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1st visit to Switzerland then onto Florence

we (in our 60's) are flying into Zurich from Australia next April, thought of staying a couple of nights mainly to recoup from the flight and just to have a look around. I have done a bit of research and we would like to do a train trip through the mountains. looks like we need to get to Chur to do a Glacier Express trip to Lugano. Has anyone done this. Any help would be wonderful.

Posted by
12544 posts

Hi there. The Glacier Express actually runs east-west, from St. Moritz to Zermatt. It does not go to Lugano, and will not get you into Italy. A better choice would be the highly scenic Bernina Express route, which runs south from Chur to St. Moritz, Pontresina, and then into Italy at Tirano. From Tirano you take a train to Milan (2.5 hours) and from there Trenitalia will take you to Florence. Some friends of ours did this route returning to Switzerland after visiting us in Venice, and absolutely loved it.

An alternate (and faster) route would be to take the direct Zurich to Milan train (which does go via Lugano), taking 3 hours 41 minutes. This train goes through the Gotthard tunnel but you do catch some views of peaks and glaciers in between tunnels.

I suggest the Bernina Express route as you have time, and it is the one train route that goes over, not under the Alps. Spend the night in Pontresina or i a hut at the top of one of the nearby lifts. You could spend the first night in Luzern, a lovely lakeside city just over one hour from the Zurich airport. Then travel from Luzern via Chur to Pontresina for the second night. Then stop for a night in Varenna on Lake Como, between Tirano and Milan. This would make the travel day to Florence very easy as Varenna is only an hour from Milan.

I say the Bernina Expresss "route" as this route is served by a named scenic train, the actual Bernina Express, but also by frequent regional trains which may suit your schedule better. Or if you prefer the panoramic cars, take the actual Bernina Express.

Posted by
32 posts

many thanks Lola, sounds amazing-i suppose we are looking at a train trip like they have in Canada which i have not been on yet, a trip where you can get on and be pampered an view the spectacular sights. the idea of getting on and off trains with our luggage,which i have done in italy before can be a bit tiring. i was hoping not to go back to Milan to get to Florence so whether i can get to Florence from Lugano is a question. must check the local Italian trains.
Do you have any advice on what to see in Zurich for the 2 days we plan to be there. i have read many blogs and some say just get on a train to the next town, but as Australia is so different to Switzerland i think we would enjoy just walking around Zurich. any information would be appreciated, we want to get the most out of our trip and it all helps.

Posted by
12544 posts

There really isn't a train route to Florence from Lugano without going through Milan. Indeed, all three train route between Switzerland and Italy ( the Simplon tunnel route from Brig, the Gotthard route! and the Bernina route) end in Milan before going on to the rest of Italy. If you want to avoid Milan! you would have to travel eastward from Zurich into Austria. The train line from Innsbruck drops down to Florence via Bolzano! Verona, and bologna.

You can see the Swiss rail network if you Google "Swiss synoptic map".

Maybe the Wilhelm Tell express would work for you. This is a scenic trip involving a lake cruise from Luzern, followed by a train ride to Lugano.

http://www.swisstravelsystem.com/en/wilhelm-tell-express.html

We generally spend one night in Zurich after our overseas flight from the US west coast. We walk around the old town! have dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant with a nice patio! and then head for bed. In the morning my husband likes to take a quick swim in the river before we catch the train to our destination. That is about it for Zurich. There is a lovely Chagall stained glass window in one of the churches, but we have never made it there during open hours.

With two nights, I honestly would prefer to spend them in Luzern, a smaller city with more charm. On the intervening day, I would take the excursion by boat! cogwheel train! and cablecar up either Mt. Pilatus or Mt. Rigi ( we choose Rigi with gorgeous views over the lake from peaceful walking paths).

Posted by
32 posts

thanks Lola, now i am armed with lots of information and hopefully can give back some information when we have done our trip. Do you have a recommendation for a hotel if we are to catch a train the next day?

Posted by
12544 posts

Zurich has a lot of very nice, and VERY expensive hotels, which are beyond our reach. Of the moderately-priced hotels where we have stayed ( all within walking distance of the train station), our favorite by far is the Adler, a charming 3-star, very "Swiss" hotel in the Altstadt (Oldtown).

http://www.hotel-adler.ch/index.php/en/

Their rooms for two are under 300 CHF, not bad for this very expensive city. It is in the pedestrian zone just back from the river, within easy strolling distance from the lake. It has an in-house restaurant which serves Swiss specialties, particularly fondue and raclette, but we find these cheesy dishes too heavy for summer. We like the Mediterranean food at Mère Catherine, which is also in the Altstadt. I reserve a table on the patio, but April will likely be too cold for that.

Posted by
32 posts

Many thanks Lola for all your information it has been a big help

Posted by
16877 posts

You're on the right track with the advice above.

Posted by
696 posts

I can't add to the fine advice you received; but, I would add one note of caution. That is to be aware that the weather is a variable that can affect the best of plans based on maximizing the view of the Swiss countryside/Alps. We traveled from Montreux to Munich (with a stop-over in Luzern) hoping to have a once-in-a-lifetime visual experience of the Alps. It was a fine train trip, but it was overcast with low cloud cover. We did see some snow-capped peaks when we were Luzern but not on the train.