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Holidays to Switzerland Travel Podcast Episode 85 Transcript

May 18, 2024 Last Updated on May 18, 2024

The Grand Explorer Tour of Switzerland: an unforgettable small group journey

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

Hello, welcome to episode 85 of the Holidays to Switzerland Travel Podcast.  If you’re a regular listener, thanks so much for tuning in again and if this is your first time here, gruezi – that’s hello in Swiss German – I hope you’ll become a regular listener too.

When it comes to choosing how to travel around Switzerland, renting a car or travelling by train are the two options you’ll likely consider.  These modes of transport are fantastic for folks who like to travel independently but for travellers who would rather not have to worry about driving or adhering to train timetables, a group tour is a wonderful option.

And when I say ‘group tour’ I’m not only referring to large coaches that carry 40 or 50 passengers.  There are smaller, more personalised tours available, too.

Today we’ll be hearing all about one such tour.  It’s a 9 day / 8 night small group tour that combines the best of both the self-drive and train versions of the Grand Tour of Switzerland. 

Guests on this tour will visit Switzerland’s most scenic destinations in all four language regions, drive over famous mountain passes and ride on the country’s iconic panoramic trains all whilst accompanied by a knowledgeable local driver guide in a small luxury coach with a retractable roof!

Does this sound appealing?  My guest, Fabian Bryner, from Switzerland Travel Centre, will tell us more shortly. 

Before we hear from Fabian, I’d like to say a huge thank you to the team from Switzerland Tourism, sponsors of the podcast.  Make sure you visit their website myswitzerland.com for loads of helpful Swiss trip planning info.  If you need the train ride of a lifetime, you need Switzerland.


Hello, Fabian. Thank you very much for coming back onto the podcast. It’s great to have you back here again. For the listeners that haven’t heard the previous time that you were on the show, would you like to introduce yourself and tell us a bit about Switzerland Travel Center?

Yes, happy to. And happy to be here again. Thanks for having me, Carolyn. So my name is Fabian Bryner. I’m the Director of Sales and Operations with STC. STC, as we call it in short, is STC Switzerland Travel Center. We’re the largest tour operator for Switzerland. We only do Switzerland, but that we do with all of our heart and experience. So we have about 120 staff in our offices in Zurich, where is the head office, and office in Stuttgart, London and Hong Kong. Yeah, that’s us, 120 staff. It’s about 120 people just for Switzerland.

120 people passionate about promoting their beautiful country to others around the world. Exactly. Yeah. Now, when you were on the show last time, we chatted about the rail packages that you offer. And I guess that’s probably one of the core product that the Switzerland Travel Center is known for. But for 2024, you decided to introduce a small group tour. Why did you decide to do that?

Well, I guess it’s a bit of a trend we see after post-pandemic that the groups have become smaller, that we operate. And there’s more a trend towards more flexible tours, not like the full package program where you have everything tailored out to the minute. So we came up with this new tour we call the Grand Tour Explorer. And it’s also a reaction to this year’s issues, I call it. I mean, it’s a luxury problem we have here in Switzerland. Switzerland was very much in high demand was very well booked. So we had sometimes a bit of a capacity issues in hotels, in the panoramic trains. And with this, we are ahead of the game and have all reserved all the seats. We have reserved all the hotels. So we really got what we want for this perfect tour. Okay, good.

All right. Well, can you tell us more about the tour? How many days is it and where do people… What places will people visit? And all the important stuff we need to know about the tour.

Well, the tour, maybe I need to give you some a bit of history behind it. The Grand Tour Explorer, as you can tell from the name, is this Grand Tour of Switzerland version.  So we have two versions of Grand Tours of Switzerland. We got the self-drive tour, which was introduced, I think, about six, seven years ago from Switzerland tourism, which is a beautiful scenic drive around Switzerland, one thousand-six hundred kilometers with old road signs out in the country. So the idea behind it was bringing up something like the Route 66 or the Garden Route in South Africa.

And this is the Grand Tour of Switzerland. It’s going along the 46 top attractions. You have lots of lakes and the Alpine passes you cross. You have even UNESCO World Heritage sites you pass by. So this is this is the Grand Tour for the self-drive. And then just one year later, Switzerland Tourism and the Swiss tourism industry introduced the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland, which was a combination of the five top panoramic trains in Switzerland and was promoting the traveling by public transport in Switzerland. So we thought it would be perfect to bring these two together, and that’s what we did with the Grand Tour Explorer.

So basically it’s… You’re traveling on a small coach, which I’m coming to in a minute, and have the experience of all these panoramic trains in between.

Okay. I guess because you’re on a coach, you actually get to drive some of those amazing mountain passes as well.

