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Holidays to Switzerland Travel Podcast Episode 66 Transcript

May 18, 2024 Last Updated on May 18, 2024

Explore Switzerland with a Swiss Rail Package

You can see the full show notes and listen to this episode > here.

Are you dreaming of visiting Switzerland? Planning a trip to Switzerland is very exciting, but it can also be overwhelming. How do you choose which of the many scenic cities, towns, and villages to visit? Which mountain top excursion should you take? And what’s the best way to get around Switzerland? And of course, how much of the country can you realistically see within your time frame? If you’ve asked yourself any of these questions, this is the podcast for you. This is the holidays to Switzerland travel podcast, and in each episode, your host, Carolyn Schönafinger, chats with Swiss travel experts to answer your most commonly asked questions, provide practical tips, and take you on a virtual visit to the most popular destinations, and of course, some hidden gems to help you plan your dream trip to Switzerland. You’ll hear plenty of conversations about Swiss cheese and chocolate too. Are you ready to plan your trip to Switzerland? Well, let’s get started.

Hello there. Welcome to Episode 66 of the podcast. Thank you so much for joining me today. How is your Switzerland trip planning coming along? Are you struggling to decide on an itinerary to follow?

Or have you finalized your itinerary and are now facing the huge task of selecting and booking accommodation for every night of your stay and choosing the right rail pass? Planning a trip to Switzerland can be overwhelming and time consuming. So what if I told you there was a simple solution? You’d probably like to know more, wouldn’t you?

Well, you’re in luck because today I’m chatting with Fabian Bryner from Switzerland Travel Centre, who offer a huge range of Swiss rail packages. With more than 20 different suggested itineraries to choose from, all of which can be customized to suit your interests and your time frame, they make booking a rail holiday in Switzerland simple. Whether you want to do your very own Grand Train Tour of Switzerland, or have just a few days to spend seeing the country on a scenic rail journey, there’s a package that’s right for you.

We’ll find out more about these great value rail packages shortly, as well as an exclusive Holidays to Switzerland discount. But before we do, I’d like to say thank you to the team from Switzerland Tourism who are sponsoring the podcast again in 2023. You’ll find lots of practical tips and inspiration on their website, myswitzerland.com so do go and take a look, because if you need a natural trophy, you need Switzerland. Now, let’s hear from Fabian.

Hello, Fabian. Thank you very much for coming onto the podcast. It’s lovely to have you here. Would you like to start by telling our listeners a little bit about yourself and what your role with Switzerland Travel Centre is?

Yes. Hello, Carolyn. Thanks for having me on the show. My name is Fabian Bryner. I’m born and raised in Switzerland, working now for 10 years with Switzerland Travel Centre. My role is I’m responsible for the markets and their offices in Stuttgart, London and Hong Kong. So in short, you could probably could say I’m looking after all the incoming business. So be it direct customers or tour operators we do work with in various markets.

For those listeners who aren’t familiar with Switzerland Travel Centre, who and what exactly is the company?

Well, Switzerland Travel Centre is the official and largest tour operator for holidays in Switzerland. Again, be it for Swiss citizens themselves traveling within Switzerland or in the international independent travellers groups, or we work with major tour operators from around the world. As a company, we are subsidiary of Swiss Hotel Association, Switzerland Tourism and the Swiss Federal Railways. So we have totally 120 staff in these locations I mentioned before. And this year, we are celebrating our 25th anniversary.

Congratulations. I guess that should give our listeners some confidence if they’re booking their holiday through Switzerland Travel Centre to know that you’re a subsidiary of, well, not only the Swiss Railways, but Switzerland Tourism and the Hotel Association as well. Okay, so today we’re going to talk a little bit about the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland because I know you offer some fantastic packages our listeners can book. But before we talk about those packages, can you tell us a little bit about exactly what the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland is?

Looking at the history, this is actually the public transport version of the initially founded Grand Tour of Switzerland, the self drive tour around Switzerland. In short, it’s the most popular panoramic trains in Switzerland, just put into one perfect itinerary. The sense was making the mode of transport to be the experience, not only taking a train to go from A to B, but really taking the trains that take you through the most scenic landscape of Switzerland.

