Tag Archives: Rail Journeys

Bernina Express, Swiss Rail Pass – Chur to Tirano

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 train just keeps on gaining momentum showing off the beauty and magnificence of its surrounds – as seen here with the Swiss Alps in the background.

Even in the months of March and April, the train is not short on carriages and the demand is still quite high. Bookings can be taken as early as ninety days out from your planned trip.

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.

And yes, the panorama is truly exceptional and a must see as we zig zag through terrain of which you wonder how the tracks could’ve ever been laid here all those years ago.

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.

Winding upwards this time along the famous Landwasser Viaduct. The almost 466 foot viaduct and sweeping 328 foot arches, spans between Schmitten and Filisur in the canton of Graubunden, Switzerland.

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.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, taking photographs of doors with such intricate attention to detail has become a ‘thing’ of mine – such as this one of the Pilgrimage Church.

At Tirano station, the new and old standing side by side reminding passengers how times have changed.

Time to head back to Chur and passengers are waiting eagerly to find their place and again be treated to Bernina Express’s welcoming staff and service.

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.

Back into Chur about 5:30 pm same day, you’ll still have time to explore this lovely small Swiss city. Shown here is the Cathedral in the centre and at 800 years old is worthy of a visit.

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.



‘The Canadian’ Rail Journey with Via Rail – Part One

I’m taking on more rail travel and now on my own to cross Canada with Via Rail’s ‘The Canadian’, an epic and sought-after journey with locals and international passengers. The tracks were built by Canadian Pacific Railway which was founded in 1881, linking Canada’s populated centres with the vast unpopulated West. This incredible engineering feat was completed on 7th November, 1885.

Today’s Canadian train takes the more northerly Canadian National route across Canada via Edmonton and Jasper and was completed in 1917.

So it’s bye now to Calgary and I was quite impressed with its friendly people, incredible array of food choices and value for money.

From Calgary, it’s necessary to travel by Red Arrow Coaches which has partnered with Via Rail. At a cost of approximately CAD75.00 one way it includes amenities, meal and wifi – it was a seamless trip across to Edmonton to pick up the train from there. The ticket office is a short walk from Le Germain Hotel and the Tower. www.redarrow.ca for bookings online saving $5.00.

The bus trip from Calgary to Edmonton is less than 3 hours and really comfortable with a short break enroute.

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Red Arrow’s bus service and ticket office at Edmonton is right next to the Holiday Inn if you wish to have an overnight stay. The Canadian train from Edmonton Station departs around midnight, might be an idea to spend some time here and enjoy some of the sights.

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West Edmonton Mall is the largest shopping mall in North America and the tenth largest in the world by gross leasable area. Time went really fast here with so many shops and eateries to choose from. Mmmm think I’ll be coming back to Edmonton somehow … Really liked it here.

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Or you can just chill out, have a cuppa and watch the all the potential Torvill and Deans practise their routines on this indoor skating rink.

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Edmonton Station is just on the outskirts of the city and the journey from here becomes three-nights on the train heading to Toronto – its final destination. However, being a major transit city there’s connections to all the other services Via Rail have to offer at Toronto’s Union Station.


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You can travel very affordably in Economy class in a reclining seat, or in Sleeper Plus class with a private sleeping-car room and restaurant car meals included. And new from 2014, there are deluxe Prestige class sleepers too.

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Speaking of meals, there’s a different selection from the menu each day.

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If you ever see Hot Beef in a Yorkshire Pudding Bowl on the menu – order it – just the best and extremely popular. Simply delicious!

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Obviously, someone has to do some work while we all just watch the world go by eating our breakfast.
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Landscape has changed so much now as we traverse across Canada.

Freight trains take precedence over the tracks, but that’s fine with me when you have time on your side.

Days gone by …

And as dusk envelopes the day, we’re ready for more food and relaxation …