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The expanded GoldenPass Line

Glacier 3000

Photo: Looking over the Pre-Alps from the Glacier 3000.

I have also created an expanded post for the Glacier Express and the Bernina Express.

The GoldenPass Line

The GoldenPass line is a train route which connects Montreux and Lucerne (Luzern) via Zweisimmen and Interlaken.

The GoldenPass is a bit awkward. Unlike the more famous Glacier and Bernina Express it isn’t a single train and it has never had consistent branding which has caused some confusion about what exactly it is. The only part that has the name branding (the GoldenPass Express/Panoramic) has always been on the Montreux end so many people think it only goes as far as Zweisimmen or Interlaken.

It is more pretty/pleasant than draw dropping for the most part. Not the high alps, but it has its own charm. Much more lush and fertile than the barren Bernina Pass or Oberalp pass

  • Due to differences in the gauge of the lines along the way this is for the most part not a single premium tourist train, but rather a string of trains. This has partly changed as of December 2022 with the introduction of the GoldenPass Express from Montreux to Interlaken and is one day planned to go all the way through to Lucerne.
  • The full journey takes 6 hours and requires two changes (it would be 5 hours with the new express, but that means sailing past everything).
  • There is no special ticket. A standard 2nd class ticket will cover all the trains on the route. The best choice of pass for spending at least a few days exploring this route would likely be the Half-Fare (possibly combined with the Saver Day Pass). Berner Oberland Pass covers many of the trains and buses on the route. Montreux to Saanen is only 50% off, but the rest of the route (and many of the diversions) is covered
  • If you have celebrating your birthday whilst on the route then there are a number of freebies. There are a number of surprisingly generous free tickets from 1st class train and boat passes to free cable car rides.
  • Use the ‘via’ function when planning via the SBB website/app. It will try and route you on the fastest trains unless you specify that you want to follow this precise route. Montreux to Lucerne would be given as the faster route outside of the mountains by default. You need to instead pick Montreux to Luzern via ‘Zweisimmen’ and via ‘Interlaken Ost’ to follow the GoldenPass route.
  • Unlike the Glacier and Bernina Express which are in somewhat out of the way areas for the most part, this has major stations at both ends and in the middle so is easy to jump on and off.

The expanded way of doing the route:

I get the impression that most people don’t do the whole thing in one go unlike the Glacier or Bernina Expresses, but there is still far more than you might expect to stop for along the way.

Rules: Everything suggested is either a train stop that the GoldenPass route passes through, or is at most a direct or reasonable public transport connection away from a stop on the train line (technically Hamburg is a direct train ride from Interlaken, or Milan is also a direct ride from Spiez or Lucerne, but that is clearly a bit silly).

  • I would say this is best over summer June-September when everything is open and accessible. June especially given the relatively low elevation of the route so there are lush green meadows in the valleys. It is also beautiful when covered in snow in the winter, but that is increasingly hard to be sure of at lower elevations.
  • You could do this in anything from a few days to a month depending on how much you like mountains, and how much time (and money) you have.
  • Likewise you can do anything from downhill technical mountain biking to a series of scenic coffees and gentle strolls.
  • I have just listed a few ideas and where possible links to my trips in the various regions. You could fill a book talking about all the options in all the places along the way.
  • Even keeping it brief this going to be quite an info dump. If I had to pick my top 3 places to explore along the route they would be: Dent de Jaman, Simmental, Lake Brienz.

I have split this into 3 sections to line up with the regional trains (obviously going the other way works fine too):

  • Stage 1: Montreux to Zweisimmen (2 hours 7 minutes).
  • Stage 2: Zweisimmen to Interlaken (1 hour 20 minutes).
  • Stage 3: Interlaken to Lucerne (1 hour 51 minutes).

Stage 1: Montreux to Zweisimmen

.Up from the shore of lake Geneva and through the pre-Alps.

There are many ‘stop on demand’ stations in tiny villages (or even the middle of nowhere) along this section so easy to hop on and off.

Types of train between Montreux and Zweisimmen

This section has 4 choices of train just to make things confusing.

