Against backdrop of Alps: Gorgeous train ride through Switzerland

It is always quite an experience traveling by train. Sometimes, it is even a must for those looking for the most authentic and unique episode of travel, and with the backdrop of the Swiss Alps who wouldn’t? So, for those interested, there is one express that is sure to amaze its passengers.

The Bernina Express slowly works its way up the massif of the same name. The departure point in Pontresina is already at an altitude that makes it difficult for flatland tourists to catch their breath.

The small town in the Engadine, a high valley region in the eastern Swiss Alps, lies at 1,774 meters (5,820 feet) above sea level. Clouds are hanging over the mountains, with the sun only breaking through now and then. However, the weather and the views keep improving as the train makes its way upward.

Alp Grüm offers the most spectacular views during the Bernina Express train ride. (Rhatische Bahn via dpa)
Alp Grüm offers the most spectacular views during the Bernina Express train ride. (Rhatische Bahn via dpa)

The route of the Bernina Express is one of the steepest cogless railroad lines in the world. The highest point is Ospizio Bernina station at an altitude of 2,253 meters above sea level. From there, it’s all downhill toward Italy, with a steady decline of 7%, past Poschiavo to Tirano.

After breath-taking views of glaciers, now the palm trees that line the lakes of the Mediterranean towns of Lugano, Locarno and Ascona await.

However, the most beautiful point comes shortly after Ospizio Bernina station, at 2,091 meters above sea level: Alp Grüm. Here the train stops for a few minutes to give passengers the opportunity to enjoy the spectacular views of Piz Palü, a 3,900-meter peak.

Further downhill, at an altitude of 1,014 meters, awaits Poschiavo station. From there the train descends another 600 meters, to the final stop in Tirano. Swiss railway engineers have erected a unique structure between these last two stations: the circular viaduct in Brusio. Here, the train turns once around its own axis in a very confined space and descends steeply in the process.

Back by bus

From Tirano, in Lombardy, Italy, the Bernina Express bus takes you to Ticino, a province in southern Switzerland, across the Valtellina valley to Lugano. Here, countless options to spend the day await. The two local mountains, Monte Bre and Monte San Salvatore, are easy to hike – with a unique view of Lake Lugano and the city, which used to be a part of Italy for a long time.

Those who prefer to stay in town can explore historic churches, immerse themselves in the changing exhibitions at the ultramodern Lugano Arte e Cultura (LAC) center, go shopping or simply enjoy the dolce vita on the lake shore.

The journey back from Ticino to the mountains leads through pristine Swiss landscapes to Lucerne. On the way, you will pass through another spectacular structure: the Gotthard Base Tunnel, which was opened in 2016. The train needs about 20 minutes for the 57-kilometer (35-mile) stretch between Bellinzona and Arth-Goldau.

Alternatively, you can catch the Gotthard Panorama Express, which runs from Lugano to Flüelen on the south side of Lake Lucerne. There, an electric boat will pull up as soon as you get off the train, a testimony to the efficiency of the Swiss railway system. After all, the Swiss Transport Service (STS), under which the numerous railway companies have joined forces, not only includes train lines, but also buses and transport boats.

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