What distinguishes Switzerland from modern federal countries is the long history of its “states“, the cantons. Whereas nowadays there are 26 of them altogether, the primary ones were only three: Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden. Although the confederation grew since 1291, the cantons preserved their administrative, cultural and linguistic identities well.
A wonderful way to explore them is a sightseeing tour by train. One of the famous Swiss railroads is Jungfraubahnwhich has been in operation since 1912. It starts from the notorious Eiger north face, passes the drawn-out tunnels of Eiger and Mönch, and takes you through the glacial world above 3000 metres to its destination, the Jungfraujoch.
Jungfrau (Virgin) itself, with 4158 metres the third highest peak of the Berner Alps, could not be conquered by the rack-and-pinion railway because of financial constraints. However, it is one of the most remarkable mountains in Switzerland: Its three rock formations overlay each other peculiarly, and Jungfrau became part of UNESCO’s World Natural Heritage in 2001.
Another popular train is Glacier Express. If you would like to revive the feeling of the nineteen-twenties, with cuddly cushions and more legroom than a park bench, “come, join the joyride” from St. Moritz to Zermatt. In less than eight hours, you are taken over 291 bridges, through 91 tunnels and over a 2033 metres high pass. Due to the fabulous picture windows, only inclement weather can spoil your view.
A flag stop and urban highlight on the route is Graubünden’s (Grison’s) capital Chur. Switzerland’s oldest settlement, the roots of which extend into Roman times, is renowned for an endless pedestrian zone with shops and boutiques, its annual street festival, a medieval cathedral and other historic sights. If you still hunger for bedazzling views, book the Bernina Express down to Italy and take in Graubünden’s beauty while on this four-hour trip.