Panoramic (listed as PE, GoldenPass Panoramic)

These consist of a mixture of wagons. Some panoramic (almost fully glass sides and partly glass roofs), some modern wagons with big windows but not quite panoramic, and some older with smaller windows (the older typically seem to be used earlier/later in the day when less tourists are expected).

The panoramic wagons are rather cosy, so if it is a busy train and/or you are a big person then maybe pick a different section.

Belle Époque (listed as PE, GoldenPass Belle Epoque)

This has become really popular in recent years (or at least very prominent in social media thanks to the old fashioned looking wagons). These run twice a day in each direction. You don’t need a special ticket, a standard first or second class for the section will cover the respective carriages.

The wagons might be a gift to Instagram but they are not that old. According to the train nerds of Wikipedia there are two wagons dating from 1914, but those are mostly just used for the chocolate train. The ones on the main route are actually from the 1960s.

You keep seeing statements that it is so cheap, that it only costs 16.5 CHF for example. The full ride from Montreux to Zweisimmen is 16.5 CHF if you have the half-fare (so 33 CHF at full price). Or 58 CHF if you want First Class which is where most of the influencer videos are filmed (the wagons with single seats on one side). There isn’t a single fixed price, you pay as far as you go. It can also be ridden for 2.2 CHF, but you won’t be staying on it for very long.

Panoramic Express (listed as PE, GoldenPass Express)

Runs from Montreux to Interlaken without a change thanks to a system which changes the width of the train gauge at Zweisimmen (when it is working). This marketed as being a luxury experience so most of the content you see is for the ‘prestige’ class which requires an additional 50 CHF charge and seat reservations. First and second class work with normal tickets.

Regional (listed as RE)

These trains with standard wagons run very early/late in the day.

Around Montreux

Montreux itself is a popular destination. The lakefront setting is nice (especially given that they don’t have a busy road on the waterfront like most other Swiss cities) and the views are impressive, but the town itself has never done anything for me. Most of it is modern and rather ugly really. The prettier history part is slightly up the hill at Les Planches.

  • It is an easy and scenic walk along the lake to Château de Chillon.
  • If you want good views of the lake then go up to Rochers de Naye or Dent de Jaman. You will get a much more extensive view than from the GoldenPass train – which is constantly switching back and forth as it climbs up, and often has trees and houses in the way.
  • The Lavaux Vineyards. I suggest walking the signposted Terrasses de Lavaux from Lutry to St-Saphorin (they suggest the other way but then the views of the Alps are behind you).
  • There are a few themed event trains on the Montreux end of this route: the Chocolate train, and the Jazz train, and the Cheese train. I haven’t done any of them so can’t speak for the experience.
château de Chillon
château de Chillon.
Lavaux vineyards
Lavaux vineyards.

Montreux to Mont Bovon

The train climbs up the steep hillside above Montreux with views over the lake, and then tunnels through into the pre-Alps.

This is in a way the most unique part of the route; no road covers the whole section so unless you walk or make some awkward drives up winding dead end roads then the train is the only way to experience these exact views.

  • Go over the pass on foot. This will offer more time to admire the lake without the constant motion of the train. Get off at Les Avants or Jor, hike up to the Col de Jaman (or better yet a bit higher to the Dent de Jaman) and then down to Les Cases (7 km, +/- 500m).
  • The Gorge du Chauderon rising up from Montreux looks to be an impressive hike (if it isn’t closed due to rock falls).
  • Hiking up or down is rather steep. I hiked from Jor down to Montreux via Caux.

At Mont Bovon (which isn’t much more than a few houses, including what is possibly the ugliest on the route across from the station).

  • Gruyere is just a short train ride away from Montbovon. A pretty and popular tourist town, and has the HR Giger Alien Bar and museum.
  • It would require multiple trains, but there are various attractions around Broc such as the Gorge de la Jogne and Maison Cailler chocolate factory.
Dent de Jaman
View over Lake Geneva from the Dent de Jaman.

