Hello! Traveling to Florence this summer and would like to go from there to a town in northern Italy - not sure which one, maybe Como or in that area, and then on to Switzerland. We will fly out of Zurich and I would like the kids to see the Alps. I was looking at Eurail and it seems many of the trains connecting northern Italy are at night - we would miss the point of the train trip. Any ideas of 1) a good town in northern Italy where were could 2) catch a day time train and enjoy a scenic (but not too slow) ride to Zurich? Thanks!
Marie, there is a direct train from Milan to Zurich,mthrough the alps, that takes 3 hours 41 minutes. It goes several times a day, and there are more frequent trips with a change someplace on the way. Do not use Eurail or RailEurope to see train schedules. Use a national site like the Swiss one, www.rail.ch or the German one www.bahn.de. They show all routes in Europe. I like the Swiss one better.
If you have a little more time you could do some of the famous scenic lines of Switzerland, including the famous Bernina Express. Rick Steves has information on those. http://www.ricksteves.com/plan/destinations/switz/swissrailjourn.htm If you don't have the time (those lines aren't the most direct from Italy to Zurich) then you can take any of the numerous trains that travel from Milan or Como to Zurich. Less than 4 hours from Milan and you're in Zurich.
The direct route Roberto and Sasha describe goes via the town of Como on Lago di Como. It also stops in Lugano in Ticino (Italian-speaking Switzerland). Either one would be a good choice to start your journey back to Zurich. You could also stay at other points on Lago di Como, like Varenna, Mennaggio, etc. and take a ferry to Como to catch the train, but that migh tmake for a long day. Depending on the time of your flight, you might consider spending the night in Luzern, a charming touwn an hour from the airpport, rather than Zurich. Luzern is on a lake surrounded by mountains, and is very scenic. If yo ugot there by early afternoon you could enjoy an excursion on the lake and maybe up one of the mountains, like Rigi or Pilatus. You may be able to get deeply discounted tickets on the route Milan (or Como) to zurich (or Arth-glodau is you are going to Luzern). Purchase about 2 months in advance on Trenitialia and look for "Smart" fares. Or if you will be in Switzerland earlier in th etrip (flying in to zurich?) you can purchase them on the Swiss rail site, SBB.ch (or Rail.ch for English).
My husband and I took the Bernina Exzpres from Lugano and ended in Zurich, three years ago. It was beautiful and breathtaking in June. We started on a bus from Lugano that took us all around Lake Maggiore. That is a gorgeous lake. The bus took us through different towns, all along the lake. We eventually boarded a train and went through the Alps. We changed trains and got to Zurich at the end of the day. We would love to do it again.
There are seven trains a day from Como to Zurich and six from Milan to Zurich. The Bernina Express, quoted by Roberto, runs one of the most spectacular routes in the Alps, even part of the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Bernina Express starts in Italy from Tirano. From Milan to Tirano there are local trains every two hours, the same situation from Como to Tirano.
Marie, In reading your post, it wasn't clear whether you wanted to spend a day or two in a "town in northern Italy" prior to taking the scenic route to Zürich? One route you might consider..... > Train from Florence to Varenna, via Milano Centrale > Spend a day or two in Varenna, with day trips to Bellagio or other points on the lake. > Train north to Tirano to meet the Bernina Express, which as I recall departs at 14:04. Arrive in Chur at 18:27. Either stay one night in Chur or continue to Zürich (travel time ~1H:15M, I believe there's a departure at 19:09, arriving 20:23). As you want to see "the Alps", the Bernina Express would be a good choice. I'm sure the kids will enjoy watching the circular track just out of Tirano. The scenery is incredible (not surprised that it's a UNESCO World Heritage site). Happy travels!
Thank you so much to everyone who posted. I think it's great to get advice from fellow travelers and the advice I have gotten on the Steves' helpline is top drawer. And has probably saved us a fortune over the trips we have made. So thanks again!