Rail route of the month: the drama of an Alpine epic from Zurich to Graz

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This exhilarating, nine-hour journey trundles through the Swiss and Austrian Alps and soars to more than 1,000 metres above sea level as it crosses the Rhine-Danube watershed

Every great railway station needs a guardian angel. Zurich has one of the quirkiest. A colourful sculpture of a curvaceous, swimsuit-clad woman with golden wings hovers over the main concourse at the city’s Hauptbahnhof. L’ange protecteur by French artist Niki de Saint Phalle is as intriguing as the busy departure boards. With direct trains to destinations across 10 countries, this station is rich in possibilities. Anywhere from Amsterdam to Zagreb! Berlin, Bratislava or Bologna? Or perhaps Paris or Prague?

For lovers of fine scenery, the star departure of the day is, in my opinion, the 08.40 to Graz. This EuroCity train includes an Austrian restaurant car and one of the rare panorama carriages owned by Swiss operator SBB. There’s only one other international departure from Zurich which offers such panoramic delight: the EC8 at 10.59 to Hamburg. There are some fine scenic stretches on that route to be sure, most notably the hour-long cruise down the Rhine Gorge from Mainz to Koblenz. But that cannot compete with the EC163 to Graz which, if you excuse a few tunnels, offers over nine hours of first-class Alpine scenery on its journey of 325 miles (522km) to Austria’s second city.

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