Bruce Woelfel lives to ride the trains of Europe. He loves to eat, sleep and do all manner of life's activities aboard them. To Bruce, the plight of "Charlie," the mythical MTA commuter who had to "ride forever 'neath the streets of Boston," is a fate devoutly to be wished. Here are his 10 favorite train trips involving Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
1. Swiss Crystal Panoramic Express: Montreux - Zweizimmen (narrow gauge)
This exquisitely small-scaled train has uniquely designed front and rear cars with large glass windows through which tracks and preceding or receding landscapes can be viewed. There is also a delightful lounge car where one can enjoy a light snack of tea and pastries while scanning the passing sights. The trip takes only an hour and a half and rises precipitously above Lake Geneva from Montreux, snaking back and forth through hairpin turns past tiny hamlets, with panoramic views of the lake and snow covered Mont Blanc beyond, then continues through high meadows and forests to Zweizimmen where a standard gauge connection to Spiez is available. "Crystal" is limited to first-class passengers.
The more conventional Panoramic Express, with attractive first and second-class cars with large windows, but no lounge or other special features, travels the same route. "Crystal" makes the trip twice per day in each direction from July 3-October 31, and runs exclusively on Sundays the remainder of the year. "Panoramic" runs daily all year. Both accept Eurailpass and Swiss Pass. Other local trains run hourly.
- Schedule: Lv Montreux 8:21 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., Arr Zweizimmen 10:49 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. Lv Zweizimmen 10:43 a.m. and 4:53 p.m., Arr Montreux 12:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.
- Rating: Accommodations 10/10; Food and Drink 7/10; View 10/10; Total Score 27/30
2. Austrian Robert Stolz and Transalpin: Zürich - Vienna; Zürich - Graz
Two equally excellent trains running between Zürich and Innsbruck, carry Swiss-built "panorama" cars with raised floors and very large curved windows. The route passes spectacular Austrian scenery: graceful bridges across perpendicular rock gorges, ancient castles, quaint and colorful little villages, and narrow valleys opening up to green forests and pristine alpine lakes. Transalpin ends in Vienna and the Robert Stolz train takes a different route after Innsbruck to end in Graz.
Eating aboard can be a delightful experience. Transalpin has a somewhat formal Austrian restaurant and Robert Stolz has a Swiss diner (housed in a German restaurant car), with more menu choices and a number of lighter options.
Recently aboard Transalpin, the chef reserved places for early and late lunches (before and after the stop at Innsbruck). The diner has large windows looking out on the mountain landscape and a quiet, cordial atmosphere: dark blue walls, blue carpet, light blue brocaded drapes, and subdued lighting. Two fixed-price luncheons including dessert and coffee were offered. The more elaborate meal soup, smoked salmon on toast, beef burgundy with noodles, Camembert cheese and vanilla pudding cost about $21.
To obtain seats in the observation cars (choice of smoking or nonsmoking), reservations are recommended aboard both trains.
- EC 162/3 Transalpin Schedule: Lv Zürich 8:42 a.m., Arr Innsbruck 1:16 p.m. Lv Innsbruck 2:44 p.m., Arr Zürich 6:50 p.m.
- EC 168/9 Robert Stolz Schedule: Lv Zürich 11:20 a.m., Arr Innsbruck 3:13 p.m., Arr Graz 9:00 p.m. Lv Graz 11:00 a.m., Arr Innsbruck 4:53 p.m., Arr Zürich 8:41 p.m..
- Rating: Accommodations 8/10, Food and Drink 9/10; View 9/10; Total Score 26/27
3. Swiss Ticino: Zürich - Milan
The enhanced opportunity to enjoy this route's craggy scenery between Zürich and the Italian border because of "Ticino's" "panorama" cars (similar to those on Robert Stolz and Transalpin), make this the most interesting trip on standard gauge rail within Switzerland. The most exciting part of the journey south comes after completing passage through the nine-mile St. Gotthard Tunnel, which pierces a mountain barrier that formerly divided Italian-speaking Ticino from the North.
The route negotiates the famous "triple spiral" section, which circles in and out of the mountains and observes the same mountain village from three different vantage points.
Ticino is the best of several good trains along this busy route and the only one to carry "panorama" cars. It also conveys a full-service Swiss diner. Reservations are advised for seats in the observation car.
- EC 51/6 Ticino Schedule: Lv Zürich 8:53 a.m. (Airport 11 minutes earlier), Arr Milan 1:30 p.m. Lv Milan 3:00 p.m., Arr Zürich 7:28 p.m. (Airport 17 minutes later)
- Rating: Accommodations 9/10; Food and Drink 7/10; View 9/10; Total Score 25/30
4. Pablo Casals Zürich, Bern, Lausanne and Geneva - Barcelona (overnight)
A luxurious "hotel-train" with restaurant, bar and roomy compartments, which runs three days per week, "Casals" is currently Europe's best overnight train. its elegant Spanish restaurant serves several choices of freshly prepared main courses. For a main dish of steak or sea bass with soup, salad, cheese, pastry, wine and coffee the cost is about $90 for two, including wine and tip. Lighter fare and beverages are available from the bar.
Innovatively designed compartments, the largest being similar in size and amenities to cruise ship staterooms, provide a variety of sleeping arrangements. Approximate prices: four-passenger second-class sleeping compartments with sink, $70/person; two-passenger first-class compartments with sink, $100/person; and "Grand Classe" suites for one or two with separate toilet and shower, $300/total. Separate fare or Eurailpasses plus supplements for reserved compartments.
- EN 272/4 Pablo Casals Schedule: Lv Zürich Mon, Wed, Fri 7:33 p.m., Bern 8:47 p.m., Lausanne 9:57 p.m., Geneva 10:49 p.m., Arr Barcelona 9:10 a.m. next morning. Lv Barcelona Franca Tue, Thu, Sun 8:15 p.m., Arr Geneva 5:52 a.m., Lausanne 6:40 a.m., Bern 7:51 a.m., Zürich 9:15 a.m. next morning.
- Rating: Accommodations 10/10; Food and drink 9/10; View 5/10; Total Score 24/30
5. Swiss Glacier Express: Zermatt, Brig, Chur - St. Moritz (narrow gauge)
A beautiful ride, surely one of the most scenic in Europe, this is the most famous of the privately-run Swiss railways, a charming journey with fantastic views and a very good Swiss restaurant. Although lacking the innovative design features of Crystal Panoramic Express, first-class coaches are comfortably air-conditioned and have very large windows. The little red train winds up and down and around mountains and valleys, over and through the picturesque Swiss landscape, taking seven and a half-hours to cover the 165 miles between Zermatt and St. Moritz. Other, less celebrated narrow gauge trains, travel the route throughout the day.
Lunch in the dining car is a particular treat, with very friendly service in a rustic/modern atmosphere: light-grained wood trim, wide windows, tables set with crisp linen and the famous bent-over wine glasses (given to passengers as souvenirs), which can be turned to keep the wine from spilling during the many banked curves. There are two separate servings of a set lunch; a satisfying meal of consume, spaghetti with tomato sauce, veal cutlet in mushroom gravy, cheese, fruit and coffee was about $50 for two. Reservations are essential in summer because of the popularity of this special train. Eurailpasses not accepted.
- Glacier Express Schedule: Lv Zermatt 8:54 a.m., Arr Chur 2:18 p.m., St. Moritz 4:58 p.m.. Lv St. Moritz 7:05 a.m., Chur 9:03 a.m., arrives Zermatt 2:45 p.m..
- Rating: Accommodations 5/10; Food and Drink 9/10; View 10/10; Total Score 24/30.