Switzerland - Breakfast arrives by trolley. A sophisticated spread of cured meats, Swiss cheeses, croissant, muesli and cut fruit. The tone is hushed and the attendant charming and attentive. He brings good coffee and fresh orange juice with a warm smile. I want to freeze time for just a while…
I’ve just woken from a comfortable night’s sleep on Swiss Airlines’ A340-300 between Johannesburg and Zurich. I’m in their Business Class section and completely understand why its regularly voted the best in Europe. My flat-bed seat is private and snug and I can’t resist a mini stretch whilst pushing the buttons to bring it back to a seated position. I feel as though I have the plane to myself and looking through the window as light returns to the sky, one thing is evident. Life is good.
By invitation of Swiss Airlines I’m on an educational trip to Switzerland, about to be shown much of the beauty this uniquely diverse country has to offer.
From the moment I’d boarded to a glass of bubbly and impeccable care the night before, I knew I could relax into the experience. Efficient, carefully planned and in excellent travel company, I had a whirlwind wonderful few days ahead of me.
I confess that before the trip my knowledge of Switzerland never extended much beyond a collection of cliches: alpines, banks, skiing, funiculars, watches, cheese, chocolate, Heidi and the Hills Being Alive with the Sound of Music. Yes, there is all that and it is wonderful, but there’s much more and the focus of our trip was to learn more about the living customs, traditions, different regions and Switzerland in the Summertime.
This we did by taking three of the Swiss Travel System's Panoramic Routes that criss-cross the towering Alps, walking St Moritz, visiting a glacier and exploring Bellinzona, Locarno and Ascona in the Ticino region. Where Swiss efficiency meets Italian spontaneity. It was an incredible trip!
Starting on arrival in Zurich when we got to really look at the airport, meeting with the Network Development Manager at the Arrival Lounge for a presentation which offered much insight into the intricacies of the Airline business. Routes, connections, demand, client trends, influences, which aircraft to assign to which. It was interesting to learn that there is a curfew at Zurich Airport with no flights outside of 6am to 11pm, so as not to disturb the residents. That their busiest routes are to New York City and the minimum connecting time only 35 minutes! Zurich Airport is a slick effective machine working to deliver. A hub that successfully connects 20000+ passengers - and their luggage - daily.
We also visited the Product Centre where decisions are made about every aspect of the inflight experience. As a smaller airline they rotate the style of food by selecting a Chef from one of the 23 Cantons every three months. The Chef designs the menu and selects the wines on offer. Much emphasis is placed on small producers, which I really like. Training is offered here for the crew who follow a clear set of guidelines for all in-house service. Who designs the fabric on the chairs, what crockery and cutlery is used, glasses, gift bags, blankets … Every item is carefully considered and thought through. Swiss is also the first allergy friendly airline in the world.
All this really gave me a far greater appreciation for the airline industry.
Me in Business Class, my ridiculously long legs stretched out as I sipped on bubbly and paged through the menu.
Modern design, natural light, world class shopping, plenty of space.
Trolleys, chairs, wine and food. All part of the thought and training process at the Product Hub.
The train track that was to take us South to discover new regions.
Equipped with more understanding and after a tour of the Airport itself, we took a train into Zurich to meet the Swiss Travel System representative who joined us as we headed to Chur, the oldest town in Switzerland. Connecting from there to our spectacularly scenic train trip down to St Moritz where our ground experience was to unfold … But before that, here are some important things I learned from my experience:
- Think outside the box and book Swiss Airlines when travelling to and through Europe. You can always overnight in Zurich or stay on to explore Switzerland like I did. But the unbelievably efficient and record breaking connection times at Zurich International Airport have been precisely worked out to allow a connection time of less than an hour. It’s brilliant. For South Africans there are no transit visa implications, like there are when going through London, for example. This is a boutique airport for a boutique airline and there is endless attention to detail and customer care to make it work. And it does.
- Buy a SWISS Pass suited to the number of days that you will be travelling in Switzerland. There are flexible options available that include the panoramic routes, public transport in 75+ cities and towns, entrance to over 480 museums and additional discounts. Best value travel that makes exploring Switzerland very easy and convenient.
- We checked in our luggage in Bellinzona and received boarding passes, not having to give it another thought until we arrived in Johannesburg the next day. A wonderful way to free yourself up for a full last day of exploring. Talk about Swiss efficiency.
- If you’re shopping for Swiss Chocolate and the airport is your only option, there’s a supermarket downstairs that offers very good prices and an excellent selection.
- Everybody should take home a cowbell and a Heidi t-shirt, or you’ve really missed an opportunity to get into the spirit of this incredible country. I did. I actually think that the sound of the cowbells across the Alps will be one that I will always remember with much fondness.
- My travel companions where host Axel Simon of SWISS Airlines, Kate Turkington, Brendon Seery and Tyson Jopson. Get on a trip with them if you can!
My thanks to Swiss Airlines, Switzerland Tourism, Swiss Travel System, Engadin St Moritz, Ticino Turismo and Luzern Tourismus for taking care of us. Also to the Schweizerhof Hotel in St Moritz and the Hotel and Spa Internationale in Bellinzona where we stayed.
Please find more photos and stories on my trip by clicking on Switzerland.