Portillo in Switzerland

It’s funny what you come across when you watch slightly nerdy t.v. programmes. This evening’s (recorded) entertainment, from the BBC, is an episode of Great Railway Journeys, in which ex-politico Michael Portillo travels around Switzerland, from Basel to the Jungfraujoch by way of Zurich, Göschenen and Lucerne.

Göschenen, canton Uri

Where many of the foreign t.v. shows cover the regular tourist spots, this episode focuses more on the rail history of the country and shows many more places which aren’t often shown in travel programmes. Portillo excels at being Very British, of course, and the Swiss railway network positively glows throughout the show. As Portillo travels from Basel–where the art in the main station gets a look-in–you really get to see the network and some of the points of interest which really are interesting. Baden is now a place which I’ve added to my “places to visit” list and the story of the Spanish Brötlibahn (Swiss Bread Roll Line) between Baden and Zurich is truly charming.

In Zurich, the programme shows the timelapse sequence of the MFO building being moved in one piece to allow for an expansion of Oerlikon’s station, before heading for the trams in the city centre.

The Glacier Express gets a look-in but only a surprisingly short one, considering that it’s one of Europe’s most famous routes. The Gotthard line gets great praise, in particular for its winding nature (vis. the way that the church at Wassen is on one side of the train, and suddenly, after a tunnel, it’s on the other). The route is even replicated in miniature at the transport museum in Lucerne, and being on the train in the full-sized version almost feels like a ride through a giant train set.

I was interested to see that Portillo used 2nd class throughout his trip, but knowing how much first class train travel costs for those without half tax cards, I’m not surprised that the BBC chose to rein in the budget. Portillo continues his journey from Lucerne over the Brünig Pass and stops off at Meiringen, to quiz a few locals on how much they know of the Sherlock Holmes story, before concluding his journey by taking the train up to the Jungfraujoch.

All in all, fans of Switzerland and train travel in the Alps shouldn’t miss this episode: U.K. residents and iPad users with the BBC iPlayer app can view the episode here and there’s a blog post on the Telegraph web site.