What's the Glacier Express Ski Safari Really Like?
Plenty of sunshine, skiing - and just as much Glühwein: What makes the Glacier Express Ski Safari so spectacular - and why it's not just for skiers, too!
A pre-Christmas trip to Switzerland is the perfect warm up to the festive season, as Marketing Manager Tara Rogers and her non-skiing companion, Sean, found out in December. Here, she shares her experience on this spectacular multi-resort Swiss ski holiday.
If a job’s worth doing...
"This is looking like the trip of a lifetime - I'm actually quite jealous!" said Andrea Selig, Switzerland Product Manager, as she handed me my perfectly planned itinerary. My documents were organised neatly in a handy, reusable travel pouch (the complimentary travel pack every Ski Safari customer receives in the post), along with boarding passes, train times, rail tickets, and hotel reservations. It was a stark (and rather embarrassing) comparison to the usual last-minute printing panic when I've self-packaged so often in the past.
Three resorts, five nights
The itinerary was two nights in Zurich (Switzerland’s largest city), two nights in Zermatt (one of the most snow-sure, early season ski resorts in Europe), followed by a day on the Glacier Express for a final night in St Moritz (the infamous winter hangout of the international jet set).
The City Stay
24 Hours in Zurich
The city is divided into 12 districts, all of which are easy to reach by tram. We stayed in the city's oldest, the Niederdorf. Be sure to pack a Phaidon Wallpaper City Guide if you're a first-timer to the city. The Zurich edition was a perfect accompaniment, and the map is excellent. Our copy was well-thumbed to explore some of the city’s oldest churches (like the Grossmünster) and to enjoy a leisurely walk along the banks of the Limmat River. For the best fondue head to Swiss Chuchi and order the Rudolf Koller Fondu mit Zigerkäse, made with a secret blend of Swiss herbs. Stay in the 4* Hotel Wellenberg to practically roll out of the restaurant and into your room - the hotel is just a few steps away.
Zurich’s train station, sign-posted ‘Hauptbahnhof’, becomes home to the city's largest Christmas Market during December. The best way to enjoy it is to arrive a little earlier than you need to for resort connections. Use the time to enjoy a cup - or two! - of steaming Glühwein (literally, ‘Glow Wine’), a fresh crepe or plate of moreish cheeses at one of the many fine artisan food stalls there.
Mountains: not just for skiing
My travelling companion, who also happens to be my husband, is a non-skier. We never anticipated we'd enjoy as much time on mountain together as we did. Winds that day meant no lifts were operating to the Matterhorn. Of course, wherever you are in this idyllic, car free resort, the Matterhorns' majestic, imposing presence is never far away. A non-skier day pass can be purchased for about £45, and Sunnega alone is packed with excellent walking routes.
We took the teeteringly steep (but thankfully modern) funicular, along with the gondola and cable car right to the top of Bothorn together. As my ski legs endured a rude awakening (my first runs of the season), Sean plotted up in the glorious sunshine and crisp alpine air at the Blue Lounge.
Like mumma used to make
In Zermatt, the family-run Stockhorn is a bustling, cosy restaurant on three floors, with raclette, stag and wild boar to order. For authentic, buzzy mountain dining, head to Grampi’s - huge portions and divine Aperol Spritz cocktails to start. On mountain, hit Blue Lounge and enjoy a Flammkutchen (similar to wood-fired pizza but a feather-light dough base).
Stay at... the Matterhorn Focus
At the base of the Strasse Cable-Car and Gondola, the Matterhorn Focus is pretty much as slope side as you can get in Zermatt. Reception is accessed through a compact tunnel carved into the rocks - just big enough to manoeuvre the hotel's electric car which picks you up from the train station station for no extra charge. Opt for a mountain-view room to wake up to see Mother Nature work her magic as the morning sun glow lights up the Matterhorn. If you ski hard - or even if you don't! - end your day in the hotel’s understated yet luxurious spa, open 4-10pm daily. Unwind in the sauna and steam room, where swimming costumes aren’t compulsory, plus an indoor pool, relaxation area and outdoor Jacuzzi pool.
Definitely the Slowest Express Train in the World
Zermatt to St Moritz on the Glacier Express
I've been called many a thing in my time, but never, ever, a train spotter. Yet, during the 8½ hour journey through the Swiss Alps on the Glacier Express (which Swiss Rail proudly boast as the 'slowest express train in the world'), I grew utterly and completely obsessed with this incredible feat of Swiss engineering.
We travelled the route in its entirety, but it's worth knowing that ski resorts of Andermatt, Laax and Davos are also either stops or a short connection too.
The Glacier Express is also known as one of the best train journeys in the world, and I couldn't recommend it more highly - even for the most casual of trainspotters! From 40% incline to Oberwald, where the landscape became far less inhabited, immersing the bright red carriages in a snowy wilderness, to the vertiginous mountain tops and green meadows where the story of Heidi comes from, the views are addictive and calming. And with no WiFi or data connection for most of the journey, attention spans weren't interrupted by mobiles or tablets.
The money shot is the approach to the Landwasser Viaduct; at 65 metres high and 142 metres long, it’s also Switzerland’s tallest. For the best chance of capturing it on camera, sit on the right when you depart from Tiefencastel.
Stay at... Nira Alpina Design Hotel.
If, like us, you plan just one night in St Moritz, I'd recommend saving time by staying slope side on the Corvatsch at the ski-in, ski-out Nira Alpina. Our spacious suite included a private heated veranda, walk-in wardrobe and beautifully finished bathroom. The aptly named Stars restaurant is the hotel’s fine dining option for dinner, and on the night we ate there, five stars weren't enough! Expect the most impeccable service; minimal and lovingly-crafted Swiss/Pan-Asian menus. We opted for succulent blackened salmon and crispy chilli squid. The Rooftop Bar's cocktail list is so good it will almost inevitably keep you up longer much than you planned.
Swiss Rail: It’s civilisation Jim, but not as we know it.
Travelling throughout Switzerland is easy - and great value. With a 4 day Swiss Pass you'll have unlimited use of trains and trams. There wasn’t a single moment on the three train journeys we took that was anything other than refined. Take, for example, the St Moritz to Zurich leg: Pinot Noir with Swiss cheeses seated at starched white linen-covered tables in the dining carriage. And from Zurich to Zermatt? A children’s carriage with on-board slides, soft play, colouring tables and bright murals to keep the children happy, and therefore, the parents sane. It seemed ironic that just days before our visit,my hometown received the crown of Britain’s worst train service.
Want to see more photos from Tara's Glacier Express Ski Safari? Check out the album on Facebook.
A five night Glacier Express Ski Safari starts from £1325pp, based on 2 adults travelling, including two nights in Zurich and Zermatt, one night in St Moritz as well as economy return flights, Swiss Rail transfers and first class Glacier Express. Request a quotation or call Andrea on 01273 224 062 for more information.