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Visiting Switzerland’s Upstart Creatives by Train

Include a classic rail journey from Zurich to Interlaken on your next trip to Switzerland

Image: Clara Tuma

A classic rail journey from Zurich to Interlaken.

The direct train to Lucerne leaves Zürich station twice an hour. This is an ordinary, unremarkable Swiss train in that it’s fanatically punctual, tidy, and plain. I board with no time for coffee and watch through drizzled windows as the train zips through Switzerland’s financial epicenter, skirts the shores of Lake Zürich, and carves around the crown of Lake Zug to Rooterberg, the country’s smallest mountain (elevation 2,760 feet), before scooting into Lucerne station less than an hour later.

From the biggest city to its highest peak, wherever you want to go in Switzerland, you can get there on the country’s 2,029 miles of tracks – the highest density in Europe. My six-day itinerary from Zürich to Interlaken lake-hops among four famous bodies of water, today’s take on a Swiss Grand Tour stacked with all the customary mountains and palace hotels, sure, but also a vanguard arts scene, upstart restaurants, and a new generation of craftspeople and entrepreneurs who are all doing more with less in one of the world’s most expensive countries. My mission is to go deeper – less chocolate and fondue, more pupusas and passion-fruit muffins, like those at Café Tacuba, a Lucerne roastery whose Salvadoran owner, Manolo Gonzalez, is among the quarter of the Swiss population that’s foreign-born.

“In the beginning we were roasting on the street, selling one, two cappuccinos a day,” Gonzalez says. Most Swiss are used to Italian-style espresso, he notes, which doesn’t work for Tacuba’s delicate roasts. “They said, ‘You’re not from here; you don’t understand coffee.’ ” He persevered, and they eventually came around: Last year, Gonzalez opened Tacuba’s second location, where I order the flagship Los Laureles roast, sourced from the farm that’s been in his family since 1932. Maybe it’s just because I’m jet-lagged and severely decaffeinated, but it’s the best cup I’ve ever had. I get notes of blood orange and blonde caramel. I get a second wind.

Arrayed around a northwest-pointing finger of the lake, Lucerne is compact and walkable, with one of its most iconic sites, Chapel Bridge, charting a shortcut between the old and new parts of town. Built in the fourteenth century, the covered timber passage adjoins the scenic promenade hugging the lakeshore. Mount Pilatus looms in the distance like the city’s terrestrial landlord, never out of sight as I follow the path to the Swiss Museum of Transport to admire its collection of dinosaur locomotives and dashing vintage sports cars, and back to the resplendent Mandarin Oriental Palace, a 1906 landmark that recently reopened following a five-year renovation. The house negroni tingles with chili liqueur, and the bed in my lakeview suite sends me to sleep for 12 hours, until the next train.

What to do on your scheduled stop in Lausanne Switzerland

Strolling Lausanne.

Clara Tuma

The direct train to Lausanne leaves Lucerne every 60 minutes. This is an ordinary, unremarkable Swiss train in that it’s fanatically punctual, tidy, and plain. The tracks squiggle northwest, pivot at an interchange, then soar through shipshape suburbs into the cantons of Fribourg – where the signs change from German to French – and Vaud, before arriving at Lausanne. From the rooftop deck of my suite at the Beau-Rivage Palace I can see Évian-les-Bains, famous for its bottled water, on Lake Geneva’s French shore. You can take the ferry across to drink Evian from its source, but I don’t recommend it. You have your whole life to drink water.

A better bet: a glass of clementine-colored Sicilian catarratto bianco at La Station, a snug, young natural-wine spot where the bartender’s T-shirt feels like an affirmation: Where Dreamers Become Doers. Almost against logic, millennial and Gen Z dreamers are definitely doing in Lausanne.

Enjoy a pastry and discover local Swiss artisans at Deli Social in Lausanne Switzerland

Ceramist Béatrice Durandard’s wares at Poterie du Tunnel.

Clara Tuma

“To open your own place is so eye-wateringly expensive in any Swiss city, but maybe more so in Lausanne,” says Rhys Williams, who created Deli Social, a smart minimalist café, with his wife, designer Emily Groves. In addition to serving impeccable sandwiches and pastries, the space doubles as a design incubator to springboard artists and entrepreneurs and build collaboration between creatives in the city. Their coffee cups come from potter Béatrice Durandard, who recently opened a studio, Poterie du Tunnel, with two fellow ceramists down the street. When I pop into the atelier, varying sizes and shapes of vessels and vases cover every surface in an ombré of earthy tans, wheats, and mochas, interjected with the occasional exclamation of blue. The pieces look so polished, it’s hard to believe Durandard’s only been throwing clay since 2020.

