Swiss time

Enjoying pampered travel through the land of chocolate, cuckoo clocks and picturesque vistas.

A view of Lake Geneva by the city of Montreux (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
A view of Lake Geneva by the city of Montreux
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Think of Switzerland – not at all a bad thing to do at this sweltering time of year – and your mind’s eye will, no doubt, conjure up images of soaring permanently snowcapped Alpine peaks, lush meadows, peacefully grazing cows, chocolate, cheeses and fresh air; lots of it.
All of the above and more were had by Yours Truly on a recent jaunt to the land of cuckoo clocks, yodeling and punctiliousness. The reason for the Swiss jaunt was a generous invitation from Swiss, the national flag-flying carrier, to sample some of its business-class delights.
The latter epithet was in high evidence from the outset. While the Ben-Gurion Airport departure area has been known to be busier – this was, after all, early Thursday afternoon, so still before the weekend rush – there was a sizable line of people awaiting the attentions of the initial security-check personnel.
However, Swiss business-class passengers don’t have to bother themselves with such trifles as standing in line, and the VIP treatment began with being whisked through to the check-in desk, and I had a boarding pass in my unsweaty palm within a couple of minutes.
Next stop in the pampering sequence was the comfortably appointed King David Lounge, where buffet-style solid and liquid sustenance were provided, which one could leisurely consume from comfy armchairs or bar-style stools. There was a relaxed, almost hushed ambiance about the place while, presumably, less fortunate travelers went about their own business at the various duty-free stores or sat around near the departure gates, checking emails, listening to music or catching a quick pre-flight nap.
The benefits of business-class processing reappeared at the departure gate where, once again, the matter of standing in line to have one’s boarding pass decapitated was dispensed with, as the business- class side of the gate counter offered uninterrupted access to the jet bridge.
Once aboard, the coddling ante jumped several notches – individual seats with generous legroom, a side tabletop, a far larger than regular economy passenger screen with umpteen movies to choose from, as well as audio entertainment from a wide range of genres.
There’s more. Your sitting position can be changed to any angle, right up to 180º. This came in handy for the nighttime return flight, and a good snooze was duly had. And, if you’re feeling the worse for travel wear, a soothing massage, courtesy of your hi-tech seat, will not go amiss.
Naturally, the flight attendants are only too happy to ply you with beverages of all kinds and alcohol levels, and my vegan dietary requisites were accommodated.
Oh, and if you happen to be of basketball-playing height, when fully recumbent your business- class seat stretches to a full 2.03 meters. And don’t forget your personal bag of goodies, complete with all your traveling prerequisites – socks, toiletries and more.
LANDING REFRESHED at Zurich Airport, the Swiss Tourist Board hosting opened with a tour of the place which, at first glance, seemed somewhat deserted, until our guide explained that the Swiss airport authorities pride themselves on processing all passengers in double-quick time, hence the absence of long check-in lines.
The airport circuit also took in a well-equipped kiddies wing that provides ample play possibilities, diaper changing facilities, and even a room with cribs and beds where the youngsters can catch 40- plus winks between flights, and there are separate catering, check-in and other services for various categories of passengers, from business class and up, and even shower and prayer facilities.
We were due to take the cross-country train to Montreux, on the French side of Switzerland, earlyish the following morning so we holed up at the airport’s Radisson Blu Hotel. The accommodation was more than adequate, and there was a spectacular centerpiece in the cavernous lobby which turned out to be a towering monolithic wine-bottle storage amenity complete with alternating backlighting, and a young dancer strapped into a harness and hoisted up and down the full height of the enormous bottle container while performing eye-catching calisthenics.
The train ride across to Montreux was when Switzerland hove into view in all its summer glory. In just under three hours we traversed verdant pastureland, with mandatory bovines – some actually had classic Swiss bells dangling from their necks – quaint villages, candy-box-lid castles, lakes, tumbling vineyards and quintessential Alpine mountains complete with the odd blob of wintry white stuff away in the distance.
We arrived in picturesque Montreux slap bang in the middle of the famous Montreux Jazz Festival.
