Zurich: Panoramic train ride to glaciers and palm gardens
Not just for train lovers. The Bernina Express connects Chur in Switzerland with Tirano in Italy – and runs through a breathtaking Alpine landscape along the way. During its four-hour journey, the trains climb nearly two kilometers in altitude, cross deep valleys on viaducts, and pass by mountain lakes, glaciers and palm gardens. The central part of the route was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. This train journey is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Switzerland.
Trailblazers: The route takes in a total of 196 bridges – and the scenery looks particularly spectacular from the top of the sweeping Landwasser Viaduct, the lofty Wiesener Viaduct and the circular Brusio Viaduct. Unlike all other Swiss Alpine trains, the Bernina Express passes over the mountains rather than traveling under them in long tunnels. With a gradient of up to seven percent, the track is one of the steepest in the world on which ordinary trains can run without the help of cables or cogwheels.
Bernina Express operated by Rhaetian Railway: Tel.: +41-81/288 65 65. Fares: CHF 58 for the entire route between Chur and Tirano in 2nd class, CHF 96 in 1st Class. www.rhb.ch/Bernina-Express.33.0.html
Halfway apex: At 2253 meters above sea level, the track reaches its highest point in the Bernina Pass, where it runs past the mountain lake Lago Bianco and the Cambrena Glacier. Numerous archeological finds show that traders crossed the Alps here as early as the Bronze Age. These days, the Bernina Express stops at Ospizio Bernina station; a nearby namesake hotel provides an excellent starting point for hiking or ski tours.
Albergo Ospizio Bernina: Ospizio Bernina, Tel.: +41-81/844 03 03. Prices: From CHF 58 per person in a double room with buffet breakfast, shared shower and WC.
Streetcars: On arriving at Tirano, its final destination, the Bernina Express crosses the public square Piazza Basilica and the pilgrimage church Madonna di Tirano. Connecting trains travel from the train station of this Lombardian village to Milan, and on to to Sicily, if that’s where you’re headed. For all those who haven’t yet had enough of the Alps, the Bernina Express bus departs Tirano to travel along the shores of Lake Como to Lugano in Switzerland.
Tirano: www.comune.tirano.so.it (Italian); Milan: www.comune.milano.it (English and Italian); Lugano: www.lugano.ch (English, German and Italian)
Photos: Peter Donatsch/Rhaetische Bahn (4)