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  • Centovalli Express Holiday

    Lake Maggiore. Credit: Switzerland Tourism

    Ticino. Credit: Switzerland Tourism

    Centovalli Express holiday – iconic Swiss rail journeys

    5 nights/6 days
    Zurich – Locarno – Centovalli Express – Bern
    Getting its name from the region of the Hundred Valleys through which it passes, the Centovalli Express is one of the most romantic rail journeys in Europe. It also offers the most direct connection between the Gotthard and Simplon railways. Besides this, its combination of tunnels, turns, bridges, and panoramic views make it an interesting, scenic route, passing Lake Maggiore and the northern Italian valleys. Take in views of rocky mountains, gushing waterfalls, rich vegetation, vineyards, clusters of chestnut trees, colourful glades, and small historic villages as you pass, travelling over 47 bridges which in Switzerland, and 36 in Italy.


    This Centovalli Express rail touring holiday begins with your arrival into Zurich, either by plane or by rail via France. Spend one night at your choice of luxury Zurich hotel, taking time to explore this famous city and enjoy Lake Zurich. On your second day, catch a train from Zurich to Locarno, taking approximately three hours, where you will spend three nights. On your fifth day, you board the Centovalli Express from Locarno, through Domodossola, to Brig, arriving three hours later if you do not choose to stop. Perhaps spend a few hours in this historic town before catching another train to Bern, where you will stay for your final night. From Bern, return to Zurich for your flight back to the UK; or, if you wish to return home by rail, spend one last night in Zurich before departure.

    Click here to download a full PDF itinerary.

    Samples prices
    Rail (standard class on Eurostar and second class on all other trains) from London and throughout back to London at 4 star hotels (eg Hotel Ambassador a l’Opera Zurich, Hotel Castello Seeschloss Locarno and Hotel Bern), from £1,520 per person
    Supplement: Standard premier on Eurostar and first class on all other trains £290 per person

    Flights to/from Switzerland and second class rail travel in Switzerland at 4 star hotels (eg Hotel Ambassador a l’Opera Zurich, Hotel Castello Seeschloss Locarno and Hotel Bern), from £1,440 per person
    Supplement: First class rail in Switzerland £190 per person

    Rail (standard class on Eurostar and second class on all other trains) from London and throughout back to London at 4/5 star hotels (eg Hotel Storchen Zurich, Giardino Ascona and Hotel Schweizerhof Bern), from £1,860 per person
    Supplement: Standard premier on Eurostar and first class on all other trains £290 per person

    Flights to/from Switzerland and second class rail travel in Switzerland at 4/5 star hotels (eg Hotel Storchen Zurich, Giardino Ascona and Hotel Schweizerhof Bern), from £1,780 per person
    Supplement: First class rail in Switzerland £190 per person

    What’s included
    Flights from UK to Zurich and back from Zurich OR rail travel London to Switzerland and back via Paris (first class can be booked at a supplement)
    4 day Swiss rail flex pass (first class can be booked at a supplement)
    1 night’s bed and breakfast in Zurich
    3 nights’ bed and breakfast in Locarno
    1 night’s bed and breakfast in Bern

    What’s not included
    Optional extra nights in Zurich, Locarno, Bern, Brig, Zermatt, or Geneva
    Transfers in Paris (applicable if travelling to Switzerland by train)
    Transfers in Switzerland station to hotel unless offered by your hotel

    Dates
    This rail holiday can be arranged throughout the year. Timings can vary depending on the month and day of the week.
    For more information regarding rail services to and within Switzerland, view our train guide.

    Day-by-day Itinerary

    Zurich - Locarno - Centovalli Express - Bern

    DAY ONE:
    Fly into Zurich on your first day, arriving early afternoon, or journey from London by train, arriving in the late afternoon. If time permits, spend a few hours exploring the city. Make sure you have time to visit the Grossmunster Church, perhaps climbing the Karlstrum, one of the church’s two iconic towers. Enjoy the pretty streets, cafes, and boutiques of Zurich’s old town, and have dinner either at your luxury hotel or in one of the many high-class gourmet restaurants in this area.

