After a short trip from St Anton, Austria to Chur (pronounced Kor) in Switzerland, my next rail sojourn is with the fabulous Bernina Express. The interior is stylish, bright and squeaky clean with full-length windows for optimum viewing of the Swiss Alps.
Shown here is the First Class carriage and Second Class is available. A personalised service onboard for anyone wishing to appreciate the ride and not move too far from their seat – don’t want to miss any photo opportunities with this train!
So where am I headed to with this immensely popular day trip? Happy to say Tirano in Italy, it’s the turnaround point after witnessing 122 kilometres of track, part of which the railway line from Thusis – Valposchiavo to Tirano has UNESCO World Heritage status.
Being a four-hour journey each way makes it one of the most popular in Switzerland and in fact the world; in terms of savouring an adventure by rail. Sit back, relax and simply enjoy.
Along the way, the elevation begins to show off many lovely villages below where families have lived as locals for generations. At the highest point on the Rhätischen Railway (RhB), it’s 2,253 metres above sea level, you’ll find the Ospizio Bernina being one of the highlights along the way.
And yes, there’s still a lot of snow around late in the month of March. An excellent recommendation for anyone who likes to travel within the shoulder seasons of Europe and still enjoys seeing the remnants of winter. You’ll have somewhat more space to move around the carriage as well without the maddening crowds of the peak seasons.
The Bernina Express route is an impressive piece of railway engineering: when the train reaches an altitude of 2,253 metres, it’s even higher than the Glacier Express journey and without the help of a cogwheel track. It requires lots of spiral loops, 55 tunnels and 196 bridges to accomplish this trip.
Heading closer now to the Bernina Pass, I don’t think the household sewing machine BERNINA made a mistake in branding it as such with the company’s namesake being the Piz Bernina; the highest summit in the eastern Alps.
At Alp Grum and we’re within the Bernina Pass, we have a quick 15 minute stop to take in the magnitude of the area. Here you can order a cuppa or bite to eat at the café, but I think you’ll be more inclined to spend time enjoying the crisp snow and marvelling at the Bernina Express train’s effort in reaching this point.
The station and restaurant building date from 1923 and is surrounded by a unique mountain setting – including Palu Glacier and Lake Palu. The marvellous outlook over Cavaglia and the Italian Alps beyond is breathtaking.
You’ll pass by the Pilgrimage Church of the Madonna di Tirano and if you miss a photo opportunity there’s plenty of time in Tirano itself as there’s a luncheon period of about 2.5 hours. You can easily walk back to it, bearing in mind though it’s a couple of kilometres. While in the port town of Tirano, you can have an Italian pizza or antipasti at one of the many cafés or restaurants which are close by to the station.
Additionally, there is a Bernina Express bus service which connects and extends onto Lugano in Italy from here and operates from February to November. You’ll be able to see lovely villages whilst enjoying the ride on the outskirts of Lake Como.
Heading back we stop at the border town of Campocolongo, Italy for Customs Police to walk through. For Australians, no visa is required for either country, however it’s important to carry identification with you.
The Bernina Express is included on the Swiss Travel Pass which can be bought separately to the Eurail Pass – especially if you are considering extensive travel throughout Switzerland. Savings with the Swiss Travel Pass are enormous if you add up the cost of buying the boutique rail journeys separately. It also includes all public transport and ferries within Switzerland making it exceptional value. Family passes are also available and can be booked within six months of the Pass start date, but won’t be sent out until 45-60 days to that start date.
The Swiss Pass can be bought as a single country and check the Rail Plus website tab of Rail Passes > Europe > One Country Passes.
Additionally, Eurail Passes can be purchased within 11 months of the start date of your rail journey and must be validated at a major rail station before your first day of train travel on the participating network. (Booklets come with the Passes outlining how to use the it, along with handy maps.)
Keep in mind these passes can only be purchased outside of Europe/UK and you must have a valid passport at the time of booking.
For Australians wishing to book or find out more about the Swiss Travel Pass and/or book a Eurail Pass combining Switzerland with neighbouring countries check out the Rail Plus website below.