Mont Bovon to Gstaad

From steep and lonely the route changes to a gentler valley following the Sarine/Saane river through a series of villages. About halfway between Rougemont and Saanen the valley narrows and the route crosses the language border from the French to German speaking region of Switzerland.

Getting off most places will offer some opportunities for pretty wooden houses and a pleasant walk with nice views. But for the more interesting options in the area you will have to go a bit further by connecting bus or cable car.

  • Châteaux-d’Oex is the first stop after Montreux which is big enough to have a decent sized COOP. I spent a few days using it as a base for hiking in the early spring. The bus over the Col des Mosses starts from here and is a stunning ride.
  • Rougemont. Small but with some very beautiful wooden chalets in the centre. It has a cable car up to a fantastic viewpoint at Rocher à Pointes.
  • Saanen has some beautiful old buildings but otherwise isn’t remarkable and doesn’t have a cable car or much to do other than carry on up or down the valley to the next village. I have stayed at the modern YHA there and can vouch for it as a nice budget stay in the region. It is only a few minutes on the train from Gstaad so makes for a cheaper/quieter place to stay.

Gstaad is easily the most famous stop on this section. It is OK but I wouldn’t bother with it for itself if you are short on time. If you want to see luxury clothes shops in chalets then it is perfect, otherwise it is a bit charmless. The best thing about Gstaad is that it is the hub of the region and offers a number of connections:

  • Bus to Lauenensee.
  • Bus to Col du Pillon where the cable car up to Glacier 3000 offers some very impressive views and is one of the few options to easily reach a glacier on this route.
  • There are various cable cars around the village itself for easy hiking options.
Rougemont to Château-d'Oex
Hiking in the valleys behind Rougemont.
Launensee
Launensee.
Glacier 3000
Glacier 3000.

Gstaad to Zweisimmen

This last section on this train crosses the Saanenmöser pass, the highest point on the route. Which at an adorable 1271m is about 1000m lower than the highest points on the Glacier and Bernina routes. Coming up from the west side you hardly notice that you have gone over a pass given that it is so wide and gentle with a village on top. The north side is much more rugged and impressive.

Saanenmöser itself is basically a village, offers various options like a cable car running up from the station to Saanenwald / Saanerslochgrat.

This first train terminates at Zweisimmen. The village itself isn’t of much interest beyond offering a few places to eat and sleep.

  • A cable car runs out of the village from close to the station up to the Rinderberg which offers a viewpoint and an easy walk along to Saanenmöser.
  • A train runs the short distance up the end of the Simmen valley to Lenk which also isn’t all that interesting but offers the coolest looking train in Switzerland with a drugged up bear and makes a good starting point for a number of hikes like passes on the Via Alpina towards Launen or Adelboden, or the Iffigfall waterfall.
  • Short walk to the joining of the Simmen rivers (hence Zweisimmen) and to the castle ruins at Manneberg.
Lenk train
Point de la Plaine Morte to Lenk

Stage 2: Zweisimmen to Interlaken

It does have some beautiful views and great options beyond the train, but if you are riding through in one go then this feels like an awkward joining section between the more dramatic and advertised sights at the start and end. Not least because section is on a regional train which is the most basic on the route.

Zweisimmen to Spiez

Down the beautiful Simmental. This is chocolate-box perfection in early summer with lush green meadows and rustic wood houses. The train is often hemmed in by hillsides or trees so the views are a bit limited. I have ridden the valley by bike which offered a much better way to take in the views.

  • Bus from Boltigen up to the Jaunpass. The road itself doesn’t offer much of a view at the pass itself, but walk a bit further up and it is fantastic.
  • At Erlenbach i.S a cable car runs up to Stockhorn which offers fantastic views of the Jungfrau region and over lake Thun. The village also has some beautiful wooden houses.
  • The Diemtigtal side valley is worth a look .A Postbus runs up from Oey-Diemtigen station to Grimmialp (bus stop ‘Schwenden i.D., Grimmialp’).
Jaunpass
On the Juanpass.
Bike - 2021 - Simmental
Typical Simmental landscape.

