Cog Wheel Trains, Alpine Summits, and Santa Claus
Our entire Swiss itinerary came together around our desire to see the real Santa Claus at his house atop Roche-de-Naye, an Alpine mountain above the city of Montreux. To get there, you must purchase a reserved seat aboard a cogwheel train. In doing my research, I was led to believe that we would receive a 50 percent discount on this ticket as holders of the Swiss Travel Pass, which was a big selling point in purchasing the pass. However, we ultimately learned that the Christmas ticket is an exclusion, so we had to pay full price. Which, when trusting a train to weave you slowly up a very steep mountain, I’m okay with. It must take significant investment to keep us safe and secure, right?
Also, for those interested, don’t bank on the free face painting advertised as part of the ticket. After watching a promo video, our kids talked for a couple of months about the trip they were taking to get their faces painted. Because who doesn’t take trips with the purpose of getting painted? Anyhow, there was no face painting in sight. Fortunately, they were distracted and didn’t miss it.
I had also read that the summit of Roche-de-Naye is remarkable on a good weather day, and somewhat pointless on a cloudy day when visibility becomes too low to see anything. We were lucky to have one perfect day, and lucky to get seats on a train leaving Montreux at 10:17 a.m. For roughly an hour, we made our way up, stopping periodically at little clusters of buildings to drop off riders or hikers who set off on some small foot path. The views of the lake, and then the trees, and then the clouds as we climbed above them, captured even the kids’ attention. And then we reached some snow. Not much, mind you, but it was more than enough to thrill our kids who don’t remember snow.
Finally, you come out of a wooden tunnel, seemingly in the middle of nowhere – yet you’re there. Roche-de-Naye is simply a train station and small hotel and restaurant. In the summer, you can visit marmots, and in the winter – Santa.
You’re guided off the train and first enter into a tunnel covered in blinking lights. Here and there are small stops to see mechanical polar bears or rabbits decorating the walls. The kids are each given a scavenger hunt with three stops – the first being Santa’s office at the end of the hall. Hereis where the big man is, waiting.
It must be said that before this trip, Charlotte was convinced that the Real Santa never makes appearances. He exists somewhere, but is most certainly not the Santa that you see in stores or parks or out-and-about. They were impostors. This Santa would be an impostor. But, then she heard him speak to the children in front of us in perfect French. Then, he switched from perfect English to perfect Spanish when speaking with us, and she was convinced. Only the Real Santa could speak so many languages. He took his time to ask a few questions, they shared their wish lists, and then he gave them a parting present: an orange, a chocolate, a certificate, and a small plush animal. Cora was given a reindeer, which she named “baby bear” and spoke of non-stop for the rest of the trip.
After visiting with Santa, we went off in hunt for the remaining stamps for the scavenger hunt. First, was a stop with Santa’s pet rabbits. And next was his bedroom, on the second floor of the seemingly vacant and somewhat rundown hotel. Dennis is quick to say that these sorts of attractions are always somewhat hokey and don’t seem to have been updated since the 1970s. However, the kids never seem to notice. And so, I suppose, why make updates, if the magic still works?
After checking off our list, we headed outside for gorgeous views and a short walk. Short in distance, but long in time, as Charlotte was busily making a snowman. We then headed inside for lunch at the self-service cafeteria, before heading down the mountain. A train departs down the mountain every hour, and so we were there for two hours. I suppose, if you wanted to rush the Santa visit, it could be done in only an hour. But the views are too beautiful to miss and the food wasn’t bad or overly expensive (by Swiss standards).
It was exactly the day that we were hoping it would be. The kids left in awe of Santa and his magic. We left in awe of the majesty of the mountains, and so happy to have little ones who believe with all of their hearts.