more comfortable. But that’s not all.
Your Swiss Pass also includes benefits such as free travel by bus and boat, access to around 500 museums throughout the country, and free use of public transportation in certain urban areas.
Geneva to Bern
The train from Geneva to Bern takes a couple of hours. The station in Bern is literally right across the street from the five-star Schweizerhof Hotel & Spa. Part of the Swiss Deluxe Hotels brand, their portfolio includes the finest luxury accommodations in Switzerland.
For more than 200 years, the hoteliers of Swiss Deluxe strive to provide the highest levels of quality and service found anywhere.
With a history dating back to 1859, the Hotel Schweizerhof has undergone extensive renovations and is conveniently located within walking distance of the main attractions of Bern. Combining both French and English design elements, guestrooms feature warm oak floors, restored chandeliers, and rain showers.
Bern’s Old European Charm
Founded in 1191, Bern offers medieval architecture, a beautiful cathedral, unique shopping and restaurants, and a 6,000 square meter bear park. A tiny city of barely 130,000 people, Bern is located strategically in a wide bend of the river Aare with magnificent views of the Alps.
And like many classic cities in Europe, it has plenty of charm, including its old town with the Late Gothic Münster St. Vinzenz cathedral and the Zytglogge historic clock tower that overlooks the city.
Bern has almost 4 miles of covered shopping areas known as arcades. It also has an abundance of cellars, which at one time in the 18th century were used to store vegetables and later as wine taverns.
At one point, there were over 200 cellars throughout the city.
Bern Bears, Oh My!
Bern’s mascot is the bear and a visit to see Björk, Finn, and their daughter Ursina at the Bear Park is a special experience for children as well as adults. On paths throughout the park, you can watch the bears play and climb right in front of you.
The park extends down to the edge of the Aare River amidst forests and caves allowing the bears the freedom to live in a more natural habitat.
Jack’s Brasserie inside the Hotel Schweizerhof is the perfect place for your evening meal. Wood panels, cozy booths, and old-time light fixtures create a warm and inviting ambiance. Pair their French, market-fresh cuisine or their local specialty, Wienerschnitzel, with one of their fine wines.
Bern to Pontresina
The next leg to Pontresina will involve several train connections. The electronic signs at the platforms display where to stand for first-class wagons. The entire trip will take approximately four and a half hours and will be accompanied by gorgeous mountain scenery.
The Hotel Kronenhof
Upon arrival, you will be met by the staff of your next Swiss Deluxe property, the five-star superior Grand Hotel Kronenhof. In fact, just look up from the train platform and you can see the hotel majestically perched on the hill overlooking the Engadin Valley at 5,922 feet above sea level.
The striking Neo-Baroque architecture makes the Kronenhof one of the most historically significant hotels in the Alps. It has won multiple awards including the Top Luxury Hotel in Switzerland in the 2016 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice® awards and has been recognized as having the best spa resort in the country.
Each of the rooms is lavishly decorated in Neo-Baroque, featuring curved drapes, gold and blue-hued fabrics, and turn of the century-style furniture as well as modern conveniences.
As if that isn’t enough, each of the south or southwest facing rooms have breathtaking views of the Upper Engadin Valley, including forested larch trees and sweeping vistas of the distant Roseg Glacier.
Touring the Pontresina village
After breakfast, which is included, take some time to walk around the lovely village. Here, you will find boutiques, clothing shops, and a confectionary called Gianottis. The five-generation establishment has been making chocolates and cakes since 1880 using cocoa from all over the world.
Take some with you as you can only find these sweet temptations here in town.
With the entire Engadin Valley as your playground, you could spend weeks here hiking, biking, skiing, and even golfing. But, if you just have a couple of days, here are a few highlights.
St. Moritz is another popular mountain village and the birthplace of Alpine winter tourism. It is only about five miles from Pontresina and worth the visit.
E-bikes are available from the hotel, and the electronic assist will make you feel like Superman as you power up and down mountain trails. Take a ride to the Alpine cheese dairy of Morteratsch where you can sample cheese made the traditional way. Also waiting for your pleasure is fondue or a sumptuous brunch. Either enjoyed while taking in views of the Bernina mountain range in this Alpine paradise.
Exploring the countryside
Another must-do activity is the old-time funicular (circa 1907) from Punt Muragi in Samedan to the summit of Muottas Muragl. The climb to 7,500 feet offers spectacular views of the valley, its glaciers, and a string of shimmering lakes that include Lej da Staz, St. Moritz, and Silvaplana.
The latter is where you will find dozens of kiteboarders on sunny, windy days.
For an extraordinary gastronomic experience, book a reservation at the hotel’s Kronenstübli restaurant. The recipient of 16 Gault Millau points, they specialize in Italian-Mediterranean and French cuisine.
The ambiance is pure Alpine coziness with the entire room covered in warm wood, and it feels as if you are dining in a friend’s living room. Daily specials are offered as well, and if available, try their boiled beef with potatoes, spinach, vegetables, and horseradish.
Pontresina to Zermatt
The hotel staff will take you to the St. Moritz railway station for your segment to Zermatt. This, however, is no ordinary Swiss train but the legendary Glacier Express, which will take you on an eight-hour dreamy journey through the peaks and valleys of the Swiss Alps.