    DAYS TWO TO FOUR:
    After one night in Zurich, board a train south to Locarno in the province of Ticino. This journey will take approximately three hours, ideally arriving mid-afternoon. Once in Locarno, spend three nights at your choice of hotel, using the time to explore the Swiss side of Lake Maggiore and the romantic rolling plains of Ticino. Locarno is known for having the warmest climate in Switzerland, which propagates a very Mediterranean feel, particularly amongst the palm trees and sand on the lake banks. For a taste of the city’s religious heritage, visit one of the many idyllic churches, including the 17th century Church of St Anthony, the 16th century Church of San Francesco, the mid-17th century New Church, and the late 15th century Sanctuary of the Madonna del Sasso, all of which are dotted around the historic streets. Your priority within Locarno is likely to be the brooding Visconti Castle, in which there is a permanent Roman glass exhibition. On one of your days here, venture outside Locarno to see the turquoise, clear waters of the rivers and streams around the lake, to relax on a lake cruise, or to climb up to the Cadada Cimetta, from where you can see both the highest and lowest parts of Switzerland in one glance: the Valais High Alps and Lake Maggiore.

    DAY FIVE:
    In the late morning of your fifth day, board the Centovalli Express to Domodossola; a journey that takes around two hours. You will begin by travelling north into the Maggia Valley, where the Ponte Brolla crosses the turbulent river. Rocks smoothed by centuries of rushing water prove popular with cliff divers, and tunnels and caves offer much in the way of exploration. Grottos hide beneath the rock surface. At the prehistoric ruins of Tegna, the Centovalli Express turns west, passing shallow river beaches, traditional Ticino villages of ramshackle roofs and bright plastered walls, and imposing hilltop churches. At Cavigliano, the valley opens out; the ground quilted by geometric agricultural fields. Cross a Roman-style bridge and head towards the iron bridges of Intragna, the sparsely populated villages that follow, and Monte Camino and the isolated hamlet of Rasa. The Centovalli Express now crosses the Italian border just before pulling into secluded Ribellasca and Re, home to the impressive and startling Sanctuary of the Madonna of the Blood, which definitely warrants a brief stop for a tour. Pass through more quaint villages on your way to the truly unique Santa Maria Maggiore. Here, the valley becomes narrower and dense with vegetation and forest. A series of small settlements nestle between the steep slopes, seemingly cut off from the larger villages at either end of the valley. In Trontano, the Swiss influence is still visible in the architecture, but it peters out as you pass through Creggio and Masera, and finally arrive in Domodossola. For a more detailed explanation of the Centovalli Express route, view the 'About the Train' tab above. Spend a few hours enjoying the sight of the tall townhouses crowded around the vast squares, and have lunch in a pavement café. Visit the Sacro Monte del Calvario, built by Capuchin Monks, the 14th century Palazzo Silva, and the medieval Motta district. Then, when your exploration is complete, board another train to Brig. This fairly direct route takes less than half an hour and makes very few stops, giving you time to sit back and fully enjoy the views across the mountains and valleys without interruption. Once in Brig, you may choose to take a self-guided tour around the cobbled streets, stopping at the Stockalper Castle, which is undoubtedly the town’s most impressive monument. Your train will then take you north to Bern, the Swiss capital, where you will spend your final night.

    DAY SIX:
    Spend your final night in Bern, tucked away on a meander of the Aare River, and home to a beautiful Old Town that is continually popular with artists and writers. Over 100 fountains are dotted around the city, some dating back to the Middle Ages, and some topped with folkloric figures. Key cultural sites in Bern include the House of Parliament, topped by an iconic copper-clad dome, Bern Cathedral, the largest ecclesiastical building in Switzerland, the Bernisches Historisches Museum, housing an Einstein exhibit and several Burgundy tapestries, and the astronomical Zytglogge Clock Tower, with its revolving faces and unique hands. Perhaps extend your stay here to ensure you have time to explore the whole city; otherwise, continue on your sixth day to Zurich for your return flight to the UK. You may choose to travel home by train, in which case we would recommend spending an extra night in Zurich.

    Optional
    It is possible to add extra nights in Zurich, Locarno, or Bern. Consider also adding an extra night in Brig on day 5, or extending the holiday in Zermatt before travelling home via air or rail from Geneva.

