Switz itinerary: Montreaux or Luzern?

We will be traveling from Switz to Italy in a few months (family of four, with two teenagers). I plan on purchasing the Swiss Pass for three, as my son qualifies for free travel with the family card. I have one question, and ask for advice on a couple points. Question: I'm not certain how to purchase the train tickets from Switz into Italy. since we have the Swiss Pass. Do I purchase a ticket from a border Italian station to our destination in Italy (Lake Como/Varenna)? As for advice: Right now we will be in Montreaux the first night (flying in to Geneva from London on a Sunday afternoon), then Zermatt for two nights (this was a definite must for our trip and I'm hopeful that the weather will cooperate). We are considering doing the Chocolate Train (or simply go that route using our pass and doing the tour on our own)on Monday, as well as going to the town of Gruyeres, as suggested by our friend from Switz. I am considering changing so that we would have the first two in Zermatt so that we could go to Luzern instead, as it seems to be the quintessential city in Switz. Alternatively, keep the itinerary as-is and take the Glacier Express, however not certain we have the time in our schedule to do the full trip, so instead break off at some point to continue to Varenna/Lake Como. Thank you for your comments/suggestions/ideas.
Our kids (17 & 15 years) are great travelers, and actually do enjoy the history of places we travel, so any ideas you may have for education along the way also appreciated.

Posted by Marcus
Kansas City, United States
206 posts

With regard to buying tickets in Switzerland. Any station will be able to sell you tickets to any international destination in Europe, including any required reservation or IC/EC surcharges for trains in Italy.

Posted by Marcus
Kansas City, United States
206 posts

The way that international tickets work in Switzerland is you just buy a ticket from the border town to your final destination. The swiss pass will cover you to the border. You can purchase at any staffed train station in Switzerland. Honestly, I prefer Luzern much more than Zermatt, but its truly a matter of preference. I would definitely go to Luzern and explore its environs. Quintessential things to do in Luzern are to go on a steamer on the lake (check at the station to see which runs are done by an actual steamer vs a diesel ship). Going up to the Rigi or Pilatus are also unforgettable (I prefer the Rigi). If you do one or both of those, message me and I can give you details. The route of the Glacier Express as well as the Bernina are truly spectacular, but I'd advise taking the local RE trains vs the actual boutique train (same goes for the GOlden Pass and Chocolate train). The Bernina would be an excellent way to go down to Lago di Como - essentially what i'd recommend you do. If you want more info on my thoughts, look for some of my other posts or message me. I'd be more than happy to help you out.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

So you have four nights total in Switzerland? And the question is, two nights Montreus and two nights Zermatt, versus two nights Zermatt and two nights Luzern? For starters, I would forget about the Glacier Express. It is a long train ride and not on your path. I value time on the ground on Switzerland over train time any day. Some will suggest the Berner Oberland instead of either Montreus or Luzern, or Zermatt for that matter. I am not going to weigh in on that as I like all of these areas, although Montreux would be at the bottom of the list. I do think Zermatt and Luzern make a fine combination of lake and mountains, and there is a lot of Swiss history to be found in Luzern, as well as nice excursions that combine lake steamer, cogwheel train, and thrilliong cablecar ride. Zermatt offers spectacular views from the Gornergrat, as well as great hiking and mountain biking. It is 5 to 6 hours by train to Varenna from either Zermatt, Luzern, or Lauterbrunnen, but you should check the connections on SBB to see what the possibilities are. (Use Varenna-Exino for Varenna). As for getting there with a Swiss pass, you can buy your tickets as far as Milan at any train station in Switzerland, and they will take the pass discount on the Swiss portion of the journey into account. You can also buy the tickets in advance on SBB and choose an option that will take the pass into account. I do not know if SBB can sell you the Milan to Varenna regional train, but if not that is easy to buy at a machine in Milan. Make sure you validate that ticket as it is a regional train.

Posted by Ken
Yakima, WA, 98908
73 posts

I agree with Lola on the Glacier Express. A long train ride that is scenic but I would rather spend my time exploring. We have also done the chocolate train, but we had 17 days in Switzerland and the Chocolate Train is an all day affair. We enjoyed it but if we onlty had four days I think I would just take the regional train to Gruyeres. Nice quaint town. The tours of the cheses factory and the chocolate factory were interesting, but again I don't think that is how I would want to spend one of my four days. Lucern was really nice but it rainied for the two days we were there which limited what we could do and see. We had Chamber of Commerce weather days in Zermatt. I hope you are as fortunate with the weather as we were. Absolutely spectacular scenery.