You will travel 180 miles across 291 bridges and through some 91 tunnels, and ascend to a height of 6,706 ft. at Oberalp Pass to a low of 2,067 ft. in the Rhine Gorge. While making your advance reservations for this trip, you can pre-order a three-course meal, which you can enjoy watching the scenery from the comfort of your panoramic train car.
Many have found this to be a life-changing experience as the sights are something you can truly only experience on what has been called the slowest, fast train in the world.
Quite possibly the highlight of this journey is the view you glimpse of the Matterhorn as you approach Zermatt. At 14,692 feet, the rocky face can be alternately shrouded in clouds or snow, depending upon the time of the year.
The Mont Cervin Palace
Staff from the fabulous Mont Cervin Palace will greet you in either one of their cute little electric cars or by what they call a two-horsepower Ferrari in this mostly car-free, pedestrian-friendly town. With a motto of Hospitality by Heart, the hotel was opened in 1852. The palace has been a longstanding tradition in Zermatt.
After undergoing extensive renovations, the luxury property can best be described as five-star contemporary comfort with an easy going, mountain vibe. The rooms are spread across four buildings. Guests are able to choose Alpine charm or a traditional Swiss chalet. Either way, you are guaranteed great views of the Matterhorn or the snow-capped Alps.
The village is like something out of a storybook with timbered houses, flower-laden window sills, a Matterhorn museum, retail shops, and more than 100 restaurants.
If you like chocolate, Lindt is here as well as Läderach, a local Swiss favorite.
Climb Every Mountain
The mountains, however, are the main attraction, and there are 38 of these over 13,000 feet to explore as well as 250 miles of hiking trails. The Matterhorn Express cable car can take you up to various points on the mountain, including Schwarzsee. Here you will have grand views of the Matterhorn.
Follow one of the trails back down by foot from Furi to the Restaurant Zum See for lunch in a traditional Swiss mountain eatery. They serve local specialties and don’t pass up their pride and joy, a freshly made sweet and creamy Napoleon pastry.
During the busy season, you have to reserve these confections to ensure you don’t miss out!
A recent mammoth construction project known as the 3S Matterhorn Glacier Ride Cable Car has also just been completed involving 38 companies that will transport 2,000 passengers per hour to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise. This three-cable system is a marvel of engineering and will be the crown jewel in this Alpine playground.
The Mont Cervin Palace has several excellent restaurants, including the one Michelin star Ristorante Capri, which is only open in winter. Myoko, however, is not to be missed as the show accompanying your Japanese meal is amazing. Talented chefs chop, flip, and flambé beef, chicken, and seafood using a combination of light, knives, and flavorful ingredients to make your meal unforgettable.
Zermatt to Geneva
The train to Geneva, your final destination, will take you past some of the most beautiful sections of the Lake Geneva region. Miles of terraced hills with vineyards on one side and Lake Geneva on the other is a moving postcard of beauty.
A driver from the Beau-Rivage will bring you to this iconic five-star luxury property on the promenade of Lake Geneva or Lac Léman as it is known in French, with grand views of the Jet d’Eau and the French Alps.
Founded in 1865, the property boasts eleven generations of hoteliers. Epitomizing refinement, elegance, and service, the Beau-Rivage has been host to notable celebrities and politicians over the years.
In many ways, the hotel is a tribute to old-time craftsmanship. Turn of the century stained glass windows have been restored and adorn the corridors. Period furniture, remarkable artwork, and attention to detail can be found in every area of the property.
Each of the 80 rooms and 15 suites is lavish. They also feature modern conveniences such as free high-speed internet and flat-screen televisions. There are even PlayStation video game consoles in the suites.
Geneva is the world’s smallest metropolis, yet this capital city is the birthplace of the International Red Cross as well as the home to many United Nations offices. The International Red Cross and Crescent Museum are particularly impressive with moving displays of humanity in the face of decades of world wars.
Geneva also played a pivotal role in the Reformation where John Calvin preached at the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre. The International Museum of the Reformation is a modern addition to the city and traces the history of this movement and its influence on modern civilization.
The Rhone River flows through Lake Geneva, creating scenic opportunities for a walk along the waterfront. At dusk, the city takes on a new look as the sky turns dark blue and the lights of the many shops reflect off of the water.
The Jet d’Eau fountain is a focal point of Lake Geneva and rises to an amazing height of 131 feet. At night, colored lights illuminate this water feature, making it a convenient landmark for finding your way around the city.
As in most Swiss cities, trams are everywhere and will effortlessly take you anywhere you need to go. Schedules are found at the stops, and many people speak English. The Swiss people are friendly and willing to help travelers needing directions.
Of course, dining in and around Geneva can be as simple or as elegant as you wish. Many sidewalk shops sell a wide variety of fare. Walk along and enjoy baguettes filled with meats and cheeses, sausages, chocolates, and afternoon tea. Cheese is, of course, always in popular demand, and fondue is on the menu at many local restaurants.
Culminate your circular tour of Switzerland with a fine dining experience in one of the hotel’s restaurants. The Michelin starred Le Chat-Botté offers Mediterranean cuisine using locally-sourced ingredients while still respecting classical Swiss traditions.
While Switzerland is a fairly small country, about the combined size of Vermont and New Hampshire, its natural beauty and cultural traditions are timeless and undeniable. The Swiss excel at providing the world’s best luxury accommodations, hospitality services, and international cuisine. If you’re looking for the ultimate in an indulgent vacation or holiday, Switzerland is calling.
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All services including transportation, meal, and attractions were sponsored, however, all opinions herein are the authors.