Explore seasonal serenity by land and lake on this special winter tour to Switzerland, Austria and Italy.
The emphasis is on traditional Christmas Markets and stunning mountain scenery as you get a head start on the festive season by enjoying the very best of Alpine railways, iconic steam locomotives and splendid lake cruises. From the vantage point of luxurious motor yachts and vintage rail transport you’ll explore the richness of places like Lucerne and the Tyrol, and discover ‘best-kept secrets’ such as the tranquil Appenzell in Eastern Switzerland and Alto Adige in Northern Italy. Impressive viaducts, steep gradients, serene mountain lakes, vibrant Advent Markets, comfortable hotels, direct luggage transfers, buffet lunches and First-Class travel all add to the attractiveness and refinement of this wonderful festive holiday.
Wednesday 5th December
London to Lucerne
You travel First Class by train from London St. Pancras International to Paris Gare du Nord on Eurostar. You transfer to Paris Gare de l’Est and take a French Railways (SNCF) TGV from there to Strasbourg. Continuing to Basel in Switzerland you change trains and join a Swiss Railways (SBB) train to Lucerne. You spend the next two nights at an elegant, centrally located hotel, close to the lake and the local landmarks. (D)
Thursday 6th December
Lake Lucerne and Mount Rigi
A highlight of the tour awaits today as you travel by privately chartered vintage vessel across spectacular Lake Lucerne to Vitznau at the foot of the ‘Queen of Mountains’, Mount Rigi. At Vitznau an ornate 1911 vintage electric train takes you on another private charter over Europe’s oldest rack and pinion railway to the summit at Rigi Kulm. This graceful peak is almost completely surrounded by lakes and gives stunning views of the surrounding area. There’s a restaurant at the summit where you can take lunch. Later you descend Mount Rigi by a different rail route to Arth-Goldau, from where you catch an SBB service train back to Lucerne. The rest of the afternoon is for you to spend at leisure in Lucerne and explore its romantic Christmas Market. (B)
Friday 7th December
Scenic Journey on the Voralpen-Express; Lake Constance Cruise on Luxury Motor Yacht
In the morning, a tour highlight awaits as you travel on one of Switzerland’s most attractive panoramic trains. The Voralpen-Express links Lucerne with St. Gallen in north-eastern Switzerland, passing countless lakes and overcoming steep gradients en route. A real highlight is the passage over the breath-taking Sitter Viaduct, which is, at 99 m above the ground, the highest railway bridge in Switzerland. For spectacular effect it’s located next to two more towering road and rail bridges. In St. Gallen you change onto the service train for the short trip to Romanshorn on the Swiss shoreline of Lake Constance. You have lunch at the attractive harbour restaurant, before taking an afternoon cruise including complimentary cake and coffee aboard the luxurious 1956 motor yacht ‘Säntis’. You travel on one of the most refined and well-appointed heritage ships anywhere in Western Europe, as the serene landscape of Eastern Switzerland unfolds before you and clear skies (hopefully) afford direct views of snow-capped Mount Säntis. After the cruise, you return to St. Gallen and check into your centrally located hotel, where your luggage awaits, having already been transferred by the efficient SBB forwarding service. (B L)
Saturday 8th December
Steam in the Appenzell
After breakfast today, you discover one of the best-kept secrets of Swiss railways, the iconic little red trains of the Appenzell, as they wind their way up into the foothills of Mount Säntis. This ‘Little Big’ narrow gauge network sums up all that is great about Swiss railways, and you’ll experience it on your privately chartered heritage train, as a the recently refurbished 2-6-0 tank engine Madlaina* takes you on the route Herisau – Appenzell – Wasserauen. At Wasserauen you ascend the Ebenalp mountain by aerial cableway for another stunning mountain top experience, before making the return journey by steam train to Herisau. As you gaze at grazing cattle and wooden farm barns nestled in the shadow of Mount Säntis, you’ll realize you have truly reached a part of Europe untouched by time. Lunch will be served on the train and you return to Zurich in late afternoon. (B L)
Sunday 9th December
Steam in Vorarlberg at Bezau