Celebrated Israeli bass player Avishai Cohen starred at the Montreux Jazz Club the previous evening and the lakeside town was teeming with music fans and fun-loving tourists, of all ages and socioeconomic statuses, from all over Switzerland and many points beyond.
Our hosts had arranged for us to stay at the Grand Hotel, which was conveniently located across the road from the railway station and overlooked Lake Geneva, and was a mere stone’s throw away from the jazz festival site. My single room had a side view of the lake and, as evening approached, the buzz from the festival began to make its presence palpable. After a press tour of the behind-the-scenes machinations of the festival, when we were advised of the thousands of personnel it takes to make the event tick over smoothly – taking care of musicians’ instruments and every need, all the video equipment and down to the hundreds of beer kegs needed to ensure that artists and patrons are suitably hydrated – I popped over to the Jazz Club auditorium.
THE JAZZ shows I caught – pianist Justin Kaufflin’s trio, followed by a more pop-oriented offering from pianist Jason Moran and his gang than I’d been expecting – were pretty high quality, although the most captivating element of the whole shebang was the vibe of the place.
Leaving the Jazz Club and walking along the lakefront through the balmy nocturnal air, you were struck by the sheer energy coming at you from all sides, and in every musical guise imaginable. Despite its standing as one of the most venerable jazz institutions on the planet, today jazz accounts for a minority of the entertainment at Montreux. Walking along the lakefront, between the standard food and arts-andcrafts stalls, you catch blasts of rock music, disco, electronica, you name it, as you wend your way through the masses of revelers.
It would be great to have even a modicum of that energy level at our very own Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat.
The next day began in style, with a hearty breakfast enjoyed on the lounge terrace overlooking the lake.
Back at the Montreux train station, we were able to conveniently check in our luggage, which we did not see again until landing back at Ben-Gurion Airport. We were also furnished with a boarding pass for the plane back to Israel.
It was now time to board the quaint Chocolate Train and make our way over, in delightful retro style, to the village of Gruyères. You half expected a character from an Agatha Christie murder mystery to pop out at any given moment, as the meadows, villages and mountains rolled by.
Ninety minutes later we alighted at the hamlet of Broc, where we were bused over to the Cailler chocolate company’s visitor center and were given the multisensory lowdown on the history of the company, which began life at the tail end of the 18th century.
From there, it was on to the hilltop tourist site par excellence of the centuries-old village of Gruyères, replete with biscuit tin-style buildings, cobblestones, castle and church, and a variety of requisite eateries.
We had a couple of hours free to roam around the village which, it transpired, had more to offer than initially met the eye. The Giger Museum was a treasure chest of the grotesque, the erotic and the downright fantastic, while the nearby Tibet Museum, founded by Alain Border and lovingly nurtured for over 30 years, is a shrine to Eastern spiritual riches and tranquility.
From there, naturally, it was off to the La Maison du Gruyère cheese factory, before boarding a train back to Zurich – first class.
After two days in the land of the cuckoo clock, one had become used to Swiss efficiency. But just in case we’d missed the local penchant for meticulousness, each time the train rolled into a station the SBB (Swiss Federal Railways) announcer took the trouble to inform us that the train was arriving “on time.”
IF YOU’RE looking to spend some time in Switzerland, roaming the country’s many beauty spots, you might want to opt for a Golden Pass which offers unrestricted travel on all forms of transport all over the country, including urban buses and trams in 41 cities and towns, and entry to over 400 museums.
And the Swiss Travel Pass Flex also covers travel by train, bus and boat for a defined number of days.
After arriving on time at Zurich station, there was still a little time for some shopping at the mall next to Zurich Airport, before repairing to the business-class lounge for some more solid and liquid vittles, and thence to the luxury of our super-accessorized and roomy plane seats.
And in case you have around $300 to spare, and fancy even more pampering, and happen to be flying on A340 or A330 aircraft to one of Swiss’s 106 destinations worldwide, by adding 299 Swiss francs to the price of your ticket you can really let your hair down in the first-class section, where you can revel in even more room, an ever bigger screen and even more privacy, should you so wish. If you are traveling as a couple, at the flip of a switch you can retract a partition and enjoy your privacy in tandem.