You should arrive at the airport to take your flight and on arrival you will be taken to the charming town of Brig, perfectly located in the Rhône Valley at the head of the Simplon Pass. It’s surrounded by the lofty peaks that are so typical of this beautiful country. Brig grew in prominence during the 17th century after monopolising the trade in silk, salt and mail between adjacent France and Italy. The wealth that resulted led to the creation of the country’s largest private residence - The Stockalper Palace. You will stay at either the Hotel Alex or the Hotel Victoria, dependent on your departure date.
Our first day trip takes us up the Mattertal Valley. Climbing upwards, the scenery becomes ever more spectacular. Lush meadows covered with wild flowers and studded with tiny shepherds’ shelters give way to dense forests, crowned by snow-capped mountains that glisten in the sun. As the road traverses towering viaducts and jaw-dropping precipices we admire the finesse of Swiss engineering. We pass countless torrential mountain streams and tumbling waterfalls before arriving at legendary Zermatt, nestling at the foot of the mighty and instantly recognisable Matterhorn. Zermatt is a car-free jumble of typical Swiss chalets, hotels and ancient wooden farm huts strewn along the valley floor. Dramatic cable cars and soaring footpaths weave ever upwards to the majestic amphitheatre of the surrounding lofty summits. The Matterhorn is the ultimate Alpine peak. Yet it’s remarkably shy until you reach the end of the village, turn a corner, and the Swiss national symbol is revealed in all its unrivalled glory. This is truly one of life’s ‘wow’ moments. For an even better view, you can take the dramatic cog railway to the Gornergrat. At over 10,000 feet, an absolutely awe-inspiring mountain wonderland of glaciers and summits awaits you. If you prefer, you can relax in one of the many delightful cafés – or take a gentle ride in a horse-drawn carriage.
This morning we travel over the Simplon Pass, to the warm sunshine of Italy, the peaceful shores of Lake Maggiore and its most attractive town, Stresa, which owes its origin to the days of the ‘Grand Tour’ when Europe’s 19th Century aristocracy crossed the border from Switzerland and experienced their first taste of Italy! Unmistakably Mediterranean in character, its shores, lined with oleanders and palms, backed by classic belle époque hotels create an ambience of classic gentility. Arriving in Stresa you will have some free time to wander around the cobbled streets, you’ll find them lined by a wealth of thriving traditional shops, bakers and butchers displaying a mouth watering variety of cakes, salamis, hams and a host of other delicacies. The Italians do this so well - and they make ideal ‘goodies’ to take back to friends at home. Relax in one of the many cafes in the main square and partake in the Italian pastime of people watching, whilst enjoying a real Italian coffee. Literacy enthusiasts can relax at the bar of the Grand Hotel, featured in Hemingway’s ‘A Farewell to Arms’ also frequented by George Bernard Shaw and Charlie Chaplin amongst others. Boarding our private launch we cruise across the shimmering waters of central Lake Maggiore taking in the sights of one of the real gems of northern Italy, the stunning Borromean Islands. Isola Bella dominates the landscape with its belle époque 17th century villa and astonishing ornamental gardens featuring ten interlocking terraces imaginatively planted with a host of colourful and exotic shrubs, with fine marble statues perched on each terrace, which can be seen as we navigate around the island. Cruising along the shores of Isola Pescatori, the fisherman’s Island, we can see how the island has retained its original charm, with the traditional fishing boats anchored along the shores and finally Isola Madre the largest of the Islands with its English style botanical gardens, a mass of greenery can be seen as we cruise by heading back to the opposite shore of the Lake in Verbania. From Verbania we drive along Lake Maggiore returning to Switzerland and Locarno, then board the narrow-gauge Centovalli Railway to Domodossola, named after the so-called ‘hundred valleys’ through which it passes. Passing over viaducts, bridges and deep ravines, chestnut forests and tiny villages clinging to the mountainsides, the train arrives in Domodossola where we will meet the coach for the final part of our return journey.
Today we travel to Montreux on the sunny shores of Lake Geneva where you have a full day at leisure to choose what you’d like to do best. You could take a civilised cruise with lunch on board one of the many beautiful belle époque style paddle-steamers plying the lake. Or you could take the spectacular cog-wheel railway to the peak of Rochers de Naye that dominates the lake. Back down by the lakeshore, the famous 13th century Chateau de Chillon stands guard over the Rhône Valley just outside the town. It’s Switzerland’s most visited historical building, and the very essence of the romantic medieval fortress. Or perhaps you’d prefer to simply stroll along the charming lakeshore promenade, admiring the surrounding vine-clad terraces and the view of France’s snow-capped mountains of the Haute- Savoie on the opposite bank. For those who prefer to stay closer to Brig and like to walk in the fresh mountain air, there are some easy footpaths close by, just a couple of stops down the railway. From here a spectacular cable-car and gondola ride whisks you up to 8,684 feet to the Bettmerhorn from where you can enjoy an amazing panoramic view over the Aletsch glacier, Europe’s longest and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Today we take the legendary ‘Glacier Express’ – one of the most spectacular railway journeys in the world and which for many will be the highlight of the holiday. It’s an absolute joy to travel on this specially designed train with its large panoramic windows, and to experience its several changes of locomotive that are needed to cope with the varied gradients. The four hour journey, travelling just 120 kilometres, winds and twists its way through ever more stunning scenery. We pass mountain ranges cascading waterfalls, forest-covered hillsides and ravines with torrential rivers. The railway seems to float over high viaducts and punch its way through mountain tunnels. The highest point on your journey is the Oberalp Pass at 6,700 feet, where you’re well above the tree-line. Snow can remain here well into June. Another highlight is the Upper Rhine Gorge, sometimes called the ‘Swiss Grand Canyon’, totally inaccessible until the railway was opened in 1903. After lunch on board (payable locally), we arrive in Chur. From here, winding ever-upwards, our coach takes us up to charming Klosters, renowned as the Royal Family’s favourite ski resort. The village is a wonderfully appealing huddle of typical dark-wood chalets, surrounded by invigorating alpine peaks creating a charming and cosy atmosphere in which to immerse yourself. Our hotel for the next three nights with dinner is the four-star Silvretta Parkhotel, located in the village centre. It has a large indoor pool with whirlpool and fitness area, the Panorama restaurant where we take dinner, a lounge bar and spacious, well-appointed rooms.
While in Klosters you have free access via all the nearby cable cars and chair lifts to the surrounding peaks. You’ll enjoy a wonderland of stunning Alpine views linked by spectacular walks. The homely chalet-restaurants serve local specialities on their sunlit terraces.
Today, we enjoy a contrasting day of spectacular scenery and extraordinary Swiss engineering, taking the famous Bernina Express to Tirano just over the Italian border. This remarkable train twists upwards in an amazing sequence of spirals, loops, 55 tunnels and 196 bridges past the chic resort of St Moritz to the summit at Ospizio Bernina and at 7,400 feet, Europe’s highest through station. Her we’re surrounded by stunning vistas over the snow-clad peaks and ice-cold glacial lakes that strikingly mark the watershed between the Mediterranean and Black Sea river systems. The views will take your breath away. Next we wind our way down through pretty pastures and dense pine forests to Tirano. You have some free time here before we board our coach returning to Klosters via the stunning Upper Engadine Valley over the Fluela Pass (normally open late May to mid October). The Bernina Express railway and its surrounding countryside was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. No surprise then that it’s acknowledged as one of the most scenic rail journeys in the world.
At the end of a truly spectacular tour, you’ll be transferred to Zurich airport for your return flight home.