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Travelling by public transport in Switzerland is a tourist's delight
WITH its 26,000 captivating kilometres of train, bus and boat routes, picturesque Switzerland is really every tourist's delight. From majestic mountains, crystal-clear lakes and verdant valleys to villages and vibrant cities, the country in the heart of Europe is a truly unique travel experience - especially when using its excellent public transport system.
The country promises trouble-free travel thanks to its extensive public transport network which is integrated into a single system. In fact, the Swiss Travel System is the key to trouble-free travel by train, bus, boat and mountain railway to every corner of the country, which has an area of 41,200 sq km.
Having a population of eight million people, Switzerland is a fairly compact country compared to some of its neighbours in Europe. The distance from north to south is 220 km and from east to west is 346 km.
Exclusively for foreign visitors, the Swiss Travel System has created a selection of special tickets and passes, covering virtually every travel need. With "Swiss Travel Pass & Co", moving around in Switzerland by public transport is attractive, easy and free of trouble.
Whether the foreign tourist chooses to go on the popular panorama routes, by PostBus over Alpine passes or set sail on a ship to new shores, the Swiss Travel System becomes a handy means to pure travel pleasure.
And that is not all, as the Swiss Travel System ticket comes with other bonus benefits. Not too well-known is the fact that Switzerland has nearly 1,500 lakes. The country also has 140 glaciers.
The most popular Swiss Travel Pass covers unlimited travel by train, bus or boat nationwide, including panorama routes and local public transport in 75 cities and towns. Be it Basel, Geneva, Lucerne or Berne, each Swiss city has its own appeal. The pass is a value-for-money way to see local sights, enjoy chic shopping and discover trendy bars. It is valid for three, four, eight or 15 consecutive days. The Swiss Travel Pass starts from about S$300. There is a bonus of 50 per cent reduction off most mountain railways and free admission to more than 480 Swiss museums.
The Swiss Travel Pass, available to foreign visitors, takes the hassle out of having to buy multiple passes and thus allows one to enjoy a stress-free holiday in the country.
Then there is also the Swiss Travel Pass Flex, which is similar to the main Swiss Travel Pass except that it is valid for three, four, eight or 15 freely selectable days in a month.
Another variation is the Swiss Half Fare Card which gives up to 50 per cent discount on travel with rail, bus and boat as well as most mountain railways and public transport in more than 75 cities and towns. It is valid for a month.
For those under the age of 26, there is the Swiss Travel Youth Pass which costs 15 per cent less than the regular Swiss Travel Pass. Then there is the Swiss Family Card, which is issued free of charge on request when buying any regular Swiss Travel System ticket. Using this card, children under the age of 16 years travel free of charge when accompanied by at least one parent.
The trouble-free travel with Swiss public transport means more than getting from point A to point B as it includes many specialised services such as baggage transportation and dining and wining while travelling, which are all designed to make a tourist's trip as enjoyable as possible. Whether arriving, departing or already travelling, the Swiss Federal Railway will ensure that the baggage arrives at the destination intact and on time.
The Swiss say that their public transport operates as accurately as the finely balanced wheels of a Swiss watch, be it in fast transfers from city to city or in relaxing trips through the country's captivating countryside. In addition, going by trains is an eco-friendly way to travel as most trains run on hydroelectricity.
With the opening of the new high-tech Gotthard Base Tunnel this year, travellers will enjoy faster train travel with speeds of up to a maximum of 250 km per hour leading to a substantial reduction in travel time within Switzerland and also between northern and southern Europe.
THE TASTE OF TRAVEL
Often travelling builds up a healthy appetite. To cater to tourists' needs most Swiss trains have an attractive dining car serving selected culinary creations, an on-board bistro serving snacks, or a mobile mini-bar service.
When travelling overseas, you usually need local money. If you forget to change money before reaching Switzerland, help is at hand. At no less than 200 railway stations throughout the country, Swiss francs can be bought. At larger stations, currency change counters are also open in the evening and on weekends.
When it comes to rail travel, the Swiss claim to be world champions. This goes too for international connections too. Every day many trains come to Switzerland from throughout Europe - from Germany, Austria, France, Italy and the Netherlands.