Exactly. One of them is, for example, the Tremola which is going up from the Ticino, from the Italian speaking part to Andermatt, where our guests will board the Glacier Express. But let me go back quickly to why it’s a perfect match also now because some of you, of your listeners probably have seen this beautiful commercial that was shot with Roger Federer and Trevor Noah about the Grand Train tour this spring. And this is also what’s after we promoted the Grand Train for some years now and now the Grand Train Tour, it’s really just a good combination.

And sorry, I got carried away about the history behind these grand tours. But the tour we’re actually promoting now has some highlights in it as such. The one is obviously going along the grand tour, the scenic hotspots we’re passing by. As you said, mountain passes, but also some points you probably not get to with the train easily. That’s the beauty of taking the Coach. And the Coach itself is part of the highlight. So we got this convertible Coach. It’s a Mercedes Sprinter. I hope you can somewhere put a photo of that in your podcast notes. It’s a convertible with 12 seats.

It is obviously not open. It has a glass rooftop which you can close. But it’s actually giving you the best view you can have in such a small Coach. The luggage is taken care of in the back of the car. So that’s one big advantage of having such a small group tour, having a Coach driving. Then we have the whole tour is with the driver guide that actually takes you not only from A to B, but also shows you around and gives you tips where to go in the evening for dinner. And where we actually want to have a more deeper dive into local history and culture, we have local guides included.

Okay. So what are some of the destinations that people will be visiting on the tour?

Well, I can give you a quick rundown of the itinerary, probably. So people gathering in Zurich as the starting point, they arrive on a Saturday as a pre-night. So we gather them in the hotel. And then on Sunday we start the tour. The tour initially goes to Rhine Falls, one of the top attractions that Switzerland has, one of the top visited attractions, actually. And then you move on to St. Gallen, where you have a little walk through the city with the local guide. And then you visit the Stiftsbibliothek and the World Heritage Library. You overnight in St. Gallen.

The next day takes you through the eastern part of Switzerland. You actually pass by Liechtenstein and end up in, you’re going towards to Graubunden and end up in St. Moritz where you’re overnight again. When I say overnight, and that’s always you get to this destination normally around three to four o’clock, which gives you still enough time to explore the destinations. That was the idea behind this tour, so that you actually have everything taken care of, but you still have enough time to do things on your own. So you decide whether you’re going to have the dinner by yourself or you’re going to team up with some of your co-travelers and go find the restaurant together.

And then actually one of the first highlights and one of the next highlights is going to be the Bernina Express. So the good thing is about having the coach to drive you to the train station. You board the Panoramic train. We all have it in first class. The seat reservations are taken actually.

And I think that because you’re being taken to the train, you don’t have to worry about your luggage because it would just stay on board the coach.Is that right?

Absolutely. Yeah, that’s the beauty of it. So you really no has with the luggage. You just load it into the van and off you go. And you have it in the hotel and evening.

Yeah, fantastic.

So the next part, the next day is actually going to go towards this famous Alpine Pass Tremola, which is an old route going over the Gotthard Pass. And you end up in Andermatt. You have some free time in Andermatt before you go to train the Glacier Express that takes you from Andermatt to Zermatt. So once in Zermatt again, you have some free time in the evenings. Next day, you’re going to visit Gornergrat. This is the mountain excursions, probably the most done mountain excursion in Zermatt.

And before you actually go back on the coach and make your way to Montreux, Montreux is in the French speaking part on the Lake Geneva, very beautiful city where you overnight and have still enough time to have a stroll on the promenade and so on. Next day is going to be the Golden Pass. The Golden Pass takes you from Montreux up to Interlaken, one of the most famous trains, actually the one that was featured in this commercial I mentioned about Roger Federer and Trevor Noah. So once you’re in Interlaken and you have more time in Interlaken before the next day you’re actually going to have one of another highlight is the Jungfraujoch Top of Europe.

You’re going to visit that before you make your way on to Lucerne as your final destination. We have final overnight. And then the last day is actually the day, the departure day, where you either head back to the airport or you’re going to continue to stay in Switzerland, hopefully.

Okay, great. You’ve really hit all the top destinations there in Switzerland, as well as going on some of the panoramic trains and a couple of the most famous mountain excursions.

Exactly. So it’s a bit all in one. And with the convenience of this small coach, with the scenic coach version, with the glass top or the convertible version. So it’s an experience, definitely.

Yeah, okay. So you mentioned earlier about when people arrive in each destination, it’s up to them whether they decide to just go out for dinner themselves or team up with some other people on the tour. So what meals are actually included in the tour package?

Well, that’s the reason why we said we want to keep it open to people to actually follow their desire of which cuisine they’re the favour or what time they want to eat. So we only include breakfast. And we have a three course meal on the Glacier Express. This is something we have pre-booked, but all the rest we really leave up to the guest to organise. The driver guide will assist with tips and good recommendations, but then it’s really up to the guests to decide what they’re fancy for.