    Click here to download a full PDF itinerary.

    Hotels

    At Zurich, Locarno, and Bern, you can choose from a range of different luxury hotels, details of which can be found below.

    Zurich
    Hotel Baur au Lac - 5 star

    Set on the banks of Lake Zurich, the Hotel Baur au Lac is equipped with a Michelin-starred restaurant, extensive tranquil parkland, and a rich, warm interior design. Guests can enjoy the beauty of the lake from the promenade or from a boat cruise, before returning to the hotel to enjoy the serene gardens, the chic luxurious indoor spaces, and the circular restaurant the juts out across the water.
    Hotel Ambassador a l'Opera - 4 star
    As a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World group, the Hotel Ambassador a l’Opera prides itself on the high quality of its service, its seasonal and locally-sourced food, and the very particular, serene style of the rooms. It is well-placed for enjoying Lake Zurich, the Limmat River, and the small marina at the end of the street.
    Hotel Storchen Zurich - 4 star deluxe
    Since the beginning of its hospitality 650 years ago, the unique and charming Hotel Storchen Zurich has offered an authentic insight into Swiss culture, design, and lifestyle. A pavement café lines the riverside, and behind the distinctive pink façade are high-ceilinged, tastefully decorated rooms, and the Rotisserie Restaurant, the ceiling of which is decorated in frescoes.
    Hotel du Theatre - 3 star
    This three star option in the centre of Zurich offers sophisticated and quirky accommodation in a hotel that adopts a cinema theme. Rooms are therefore suitably glamorous, with wholly unique features and excellent access to Lake Zurich and the city’s important cultural sites.

    Ascona
    Hotel Castello Seeschloss Ascona - 4 star

    Possessing all the charm, character, and personalised service of a boutique hotel, this four star option in Ascona looks out across Lake Maggiore with a distinctly Mediterranean façade. This intimate converted castle still has its original tower, in which some of its rooms are held, though the dining room is of a particularly contemporary design.
    Giardino Ascona - 5 star
    Between Lake Maggiore and extensive lush parkland, the Giardino Ascona offers a haven of peace beside the city of Locarno. The Roman Baths-style spa, the pretty, flourishing gardens, and the choice between fine and casual dining make this an idyllic place to spend a few days by the lakeside.

    Bern
    Hotel Bern - 4 star

    In the centre of the Swiss capital, the Hotel Bern prides itself on its modern style, sleek minimalist rooms, and glamourous restaurant. Chandeliers add to the romantic feel of the hotel interior, and the striking artworks on the walls continue to add character. This hotel provides excellent value for excellent service.
    Hotel Schweizerhof Bern - 5 star
    A sophisticated hotel that blends grandeur with modern style, the Hotel Schweizerhof Bern is a veritable jewel in the capital. Guestrooms and public rooms are lit by flickering fireplaces and the occasional glass chandelier. Warm, neutral colours prevail, be it in the plush sofas, the intricately embroidered bed throws, the guestroom feature walls, or the leather armchairs. An elegant restaurant and well-equipped spa completes the luxury experience.
    Hotel Kreuz - 3 star
    Well-positioned in Bern, the Hotel Kreuz offers good value for money, convenience, and comfortable accommodation. The cosy restaurant serves up expertly-cooked Swiss delicacies, which can be followed up with relaxing drinks in the lounge bar.

    Click here to download a full PDF itinerary.

    The Centovalli Express rail journey

    Hailed as one of Europe's most romantic rail journeys, the Centovalli Express traverses the green undulating valleys of southern Switzerland and northern Italy.

    Route Length: Nearly 60km or 2 hours from Locarno to Domodossola
    Stops: Locarno, Ponte Brolla, Tegna, Verscio, Cavigliano, Intragna, Corcapolo, Verdasio, Palagnedra, Camedo, Ribellasca, Re, Malesco, Santa Maria Maggiore, Druogno, Coimo, Marone, Verigo, Trontano, Creggio, Masera, Domodossola.

