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  • Wilhelm Tell Express Holiday

    Credit: Switzerland Tourism

    Credit: Switzerland Tourism

    Lake Maggiore. Credit: Switzerland Tourism

    Wilhelm Tell Express holiday – iconic Swiss rail journeys

    5 nights/6 days
    Lucerne – Boat –Wilhelm Tell Express – Gotthard – Bellinzona – Lugano
    Wilhelm Tell, the Swiss National Hero of Liberty, is one of the best known folk characters in Switzerland. Friedrich von Schiller penned the most popular recounting of Tell’s fable in his poem, which is still performed in Switzerland more than 200 years later. Today, Tell is depicted on the back of the 5 Swiss Franc coin.


    Begin your Wilhelm Tell Express touring holiday with a three-night stay in Lucerne, the City of Lights, before boarding the Wilhelm Tell Express on your fourth day. The route of the Wilhelm Tell Express takes you first zig-zagging across Lake Lucerne in your choice of a steamboat or salon motorboat. Pass the iconic locations mentioned in Schiller’s poem, including the Rutli Meadows and Tell’s Chapel at Sisikon. When you reach Fluelen on the southern-most shore of the lake, disembark and board the train heading to Locarno. The journey south towards the Italian border is lined with snow-capped peaks, interspersed with dramatic valleys, and broken up by a number of historic, picturesque towns. When you reach Bellinzona, change trains for Lugano, where you will spend two nights before heading into Italy for a return flight from Milan, or back north to Zurich for a return flight or train.

    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 Wilden Mann and Hotel Lugano Dante) from £1,660 per person
    Supplement: Standard premier on Eurostar and first class on all other trains £330 per person

    Flights to/from Switzerland and second class rail travel in Switzerland at 4 star hotels (eg Hotel Wilden Mann and Hotel Lugano Dante) from £1,575 per person
    Supplement: First class rail in Switzerland £185 per person

    Rail (standard class on Eurostar and second class on all other trains) from London and throughout back to London at 5 star hotels (eg Palace Luzern and Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola), from £2,080 per person
    Supplement: Standard premier on Eurostar and first class on all other trains £330 per person

    Flights to/from Switzerland and second class rail travel in Switzerland at 5 star hotels (eg Palace Luzern and Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola), from £1,995 per person
    Supplement: First class rail in Switzerland £185 per person

    What’s included
    Flights from UK to Zurich and back from Milan or 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)
    3 nights’ bed and breakfast in Lucerne
    2 nights’ bed and breakfast in Lugano

    What’s not included
    Optional extra nights in Zurich, Lucerne, Lugano, Geneva, or Bern
    Transfers in Paris (applicable if travelling to Switzerland by train)
    Transfers in Switzerland station to hotel unless offered by your hotel
    A luggage transfer service is available within Switzerland – please contact us for further details.

    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

    Lucerne - Boat - Wilhelm Tell Express - Gotthard - Bellinzona - Lugano

    DAYS ONE TO THREE:
    On your first day, fly or catch a train via Paris into Zurich. If time allows, perhaps spend an hour taking in this historic and enchanting city, stopping at the Grossmunster church and climbing the Karlstrum tower. Then board the train and take the short journey south to Lucerne, where you will spend your first three nights. The so-called City of Light is a bubble of cosmopolitan atmosphere, as well as a place of rich, historic significance. Wander down the pretty streets, taking in the individuality of the boutique shops and quaint cafes, or venture out into the surrounding landscape, visiting the Titlis Glacier, the Alpine meadows, and appreciating the views over the 13 nearby lakes, Swiss Mittelland, and the German and French borders from the Rigi Mountain. The Pilatus Mountain affords climbers and hikers views across more than 70 Alpine peaks, and is steeped in legends of dragons, giants, and royal graveyards. Two cog railways, from Vitznau and Goldau, and a panoramic cable car trip from Weggis offer relaxing ways to take in the scenery. A highlight of your stay in Lucerne will be walking along the Chapel Bridge and seeing the Water Tower, though the river itself has much more to offer. We would encourage using your time in Lucerne as an opportunity to visit many more of the towns and villages on the northern shore of the lake.