Spiez

Coming out of the Simmen valley the landscape opens up on lake Thun sitting at the edge of the Alps. Spiez isn’t anything memorable as a town itself (most of it is bland modern blocks) but the waterfront with the castle and backdrop of the lake and mountains is very impressive. It also has fantastic transport connections.

  • Walk along the lake to Faulensee.
  • Trains into the Kandertal offer some easy short diversions (Kandersteg, Oeschinensee, Blausee)
  • Connections towards the cities in the Mittelland like Thun, and Bern.
  • Connections to Valais. Strictly speaking the places with direct trains like Visp and Brig are not very exciting, but if the weather is bad in Spiez then it might be much better in Valais if you have the time for a trip to Zermatt or the Aletsch Arena.

Spiez to Interlaken

The final section on this train follows the shore of Lake Thun. The views from the train are stunning (sit on the left side) but it passes through a number of tunnels so the views are often cut off.

  • There are a few villages that the regional train stops at which offer a chance to relax by the lake. You can also walk between a few of them, but the footpath is often alongside or close to the main road.
  • An alternative option is to take the boat from Spiez to Interlaken West and enjoy wide open views the whole way.

Interlaken and the Jungfrau region

Interlaken and the neighbouring Jungfrau region are obviously major tourist hotspots and have endless content about them already.
As a place in itself Interlaken is fine, but I find it a bit dull and only use it as somewhere to change train. What it does best is offer connections for endless daytrip options:

Niederhorn Schangnau Hike
View from the Niederhorn.
Lauterbrunnen in late May.
Lauterbrunnen valley seen from Wengen.

Stage 3: Interlaken to Lucerne

The final section of the GoldenPass line journey (which may or may not be part of it depending on who you ask) is one of the the most beautiful and varied with plenty of diversions along the way.

Train types between Interlaken and Lucerne

The main train on this route is the ‘Lucerne-Interlaken Express’. All the trains on this route are modern with big windows, and some cars are panoramic ones. No reservation or special ticket required, just be warned that as a scenic train which runs between two of the biggest tourist hotspots in the country it can be busy.

In addition to the Express there are also regional/S-Bhan trains that stop at more places along the way, but don’t run the full length of route. They can’t go over the pass due to the need for a cogwheel on the steeper section so just stay in the flatter valley floors. One runs from Lucerne to Giswil (notably stoppingfor Alpnachstad for the boat/Pilatus train), and the other from Interlaken to Meiringen.

Interlaken to Meiringen

From Interlaken the train runs along the shore of Lake Brienz and then up the wide but steep sided Haslital.

Sit on the right for views of the Brienzersee. The train goes into a deadend at Meiringen and backs out. The left has better views going up the pass and down the otherside (so if you were already on the right then you are now on the left, but going backwards).

  • Skip the train and take the boat from Brienz to Interlaken.
  • Brienz itself has some beautiful wooden buildings and is worth a look around for an hour or two.
  • The Rothornbahn steam (or sometimes diesel) train runs up from Brienz to the Brienzer Rothorn. An alternative (and much cheaper) option is taking the cable car up the other side from Sörenberg.
  • The Ballenberg Museum. I have actually never been to this, but it does sound rather good.
  • The Oltschibach Waterfall is visible from the train but the novelty of the military airport crossing (mandatory Tom Scott video) is out of sight. You can get there by bus, but it is not all that practical by public transport. Much easier by bike from Brienz or Meiringen.
Brienzer Rothorn
Brienzer Rothorn.

Meiringen

Meiringen is a small town which has a few nice buildings but generally isn’t that special in itself (other than the Sherlock Holmes obsession) but it would make a good base for the area around which has some fantastic activities and places to visit.

