Rail route of the month: the drama of an Alpine epic from Zurich to Graz | Zurich holidays

Every nice railway station wants a guardian angel. Zurich has one of many quirkiest. A vibrant sculpture of a curvaceous, swimsuit-clad girl with golden wings hovers over the principle concourse on the metropolis’s Hauptbahnhof. L’ange protecteur by French artist Niki de Saint Phalle is as intriguing because the busy departure boards. With direct trains to locations throughout 10 nations, this station is wealthy in prospects. Anyplace from Amsterdam to Zagreb! Berlin, Bratislava or Bologna? Or maybe Paris or Prague?

Sculpture by Niki de Saint Phalle at Zurich’s Haupthanhof {Photograph}: eFesenko/Alamy

For lovers of tremendous surroundings, the star departure of the day is, for my part, the 08.40 to Graz. This EuroCity prepare contains an Austrian restaurant automobile and one of many uncommon panorama carriages owned by Swiss operator SBB. There’s just one different worldwide departure from Zurich which presents such panoramic delight: the EC8 at 10.59 to Hamburg. There are some tremendous scenic stretches on that route to make sure, most notably the hour-long cruise down the Rhine Gorge from Mainz to Koblenz. However that can’t compete with the EC163 to Graz which, for those who excuse a number of tunnels, presents over 9 hours of first-class Alpine surroundings on its journey of 325 miles (522km) to Austria’s second metropolis.

EuroMetropolis model

Sargans and Gonzen mountain, Switzerland. {Photograph}: Makasana Picture/Alamy

The EuroCity prepare to Graz known as the Transalpin, a reputation which was traditionally utilized by the primary prepare of the day from Zurich to Vienna, however since late 2013 references the daytime EuroCity from Zurich to Graz. Over the past 10 years, the Transalpin timings have barely modified. At bang on 08.40 we roll out of Zurich and are quickly rushing alongside the south facet of the Zürichsee. There are lakeshore views aplenty as we journey by means of a area which Thomas Cook dinner described as “the Lancashire of Switzerland”. The mills are lengthy gone. At Sargans, we make a pointy flip to the north after which, simply an hour into our journey, we come to the station cease at Buchs. We then cross the River Rhine into mighty Liechtenstein.

I’m immediately overwhelmed by gratitude to the inhabitants of Liechtenstein who, in a referendum three years in the past, determined that trains ought to run slowly by means of their diminutive principality. Good for them! They turned down a proposal to enhance the single-track railway that the Transalpin follows by means of Liechtenstein.

So we take pleasure in a delicate trundle by means of six miles of Liechtenstein territory to succeed in Austria the place we loop round Feldkirch’s hilltop fort to succeed in the city’s primary station. For James Joyce, leaving Austria within the first world battle, Feldkirch was his final cease on Habsburg territory. He was anxious that his manuscripts could be confiscated by the Austrian authorities. Revisiting Feldkirch in peacetime, he recalled “Over there, on these tracks, the destiny of Ulysses was determined in 1915.” The German rendering of these phrases seems on a frieze within the reserving corridor at Feldkirch station.

The 2-hour run from Feldkirch to Innsbruck is magnificent, after the Arlberg railway throughout the nice divide separating waters which drain west by way of the Rhine to the North Sea and people flowing east by way of the Inn and the Danube, ultimately reaching the Black Sea. Ten minutes of darkness within the Arlberg tunnel punctuate a stretch of 25 miles, the place the railway is at all times over 1,000 metres above sea stage.

The complete Arlberg railway is superb and seen at its greatest from the consolation of the Swiss panorama carriage (the eating automobile is adjoining too, the place apple strudel awaits). The crossing of such fierce terrain appears all too straightforward in a contemporary prepare. It was not at all times thus. My 1840 John Murray information tells how early travellers perished within the snow on these mountains, their frozen our bodies left by the trail for scavenging crows.

By means of the Tirol to Styria

Graz, capital city of the southern Austrian province of Styria.
Graz, capital metropolis of the southern Austrian province of Styria. {Photograph}: Yating Kuo/Getty Pictures

From St Anton, it’s downhill all the best way by way of Landeck and Innsbruck to Wörgl the place we go away the Inn valley and climb east into the hills to succeed in Zell am See.

We slip down the Salzach valley to Bischofshofen, leaving it there and cresting a delicate col to succeed in the valley of the River Enns. The difficult gradients of the Arlberg are far behind, changed now by the quiet appeal of single-track railway by means of rural Austria. A gentle drizzle units in by Selzthal the place we cease for 10 minutes. Then it’s simply one other 90 minutes on to Graz, the place we arrive on time at 18.14.

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