    DAYS FOUR TO FIVE:
    After three nights in Lucerne, board the Wilhelm Tell steamboat or salon motorboat from the Swiss Museum of Transport’s lido. This boat trip takes you across Lake Lucerne, from Lucerne to Fluelen, passing the notable points of interest from Schiller’s poem about Wilhelm Tell. Pass the picturesque white villages of Weggis and Vitznau, the bustling town of Brunnen, the Rutli Meadows, and Tell’s Chapel in Sisikon, where he reputedly jumped from the bailiff’s boat before pushing it back into the storm. Presiding over all of this is the imposing Rigi Mountain. When you reach Fluelen, disembark and board the Wilhelm Tell Express train, which is headed towards Locarno. Follow the pathway of the Reuss River as it slices through wide, flat valleys further inland, before the railway gains altitude as the valleys narrow. Chocolate box villages dot the hillsides, and the railway tracks navigate tunnels and steep curves, such as the Gotthard loop tunnels and the Gotthard Strassentunnel, as you head further south into Ticino. Waterfalls, twisting streams, and historic chalets steam past the window as you go. An Italianate influence becomes apparent as you reach mid-south Ticino, particularly in Bellinzona, where you will change trains for Lugano. Take in the sight of the two opposing medieval castles, perched on their small hilltops, before continuing south. The landscape here is a patchwork of agricultural fields, with Monte Tamaro erupting out of the smooth land to separate Lake Maggiore from Lugano. Once you arrive in Lugano, disembark for a two night stay at your choice of luxury hotel. While here, be sure to explore the eponymous Lake Lugano, perhaps by boat or by enjoying some of the local water sports. Ascend Monte Bre on the funicular railway that runs from Casserate to add a romantic finishing touch to your rail experience of Switzerland. From the top of the San Salvatore Mountain, you can take in the phenomenal views of the two nearby lakes. For more information on the Wilhelm Tell Express route, view the 'About the Train' tab above.

    DAY SIX:
    On your final day in Switzerland, you can choose to either continue south into Italy to catch a return flight from Milan or to catch a train north to Zurich, via Bern, for a return flight or rail journey. If you decide on a return journey via rail from Zurich, we would recommend spending one extra night here before departure.

    Optional
    It is possible to add extra nights in Zurich, Lucerne, Lugano, Geneva, or Bern.

    Click here to download a full PDF itinerary.

    Hotels

    At both Lucerne and Lugano, you have a choice between a range of our luxury hotels, details of which are listed below.

    Lucerne
    Hotel Wilden Mann – 4 star

    Hotel Wilden Mann has been hosting guests for over 500 years; first as a bar, then as a tavern, and now as a luxury hotel. Inside, the original winding corridors and traditional elements remain, adding further quirkiness to the building that clings to the edge of the river. The lovingly decorated rooms have antique furnishings, abundant character, and a very classical style.
    Palace Luzern – 5 star
    The lakefront Palace Luzern is in a very prestigious area, flanked by houses equally as palatial as the hotel itself. Light airy rooms follow either a traditionally elegant style, an art deco design, or are sleek and modern. Higher category rooms feature works by Miro, Kandinsky, and Chagall. The gourmet restaurants are unique in Lucerne; one serving exclusively seafood. A highlight is the tempting and luxurious spa.
    Hotel Waldstaetterhof – 3 star
    This centrally-located hotel offers sleek, bold accommodation that strikingly contrasts the fairy-tale appearance of its 20th century townhouse exterior. Polished wooden floors, white walls and bedsheets, and bold reds, blues, or greens create a very warm feel, which is complemented by the sharp lines, feature colours, and unique ornaments of the restaurant and bar.

    Lugano
    Hotel Lugano Dante – 4 star

    Built around traditional Swiss elements, this hotel provides simplistic luxuries in an area rich with gourmet restaurants. Inside the hotel, guests experience cosy, warm rooms, sleek, monochrome suites, and an unrelenting attention to detail.
    Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola – 5 star
    Housed within a late 19th century mansion, the Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola channels aspects of Mediterranean culture in its pale-peach façade, its summery garden, and the dining experiences on offer. Guestrooms have wholly unique touches to ensure that every stay here is different, and the swimming pool, lounges, and bars encourage guests to keep returning.

    Click here to download a full PDF itinerary.

    The Wilhelm Tell Express rail journey

    Encompassing both a boat ride and a rail journey, the Wilhelm Tell Express follows in the footsteps of one of Switzerland's most popular, legendary public figures.

    Route Length: 5.2 hours or 182km from Lucerne to Lugano, part by steamboat or salon motorboat, and part by train
    Stops:
    Steamboat – Swiss Museum of Transport Lido, Hertenstein, Weggis, Vitznau, Beckenried, Gersau, Treib, Brunnen, Rutli, Sisikon, Fluelen
    Salon Motorboat – Swiss Museum of Transport Lido, Hertenstein, Weggis, Vitznau, Beckenried, Gersau, Treib, Brunnen, Rutli, Bauen, Isleten-Isenthal, Fluelen
    Train – Fluelen, Erstfeld, Goschenen, Airolo, Faido, Biasca, Bellinzona, Cardenazzo, Locarno
    Change at Bellinzona for the train to Lugano via Giubiasco, Rivera-Bironico, Mezzovico, Taverne-Torricella, and Lamone-Cadempino.
    Facilities: An on board restaurant is available, in which guests receive a reserved seat

    Wilhelm Tell stands as one of the best known folk characters in Switzerland, and is the Swiss National Hero of Liberty. The most popular recounting of Tell’s fabled existence is in a poem by Friedrich von Schiller, first brought to the stage in 1804 but still performed each year in Interlaken. The most iconic scene from the legend is recognised to be the moment in which Tell shoots an apple off of his son’s head after defying a bailiff’s orders. Today Tell is depicted on the back of the 5 Swiss Franc coin.

