TRAVEL: Train ride through fairy tale Switzerland
APART from breath-sapping scenery around every picturesque corner and up every majestic mountain, Switzerland is efficient, friendly and above all, safe.
And almost everyone speaks English.
It’s a senior’s dream travel destination, and the easiest and most effortless way to see it all is by train.
Trains depart on time (to the minute) and glide you smoothly to your destination through scenery so outrageously gorgeous it leaves you gasping with awe and disbelief.
One of many dazzling panoramic trips in Switzerland is the Wilhelm Tell Express experience, part paddle-steamer through magnificent Lake Lucerne, part train ride through sweeping mountain ranges.
It begins in Lucerne, a beautiful cosmopolitan city on the lake you will want to linger in before your Wilhelm Tell Express experience, even if it is just for a few days to explore and enjoy a night of unforgettable entertainment in the architecturally wondrous KKL Theatre on the edge of the lake
Able to hold 1898 people in rows, tiers and balconies that ascend so high you feel dizzy, the KKL is one of the finest theatres in the world with perfect acoustics for a performance by the 21st Century Grand Symphony Orchestra in is home base.
Founded by conductor Ludwig Wicki in 1999, the orchestra performs live concerts featuring soundtracks written by notable composers for major motion pictures. On our visit in April, it was The Gladiator Live concert.
The 100 plus men and women of the orchestra and 90 chorus members, performed below a gigantic screen showing Russell Crowe fighting ferocious tigers and fearsome gladiators.
As the conductor’s baton sliced the air with a virtuoso performance, the orchestra followed his every move with their cellos, violins, flutes, trumpets, tubas, clarinets, trombones and massive golden cymbals, all in tune with the drama of the movie above them.
The battle scenes, the gladiator fights, the poignant and death scenes were all brought intensely to life with the orchestra rising dramatically and falling to almost-stillness, and then rising again to soaring crescendos that lasted for the length of the movie.
Then there was the next morning in Lucerne, a brisk walk around the cobbled streets, posing for selfies by its landmark Chapel Bridge and Water Tower, before setting off on the Wilhelm Express.
Boarding the regal paddle steamer gives you a tingle of anticipation, and when it slowly sails from the shore and you gaze back to the snow-topped peak of Mt. Pilatus soaring to the blue sky, well, you know you are in one of the most scenic destinations on the planet.
A glamorous lunch is served on board in an elegant dining room. Traditional dishes are matched with local wines while you sit back and glide past lofty mountain landscapes, picture-perfect villages and charming lakeside towns.
You’ll pinch yourself. Are you really there on this blue and lovely Lake Lucerne? Surrounded by cloud-shrouded mountains? With the sun glinting on the placid water creating millions of dancing diamonds? It’s beauty overload. The senses struggle to take it all in.
There is not a moment where you are not encircled by Switzerland’s embracing beauty, when you are not gazing at something picture postcard perfect.
The boat stops briefly at chocolate-box villages - Hertenstein, Weggis, Vitznau, Beckenried - the names go on and probably won’t mean anything to you but at each brief stop, you will be filled with envy for those who live there and have this beauty year round.
Finally at the town of Fluelen, it is time to disembark, no doubt with 50 or more photos in your camera, and walk a few steps to the station for the next part of the scenic journey, your high speed train through to Locarno or Lugano near the Italian border.
Yet more regal mountains to look up to, more serene lakes to comprehend, more impossibly beautiful landscapes to gape at, this time from the comfort of a large seat in one of the panorama carriages where the windows loop around and above you and bring all that Swiss splendour right to your seat.
Because you have travelled from the middle of Switzerland down to the balmy Italian border, the scenery changes: snow-capped peaks give way to swaying palms as you cross spectacularly tall bridges, pass cascading waterfalls, and zoom through mountain tunnels.
The Wilhelm Tell Express is an astounding and unique travel experience, named after the Swiss hero, Wilhelm Tell who, according to legend, symbolised the struggle against oppressive rule.
And the best part? You enjoy all this natural beauty in absolute comfort and arrive at yet another of Europe’s lovely destinations for on-going adventure.
The writer travelled courtesy of Switzerland Tourism and Rail Europe.
Full details of the Wilhelm Express experience are on www.myswitzerland.com.
The most economical way to travel by train is with a Swiss Travel Pass - wwwmyswitzerland.com/rail.
The 21st Century Symphony Orchestra plays mostly in Lucerne, but does sometimes take the grand show on the road. Full details at www.kkl-luzern.ch