And getting you to some pretty incredible destinations.

Absolutely. If you look at where we’re getting later, I guess, to the itineraries, and it’s a round trip. So that’s a good thing. We actually had to combine these panoramic trains in a way that you get around the most famous destinations and actually end up at the same point if you want.

Let’s talk about those packages. But perhaps we could start with what you call the Original. What does that entail? How many days is that itinerary? And where would people be visiting if they took that package?

The Original is obviously, as the name says, the one we started with initially. We put it together in an eight day, seven nights package. And basically with our tickets, you can start from anywhere, be it an airport or be it any border point you enter, and then start tour. The Original one takes you from Zurich to Lucern to Interlaken. Then on that way, you have already the first scenic trains. You take the Lucerne Interlaken Express. Then you have obviously opportunities to visit the mountain excursions, do the mountain excursions, likes the likes of Jungfraujoch, Schilthorn and so on from Interlaken. Then the next stretch is actually on a very new, not a new train, but just refurbished train or have new material. It’s the GoldenPass Line that takes you from Interlaken to Montreux. Obviously, you’re in the Lake Geneva region. From there, the next step is taking the train and that’s normal train to up to Zermatt. But it always have opportunities to explore some days up in this famous mountain destination, do some mountain excursions as well. The next one is obviously the longest stretch, but also the most popular, most famous one is the Glacier Express.

Take that from Zermatt to St. Moritz. It takes it all in all eight hours, but you have opportunities. You have food on board, you have three course meals. You even have an Excellence Class, which is really a super first class experience with catering service at your seat and everything. Being in St. Moritz, obviously, at any time, we have the opportunity with our packages to add extra nights. You can actually extend that journey from the eight days that we foresee originally to anywhere to up to 10, 15 days if you want.

Then being in St. Moritz, the next actual highlights awaits you. This is the Bernina Express, which takes you from St. Moritz to Tirano, which is in the Italian speaking part. It’s actually already in Italy. From there, there’s a connecting bus along the Lake Como that takes you to Lugano. Lugano is in the southern part. It’s an Italian speaking part of Switzerland. In Ticino, it’s a totally different variety of things you can explore. It’s different living feeling, the Italian italian, Italian, we call it. And then from there you actually close the whole loop by taking the Gotthard Panorama Express. And this one, again, is a unique one.

This panoramic train is a train going over the Gotthard and so this is the old rail track that actually takes you over the Gotthard Pass. And then it actually stops in Flüelen and where you change to the boat and take the boat to Lucerne. No, actually with the original, we even have one stretch more. Sorry. This is then the last part.

On the eighth day, you take the train. It’s the Voralpen Express, which take you from Lucerne to St. Gallen. It’s a very gentle and scenic journey throughout towards the Eastern part of Switzerland. So that’s where you actually end up and finalize your journey in St. Gallen.

So you really get a great overview of all of Switzerland because as you mentioned, you’ve got the Alps there, you’ve got the cities, you’re going right down into the Italian speaking part of Ticino and then back over the Gotthard Pass up to northern Switzerland again. So it’s just covering the whole country.

Absolutely. All four language regions and all the variety of landscapes you have along the lakes, you go up the mountain passes and so on. So really, it’s the full blend of experience in Switzerland.

Yeah, wonderful. Okay, so we’ll talk about some of the other itineraries in just a moment. But if people that are listening are interested in perhaps doing the Original Grand Tour package, Grand Train Tour package, that is, can you tell us what the package that you offer actually includes?

The packages we do, and that actually applies to all our scenic rail packages, but specifically for the Grand Tours, we do have, first of all, special tickets. Special tickets in the means of they vary a bit from, let’s say, what your listeners may be known is the Swiss Travel Pass. It’s actually the perfect ticket to get around the Swiss Travel Pass. If you probably don’t know exactly where you go yet, you have full flexibility.

