The combination of stunning scenery, stylish, spacious seating (we were, it has to be said, in First Class), a complex itinerary and three two-night stays in very different but remarkable hotels high in the mountains was more than enough to give us common purpose.
Some were clearly proper train buffs, rippling with excitement when stops included the chance to gaze upon some impressive feat of engineering, a powerful locomotive, a toothed rack rail; some sank into reflective mood with comparisons of adventures past.
There was always plenty to discuss at the dinner table – especially when each of the three key hotels involved a special journey in itself. The first was a modest ascent by funicular from Lake Brienz to the Grandhotel Giessbach, a hotel with fin de siècle elegance and rooms offering views on to a powerful waterfall. The second – the more modern Scandi-like Romantik Hotel at Muottas Muragl – was a much higher proposition with a more dramatic funicular ride, which crossed the snow line.
The final stay – at the Hotel Pilatus-Kulm – involved a journey on the steepest cog-wheel railway in the world to an altitude of almost 7,000ft. We arrived in snow and darkness, and woke to a crystal-clear sky and a sunrise casting its magnificence on to a panorama of peaks, high above the clouds below.
For those seeking them, activities along the way included nature and wildlife walks, and city explorations. Lucerne was a popular port of call on the one fully free day towards the end. I personally had a walk in the Pilatus mountains where I encountered magnificent horned Alpine ibexes.
So is Switzerland really home to the most spectacular train journeys in the world? It depends what sort of scenery you are looking for. I will never forget the tropical lushness of a trip on the Eastern & Oriental Express from Bangkok to Singapore, the stark beauty of a journey through Australia’s Red Center on the Indian Pacific, the dramatic rock formations of the Copper Canyon on Mexico’s Chepe Express. They are all wonderful. But as an overall experience of train travel in a single country, Switzerland really does come out on top.
Great Rail Journeys (01904 527180; greatrail.com) offers its nine-day Mountaintops of Switzerland tour on selected dates between June and October 2022 from £2,795 per person. Price includes eight nights’ four-star accommodation with breakfasts and dinners, travel on the Glacier and Bernina Express trains, First Class rail travel in Switzerland and to and from London by Eurostar and high-speed train. Maximum group size is 25 and there is a tour leader throughout
All travelers of 18 and above must show proof of being fully vaccinated, or proof of having recovered from Covid within the past year. Under 18s are exempt