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DISCOVER SWITZERLAND

Travel: What are the best night train routes to and from Switzerland?

Night trains are back in favour in Europe but where can you get to overnight if you live in Switzerland? Here's a run through of your best options if you're looking for an adventure.

If you are thinking of getting away, why not try a night train from Switzerland? Photo by Chris Henry on Unsplash
If you are thinking of getting away, why not try a night train from Switzerland? Photo by Chris Henry on Unsplash

Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) now hosts 11 overnight routes, including a new destination in a new direction – Amsterdam. 

The daily Nightjet service from Zurich to Amsterdam via Basel has been up and running since December. The journey takes 11 hours and 15 minutes, leaving Zurich at 10pm and arriving in Amsterdam at 9.15am with no changes. 

On the way back, the train leaves Amsterdam at 8.30pm and arrives in Basel SBB at 6.30am, travelling on to arrive in Zurich at the slightly more civilised hour of 8.05am. 

Meanwhile, the much-anticipated new routes to Barcelona and Rome won’t be operational until 2024 at the earliest. The Barcelona route from Zurich will go via Bern, Lausanne and Geneva. 

The SBB night train destinations are offered in collaboration with the Austrian rail company ÖBB and other partner companies. Hamburg, Berlin, Hannover, Vienna, Graz, Prague, Budapest, Ljubljana and Zagreb have been on the timetable for a few years. Most of these journeys take 10 to 12 hours. 

Sleeping options

Sonya Schwaller from Fribourg recently travelled on the Zurich to Vienna night train, sleeping in a six-person compartment. She and her husband were on their way to take part in a triathlon in Bratislava. They joined the train just over the Swiss-Austrian border in Feldkirch so that they could load their car on board too.  

The Schwallers took the cheaper ‘couchette’ (Liegewagen) option, which has four or six bunks and shared toilets outside in the carriage. It was their third trip by night train so they knew what to expect. 

This map is from SBB . You can see it in ore details here: https://www.sbb.ch/en/leisure-holidays/trains-trips/night-train.html

“The pillows weren’t great but we got a good blanket. Each bunk has a light so you can still read when others are asleep. It’s very quiet – nobody moving around. I slept well and I enjoyed it. They brought us coffee, bread rolls and jam in the morning.”

There is also a ‘ladies-only compartment’ in the couchette class for women travelling alone, which you have to select when booking. The most comfortable way to travel is the ‘sleeper cabin’ (Schlafwagen). There are standard and deluxe options available in this category with single, double and triple-bed compartments. 

Standard sleeper compartments come with a small handbasin, while the deluxe compartments have their own shower and toilet and towels. The budget option would be to travel in reclining seats in the ‘seating carriage’ (Sitzwagen).  

Booking

Regular prices range from CHF 116 one way to Prague and CHF219 to Amsterdam for a bunk in a three-person sleeper compartment. Considerably cheaper tickets (Sparbillet / Billet dégriffé / Supersaver) can be found when booking well in advance. 

Not all international connections can be booked through the SBB app or the Webshop. The same applies to finding the best prices.

For the moment, SBB recommends that clients purchase international tickets at staffed travel centres or by phone (SBB Contact Center 0848 44 66 88 (CHF 0.08/Min). It’s possible to book an appointment in advance online. For more info on booking international tickets, see the SBB FAQ

Some of the most popular routes like Zurich-Vienna and Zurich-Berlin are in demand in the busiest travel months of May to September. Early booking is recommended. 

A turnaround

The next plan, in cooperation with ÖBB, Deutsche Bahn and the Czech Railways, is for SBB to run the Zurich night train to Prague through Germany, taking in the destinations Leipzig and Dresden. This should be ready to roll by December 2022. 

European railway companies see great potential in night trains and have their eye on expansion. “We are currently noticing a renaissance and strongly growing demand,” an SBB spokesman told The Local. 

It’s quite a turnaround. “A few years ago, night trains were deemed to be an obsolete model. We are convinced that the demand will increase more and that night trains will also be successful in the long term in the context of sustainable travel,” he said.

A look inside the SBB sleeping cabin on a night train. Image: SBB

A look inside the SBB sleeping cabin on a night train. Image: SBB

Climate bonus

The climate benefit has become a major selling point of train travel – and night trains are even more environmentally friendly because they travel at slower speeds. On the SBB website and app, the Ecocalculator at the end of the itinerary allows you to see the CO2 savings for your trip. 

A train journey can use at least 30 times less CO2 than plane travel over the same distance, and 20 times less than car travel. 

There are other advantages over road travel, such as avoiding traffic jams and being able to lie down and close your eyes. There is no trouble with carrying liquids or other banned items. And there is no waiting time or airport transfer when you travel from city centre to city centre. 

Long-distance train travel can be family friendly with children of the right age and temperament. It is possible to book out a four-person or six-person compartment for a group travelling together. 

Sleeping in a moving vehicle may not be everyone’s idea of fun but there are ways to make it work. Comfortable clothes are a must, and potentially ear plugs or an eye mask if you’re a light sleeper.

It’s best to travel light and to have the essential things easily accessible at the top of your bag. And don’t forget to pack some tolerance for your travelling companions. 

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DISCOVER SWITZERLAND

Five beautiful Swiss villages located near Alpine lakes

During torrid summer days, why not come and cool off in one of these five alpine lakes? Set against a unique mountain backdrop, they are ideal for a trip out of the city no matter where you are in Switzerland.

Five beautiful Swiss villages located near Alpine lakes

There will be no shortage of picnic areas, nooks and crannies for barbecuing with friends and hiking trails in the vicinity for discovering these idyllic areas.