Yeah. Okay, good. Now you’ve already touched on a couple of the benefits there of joining a small group tour. But what are some of the other benefits that you think make this well worth doing?

Well, such a small group tour has the benefits definitely that everything is organized, the logistics and the basics are organized. The luggage, for example, you mentioned it before, no hassle with the luggage on the train, from the hotel to the train station. I guess it’s very personal, but still as flexible as possible. That’s how we wanted to design this tour. It’s still traveling together with your co-travelers, but you still have enough time for personal experiences and enough free time. It’s a bit of a balance.

You could say, Okay, this is probably the new approach with our tour, to classic coach tours where they also include panoramic trains. But then normally the program is quite packed. So you really have to follow. It’s like the schedule is packed, hour-by-hour is planned. We didn’t want that. That’s probably also what the people we address are probably a bit different. I guess it’s people that like the company of others but still want to have enough time to discover on their own. Guests who don’t want to drive themselves but still want to have convenience of the luggage transfer and an efficient way of getting around and getting to places where you probably with the train tour you wouldn’t get to.

Yeah. So it’s a bit of a new approach. I think that the time is right now because after Pandemic people, the travel pattern has changed a little bit.

Yeah, absolutely. I think you’re getting the best of both worlds there, aren’t you? Because you’re getting freedom and more flexibility, but you also have the security, I guess, of having a guide there who can give you advice if you need it. Exactly. You’re getting the chance to drive over some of those amazing mountain passes, but you’re not missing out on the panoramic trains as well.

Exactly. It’s a bit the best of both. That’s what we’re trying to include.

We talked about some of those or the destinations that the tour goes to. Are there a couple of those destinations that you would say are your highlights, favourite places?

Well, yes, St. Gallen is definitely one of the hidden treasures, and could become a highlight for many. This Stiftsbibliothek is a very ancient library, which is almost mystic. So people who go there do have quite an experience. And then the mountain pass we talked about before the Tremola is really scenic. You see it on all the pictures when you visit them, any of the Grand Tour pages. That’s the one.

Obviously, the mountain excursions are a must in Switzerland. Gornergrat and Jungfraujoch are probably the top two, to be honest. Yeah, I guess we tried to include as many highlights as we could, but still, again, have a balanced itinerary to see also having touched on all three different language areas in Switzerland, even four. You have the Swiss German part. We have the Graubunden, where they speak the Roman language still. You have the Italian part of Ticino, and you have the French part with Montreux. So that’s a diversity in the tour itself.

Yeah, absolutely. What would be a typical start time each morning?

Well, I guess normally it depends a bit on the day, on the route of the day, but anywhere between 8:00 and ten, I would say. Definitely not earlier. Around nine probably is the best. And the good thing is that if the group is as small as this one, there is even room for flexibility also, where we’re going to have the lunch stop or where are we going to have the photo stop? This is different than traveling with the coach of 40, 50 people. 

Definitely a benefit. Will the tour operate all year round or is it going to be a seasonal tour?

It is a summer tour. Also, because the Grand Tour is only a seasonal offering in terms of the mountain passes closing in winter time. We offer weekly departures from June up to October, and it’s always going to start on a Saturday. As I said, it’s the pre-night. You can obviously… We have pre-and post-tours we can organise for our guests, but the gathering is on a Saturday, flying in on a Saturday and then leaving Zurich on a Sunday. And then ninth day, we’re actually back from Lucerne. Okay.

And probably a couple of important things we should talk about the accommodation. What style or standard of accommodation is used on the tour?

It’s all four star, and it’s obviously very well vetted hotels. Our partner hotels we work with for the Grand Tour or the Grand Train Tour. So it’s all four star. And most of them, it’s not the classical chain hotels, which we don’t have too many in Switzerland. It’s really some of them are quite typical Swiss hotels.

Okay, yeah, great. And what about if someone is traveling alone and they’re coming on the tour, is there the option for them to room share or do they need to pay a single supplement?

No, they would need to take a single room. But the good thing is the coach how it’s set up is there is one row of single seats and one row of seats of two. So that’s in a coach, you have your single seat. It’s like a business class coach, pretty much. You will see it if you can post a photo, it would be great. So you see the setup of the fitting of the coach.

Yeah, I’ll definitely share that photo in the show notes. So who would you say that this small group tour is best suited to?

I guess it’s probably… I mentioned before, you’re not driving yourself, looking at the Grand Tour, thinking this is the itinerary I would love to do, but I don’t want to drive myself with the car. But on the other hand, traveling only by train is probably too much hassle for some with the luggage and being on time for the train. And this is a different style of traveling. So I guess, yeah, you need to be willing to travel with others. But again, you have enough privacy to experience your own.