Today you venture to nearby Austria, visiting the westernmost state of Vorarlberg. Discover one of Austria’s famed 760 mm narrow-gauge routes as you travel over the 5km long Bregenzerwaldbahn from Bezau to Schwarzenberg. This short line is distinctly Alpine and entirely spectacular, passing over two impressive viaducts. You’ll lunch at the railway station in Schwarzenberg before the Uh-type steam locomotive takes you back to Bezau, pausing for numerous photo stops on the way. Winter steam is exceptionally rare at this railway and its high elevation and Alpine setting guarantees attractive views and great photos. Your train will be hauled by the last narrow-gauge steam locomotive built in Austria, the powerful 0-6-2 Uh 102 from 1931. After your fine day out, you continue over the spectacular Arlberg Railway in Austria, taking a Railjet train from Feldkirch to Innsbruck. This line has been made world famous by the Orient Express on its journey from Paris to Venice. You arrive in Innsbruck and check into a centrally located hotel. (B L)
Monday 10th December
Heritage train on the Stubaitalbahn and Innsbruck funiculars
As one of the pre-eminent Alpine cities in Europe, Innsbruck boasts an attractive old town, framed by towering peaks and endowed by an attractive light rail system. Today you explore the most scenic of these metre gauge lines, the rural, 18 km long Stubaitalbahn. This line first opened in 1904 and features so many steep gradients that it was electrified from the outset. This breath-taking Alpine narrow-gauge railway crosses numerous high viaducts and travels through unspoiled mountain landscape to the terminus at Fulpmes. You’ll once again have the benefit of a private charter aboard a historic railcar, pausing for numerous photos and some run-pasts along the way. You return to Innsbruck in time for lunch and then embark on an afternoon excursion on the city’s impressively engineered Hungerburg funicular, a local landmark designed by Zaha Hadid in 2007. In the late afternoon and early evening, you have more time to enjoy the romantic Innsbruck Christmas Market at leisure. You’ll also receive a complimentary public transport rover ticket which will give you extra mobility and ease of access to the local highlights. (B L)
Tuesday 11th December
Mountain magnificence in Italy on the Brenner Line and the Rittner Railway
Another tour highlight awaits today, as you visit Italy and the beautiful region of South Tyrol, just on the other side of the Brenner Pass. You take a EuroCity train over the legendary and exceptionally panoramic Brenner Railway to Bolzano/Bozen, the capital of South Tyrol, also known as Alto Adige in Italian. You take the scenic cableway from the Bolzano town centre to the lofty vantage point high above the city. There, amidst the mountain meadows on an elevated plateau, the endearing Rittner Railway runs for a length of 6 km from Soprabolzano to Collalbo, offering sightlines onto some of the loftiest mountain peaks in Italy. No wonder this metre gauge railway is considered one of the most scenic in the country. You have a specially chartered train on the round-trip, with ample photo stops before returning to Bolzano with time left to take in the decidedly southern flavour of its local Christmas market. In the late afternoon, you return on a direct EC train back to Innsbruck. (B L)
Wednesday 12th December
Steam in Jenbach at the Achenseebahn
To finish your stunning tour in fine fashion, today you visit Austria’s oldest rack and pinion railway, which to this day remains a ‘steam only’ operation using historic tank engines dating from the year the railway opened. The 6.7 km long railway from Jenbach to the mountain lake at the summit is unique in that the locomotives first push the heritage coaches up the hill, before running around at Eben to pull them to the terminus at Seespitz. Normal services on the railway typically end in late October so you’ll have the exclusive treat of the line having just opened for your special train. Naturally run-pasts and attractive photo opportunities feature prominently. In Seespitz you can enjoy the tranquil views of the lake before lunch. Your return trip to Jenbach is by steam train, after which you return to Innsbruck on a service train, for one more night to enjoy the magical Advent atmosphere in this captivating city. A farewell dinner will be served at the hotel. (B L D)
Thursday 13th December 2018
Return to London
This morning you travel on a Railjet service over the Arlberg line to Zürich, before changing on to a TGV bound for Paris. There you connect onto a Eurostar high speed train for the return to London St Pancras. (B)
*Please note that, if the planned overhaul completion by autumn 2018 of Madlaina is delayed, the same journey will be made by a vintage 1912 electric ‘Crocodile’ locomotive, pulling two green coaches from the former Säntis Railway. In this case, and as an added bonus, the train will also be able to do the ‘electric only’ line to Gais as well.
All prices shown are per person.
Meals included each day are shown as:
B = Breakfast - L = Lunch - D = Dinner