Scenic Trains Around Switzerland and the Italian Lakes

This trip report covers my Interrail train trip around the northern Italian lakes and Switzerland on some of Europe’s most scenic railways.

A trip to Switzerland

Last summer, I had bought a first class Interrail pass that gave me three months of unlimited train travel through Europe.

As I was not in a position to travel non-stop for three consecutive months, I decided to use the pass on four separate trips throughout the summer months.

The first of my Interrail summer travels would take me to Switzerland and Northern Italy.

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Seats in one of the Belle Époque train carriages on the railway line between Montreux and Zweisimmen in Switzerland. ©Paliparan

Interrail in Switzerland

When I decided on my first trip with the Interrail pass I just knew I had to go to Switzerland.

Although I have visited Switzerland before a couple of times, most of my visits were brief and limited to the big cities.

The bottom line is that Switzerland is an expensive country to visit – something which does not only count for accommodation and food but certainly for transport as well.

This is where the Interrail pass comes in handy.

Especially in countries with expensive trains such as Switzerland, travelling with an Interrail (or Eurail Pass if you live outside of Europe) can be fantastic value.

Moreover, as ordinary Swiss trains do not require seat reservations, an Interrail pass gives you amazing flexibility.

You can basically hop on any train you want and even be spontaneous and change your plans as you travel through the country – something which I did a few times on my trip.

It was the perfect opportunity to take some of Switzerland’s most scenic trains and enjoy some fabulous mountain vistas.

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The Bernina Express crosses the famous Brusio spiral viaduct. ©Paliparan

Trains into Italy

Two of Switzerland’s most scenic trains link the country with neighbouring Italy.

Switzerland’s most famous scenic train journey is arguably the Bernina Express, which takes you from Chur to the town of Tirano just across the Italian border.

The lesser-known Centovalli railway line between Locarno in Switzerland and Domodossola in Italy makes for another highly scenic train trip.

As I really wanted to take both of these trains, I knew it would make sense to include a bit of Italy into my trip as well, as I hate to backtrack on my travels.

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Cab view from a train on the Centovalli railway. ©Paliparan

Swiss-Italian lakes

By making a loop through Switzerland and northern Italy, I could also visit some of the big lakes for which the border area between the two countries is famous.

On my trip I would visit the Italian town of Varenna on Lake Como, as well as Stresa on Lake Maggiore.

Combining the high mountains with the sunny lakeside certainly sounded like the perfect summer trip.

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The town of Varenna on the shores of Lake Como. ©Paliparan

Swiss destinations

Although my trip to Switzerland was mostly about the scenic trains in the country, I also visited some towns and cities on my way.

However, my decision which places to visit in Switzerland was primarily based upon the particular railway lines I wanted to take.

Besides the earlier mentioned Bernina Express and Centovalli Railway these were the Golden Pass Line and the old Gotthard railway.

While looking at a map, it seemed like the Swiss cities of Montreux, Spiez, Lucerne and Locarno were the most logical and interesting places to visit.

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View over the town of Spiez and Lake Thun. ©Paliparan

Booking the trip

Booking my trip to Switzerland and Italy was fairly simple.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to use my Interrail pass to travel all the way by train from my home in Romania to Switzerland and Italy.

Although flights to Switzerland are more expensive, Italy is fortunately well-connected to Romania by low-cost airlines.

Milan seemed to be the obvious place to start and end my trip as the city is within striking distance of both Tirano (the starting point of my ride on the Bernina Express) and Domodossola (at the end of the Centovalli Railway).

I found a cheap flight from Bucharest to Bergamo with Wizz Air for just €22 to start my trip.

Unfortunately, flights from the three Milan airports (Malpensa, Linate and Bergamo) back to Bucharest were rather expensive on the date when I needed to fly back.

However, I did find a decently-priced flight from Bologna to Bucharest for €60.

Although it certainly not the most convenient option, it was the cheapest one as I could use my Interrail pass to take a high-speed train south from Milan to reach Bologna.

flight map
The two flights I would take on my trip to reach Italy and Switzerland. ©Great Circle Mapper

Final itinerary

With my flights book, I could then draft my final itinerary for my train trip around Switzerland and the lakes of northern Italy.

After spending some time in Bergamo, I would head north to Varenna on the shores of Lake Como.

From there, I would head further north towards the Italian town of Tirano on the border with Switzerland.

The following day, I would take the famous Bernina Express to Chur, where I would connect to a train to Zurich.