The following map shows the five lakes’ locations across Switzerland. 

The lakes are close to five villages which are members of the association “Les plus beaux Villages de Suisse” (The most beautiful Villages in Switzerland), which aims to protect and promote villages that have a distinct architectural, landscape and historical beauty.

1. Lai da Palpuogna: Bergün (Gr)

Bergün is a charming village in Canton Graubünden set like a gem in Switzerland’s largest nature park, Parc Ela.

Its unique location between the Engadin and the Albula Pass has shaped the history, culture and architecture of the village.

Bergün. Picture: Christian Guerra/Swiss Villages

Bergün. Picture: Christian Guerra/Swiss Villages

Testimony to this are the typical Engadin houses decorated with the ‘sgraffito’ technique, the Kurhaus hotel that takes us back in time to the Belle Epoque and its Romanesque church, which houses an astonishing frescoed wooden ceiling.

And it is precisely on the Albula pass that we find the idyllic Lai da Palpuogna with its crystal-clear waters and a larch forest reflected in its changing colours. In a well-known Swiss television programme, this lake was voted the most beautiful place in Switzerland. 

Lai Palpuogna  Picture: Christian Guerra/Swiss Villages

Lai Palpuogna. Picture: Christian Guerra/Swiss Villages

Starting point: Preda (train station) : 1 Km / 120 m difference in altitude / 20 minutes walk

2. Lag da Breil: Breil Brigels (Gr)

In the Surselva region, in the heart of the canton of Graubünden, we drive up the main road to Breil/Brigels.

This beautiful alpine village is a jigsaw puzzle of sumptuous wooden chalets and little churches, one more beautiful than the other, such as the church of St. Sievi, which stands in a panoramic position and is visible from everywhere.

Breil Brigels. Picture: Christian Guerra/Swiss Villages

Breil Brigels. Picture: Christian Guerra/Swiss Villages

Here we are at the gateway to the Val Frisal, a fascinating side valley ideal for summer hiking.

Just a stone’s throw from the village centre, we find the Lag da Breil, a turquoise-coloured freshwater lake that invites tourists to relax on its shores.

There is a large car park, a mini-golf course, ski lifts and a playground right next to the lake… in short, all kinds of activities for everyone!

Lag da Breil  Picture: Christian Guerra/Swiss Villages

Lag da Breil. Picture: Christian Guerra/Swiss Villages

Starting point: Breil/Brigels (Church) : 900 M / 33 m difference in altitude / 10 minutes walk

3. Lago Saoseo: Poschiavo (Gr)

Poschiavo is a little Rome of the Alps, with its bell towers and opulent towers and an array of museums and state-of-the-art cultural spaces.

Poschiavo Picture: Christian Guerra/Swiss Villages

Poschiavo. Picture: Christian Guerra/Swiss Villages

This small town in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland has always been a key crossroads between Switzerland and Italy, and even today, the famous little red Bernina train links the two nations, travelling through glaciers, forests and wild mountains.

From the locality of Sfarzù, just a few minutes from Poschiavo, it is possible to walk or take the post bus up to Lake Saoseo. This Alpine lake is a concentration of unique beauty and is set like a jewel in a dense larch forest.

From here, with a little more effort, you can also reach the Lagh da Val Viola, a little larger in size but equally magnificent.

Lago Saoseo  Picture: Christian Guerra/Swiss Villages

Lago Saoseo. Picture: Christian Guerra/Swiss Villages

Starting point: Sfarzù (bus stop) : 5.5 km / 420 m difference in altitude / 1h30 minutes walk

4. Rotelschsee: Simplon Dorf (Vs)

The Simplon Pass has always been a key commercial junction for trade between northern and southern Europe, connecting Brig in Switzerland with Domodossola in Italy.

First Baron Stockalper, and then Napoleon Bonaparte, were able to create a road linking the two cities, and halfway along, the village of Simplon Dorf benefited. This ancient Italian-looking village contains an amazing square crowned by iconic buildings such as its museum.

Simplon Dorf Picture: Christian Guerra/Swiss Villages

Simplon Dorf. Picture: Christian Guerra/Swiss Villages

And it is precisely at the highest point of the Simplon Pass, at an altitude of around 2000m, that some very picturesque natural lakes have been created.

These include the Rotelschee lake, located just a few minutes behind the hospice, and the Hopschusee lake near the alpine pasture of the same name. 

Rotelschsee Picture: Christian Guerra/Swiss Villages

Rotelschsee. Picture: Christian Guerra/Swiss Villages

Starting point: Simplon Pass (Hospiz) : 700 m / 50 m difference in altitude / 10 minutes walk

5. Gänglesee: Triesenberg

The Principality of Liechtenstein shares not only language and currency with Switzerland, but also many traditions and peculiarities.

For example, the village of Triesenberg boasts a Walser past and even today, a different dialect is spoken here than in all the municipalities of the small country.

Triesenberg Picture: Christian Guerra/Swiss Villages

Triesenberg Picture: Christian Guerra/Swiss Villages

Since 2019, this village has been included in the Swiss network of ‘The most beautiful Villages in Switzerland. 

Gänglesee Picture: Christian Guerra/Swiss Villages

Gänglesee Picture: Christian Guerra/Swiss Villages

All these excursions, and many more feature in the Les plus beaux Villages de Suisse free to download app available in English for iOS and Android. 

To reach these magnificent freshwater lakes and much more, why not check out from ‘The most beautiful Villages in Switzerland‘?

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