Our tickets we include in the packages are actually tailor made to the routing that the packages foresees and therefore are very attractive in pricing and also still leaves you the opportunity to extend your stay at any point during that journey on your itinerary. That’s the train part and that’s much of the convenience we add to the package for our customers is the seat reservations we all take care of. And especially this summer, actually, we’ve seen a great demand and some dates already sold out. So we actually really are doing our best to get these seats allocated for our customers.

And then the hotels, our customers have always the choice between anywhere from a youth hotel to a five star hotel that can be all chosen in our booking engine.

We might talk about that later. Then you have breakfast included and you have the option also to include, and that’s again, the optional mountain excursions, activities and so on.

You can really have everything booked for you just in one easy transaction.

Yes, absolutely. That’s why we see also a lot of customers really coming our way for these packages. Well, on the other hand, the Grand Train Tour is a lot easier to be booked. You book a rental car and you book a hotel. Well, with the Grand Train Tour, it’s a lot of seat reservation. You need to know which trains to take and where to make the reservations.

Each railway that we have, many of in Switzerland, all these scenic railways do have their own booking systems. And so it’s quite complex. And therefore, people really look for us, not only price wise, but also for the convenience, having that booked and having it confirmed in a way they’re sure everything works out.

Yeah, absolutely. And the convenience is such an attractive part of the package, I think, because as you mentioned, each of the panoramic trains, they’re run by different railways, so there’s a different booking system. But not only that, making sure that you get your booking as soon as that booking window opens. It’s not like you can do it six months in advance. You’ve got to be there on the spot as soon as the booking window opens. So it’s very convenient having Switzerland Travel Centre do that on your behalf.

Absolutely.

Yeah. All right. So what are some of the other Grand Train Tour packages that people might be interested in knowing about?

We have the Original, we have the Classic. And so these are the same in the sense of the routing. And then we have… I mean, all of them are between eight, seven days, maybe six days. So we also wanted to have something available for a shorter space for people that maybe… Even the Swiss people or people from Germany that may not want to spend seven or eight days in Switzerland or just in between holidays. So we have come up with some regional tours and some itineraries that are actually also themed.

We have something with the historic hotels combined. So you stay in historical hotels on your journey. That’s one very popular program. And then we have one which is called the Hidden Treasures, which is really taking you on trains like the Centovalli Express, taking you from Brig to there directly to Locarno. It’s a shortcut into the Ticino.

We have a variety of packages. One is Glaciers and Palms, which obviously the name tells you you experience the higher mountain passes and mountain destinations combined with the Italian part of Switzerland, where you’re down at the lake with the warm weather and climate and palms.

In total, we have 10 Grand Train Tour packages of which eight are for summer and two are for winter. That’s interesting that also the winter has become very popular, especially for people that don’t ski. They just want to have this winter wonderland feeling. This is really perfect with the train. If you’re sitting in the warm inside, cozy and just see the snowy landscape passing by. So this is a perfect experience in winter.

Yeah, wonderful. So what is the most popular Grand Train Tour package that you sell?

It’s still the Classic one. Compared to the Original one, it’s actually just short by this extra train, the Voralpen Express going to the Eastern part of Switzerland. So basically it starts in Zurich and ends in Lucerne. So that’s the seven days, six night package because it includes the highlights, the most popular trains you have included. But still, it’s not adding an extra day for many people who do want to do a week in Switzerland.

Obviously, they did also stopovers in the right destinations in terms of additional activity. Let’s say even if you’re staying in Interlaken and as I said already, one option is Jungfrau as a mountain experience, but you’re also very close to Bern, the capital of Switzerland. So this is maybe an hour’s train ride from Interlaken and back. So that’s a good thing. Everywhere you can side track to any destinations on our original itinerary.

And if you’re looking at a map, what the Grand Train Tour looks like is like a lying eight. So it’s an infinity loop put on the Swiss map, just connecting all the most famous destinations and trains.

Now, you mentioned before that you have a wide range of accommodation from hostels right up to five star accommodation. But we didn’t mention that people booking their package can choose what class of travel they want to want to travel in on the trains as well. Also, I think on some of the longer Grand Train Tour packages, there’s the option of having their luggage transported for them. Could you tell us about that?

