Through the Swiss Alps: The Bernina Express

The Bernina Express

Of all the things that come to mind when I think of Switzerland (watches, knives and banks), there was one I never expected to see anytime soon: the Swiss Alps. I have a thing for mountains. I also have a thing for trains. So travelling through the Alps by train seemed the perfect trip.

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The Bernina Express connects the northern Italian town of Tirano with Chur (pronounced Kor) in Switzerland. It’s a four-hour trip that seems to only go one way – up! Oh, it also goes round and round. While it’s going up.

One of the highlights of the trip comes minutes after leaving Tirano. I, being on the train, couldn’t take a photo of it, so here’s one from Rhaetian Railway’s flickr site:

2325239-Bernina_Express_SwitzerlandYep, the train does a loop-de-loop. From there it starts climbing. The track weaves up the first major mountain and the village below just gets smaller and smaller. Eventually we stop overlooking the valley and delve into the mountains. Despite the heat, this is the Alps, so there is still a smacking of snow on the peaks.


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The railway was built between 1896 to 1904, and was the first major rail route from Italy into Switzerland. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s still a busy freight route, but with views like this you can see why it’s one of the top scenic rail trips in the world.

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We reach a top of 2253 metres during the 144km trip. We travel across 196 bridges and 55 tunnels. The mountains occasionally give way to farm land – we see a handful of cows and sheep. There are also a few dedicated cyclists making their way up the road and we see a few hikers too.

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The train has big panoramic windows in all the carriages. This isn’t the case for all of the trains. Although several travel the route each day, most only go to St Moritz. The one we are on (the 14.04 from Tirano) goes all the way to Chur and every carriage has the panoramic windows.

We arrive into Chur about 6.30pm, head into the station and quickly buy a ticket for the 6.39pm train to Zurich, jumping on with minutes to spare.

We booked our ticket with Rhaetian Railway. You can book a seat reservation several months out, but are not made available until close to the date. For our June 24 trip we made our seat reservation on March 8. We bought our tickets the day before at the station in . Note: For train travel in Europe you will often need BOTH a seat reservation and a ticket, to reserve a seat. For the best advice on rail travel I’ve ever seen check out The Man in Seat Sixty One. This guy is gold!
Thanks to my mum for taking most of these photos. I was too busy staring out the window in a Toblerone-induced coma.

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