    The route of the Wilhelm Tell Express takes you first zig-zagging across Lake Lucerne to Fluelen in either a steamboat or a salon motorboat, from where you board the train to Locarno. The journey south towards the Italian border is lined with snow-capped peaks, interspersed with dramatic valleys, and broken up by a number of historic, picturesque towns. There is the possibility of changing at Bellinzona for an alternative train to Lugano.

    As the Wilhelm Tell Express operates just twice a day, we do not recommend alighting during the journey unless it is for a longer stay, instead taking time to enjoy Lucerne and Locarno or Lugano before and after the ride.

    The first leg of the Wilhelm Tell Express is taken via steamboat or salon motorboat, each beginning at the Swiss Museum of Transport in Lucerne. Arrive the night before departure to ensure you have a few hours to enjoy this beautiful city. Wander down the pretty streets, taking in the boutique shops and quaint cafes, or venture out into the surrounding natural landscape, visiting the Titlis Glacier, the Alpine meadows, or appreciating the view over 13 lakes, the Swiss Mittelland, and the German and French borders from the top of Rigi Mountain. Pilatus Mountain affords climbers and hikers views across more than 70 Alpine peaks, and is steeped in legends of dragons, giants, and royal graveyards. Two cog railways from Vitznau and Goldau and a panoramic cable car trip from Weggis offer relaxing ways to take in the scenery. In Lucerne itself, be sure to walk along the Chapel Bridge, the most photographed monument in Switzerland, viewing the Water Tower as you go.

    From here, board the boat and begin your trip across the length of Lake Lucerne. The first stop on this lake cruise is in Hertenstein, a small collection of houses and a single eponymous hotel that cluster around the shores of a green, forested peninsula. Slightly further east along the northern shore of the lake is Weggis, the steamboat’s second stop. Here, the white-fronted houses climb the gently sloping lake shores from just a few metres from the water’s edge. The typically and idyllically Swiss feel of the town is completed by the distinctive red spire of the town’s small church.

    Following the curve of the lakeside, the boat takes you to the edge of the Canton of Lucerne, to Vitznau. Crowned by a chateau-esque waterside hotel, this tiny port village welcomes visitors with a cog railway and a Roman Catholic Church with an unusual clock tower. Then, the boat will take you through the narrow neck of Lake Lucerne, and across to the southern shore and Beckenried. Another small port town, Beckenried is adorned with cable cars, small lakeside beaches, and good access to the ski slopes the area is so famous for. Travel back northwards to Central’s Switzerland’s Riviera, Gersau, for the next stop, at the base of the Rigi Mountain. Surrounded by hiking routes, due to the self-contained shape of the hollow in which it sits, Gersau is an idyllic summer destination.

    The next stop is in Treib, a small community consisting almost entirely of a dock and a unique chalet characterised by its yellow and black striped shutters. The hillside is laced with zig-zagging roads and railway tracks. In contrast with this quiet spot, Brunnen is a bustling town, with tall townhouses that sit right on the waterfront, each with traditional brown roofs and large dormer windows that look out across the Alpine panoramas. It is also possible to join the Wilhelm Tell Express at Brunnen, due to easy access to the town via the valley.

    After Brunnen, you will come to Rutli, the first site that holds particular reference to the legend of Wilhelm Tell. The Rutli Meadows are the setting for Friedrich Schiller’s story of Wilhelm Tell, and were also where the four cantons swore their Oath of Eternal Alliance in 1291 and thus founded Switzerland. Across the lake, the steamboat will then stop in Sisikon, where Tell’s Chapel stands on the water’s edge. It is said that it was here that Tell jumped from the bailiff’s boat before kicking it back into the storm to aid his escape. The chapel itself is intricately decorated with four frescoes depicting iconic moments from the legend. The salon motorboat, however, rather than docking at Sisikon, will continue on to Bauen, reputedly one of Switzerland’s most romantic villages. From Sisikon, the steamboat moves on to Fluelen, where passengers transfer to the Wilhelm Express train. The salon motorboat, however, stops off in Isleten-Isenthal, the entrance to a municipality that is sparsely populated by traditional chalets, and is dotted with small pools, lakes, and smooth rolling hills.