So this is very new. We piloted this last year with SBB. So SBB, the Swiss Federal Railways, had a luggage system in place for groups for some years, and we always tried to get it done for FIT and very in a flexible and convenient way. Finally, we managed. So we have now the option that for our three most popular tours, the Grand Train Tour Original, the Classic one and the one with the classic with the Jungfrajoch included, we have that service available.

People can additionally book the luggage transfer, which works in a way that it’s basically from the first to the last hotel, you have the option to choose how many luggage you want to have sent from hotel to hotel. How it works on a day to day basis, basically in the morning, you just leave your luggage in the reception, have your name tag on and it will be picked up. You need to leave it by eight o’clock and it will be put into your next hotel in the evening, latest by 6 PM. So that’s super convenient and it actually gives you totally different way of options to travel. You can stop over anywhere.

You might even take the boat for some part of the stretch that you want to do or you even include a mountain excursion. One example could be from Ticino with the Gotthard Panorama Express that takes you normally from Lugano to Lucerne, you can actually include a mountain excursion on Mount Rigi on the way, which would not be possible if you have your luggage to carry around.

And especially we see a lot of bookings now coming in from overseas customers from Australia, from the US, who actually obviously traveling with larger suitcases because sometimes for them Switzerland is only one part of a Europe trip. It’s what was missing to make also some people really taking the train as a mode of transport because the convenience.

It’s really not costly if you compare what you get. It starts at 40 francs per suitcase for five transfers, and you really have our traveling hassle free. And then you can still decide if you just go for one big suitcase and ship that and travel along with the small day pack or something, or if you just have more luggage. So up to six luggage, we can actually take per person.

Fantastic.

When people are traveling from place to place, can they hop on and hop off the trains as they like? So for instance, if they were traveling from Interlaken to Montreux and they wanted to hop off in Gstaad, for instance, to have a bit of a look around or have lunch there, is that possible?

Yes, absolutely. With our ticket, basically, you can stop anywhere, anytime. You can also leave out a stretch. So we have people, let’s say, on the other take the Bernina Express route route and actually hike part of it. They just get off at one point and walk to the next station, well, station, just to the next stop of the train and then board the train again. So this is also an option.

And also the public transport in the cities is included. So you can actually take from the train station to your hotel. Most of the time we actually select very… I mean, we have a good number of hotels that we choose and use for these packages that are very conveniently located next to the train station. So you can even walk up to 500 meters or something. Or then they’re close by with the public transport stop that is one or two stops by bus from the train station. So everything very much tailor made to traveling by public transport.

Yeah, excellent. I guess if you do have mobility issues, then when you’re going through the booking process, you could choose a hotel that’s closer to the station just to make it even more convenient for yourself.

Absolutely. Also within the hotels, within the booking system, you can even choose not only the hotel but also within the hotel, the room category that you want. Also, if you’re traveling with the family, we have the family rooms available, or you want a special view or a house high floor. So this can all be done in our booking system, which actually is a great tool exactly for these touring packages that we offer.

Yeah, fantastic. Okay, so we’ve talked about the Grand Train Tour packages. Are there any other scenic rail packages that our listeners might be interested in?

Yeah, we have a lot different. I think there’s a note of which we have different varieties. Again, being from one direction to the other. But most of them are including some of the scenic trains. But then we also have very unique ones like Fürka steam train, for example, is one to mention. This is a train that runs in the summertime, goes from the Valais, well, top of the Valais region over the Fürka Pass to Andermatt. It’s really it’s theme train and it’s an experience in itself to actually have this train.

And then we have, again, a combination of themed tours. One tour is more on the culinary side where we include food tours in Ticino for the Italian part of Switzerland, where we include cooking classes if you want. Also, we have a lot of tailor made itineraries that we do for some of our tour operators, which again, then offer it to their customers.

Okay. And for people that are perhaps wanting to do, say, one of those panoramic trains like the Bernina Express or the Glacier Express, but they’ve only got a couple of days and they don’t want to perhaps include them as part of a longer trip. Do you have shorter packages that they can just do a one way trip on those panoramic trains?