From Poterie du Tunnel – art on an intimate scale – it’s a 15-minute walk to art on a grand scale at Plateforme 10, a museum complex that opened in 2022 in the graveyard of Lausanne’s old train repair hangar. “We’re always fighting with Geneva for who has the cooler museums,” Olivier Müller, Plateforme 10’s head of communication, says as we take in the pedestrian plaza outside the Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, where teens sun themselves like blasé geckos on giant angled concrete lily pads. During the pandemic, young skaters made this square their de facto clubhouse. Prior to the grand opening, Müller says, “One of the questions was, ‘Are you going to get rid of them?’ ” He shakes his head. “No, never. This space has to be democratic.”

Inside, the collection includes Degas sculptures and ebulliently kinetic Alice Bailly abstracts, but it’s the surrealist portraits that stand out: Félix Labisse’s portrait of his friend, French actor Jean-Louis Barrault, rendered with the greenish-gray complexion and ghoulish cheekbones of an undertaker (some friend); Niklaus Stoecklin’s painting of Tatjana Barbakoff, a Chinese-Latvian Jewish dancer who sat for this simultaneously coquettish and melancholic portrait in 1929 – 15 years before her murder in Auschwitz.

Restaurateurs Delphine Veillon and Johans Valdivia (she’s Vaudois, he’s Peruvian) run the museum’s imaginative café, Le Nabi. The sun-flooded, monochromatic space focuses attention on the exuberant cooking from chefs Bruno Andrade and Victoria Poinsot, whose petite menu reveres creativity, color, and local producers. My server loves a dish called Le Navet, so I order it, even though the only words I can pick out on the French menu are “parsley cream.” That cream is an electric-green pool inlaid with darker-green dots of ramp puree. In the center rises an ivory island of tender oyster mushrooms and a sweet but mustardy root vegetable I can’t quite place.

Le navet,” the server explains. “I don’t know how to say it in English.”

Google Translate to the rescue: turnip.

He rolls it over: “Tur-nup …”


“Like turn up?” He turns his palms to the ceiling and raises the roof.

Not quite, but exactly.

Visit Interlaken’s central Höhematte park

Paragliders landing in Interlaken’s central Höhematte park.

Clara Tuma

The direct train to Interlaken leaves Montreux four times a day. This is an ordinary, unremarkable Swiss train in that it’s fanatically punctual and tidy, but it’s hardly plain. The doors to the “prestige” class of this navy cruiser whisper open into a panoramic, window-walled carriage. I find my leather throne, fire up the seat heater, and accept a basket of croissants.

Good as the GoldenPass Express looks, its unseen engineering is what’s truly extraordinary. These cars adjust their height and wheel gauges to jump tracks, eliminating the time-immemorial train switch on this iconic route. The train twists up the vineyard-laced hills above Montreux, past castles and villas – every switchback a better view of the Alps mirrored in Lake Geneva – through the forest and farmland, and eventually, past Gstaad’s luxury chalets to Interlaken.

Enjoy a meal from Alpenblick's Michelin star chef GaultMillau in Interlaken

Alpenblick’s local pike perch with artichokes and Maremma olives.

Clara Tuma

If Epcot had a Switzerland, Interlaken would be the model, a fairy-tale Swiss-German town of chocolate shops, jewelers, and paragliding outfitters wedged between the fingertips of lakes Thun and Brienz. At first glance, this doesn’t seem like a place that will aid my mission, and yet, there’s Bernese Wagyu with red kimchi at Radius, in the grande-dame Victoria-Jungfrau hotel, and Alpine cheese foam with magenta gumdrops of beet gnocchi at Alpenblick, a cozy spot with timber walls and cows cross-stitched on the curtains. Among the luxury shops magnetizing Emirati tourists, there’s an indie bookseller (Buchhandlung Bödeli), a halal eatery from a Pakistani refugee (Restaurant Shalimar), and a vintage boutique (REPower) founded by former Californian Jessica Powers.

In addition to all this creativity and some of the country’s best hiking and skiing, the resort town is the jumping-off point for the Top of Europe. The journey begins with another train, this one from Interlaken to Grindelwald Terminal, where travelers board the Eiger Express gondola; its sleek glass cars hang from the four-mile, tri-cable track like huge black pumpkins on a vine. Passengers ascend 4,563 feet in 15 minutes to Eiger Glacier Station, then connect to the famous (and infamous) Jungfrau Railway. During its construction from 1896 to 1912, 30 laborers, mostly young Italian immigrants, died while cleaving limestone for the line. It’s hard not to think of them as the scarlet train cars disappear into the darkness of the tunnel that makes up 80 percent of the 5.8-mile-long line.

Twenty-six minutes later, the train emerges at the highest station in Europe – 11,333 feet – and onto another planet. A wide apron of white spans the jagged peaks of Jungfrau and Mönch. The temperature is 14 degrees. Wind-stung tears slow to a crawl and freeze before they can cross my cheekbones. At this moment, frozen in awe and frozen in general, a craving takes root.

“What would you like?” the server asks me at Top of Europe’s Restaurant Crystal, where the windows have views of the glacier on which I’ve temporarily abandoned my compass.

I can confirm they make a very good fondue.

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