    Board the train to Locarno in Fluelen to begin the ‘Express’ part of your journey. If you have time before your connection, wander along the rocky pathway that separates the harbour from the lake waters; this is perhaps the best place to take in the sublime panoramas of the fjord-like Urner Lake, as well as the chalets and grand houses of Fluelen that stretch out along the shore, skirting the steep slopes of the mountains and punctuated by the tower of the church.

    From Fluelen, the railway track runs along the Reuss River, as the landscape opens out onto a wide, flat plain, surrounded by jagged mountains that rise abruptly from the verdant ground. The train stops in Erstfeld, a modest group of houses, shops, and a church.

    After a longer stretch, the terrain becomes more typically Alpine, as the tracks gain altitude and the mountains close in on either side. Chocolate box villages dot the hillsides, linked by winding tracks. Solitary houses perch on top of jutting rocks and the views become even more rurally picturesque. As you pass through Wassen, notice the hilltop Wassen Church in the Urner Oberland, visible at three different points as you navigate the Gotthard loop tunnels. A complex network of roads and railway tracks marks Goschenen out as a prominent junction in the area; routes weave back on themselves and viaducts and tunnels allow the train to cross and re-cross the Reuss as it crashes into the smooth rocks that mark its course.

    The Wilhelm Tell Express now takes you on to the next stop at Airolo, through the Gotthard Strassentunnel. Immediately on your right as you emerge are the deep blue waters of the River Ticino, caught in a pool before a small dam. The train continues to follow the river here, passing intermittently through the outskirts of the mountainside forest. From Airolo to Biasca, the train passes through the Leventina district, which is a prominent transit axis from the Gotthard to the South. Waterfalls, winding streams, and historic chalets are hidden between the rocks, forests, and mountains.

    Next, stop in Faido, where the architecture has an Italianate twist. The River Ticino is met by the Cascata Piumogna before it resumes its turbulent path along the valley. The Express then passes through Biasca, a larger, but sparser town that has stretched to fill the hollow where two valleys meet. Then, the train stops in Bellinzona, Switzerland’s most Italianate town and capital of Ticino. Here, the ramparts of the central castle, perched on a rocky bluff, run alongside vineyards. Each detail of this monument has been carefully maintained, with lush grass carpeting the fortified castle wall walkways. Bellinzona is home to 3 of Switzerland’s best-preserved medieval castles, which come together to make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Across the town, picturesque squares are lined by historic stone buildings, breaking up the spiral of roads that work from the town centre to the outskirts. It is here that you may wish to change trains for Lugano.

    Before reaching Locarno, the main train route makes a final stop in Cardenazzo, following the pathway of patchwork fields that lead from Bellinzona to Lake Maggiore. Once you have arrived in Locarno, spend the rest of your day enjoying the Mediterranean feel and warm climate; the warmest, in fact, in Switzerland. Diverse flora and fauna decorate this lakeside city, which has close proximity to a number of stunning natural sites. Visit the Cardada Cimetta to see the highest and lowest parts of Switzerland, the Valais High Alps and Lake Maggiore, in one glance; enjoy the water sports on the lake or take a cruise around the lakeside villages; weave your way through the Magic Valley or through the Verzasca Valley, with its rich green-turquoise waters; or, seek out the white and grey villages that sit higher up on the mountain slopes.

    The alternative route from Bellinzona to Lugano takes you first to the small, flat municipality of Giubiasco, just outside Bellinzona. Then, continue on to Rivera-Bironico, which is home to Switzerland’s most modern spa, the Tamaro Splash and Spa. The journey then takes you past Monte Tamaro, a 1962m peak situated on the land between Lake Maggiore and Lugano that is famous for the Santa Maria degli Angeli Church, designed by Mario Botta, and the ridge hike leading up to it from Monte Lema. Mezzovico sits beside Monte Tamaro, a commercial town with the added charm of a picturesque, isolated stone church. Pass through Torricella-Taverne on your way to Lamone-Cadempino, the penultimate stop on your tour, watching as the rural communities become grander and more urban.

    Finally, arrive in Lugano, famous for Lake Lugano, the San Salvatore Mountain, and Monte Bre. Ascend Monte Bre on the funicular railway from Casserate to complete your rail experience in Switzerland, or take the Palm Express coach to St Moritz or to Lombardy in Northern Italy via the lakes of the Upper Engadine to continue the exploratory journey.

    Click here to download a full PDF itinerary.

    Wilhelm Tell Express Holiday Map


    Wilhelm Tell Express Holiday Map

    Wilhelm Tell Route Maps

     Wilhelm Tell Express Route Map

     Wilhelm Tell Express Boat Map 

    Click here to download a full PDF itinerary.

     

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