Bart Och - Travel Journalist

A familiar, rhythmic “clickety-clack” sound permeates the wood-panelled carriage adorned with gold-plated decorations as the wheels roll over rail joints and squats. Terraced vineyards gently slope on one side and the chic, palm-studded Swiss Riviera stretches along the shore on the other. In and out of the morning light, we glide beside crescent-shaped Lake Geneva, or as locals prefer to call it, Lac Léman – at 72 kilometres in length, it is the largest Alpine lake in Europe explored by four submarines! The clear sky and the water appear to merge into one. Small fishing boats, heavily laden with the fruits of their labour, slink on the glimmering surface of the lake as the careening gulls gather above and await their chance to swoop on the leftover feast of perch, fera, pike, and char. Although it is only February, spring is poking its head through majestically-towering, snow-capped Alps. At just over 2,000 meters, Rochers-de-Naye’s gunmetal icy peak looms beside the train. High up, rocky outcrops crawl with pine trees that look like they were dusted with confectioners sugar.

As I make myself comfortable in one of the window seats upholstered with intricately embossed, moss-green fabric, I forget I am not actually aboard the legendary Orient Express which partially inspired Agatha Christie to write the arguably most famous mystery story of all times. Our tickets and phones lay on the smooth surface of the polished wooden table between the chairs. As we continue to gain elevation, the landscape transforms, and, almost like a Snowpiercer, we are suddenly sweeping our way through the thick blanket of snow. I press my camera to the window to seize glimpses of this seemingly arctic wonderland. Perched remotely, small timber ‘gingerbread’ houses with heavy, gently sloping roofs, wide eaves, and smoking chimneys catch my attention. Chalets, typical of the Alpine region in Europe, first appeared in Canton de Vaud in 1328 to describe simple log cabins – rudimentary shelters – occupied by farmers only a few months of the year during l’alpage, the practice of sending cows to high pastures for the summer. It is in this tradition that we find the origin of the Swiss Chalet, a building with humble roots initially referred to a sheepherder’s dwelling and, now, to any small house in the mountains that sustains a way of life in often harsh conditions.

We arrive in a celebrity-ridden upscale ski resort, Gstaad, where life seems to be thriving but functioning on a very characteristic for this altitude frequency than down below in snowless Montreux. Here, people of all ages dressed in warm Winter clothes, their feet locked in bulky plastic boots that aren’t made for walking, heads enclosed in firm helmets jokily called “brain buckets”, and skis rested on their shoulders, sway robotically towards or from continuously circulating high-speed chairlifts and panoramic cable cars that scoop and carry them up near-vertical, well-groomed pistes before they swoosh down in a slaloming fashion. The merry “shredders” replenish energy lost on the slopes with coffee and fondue, melted cheese served in a communal pot eaten by dipping bread into the gooey thaw using long-stemmed forks.

Determined to make the most of the day, we rush back to the station and take the GoldenPass Panoramic train to Zweisimmen, a little quaint village in the Bernese Oberland.

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