    Getting its name from the Hundred Valleys region through which it passes, the Centovalli Express offers the most direct connection between the Gotthard and Simplon Railways. Besides this, its combination of tunnels, turns, bridges, and panoramic views make it an interesting, scenic route, passing Lake Maggiore and the northern Italian valleys. Take in views of rocky mountains, gushing waterfalls, rich vegetation, vineyards, clusters of chestnut trees, colourful glades, and small historic villages as you pass, travelling over 47 bridges while in Switzerland, and 36 in Italy.

    This popular route, voted one of the most romantic in Europe, begins in Locarno, on the banks of Lake Maggoire. Locarno has the warmest climate in Switzerland, giving it a decidedly Mediterranean feel and encouraging the cultivation of a diverse range of natural flora and fauna. Before boarding the train, take the time to enjoy the many sites of natural beauty that surround the city, from the Cardada Cimetta, which allows you to witness the highest and lowest parts of Switzerland, the Valais High Alps and Lake Maggiore, simultaneously. Water sports and lake cruises are available at the lake, or stay further inland to weave your way through the Magic Valley or the Verzasca Valley, notable for its rich green-turquoise waters. For a taste of the religious heritage within the city, visit the late 17th century Church of St Anthony, the 16th century Church of San Francesco, the mid-17th century New Church, or the late 15th century Sanctuary of the Madonna del Sasso. The most intriguing monument in the city, however, is recognised to be the Visconti Castle, in which there is a permanent exhibition of Roman glass. Time your stay here for mid-week to enjoy the sights, sounds, and fragrances of the Thursday town market.

    Depending on the service and time of day, the number of stops on the Centovalli route change. For your convenience, we have selected the most prominent and the most frequent in our description of the journey. Once acquainted with the regularity of the trains, it is possible to stop for an hour in any of the locations mentioned here to explore the Hundred Valleys in more depth. One of the first stops once the train is outside Locarno is Ponte Brolla, named after the iron bridge crossing the turbulent Maggia River. Rocky gorges, popular with daring cliff divers, eerie tunnels, and ethereal caverns have been shaped by the powerful flow of the vibrant turquoise water. 40 ancient grottos sit beneath the rock surface, which were once used to store agricultural produce.

    The Centovalli Express then continues to its most northern point in Tegna. Here, the ruins of a prehistoric settlement sit an hour’s walk above the village. Shallow river beaches and smooth shelves of rock line the banks of the Maggia River, which are popular with swimmers in the summer months, but picturesque all year round. From Tegna, the train begins to travel southeast, first stopping in Verscio. Following the slopes of Pedemonte, Verscio is a traditional Ticino village. Grey stone houses topped with ramshackle tiled roofs sit beside houses coated in bright plaster. Narrow cobbled streets guide visitors, sheltered by the tall townhouses on either side. On higher ground, the unique, quirky 13th century San Fedele Church gazes over the village, next to the red crown of the bell and clock tower. Inside, it contains frescoes by Antonio da Tradate.

    Only a few minutes away is the next stop, Cavigliano. Here, the flat land opens out further between the mountains, with neatly organised agricultural fields and plumes of evergreen trees. At the centre stands the Church of San Michele, built in the late 16th century, but Cavigliano’s biggest treasure is probably the old wine press, the keys for which can only be obtained from the Town Hall. The Roman-style Cratolo Bridge marks the beginning of the Onsernone Valley.

    Next, you will find yourself in Intragna, home to a series of iron bridges that cross the Isorno torrent. A Roman bridge also arches over the white rock and jade waters. We would recommend alighting here to visit the many cultural and natural attractions. Within the town, visit the Church of San Gottardo, built in the early 18th century, though the oratory dates back to the 15th. The bell tower, built in the late 18th century is the tallest in Ticino, reaching 65m and with 166 steps from bottom to top. The Intragna-Pila-Costa Cableway will take you high up onto the mountainside, or, stay closer to sea level to visit the Regional Museum of Centovalli and Pedemonte.