  • The Aare Gorge is just a short walk out of town, or take the little train to Innertkirchen and walk back.
  • Reichenbach falls. The death place of Sherlock Holmes which the town has taken to heart as part of its identity. This can easily be combined with the Aare gorge into a few hours of scenic walking. Getting up to the fall requires a fairly steep hike or short funicular ride. You can see various waterfalls from the train, but this is not one of them.
  • A series of cable cars run out of Meirigen to the Hasliberg which offers fantastic views and hiking.
  • A bus, cable car and hike to the Trift bridge.
  • The social media favourite Gelmerbahn is a 35 minute bus ride away (possibly with a change at Innertkirchen).
  • The bus up to Schwarzwaldalp passes by some stunning scenery. In particular the area around the Rosenlaui Hotel. At Schwarzwaldalp you can change to the bus for Grindelwald which goes over the Grosse Scheidegg.
  • An easy option for a very beautiful and easy walk is taking the cable car up to Reuti then along a panoramic terrace to the Brünigpass station (2hours, 8km with +/-200m height difference), from where you can catch the train back to Meiringen or carry on along the route.
Trift Bridge
Trift Bridge.
Hasliberg
By Planplatten on Hasliberg.

Over the Brünigpass to Giswil

From Meirigen the train climbs up with fantastic views of the towering mountains across the valley. These are among the most impressive sights on the entire route.

You would think this was the highest point on the route given that the landscape around it is possibly the most imposing on the entire route. But the 1008m Brünigpass is dwarfed by the 1297m Saanenmöser from Stage 1.

  • The Brünigpass station makes a good start/end point for a number of hikes. Such as the aforementioned walk along the terrace to/from Reuti, or coming down along the ridge from the Brienzer Rothorn.
  • The Brünigpass itself is hemmed in by trees and hillside so doesn’t have much of a view, you can drop down to the fields below it on the south side so get a better view of the mountains.
  • There is a Brocki (second hand shop) at the station which sells a number of very Swiss trinkets.
Brünigpass May
View from the field below the Brünigpass in May.

Descending the north side of the Brünigpass the train passes through what feels like a hidden patchwork of meadows and forest before emerging by Lungern.

Lungern Hike
Lungern and the Lungernsee.

Giswil to Lucerne

From the Lungernsee the train winds its way down a steep hillside to enter the wide Sarnen valley at Giswil. The mountain views remain and there are a few lakes to admire, but the route is basically flat from here. There is only 30m of elevation difference in the last 30km to Lucerne.

  • There are two road passes on the the west side of the valley which go over to the Entlebuch region. The Glaubenbielen pass connecting Giswil and Sörenberg, and the Glaubenberg pass connecting Sarnen and Entlebuch. Buses run over these in the summer, though there are only a few a day and are a bit slow requiring at least one change on the mountain. The Glaubenberg especially would be a good starting point for a walk along the ridge to Pilatus.
  • Älggi Alp – the geographic centre of Switzerland.
  • A Postbus runs from Sarnen to Stockalp where a cable car takes you up to Melchsee-Frutt which is the start point for the fantastic 4 lake hike over to Engelberg.
  • At Alpnachstad there is the option to switch to the boat for the final few kilometres into Lucerne. The train is mostly in tunnels or surrounded by buildings from here so doesn’t really get many good views of the lake. This is also the base station for the cogwheel train up Pilatus.

Lucerne (Luzern)

Lucerne itself is also a major tourist destination with plenty of options in easy reach for day trips or easy onward travel to Zurich airport and other countries.

There has been plenty enough written about it already, but here are a few ideas:

  • Take the train to Brunnen, admire the waterfront, then ride the boat back to Lucerne. An interesting twist on this is to visit Rütli, the spiritual birthplace of Switzerland.
  • There are endless mountains that are easy to go up within a short train/bus ride. The classics are Rigi or for more of a rocky mountain Pilatus, but there are many other options.
  • Depending on your plans two other promoted routes start here. The Voralpen Express to St Gallen in the north-east, and the Gotthard Panorama Express to Lugano. Of these the Gotthard option would be the most impressive (but again you could divert off at multiple points to enjoy some more views – like exploring the Maderanertal or going over the Gotthard pass properly by bus from Andermatt to Airolo). Maybe one day I will write a post on them too.
Rigi Mark Twain hike
Riding the boat from Lucerne to Rigi.