Yes, we do have. The shortest one is obviously one night. It’s Bernina Express, can start from anywhere and go back to anywhere. I think it is very flexible in that sense. You can be either in Zurich or you come directly, let’s say, from Paris, enter through Basel and then want to do a short panoramic train. So this is all possible. Also for our Swiss guests, we have these short itineraries because normally they don’t do a Grand Train Tour in one stretch.

They do the different panoramic trains in turns. They just do a Glacier Express maybe first and then a Bernina Express two years later. So that’s how people travel in Switzerland. So for these people, we have all length packages and all combinations of it. The good combination that’s very popular is, for example, the Bernina Express and Glacier Express combination, which again, it’s ending in a loop. You start at one point and come back to the same point.

I guess for those people that may only perhaps be coming in and out of Zurich and they might just be having, or even perhaps pre or post a river cruise that starts in Basel, they might just have two or three days that they would like to see some of Switzerland and do one of the panoramic trains. That would be ideal for them.

We also have one that is less focused on the panoramic trains, but more on the mountain excursions. So the Most Famous Mountain Peaks, we call it, basically where you have all the glorious peaks included in your itinerary. So that’s another option where people actually want to not spending so much time on the panoramic trains, but rather see the mountains.

Okay. So now that everyone has heard all about these fantastic packages and they’re keen to book their train tour package, how do they actually go about doing that?

Well, actually, we made it very simple. A few years ago, we introduced a new booking tool which is tailor made for touring, the package we offer. It’s all on the website. You basically choose your itinerary that you want to have and then you start tailor making to your needs. It starts with choosing your hotel category that you want. You can choose, as I said, from two star up to five star.

Then you choose also, obviously, you start with the travel date, and then it actually puts together the itinerary as it’s foreseen, and then you can actually amend on your way. Basically, let’s say in the first destination, we take a Grand Train Tour Classic, which takes you to the first overnight in Interlaken, and you can choose the hotel. Well, a certain hotel is given to you, a preferred hotel of ours, which we think is suitable for that journey. But you feel free to change that. Then as I said, within the hotel, you can change your room categories. You can add an extra night if you need some more time in that destination to explore things. Then you obviously have the option to also include or additionally book activities just by basically taking them into your itinerary.

As you go along, it always adapts and updates your itinerary and also the costing. At the end of the day, you have some very convenient upgrade options like from second class to first class for the whole journey. You can even buy a lunch on the Glacier Express if this is part of your journey. We have this coupon voucher booklet, Swiss Coupon Pass, it’s called, where you have 100 two-for-one offers in restaurants and attractions, which is perfect for the FIT customer, saves a lot of money, but also gives inspiration on the way.

And then last but not least, that’s where you actually also select the the luggage transfer, which you can choose from how many luggages you want to be shipped from hotel to hotel. And then very conveniently, you just check out  and pay by credit card and we do confirm everything immediately and we’ll send you e-documents three, four weeks before the departure. So basically, you can book with us everything that starts in Switzerland. So the only thing you need to add is to fly, basically, when you come from overseas.

Yes. I’ve had a practice go through the booking system and it’s very intuitive, isn’t it? As you say, you can make amendments, compare prices with different hotels and see what it’s like to travel first class rather than second class. So it’s really convenient. I think one of the other bonuses, too, is that it’s just one payment for everything. You can certainly book a Grand Tour by yourself, as you mentioned earlier, by perhaps buying the Swiss Travel Pass and booking all your own accommodation, but you’ve got different transactions there with your packages. It’s all paid for in one go, so it’s very convenient.

Yes, it is an online tool per se, but still we have people you can call at any time. We have a lot of customers calling from the US. The good thing is you can also start the itinerary and then send it to us to finalize together on the phone. This is convenience that we offer because we do have the experience staff in our call centres in Zurich or London.

Fantastic. You mentioned there that you can add in activities at various destinations. Are they only mountain excursions or are there some other sorts of activities that people can book?

