Pinch me. I’m still dreaming.
Last month I was invited by The Daily Meal (a food and drink website I occasionally write for) and Eurail to travel for nine days on Eurail’s new two-country pass between Switzerland and Italy. I jumped at the chance for this one-of-a-kind travel experience. A week of eating indulgent, incredible food, drinking delicate wines in sunny weather, and not waking up to little kid hands and feet all over me? YES, PLEASE.
Note: I have so many photos and stories to share about my trip that I’ve divided this story into two posts. Check back later this week for part two!
My trip started with a quick, two-hour flight from London to Zurich, where I caught my first train from right inside the airport to Lucerne, a lake town about a thirty-minute ride south. Lucerne is a picturesque town with soaring views of the Alps from the lake. I know this because I had views of the lake from my balcony at the stately Hotel Schweizerhof. The lake also has swans. Swans!
The next morning, our group headed out from Lucerne via boat to the town of Fluelen. Our boat journey took just over three hours, which meant that we’d have to eat at some point. I have to admit that at first, I was leery about what ferry boat food meant, and I pictured sad sandwiches wrapped in cellophane and cans of lukewarm soda.
Happily, our lunch was anything but. We boarded our ship and were escorted upstairs, where we found white tablecloths and chilled bottles of wine waiting for us. I felt kind of like a celebrity. A celebrity … on a ferry. Look out, world! I have arrived.
Once we arrived in Fluelen, we immediately on the newly-opened Gotthard Panorama Express, a scenic train route that travels through the Swiss Alps before ending in Bellinzona, a town in the heart of southern, Italian-influenced Switzerland. The train itself is a thing of beauty, with tall wraparound windows that allow for maximum viewing of the gorgeous peaks and valleys you’re traveling through.
Bellinzona was just a transfer point for us; we hopped on another train headed for another lake city, Lugano. At this point, I’d been in Switzerland for less than 48 hours and had taken a boat and three trains, and not one — yes, not one — had run late. The Swiss pride themselves on timeliness and efficiency, and their transportation system is no exception. I could practically tell time by the arrival and departure of the trains!
As for Lugano — ohh, Lugano. If you ever have a reason to visit Switzerland, Lugano should be everyone’s list. Its lakefront views are truly stunning, and the food is an interesting blend of Italian food infused with Swiss ingredients, like an Alpine sheep’s milk pecorino cheese that formed the basis of this simple cacio e pepe pasta we had while dining at Antica Osteria del Porto. The Swiss version of pecorino is milkier and less sharp than its Italian cousin, which made for a creamier version of this addictively simple pasta. The cracked pepper, coarsely ground and woven throughout the dish, also hailed from the Ticino region of Switzerland. Its heady fragrance is intoxicating.
In fact, Italian goodness abounds in Lugano. One of my favorite joints was D. Gabbani Salumeria, The Gabbani family actually owns separate cheese, butcher/meat, wine and bakery shops all within spitting distance of each other, and they all surround a boutique hotel. Can you imagine if I had stayed at that hotel? I may have only seen the inside of a cheese wheel the entire three days that we were in Lugano.
Lugano is also famous for its scenic hiking trails, as evidenced by some of the views along the Olive Tree Trail that we walked on our way to lunch. I feel like our trip organizers knew that the only way to get a bunch of food writers to walk long distances is to incentivize them with meals. In other words, our trip organizers were very smart people.
After hiking for about an hour, we ended up in the tiny fishing village of Gandria, where views from terraces like this abound.
Of course, I couldn’t believe that I was a part of this incredible experience, courtesy of Eurail. I met other amazing writers, learned about a part of the world that I probably would not have otherwise have visited, and I ate so much incredible food that I think I may still be suffering from pasta withdrawal.
The food got better (and my self-control got worse) once we hit Italy, though. Stay tuned …
For more information about Eurail’s two-country pass between Switzerland and Italy, click here. Passes start at €208 for a 4-day pass.
For more information about traveling in Switzerland, see Switzerland Tourism’s website, My Switzerland.
Note: I was a guest of Eurail for the duration of this trip, but was not otherwise paid or compensated for writing this post.