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Chamonix tour end. How to get to and take Glacier Express, then fly to US from Zurich?

We will finish an Alps My way tour in Sept 2022 in Chamonix. Should we stay one extra night? If we want to take at least part of the Glacier Express what is best way to get to it and where to board? We would get off perhaps in Chur, maybe stay one night and then train to Zurich to fly back thru JFK. Does this make any sense? Other suggestions are welcome. Thanks.
Dennis

Posted by
16929 posts

For starters, what drew you to pick the Glacier Express? In the past, Rick’s travel article on Switzerland mentioned several of the Swiss so-called scenic train routes, and I believe he singled out the portion between Brig and Disentis as the best. Now the article on scenic train routes mentions only one in Switzerland, the Golden Pass route. And if you look around on other travel websites, you will see other sections mentioned as “most scenic” of the Glacier Express, most often between Zermatt and Brig, and St. Moritz to Chur. I would agree with those two.

The Glacier Express is a long journey, with some highlights to be sure, but to my mind not as good as seeing the Alps with your feet on the ground. We have stood on the platform at Betten, a tiny stop juwari east of Brig, waiting for the regional train when the Glacier Express passed by. This is about halfway into the journey if doing the whole thing. The train is on cogs at this point and going very slowly, so we could see people in the windows. Most looked a bit bored, and some were asleep. . . .

If you really want to do the Glacier Express, I can tell you what time you would have to depart Chamonix to catch it at Brig, and how long you would be on the train to reach Brig. But before I do that, I will make other suggestions. Here is a map of the Swiss tail system so you can follow:

https://www.sbb.ch/content/dam/infrastruktur/trafimage/karten/karte-sts-pass-gueltigkeit.pdf.sbbdownload.pdf

Chamonix Mont Blanc is in the shaded blue section at lower left, a bit hard to see. THe rail line crosses into Switzerland at Chatelard-La Frontiere, where the track line becomes red and is easy to see.

Starting at Chamonix, you head across the border to Martigny, on the main east-west train line. Here you have the choice of going west to Lac Leman (Lake Geneva), and the towns and sights there. You could head to Montreux and pick up the Golden Pass line there, and head to Spiez near the Berner Oberland. But you’ve already been there on the tour, and this path would take you the “wrong” direction on the Golden Pass (it is best heading down into Montreux.

Instead, I suggest you head east from Martigny. You could go as far as Visp and change there to a regional train heading to Zermatt and spend the night there. Or if you want to experience the actual Glacier Express, you could head past Visp to Brig, where you can board a GE train if you time it right, and have reservations. This will take you back to Zermatt.

From Zermatt there is a fast direct train to Zurich, taking 4.5 hours if I remember correctly, but it uses a deep tunnel under the Alps so no views there. Instead you can ride a regional train from Zermatt to Brig, and another regional train on the old (and scenic) route past Kandersteg to reach Zurich. You will still go through a tunnel on this route, but it is much shorter than the long and deep Basistunnel out of Visp. If you have the time, Kandersteg is worth an overnight stop so you can see beautiful Oeschinensee (an alpine lake). You can even spend the night at the mountain inn on the shore of the lake—-riding a cablecar to reach it.

Www.Oeschinensee.ch

Another option from Martigny would be to take the train to Brig and continue east a few stops to Betten or Morel. Each of these stops has a cablecar up to a small car-free village high above—-Bettmeralp or Riederalp. Overnight there, and return by cablecar to the train line and Brig to get to Zurich. We include Bettmeralp for 3 to 4 nights every time we visit Switzerland. You can ride a cablecar to the top of the Bettmerhorn for great views of the huge Aletschgletscher (glacier). Or hike to the settlement of Fiescheralp to ride up the Eggishorn, with a view up the glacier due north to the Jungfraujoch. (Actually you can leave the train at Fiesch and ride a cablecar to Fiescheralp (aka Kuhboden or “cow land”) but I don’t know anything about the lodging there).

Posted by
33337 posts

Good advice, as always, from Lola.

I would like to address something else from your question, Dianne.

