Zig-zagging the Alps by train
I love living in a part of the world where, to get from one
part of the country to another, I can pass through a mountain, into another country
and over another mountain to get to my destination. That country is Switzerland
and I travelled from Montreux in the French part to Locarno in the Italian-speaking canton Ticino as part of my On Track for Summer project.
On paper, the journey looked complicated with multiple changes. In reality this meant a much more exciting experience. On the first leg of the journey from Montreux to Brig, I pretty much spent the entire time taking photos - it's incredibly picturesque.
Getting off the train in Brig, the air was noticeably warmer – we were clearly heading south. A quick change onto another, much more modern train, meant we could lounge in the dining car. So we had a drink as we sped through a long tunnel and into Italy.
Disembarking in Domodossola was a markedly more Mediterranean experience with a blast of hot air hitting us. The atmosphere was laid back and we sauntered to our next platform where a scenic train with the catching name FART was waiting to take us over the next mountain range, back into Swiss territory.
The change in temperature, train signs and culture along the way really made the journey. Variety is the spice of life and this trip certainly had that. The scenic railway has great views, with waterfalls, dense alpine forest, ravines and rivers giving way to gorgeous little villages. The regularity of palm trees slowly charted our progress south.
As we FART’ed along (sorry, couldn’t resist…), I had to dispute its claim to be a fast train. I didn’t mind however – the slow pace gave us more time to soak in the atmosphere and the views.
Locarno is a great city for walking around with a quaint old town, a large central square and very little traffic. A considerable area is pedestrianized with cobbled streets and cosy restaurants, shops and cafés set along the cool arcades in the Lombard style. You also get the ever-present high street shops which in Switzerland means Manor, Globus and the like.
If you fancy a bit of boating action you have two choices – a long trip exploring the lake (over two hours) or the shorter version crossing and coming back (just under one hour). We didn’t do the boat ourselves, but it looked good from a distance.
On a hot day, the obvious thing to do is café hopping. A local custom quickly became obvious. Every time we ordered a drink, we were given a couple of slivers of pizza to go with it. Our stomachs were happy, my hips less so – but it was too tempting to resist!
After roasting by the lake in the late afternoon, a water fountain in Piazza Giovanni Pedrazzini was a perfect place to spend a while being sprinkled by the subtle spray of water blown around by the light breeze. Set in the middle of the square surrounded by grand buildings and palm trees it was quite the idyllic way to build up an appetite for dinner.
Locarno isn’t a cheap city, but that’s Switzerland for you. There are a couple of super markets on Piazza Grande where you can buy supplies for a picnic in one of the parks set along the lake if you’re on a budget. If you’re looking for a cheap place to have a few drinks in the evening, try out PardoBar where you can get local wine for a reasonable price.
Locarno is a perfect train destination with good connections making it perfect if you're on Eurail/Interrail. You certainly won’t have much use for a car there. We spent one night there, enough to see the city itself. You can easily spend another day or even longer and take daytrips out in the area.