As I wanted to travel on the Golden Pass Line from Montreux to Lucerne the following day, I had to find an overnight stop somewhere in the south-west of Switzerland around Lake Geneva.

Unfortunately, places like Geneva and Montreux are not exactly cheap when it comes to accommodation.

This is where my Interrail pass again came in handy, as I simply decided to stay at a hotel in Annemasse across the border with France for less than half of the price of a Swiss hotel.

From Annemasse, I would then head back again into Switzerland to travel the entire length of the Golden Pass Line from Montreux to Lucerne in a single day, visiting the town of Spiez on the way.

From Lucerne, I would travel south over the old Gotthard Railway across the Alps to Locarno on Lake Maggiore.

The next day I would then take the Centovalli Railway to Domodossola in Italy, where I would connect to a train to Stresa.

After Stresa, I would head straight to Bologna with a simple change of trains in Milan in order to catch my flight home.

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My final itinerary of my trip to Switzerland and the north Italian lakes. ©OpenStreetMap/Paliparan
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It was good fun puzzling together my Swiss-Italian itinerary. ©Paliparan

Highlights

In this ‘Scenic Trains Around Switzerland and the Italian Lakes’ trip report, you can look forward to the following highlights:

– A ride on the Bernina Express, which is not only one of Switzerland’s most scenic trains but perhaps the most stunning train ride in all of Europe.
– Travelling in a Belle Époque train carriage on the Golden Pass Line.
– Spectacular train cab views on the Centovalli Railway.
– A visit to the stunning Swiss towns of Spiez, Lucerne and Locarno.
– Lakeside R&R in the Italian towns of Varenna and Stresa.

Of course, I will extensively cover each train ride and destination in the individual chapters of this Switzerland and northern Italy trip report.

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Crosses the famous Landwasser Viaduct on the Bernina Express was one of the highlights of my trip to Switzerland. ©Paliparan
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The famous Chapel Bridge in Lucerne. ©Paliparan
Alp Grüm Palü Glacier Switzerland trip report
Alp Grüm and the Palü Glacier. ©Paliparan
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A yummy Thai green curry on board a Swiss train in the Alps. ©Paliparan
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View over Madonna del Sasso and the town of Locarno. ©Paliparan
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Aperol Spritz time on the Italian lakes. ©Paliparan
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The Bernina Express train at the station of Ospizio Bernina on the shores of Lago Bianco. ©Paliparan

Cats

One last issue remained before I could embark on my journey to Italy and Switzerland.

Just two weeks before the start of my trip I found a completely abandoned kitten in the Danube Delta whom I decided to adopt.

Although I already had two cats at home and would need a catsitter anyway, the fact that I now had a third one complicated things.

As the kitten (whom I decided to call Kitty) was only one-and-a-half months old and still needed to be integrated among my other two cats, I more or less needed someone to be at my home for an extended visit each day I was away.

Fortunately, I managed to find a solution and had someone to look over Kitty and my other two cats, allowing me to embark on my trip knowing that my cats would be well taken care off.

In the index below, you can find all the individual chapters of my Italy & Switzerland trip report.

kitty
Even though I felt sad to have to leave Kitty behind for a week, I was still looking forward to the trip. ©Paliparan

Trip report index

This ‘Scenic Trains Around Switzerland and the Italian Lakes’ trip report consists of the following chapters:

1. Bergamo: A Visit to Lombardy’s Beautiful Hilltop Town
2. Travelling From Bergamo to Milan by Train
3. From Milan to Varenna and Tirano By Trenord Regional Train
4. A Varenna Visit: A Day Trip to Lake Como’s Most Beautiful Town
5. Tirano: The Italian Gateway to the Bernina Railway
6. Bernina Express Train: Guide to Switzerland’s Most Scenic Railway
7. Review: Swiss InterCity (IC) Train Chur to Zurich and Basel
8. From Zurich to Geneva on a Swiss ICN Tilting Train
9. Cheap Geneva Hotel: Stay Across the Border in Annemasse!
10. Around Lake Geneva by Train: From Geneva to Montreux
11. A Visit to Montreux and the Freddie Mercury Statue
12. Golden Pass: Guide to a Scenic Railway Route Across Switzerland
13. Swiss Chique: The MOB GoldenPass Belle Époque Train
14. From the Mountains to the Lake: Zweisimmen to Spiez by Train
15. Spectacular Spiez: A Visit to a Scenic Swiss Town
16. Spiez to Interlaken by Train: A Trip on the Lake Thun Railway Line

** rest of the chapters to follow soon **

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Koen

Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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