A scenic four hours from start to finish, between Chur in the north and Tirano in the south, the Bernina Express is one of Switzerland’s most incredible train journeys. Regardless of which end you start your journey, be prepared to be utterly wow-ed by an itinerary involving glaciers and palm trees, among many other points of interests.
The train travels across 122km, passing through 55 tunnels and crossing an impressive 196 bridges and viaducts, including the UNESCO World Heritage listed site of the Rhaetian Railway’s Albula Line. In summer, there is also an extended service on the Bernina Express bus that connects Tirano to Lugano in three hours.
Here, we take a look at the three key stops along both the rail and bus routes of the Bernina Express.
The very top end of the Bernina Express line is the oldest city in Switzerland, Chur, the capital and largest city of the Canton of Graubünden. A charming city of narrow winding streets surrounded by 937 mountains, 150 valleys and 615 lakes, the beauty of this region is unsurpassed. And you can only imagine the abundance of outdoor activities and photographic opportunities.
With a history that dates back 5000 years, Chur’s old town is one of the best preserved in the country, offering a fantastic blend of culture, eateries and shopping. Being car-free with prominent red sightseeing signs peppered throughout, it makes exploring easy and almost effortless.
An elevated Alpine winter resort at 1,856m in the Engadine and the birthplace of winter tourism back in 1864, St Moritz has long been frequented by the rich, famous and high-flying international jet setters. Having been established as a mineral spa town 3,000 years ago, the town has twice hosted the Winter Olympics and is highly popular for its prestigious yearly winter sports events including the Snow Polo, White Turf and the Alpine Ski World Cup.
While winter sees an obscene number of well-heeled jet-setters dress to impress and enjoy only what the crème de la crème of the high society can afford, summertime tells a more laid back story. Summer sees visitors embark on numerous picturesque hikes, mountain biking excursions and a host of water activities such as sailing, wind or kite surfing and rowing in the lake. And with 17 climbing gardens, those looking to learn or improve their mountaineering skills will always have something to look forward to.
The very end of the extended Bernina Express journey is the colourful and pretty Italian-speaking town of Lugano. The 9th largest Swiss city with a population of about 71,500, it’s been rather popular among travellers from the polite society, celebrities and well-known athletes.
Dubbed the “Monte Carlo of Switzerland”, its historic and traffic-free town centre is where you’ll find a number of beautifully manicured parks and cobbled-streets occupied by Mediterranean-style buildings, squares and arcades offering items of luxury, local cuisine and craft. Picnic and lounging options by the lake are aplenty, as are active excursions around the picture-postcard region.
So there you have it, from the snowcapped Alpine region of north to the sub-tropical Mediterranean landscape of the south, Switzerland never fails to surprise or impress. And having the comfort, class and convenience of seeing all of this contrasting scenery in the one train journey is just unbeatable.