Wednesday 14 June 2017

Summer Alpine Adventure 1: Via London to Cologne

Last year's proposed trip to the Swiss Alps had to be called off when Great Rail Journeys cancelled the one we'd planned because of too few bookings (that's how we ended up going to the French Riviera in 2016 instead, so no hard feelings!) but we booked again a slightly different tour in 2017 which promised an even better holiday. Great Rail Journeys offer one of their “Signature” tours to Sankt Moritz and Zermatt in the summer, with day trips out to Tirano and other places in Italy and southern Switzerland, travelling out via Cologne and back via Colmar, all First Class and with the services of a tour manager throughout. We booked the tour and asked Great Rail Journeys to book our tickets to and from London and a night in London before the holiday as well.

And so on a Tuesday morning we packed our cases and made our way to Stamford station for the 13:00 train to Peterborough. Our tickets were valid on any train so we just went when convenient and caught the next main line train to London and looked for free seats in the almost empty coach L. There was one other passenger in the half of the coach that we joined, and it was someone we knew, so we moved along and joined her. The catering team seemed understaffed once more but our First Class hostess coped very well. Although she had run out of sandwiches she fetched us copious quantities of crisps, bisuits and cake, and plenty of wine. An odd lunch, but OK for our purposes. Amazing how quickly a journey passes in good company and with two glasses of wine, and we seemed to be in London in no time at all.

We made our way to our hotel, the Ambassadors Bloomsbury, just a few minutes along the Euston Road, and after check-in we went to Sloane Square to have tea and cake on the top floor of Peter Jones department store – it is a John Lewis branch and we each had a voucher for free tea and cake during June. We returned to the hotel by bus to Oxford Circus and walking from there, dodging the occasional shower. It is always a joy to walk through Bloomsbury.

As it happened, our tour manager was staying in the same hotel, as were eight Australian guests who were booked on the same tour. Although we made brief acquaintance on the Tuesday evening we made our own arrangements for a light supper, salad at the nearby Prezzo Euston, and met the whole group for the Champagne reception at St Pancras International station on the Wednesday morning. The Champagne start is one of the features of the Signature tours: we checked in at the Great Rail Journeys office on the Grand Terrace at St Pancras and were taken across to the Searcy's Champagne Bar where Ray, our tour manager, was waiting with the first few guests. Soon all thirty-two were gathered and we were all given our Eurostar tickets and made our own way through check-in and to the waiting area for the train to Brussels.

Soon we were called to board the train and were on our way. Ours was a refurbished original Eurostar set, known as a E300, just like the one we went on to Marseille last year. As we passed through the Channel Tunnel we were enjoying the hot lunch provided in Standard Premier Class, with wine and coffee.

The atrium of the Maritim Hotel at Kiln
The dining room is separate from this huge banqueting area!
There was a change of train at Brussels and we had some time to browse around the shops at the station before we went on to our first hotel at Cologne. Our connection was a Thalys high-speed train which was indicated thirty minutes late. More browsing and back to the platform and we were on our way, but further difficulties meant that half an hour from Cologne we had to be diverted and after a short excursion into the Netherlands arrived two hours late at our hotel. Our tour manager had booked ahead and had dinner put back but it did mean that we had no time to stroll through the city before bed, which was a pity as there are some pleasant walks to be had. 

At dinner we met some of the thirty people with whom we'd be spending the ten days of this holiday, and we slept well in a very comfortable room overlooking the spacious atrium of this huge hotel. Back to the station in the morning and we were on a Swiss express train to Basel where our adventure in Switzerland began. The ride to Basel was an adventure in itself, much of it along the west bank of the Rhine with wonderful views of castles, vineyards and towns as we made our way south. We had seen it from the other direction on our return journey in winter three years before and it was great to see it in the sunshine now.

Photographs from this part of the holiday are available on Flickr if you are interested.


  1. Thanks for your account of a lovely trip. I love the detail of the John Lewis voucher! - you obviously don't miss any tricks. Not long ago the names of your destinations wouldn't have meant much but since Daisy moved to Switzerland we have visited a few of those places you mention. So I can just picture it. We especially enjoyed Colmar.

  2. Nice to hear from you, Alex. Colmar will appear in a later post: we stopped there on the way home! M