Okay. Well, I’m sure there’s plenty of people that are keen because as you said, you get the flexibility, but you’ve also got that security of being in a group and you’re not missing out on any of the major highlights or the- Exactly.

Excellent.

So Switzerland Travel Center have kindly offered an exclusive discount for our audience, which is wonderful. Thank you very much. As you do with the Switzerland rail packages that you offer. Could you tell our listeners a bit more about the exclusive discount, please?

Yeah, we agreed that we do the same. I mean, it worked well. We had some guests booking through your channel, which was perfect to see. So we actually offered a five percent discount on the whole tour. So how it works is you have this promotional code, which is called H T SWISS. S-w-i-s-s, so H. T. Swiss. You use that at the end of your online booking, and you will be deducted 5% of the total price.

Excellent. And I’ll include a link to the instructions and a screenshot of the booking page so people know where to add that promo code. So can you just give us your web address so that any listeners who want to go ahead and book on the tour, where should they go to do that?

Yes. So this is switzerlandtravelcentre.com. Let me ask that on your notes too.

Okay, that’s great. I’ll include all those links, as I said, and the web address in the show notes.

Yeah. About booking with us. So there’s also obviously we now talked about these fixed departures with 12 people. But there’s option also if your listeners like the tour and think I would have even 10 friends together traveling, at any time we can put a program like that together on request for a private tour or for a private party. And the same is we’re currently working with different tour operators in different countries, the likes of the US, Australia, UK, some countries in Europe, we have tour operators who will take up this tour and actually will have an exclusive departure date where you, let’s say, as an Australian or a US citizen, can join a group which is only with local folks from your country. So right now, if you book with us on our website, it’s going to be an international tour. So you can have people from all over the world on the same coach. When you book with one of our partner tour operators, they likely have a local tour. Some of them want to include even a tour guide that actually gives you a more guided version or gives you more insights into destinations and so on.

And then we’ll slightly amend the program. But this is then up to the tour operator, which is to make sure it’s going to be the core of the program is going to be the same as we outlined it initially.

Okay. And will those local departure dates, will they be bookable through your website?

The local departure dates are going to be bookable with the tour operators in the relevant countries. But we will name the tour operators we’re going to work with. So we’re now in finalization of these collaborations. And about in a month or two months times, we’re going to have these on our website. So that says in the US, we have a tour operator, X, Y, Z, that actually has this tour on the program with its local amendments and his personal adjustments of the tour. But still with the Cabrio bus, with the convertible bus, and the itinerary is going to be the same hotels just here and there, maybe an extra or, as I said, a local guide that comes from the US back to the US or something.

Okay. Wonderful. All right. Well, I hope the small group tour is a wonderful success. I’m sure it will be because there’s got to be a lot of interest out there for that trip. As you said, post-pandemic people are starting to travel a bit differently and they want that flexibility. So it’s a great idea. Thank you, Fabian.

Thanks a lot. Thanks a lot. And yeah, I hope for many bookings and looking forward to have this tour expanded into other programs or other tours.

Thank you.


Travelling on a small group tour may not be for everyone but it certainly does have its advantages.

For one, being part of a small group tour gives you the opportunity to really connect with your driver guide and fellow passengers.

You’ll benefit from the local knowledge and personal insights that your driver guide has to share. Many guests also value the security of having a driver guide who can speak the local language – and one who takes care of their luggage, too.

Another advantage of travelling on a small group tour is accessibility. In most cases your driver guide will drop you off and pick you up right outside your hotel. You don’t need to make your own way to your accommodation from the train station or try to find parking for your car.  

One of the best things about a small group tour is having everything pre-arranged for you. With all your transport, accommodation and sightseeing organised for you, it’s a hassle-free way to see Switzerland.

Joining a tour also means that the majority of your vacation costs are pre-paid so you won’t be dipping into your pocket all the time for transport, admission fees and accommodation. Lunch, dinner – and of course Swiss chocolate – are about the only things you’ll have to pay for once you arrive in Switzerland.

If you’d like to find out more about the Grand Tour of Switzerland Explorer tour, including the daily itinerary and departure dates, all the details are on our website.

The 5% HTS discount is only available on the STC-run tours which operate June through to October 2024.  Use the code HTSWISS in the promo box when booking your tour online.  

Should you prefer to travel on one of the local departures that Fabian mentioned, the discount code doesn’t apply.

The promo code and the link to the STC website are listed in the show notes for this episode which you’ll find at holidaystoswitzerland.com/episode85

Thanks for tuning in today.  I hope you’ll join me next time when we chat about a super important topic, how to travel responsibly in Switzerland.

Until then, tschuss

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