It sounds like you want to have an alpine train ride, starting from far west Switzerland, and stay a night on that route. Then the next day it sounds like you will go from that overnight to Zurich and on to the airport to fly home. Is that right, that you intend to travel from Chur or wherever you decide for the overnight, back to the airport and fly home same day? What time would your flight be?

Posted by
5 posts

Thank you both for input. The flight to JFK from Zurich currently leaves at 1:40pm. Most US connecting flights leave 6-7 am from Zurich or from Geneva or Lyon. One option is Milan which leaves at 10 am. We would like to take a scenic train ride on the way out, but staying overnight is not a priority in the Alps as we have done that and will again on this trip. Just trying to see if anything works smoothly. We will be at end of our journey and want to keep it simple. Regional trains are an option too if not too many transfers. We are in our 70's so not keen on manhandling luggage more than necessary.

Posted by
5 posts

One question again for your opinions. Leaving from Chamonix is it reasonable to take a train to Martigny then either the express or another to Andermatt. Change there for Zurich. Would that be an option for some scenery as well as get us to Zurich efficiently? Thank you.

Posted by
5 posts

Sorry, one more question. What is opinion of changing at Brig and traveling to Milan for US departure? Thanks.

Posted by
16929 posts

OK, I did not realize younwere looking for the fewest train transfers, and preferably no onvernight stop on the way.

To answer your two questions, yes, you could take the train to Martigny (a scenic ride in itself), change there for Brig, and then ride as far as Andermatt, changing there for a train to Zurich. The Glacier Express does itself stop in Andermatt, according to the schedule I see online, so you could ride that if you want. The current schedule has the GE stopping in Brig eastbound at 10:18 and 11:18 ( this train starts running later in the summer), so you could make that with an early departure from Chamonix. From Andermatt you would ride a regional train to Zurich, as the faster IC trains use a tunnel that bypasses Andermatt. This would be a nice scenic trip.

As for MIlan, there are direct trains from Brig to MIlan ( and also ones that require a change in Domodossola, which you do not want). You will see this line as far as Domodossola on the map. Between Brig and Domodossola the trains use the Simpson tunnel, so no scenery there. (The tunnel is shown on the map as a dashed line.) The one advantage of this route is you can find cheap tickets on the cross- border Intercity trains if you purchase well in advance. Also it would eliminate one train change, as compared to the Brig-Andermatt---Zurich route.

But for scenery, the Andermatt route wins hands down. Also, between overnighting in Zurich versus MIlan the night before your flight, I would much prefer Zurich. It has a nice compact downtown for walking in the evening, and it is but a 12-minute train ride to the airport for your flight the next day. You can even stay right in the airport (at the Radisson Blu) if you want to minimize schlepping luggage. You could easily ride the train back into Zurich for dinner and a walk after depositing your bags at the hotel. In the morning you just head down on the elevator. to the checkin area. We did this once ( traveling with teens) and it was very convenient and easy.

The MIlan airport, assuming you use Malpensa, is not as close to the city and not as convenient by train. There is at least one nice hotel near the station ( Hotel Berna), but as far as I know it is not within walking distance from the main sights such as the Duomo, etc. you could use the subway, however.

Keep in mind that the airline schedules may well change by next September, so anything you book this year is not guaranteed to be what you will actually get.

Posted by
20474 posts

There is no problem getting to Zurich from Chur after the Glacier Express. The last GE arrives at Chur at 3:22 pm and the there is a direct train to Zurich at 4:08 pm that will get you there by 5:22 pm. Personally, I think the most scenic section of the GE is from Andermatt to Chur as you go over the Oberalp Pass.

If you change trains at Andermatt, you won't get to Zurich any earlier, although the route from Andermatt to Zurich is scenic.

Posted by
5 posts

Thank you all very much. This is of great help! Safe travels to all of you. We have been to Europe over 20 times, usually with RS and unfortunately are aging and not sure how many more adventures we will see. We wish we could travel to Europe forever.
Take care all.

Posted by
31 posts

A big part of the Glacier Express is the experience. I've ridden scenic railways all over and would highly recommend the Glacier Express. The service on board is exceptional.