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Lying in pitch-black darkness, I listen to the animals moving restlessly, and feel more content than I have in a long while.

Johan is up at dawn for the first milking, and coos over the herd like a mother hen. The hillsides are glazed in dew, cool morning shadows streaming over them like giants' cloaks. We take breakfast together - rough mountain bread, cured ham and tangy Appenzeller cheese - and talk about scything grass and about cows some more. We are joined by another farmer, Willi. Much of his creased face is obscured by an ample white beard. His hands are the roughest I can remember ever shaking. He speaks of the past, of his 18 grandchildren and about his own herd. I ask him about change. Willi blinks and his eyes seem to water. "There has been change," he says with a grunt. "Look over there." He motions down to a village in the dip between two hills. "The village?" I ask. Willi nods slowly. "I remember when there was a single farmhouse," he says.

The next day, the wheels beneath me are moving again. At Chur I boarded the fabled Glacier Express, which bills itself as "the world's slowest express train". The sleek carriages gleam grey and fire-engine red; inside, they are washed in blinding light. Through the windows, nature's canvas rolls by, silent beneath boiling cumulus clouds and peppered with pretty villages. The rivers are swollen from weeks of rain, their waters the hue of aquamarines.

If Switzerland is a showcase for extraordinary railway achievement, the Glacier Express is the jewel in its crown. With no fewer than 291 bridges and 91 tunnels, it reaches a height of more than 2,000m at the Oberalp Pass, and takes seven and a half hours to carve the route from St Moritz to Zermatt. Gliding forward mile after mile, it is easy to forget the challenge, and the loss of life in creating such a wonder of engineering.

Noticing my amazement at it all, the elderly lady seated opposite me stoops across the table. "My grandfather worked as a labourer on the famous Landwasser Viaduct back in 1901,"she whispers. "Everyone said the chief designer was a lunatic. But history has judged him for what he really was - a genius."

The train's dining car is also a throwback to the early 20th Century, to the 1930s, when it was built. Compact and wood-panelled, with floral velvet seats, brass fittings, starched tablecloths and flower posies arranged at each place, it has the ambience of a well-loved gentlemen's club.

The waitress, Elvira, energetically polishes the silver. She seems a little flustered at seeing me arrive for a late lunch. "We have already catered for 120," she says apologetically, as she hands me the menu. "The kitchen may be tiny but we prepare everything from scratch."

Uncertain of what to order, I ask Elvira to do so for me, and am rewarded with one of the most memorable meals of my life. There is Salsiz sausage and veal paillard (a flattened scallop), bouillon aux crepe en lamelles (a kind of broth with pancake strips), platters of alpine cheese, and a wine list that would make the most pedantic sommelier proud. Leaving the Glacier Express at Brig, I have a lump in my throat. All I can think of is clawing my way back to the dining car, for another meal under Elvira's conscientious watch.

In most countries, changing trains tends to be a sordid ordeal of waiting and of discomfort. But, as I prepare to board my onward train, I am reminded again that Switzerland is different. This is a land in which rail travel is still a genteel pursuit, one of enjoyment rather than endurance. The station masters are well dressed and courteous, the platforms clean, the efficiency of the system as reliable as a Rolex Oyster Perpetual.

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