They vary from adventurous, let’s say, in the winter it can be a snow shoe hike or in a kayaking on Lake Brienz from Interlaken. Or it’s just a regular city tour, which you can do in Zurich, Lucerne or or it’s show dinner. It’s a variety and we are adding additional activities as we go. But the ones we see are the most booked ones are the mountain excursions.

And the good thing is it actually takes into consideration what ticket you have already. So with this ticket, it gives you, for example, the Gornergrat is a very popular one in Zermatt, a mountain excursion. So when you actually select it, it already gives you half price because the half price card is included in your ticket. Again, it’s convenience and it’s also inspirational. I mean, if you look at the different options that we offer for destination, it gives you variety and depending on your needs or your desires.

Okay. You mentioned earlier that there’s a couple of the Grand Train Tour packages that are especially for winter. So I’m assuming that most of the packages, the other scenic rail packages as well, are also available during the winter?

It depends a bit on the schedule of the trains, when the trains are running. But most of the trains are running also in winter time. The only one not running in the winter time is the Gotthard Panorama Express. But let’s say the Glacier Express does have a break for maintenance in November, but all the rest of the trains are actually running in the same way in summertime. That makes it convenient so you can really travel as you do in the summer.

Fantastic. Well, thank you very much, Fabian, for telling us all about those wonderful train tour packages. Now, you have kindly offered a discount for the Holidays to Switzerland audience. Could you tell us about that, please?

Yes. Together with you, Carolyn, we offer to your listeners if they want to book a package, a Grand Train Tour package, or any of the scenic packages we offer, on our website, switzerlandtravelcentre.com, 5 % discount on the total package price. What you need to do is there’s a promo code which you need to enter at the end of the booking process when you check out to redeem the discount. The promo code is called HTSWISS. So repeat now, it’s Hotel Tango and Swiss, HTSWISS. It’s actually a good opportunity because at the end of the day, it saves you on the total cost.

No, it’s an excellent discount and on an already excellent value package holiday that people can tailor make to suit their exact interests and their time frame.

Looking forward to have you in Switzerland, hopefully already this summer. Some of your listeners might have already booked their summer holidays in Switzerland. So looking forward to have you here.

Thank you. All right. Excellent. Thanks again. And I hope we can encourage lots and lots of listeners to book their Switzerland Travel Center rail package.

Yeah, would appreciate it. Thank you.

Thanks, Fabian.

I think you’ll agree that there are lots of reasons to book a Swiss rail package. Booking a rail package is very convenient as all your trip arrangements are made on your behalf and everything can be paid for in one simple transaction, so it’s super easy.

I also love that there are a variety of durations available and each itinerary can be customized to suit your exact requirements. So if you’ve only got a few days in Switzerland at the start or finish of a river cruise, you can book a shorter package. If you have more time available, there are longer packages.

And of course, there are theme packages for folks that want to focus on special interests, whether they be panoramic trains, mountain peaks, or historic hotels. The booking process is very easy too. If you’d like to watch a video walkthrough of the booking process, I’ll include a link in the show notes to a video I recently recorded, which takes you step by step through how to book your rail package.

Also in the show notes, you’ll find a link to the Switzerland Travel Centre website so you can browse all the Grand Train Tour and scenic rail packages.

I’ll include the details of the holidays to Switzerland promo code so you can take advantage of a 5 % discount when booking your package. The show notes for this episode can be found at holidaystoswitzerland.com/episode66. Thanks again for listening in today. Until next time, tchüss.

If you’d like more great resources to help you plan your dream trip to Switzerland, there are lots of ways to connect with us. Visit our website, holidays to swedeland. Com, sign up for our monthly newsletter, or join our friendly, helpful community of past and future travelers in our Switzerland travel planning group. You’ll also find the links to connect with us in the show notes for this episode. 

Show notes and the list of all previous episodes are available at holidaystoswitzerland.com podcast. Don’t miss out on your fortnightly dose of Swiss Travel Inspo. Hit the subscribe button on your favorite podcast app so you never miss an episode. And if you enjoyed the show, please leave a rating. That’s all for this edition of the holidays to Switzerland Travel Podcast. Thanks for joining us and have a great happy travel planning.

You can see the full show notes and listen to this episode > here.