Switzerland Tourism highlights that for tourists arriving by air, on landing they can climb aboard a train or bus easily and head for their holiday destination. Swiss airports are well-connected to the country's extensive public transport network. Zurich and Geneva airports have their own railway stations, with trains leaving every few minutes to the city centre or more distant destinations. Basel and Bern airports are served by regular local bus services to the city centre from where tourists can continue their travel by train.
GRAND TRAIN TOUR
The Swiss Travel System says that Swiss panorama routes never fail to fascinate. Once people have acquired this special taste to travel, the temptation is irresistible. It highly recommends the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland, which it says represents the very best of Swiss public transport, highlights top excursion attractions, and can be enjoyed all-year round. And, best of all, what the tourist needs is just one ticket - the Swiss Travel Pass.
The Grand Train Tour is a seamless travel experience through scenic Switzerland. First the traveller goes from Zurich to St Gallen, then boards the Pre-Alpine Express to Lucerne, and then changes to the GoldenPass Line to Interlaken and Montreux.
From Lake Geneva the journey continues to Martigny, Brig and Zermatt, then by the Glacier Express to Chur and St Moritz. From this famous Alpine resort there are two ways to travel to Lugano - in summer by Bernina Express and Bernina Express Bus; and in winter by Palm Express (PostBus). From Lugano, the round tour goes first to Lucerne and then back to Zurich.
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES
Switzerland is a land of great diversity. It has a remarkable range of 11 natural and cultural attractions as Unesco World Heritage Sites, which are all easily accessible by public transport.
The country's capital, Bern, never fails to fascinate visitors with its easy-going old world charm. Founded in 1191, the city's medieval townscape is one of the finest in Europe. Attractions include sculpted Renaissance fountains, Switzerland's largest cathedral and six km of covered arcades.
The second heritage site is the three castles of Bellinzona. The impressive castles are Switzerland's best surviving examples of medieval military fortification. Rebuilt several times over the centuries, the fortresses of the Castelgrande, Montebello and Sasso Corbaro have, in recent years, been restored to their full glory.
Another Unesco heritage site is the Benedictine Convent of St John in Mustair. Founded as a monastery in the 8th century, this complex comprises architectural styles and artistic treasures dating back more than 1,200 years, to the delight of archaeologists and art historians. The convent is home to a community of nuns dedicated to the Benedictine ideals of worship and work.
The fourth heritage site is La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle, two of Switzerland's most important watch-making centres and examples of innovative town planning. Watch-making grew from a traditional craft into a booming industry, integrated into the development of the urban townscape.
The Lavaux Vineyard Terraces with great scenic splendour and views of Lake Geneva and the Alps is another Unesco heritage site in Switzerland. This is one of the country's largest wine-growing areas (2,050 acres) nourished by the triple effect of solar rays: direct sunlight, the sun reflected by the lake and the warmth stored in the terraced walls.
Then there is Monte San Giorgio, a treasure trove of perfectly preserved fossilised fish and sea reptiles dating back 240 million years when the site was a marine lagoon. In its place rose this mountain, now a Unesco world heritage site shared by Switzerland and Italy. A top attraction is the new fossil museum in Meride.
Another Unesco world heritage site is the prehistoric pile dwellings around the Alps totalling 111 properties in six countries, of which 56 are in Switzerland. Findings of organic materials such as wood, textiles, plant remains and bones give a fascinating insight into life between 5,000 and 500 BC.
The Albula/Bernina line of the Rhaetian Railway is said to be one of the most spectacular in the world. It combines breathtakingly beautiful Alpine landscape with a route which winds its way through twisting tunnels and over towering viaducts - a legendary feat of remarkable engineering.
The Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch is one of the world's most stunning high mountain landscapes. The region covers a vast and varied range of habitats, harmoniously ranging from Mediterranean-style steppe to glacial terrain and snow-capped Alpine peaks.
An interesting Unesco heritage site is the Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona which offers a unique insight into the formation of mountains and valleys. Over millions of years the continental collision between Africa and Europe caused massive rock layers to fracture and fold over each other. The region shows the extent of this phenomenon.
The final Unesco world heritage site in Switzerland is the Convent of St Gallen. The Abbey of St Gallen, its beautiful library and Baroque cathedral together form a unique ensemble. The Abbey Library is said to comprise the finest secular Rococo interior in the country. Known as the "Pharmacy of the Soul", it houses 170,000 precious books and 2,000 medieval manuscripts.