    Many hiking paths, reached through a curved tunnel, originate at the next stop: Corcapolo. The houses here are few and far between, clinging to the steeply sloped mountainside. Pass through Corcapolo to Verdasio, another quiet stop that sees the train zigzag in and out of tunnels. Those seeking even more stunning panoramas than the ones the Centovalli rail line has to offer, may alight here to take the Monte Camino cable car up to Rasa, at 900m above sea level. The traffic free village of Rasa can only be accessed on foot or by cable car, so retains much of its idyllic charm, surrounded by fields of flowers, dense forests, and rural walkways lined with dry stone walls. At the village centre stands the 18th century Church of St Anne.

    Return to the train to continue on to Palagnedra. The train station is situated on the edge of the artificial Palagnedra Lake, at the foot of the winding road that takes you up on to the flat clearing in which the town itself sits. As you reach the top, the San Michele Church is directly on your right, adorned with more frescoes by Antonio da Tradate, dating from the 15th century. The houses are simply built out of stone and plaster, with a rural-Italian feel. Below the village is the Fenacci Mill, the only mill in the region that still has its original interior milling parts.

    After exploring Palagnedra, re-board the train as it follows the shore of the lake and heads on towards Camedo, the next stop on this journey. Camedo is home to more iron bridges, which overlook one another. The railway bridge, high on the mountainside above the Melezza River, has become an iconic image for the Centovalli Express. Camedo has a very isolated feel, due to the imposing mountains that seem to curve around the town and the meandering course of the river, and is populated by colourfully decorated houses.

    Before reaching its next stop, the Centovalli Express crosses the border into Italy. Within a minute of touching Italian soil, the train stops in Ribellasca. From here, the Centovalli moves on to Re, home to the Sanctuary of the Madonna of the Blood; a stunning pale stone building built on an arcaded stone platform on the edge of the mountain slope. Silver domes and peaks tops its many cylindrical towers, and tall, thin windows add a Medieval feel. Behind it, the white-washed, brown-roofed houses cluster. The grandeur of this central building is reflected in the translation of the town’s name: king.

    On a stretch of flat land further east is Malesco, the Centovalli’s next stop. Here you will find the Church of St Peter and Paul, though the scenery around Malesco can be easily enjoyed from your train carriage. Drawing to the end of the long valley, your next stop is in Santa Maria Maggiore. The unique cultural attractions here include the Museum of Chimney Sweeps and the Delle Arti School Rossetti Valentini. Peaceful streets are lined with detached chalet-esque houses with wooden balconies and shutters.

    As the valley becomes narrower and the forest becomes denser, the towns and villages become smaller. Druogno is a small town that epitomises quaint rural life; each house is unique, with coloured walls, fenced gardens, and breath-taking views. Beyond Druogno, however, the train stations are situated outside their corresponding villages, in the heart of the forest. Through Coimo, Marone, and Verigo, we would recommend remaining on the train to enjoy the wooded scenery. Trontano marks the widening of the valley and the beginning of your entry into Domodossola. Modern meets traditional in the style of the architecture, with heavy influences from traditional Swiss chalets, but white-washed walls and sleek slatework.

    Heading down the hillside, the Centovalli stops off in rural Creggio, from where you can look out towards Domodossola nestled between the three mountains in the distance. Cross over the River Melezzo once more to reach Masera, before heading into your final stop: Domodossola. The tall townhouses of Domodossola crowd around vast squares, each with individually arcaded ground floors with shops and pavement cafes. On the central square, Piazza Mercato, the bourgeois buildings have unique balconies and loggias. Each building seems to lean onto its neighbours, with a unique roof, wall colour, and window style, giving this city an infectious charm. While in Domodossola, visit the 14th century Briona Tower, the Teatro Galletti, one of the most active theatres in the province, the 14th century Palazzo Silva, now an Etruscan, Roman, and Egyptian museum, the Collegiate Church, and the Sacro Monte del Calvario, a UNESCO World Heritage Site built by Capuchin Monks. In the Motta District, some houses still have their Medieval wooden balconies.

    After arriving in Italy, perhaps continue your tour south, passing the Italian lakes on to Venice or the wine towns of Piedmont.

    Click here to download a full PDF itinerary.

    Centovalli Express Holiday Map

     
    Centovalli Express Touring Holiday Map 

    Centovalli Express Route Map

    Centovalli Express Route Map 

    Click here to download a full PDF itinerary.

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