We travelled to Zurich recently and then caught a train down through the Albula and Bernina Alps to Tirano just inside Italy.

Zurich and Bernina Express

Written by Haydn Williams

We travelled to Zurich recently and had a brief couple of days in the city to catch up with friends, but no time to actually have a proper look around. Once work finished, though, we did manage to catch a train down through the Albula and Bernina Alps to Tirano just inside Italy.

Having travelled with hand luggage only, I forwent my cameras for running gear so some of the photos below are ludicrous crops from an iPhone image in lieu of a proper zoom. Sorry.

The side of Switzerland we saw was very efficient and well organised. I highly doubt the UK could effectively arrange for two trains to use the same platform at a station just three minutes apart, whilst also travelling in opposite directions. I was also very pleased with the facilities on the UPSTAIRS deck of first class.

Swiss trains have proper coat racks! This was upstairs! © Haydn Williams 2016
Swiss trains have proper coat racks! This was upstairs! © Haydn Williams 2016

We changed trains a couple of hours outside Zurich, onto the Bernina Express which has panoramic windows so you can enjoy the view.

First class carriage to ourselves, woohoo! © Haydn Williams 2016
First class carriage to ourselves, woohoo! © Haydn Williams 2016
Choo choo! © Haydn Williams 2016
Choo choo! © Haydn Williams 2016

Unfortunately during our two days we didn’t really get to see the peaks around us climbing to 4,000m because of some rather low cloud.

Silly iPhone crop of church from the Bernina Express. © Haydn Williams 2016
Silly iPhone crop of church from the Bernina Express. © Haydn Williams 2016

However, the journey was still very pleasant, not least because of some of the train-based acrobatics that takes place to get up and down the various passes.

Crazy spiral railway track. © Haydn Williams 2016
Crazy spiral railway track. © Haydn Williams 2016

On the outward trip we stopped briefly at the high point of Ospizio Bernina, where the watershed between the Danube and the Po River sits.

Rain falling left of this sign drains to the Adriatic; to the right goes to the Black Sea. © Haydn Williams 2016
Rain falling left of this sign drains to the Adriatic; to the right goes to the Black Sea. © Haydn Williams 2016

Despite getting some pretty gnarly weather at 2250m above sea level, they manage to maintain hourly train services even through winter. This is partly through the use of modern machinery, but also this frankly terrifying steam-powered snow plough from 1910 (I’ve set the videos to start at the interesting bits!).

 

From there we dropped down into Italy, and reached the end of the line at Tirano.

Descending towards Italy. © Haydn Williams 2016
Descending towards Italy. © Haydn Williams 2016

It was a nice journey, with just enough time to remind ourselves of the real motivation for being there – the railway is a UNESCO World Heritage site! I was therefore able to add another completed mark to my global (predominantly European) list.

Another tick for the list. © Haydn Williams 2016
Another tick for the list. © Haydn Williams 2016

We only had a few minutes in Tirano, so wandered up to the rather impressive church then back to the station for the return train leg as far as St. Moritz.

Santuario Madonna di Tirano. © Haydn Williams 2016
Santuario Madonna di Tirano. © Haydn Williams 2016

Wikipedia says that St. Moritz is “regarded as the most expensive ski resort in the world“, which didn’t fill me with joy. However, we’d planned ahead so didn’t have to live as paupers for the night. We stayed at the Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains which is doubtless horrifically expensive if you like skiing, but since we were visiting in the non-snowy off season it was within reach of mere mortals. The building is ridiculous though…

It was not snowy when we were there.
It was not snowy when we were there.

The corridors inside are just as mental…

Biggest. Corridor. Ever. © Haydn Williams 2016
Biggest. Corridor. Ever. © Haydn Williams 2016

We awoke to decent weather, but only time for a quick walk around the lake before we were back at the station.

St. Moritz panorama (hanging out of hotel window!). © Haydn Williams 2016
St. Moritz panorama (hanging out of hotel window!). © Haydn Williams 2016

From there it was a quick hop back to Zurich for a final night before returning home.

Ridiculous iPhone crop. © Haydn Williams 2016
Ridiculous iPhone crop. © Haydn Williams 2016

Despite the rain, we did manage to see a bit more of the city this time, which was clean, tidy and perfectly pleasant, but not the most high-octane place in the world. As with most European cities we visit, we found the old town to be the nicest bit.

Another ridiculous iPhone crop. © Haydn Williams 2016
Another ridiculous iPhone crop. © Haydn Williams 2016

The following morning we behaved like good tourists and bought some over-priced and disappointing chocolates then jumped on the plane home. A nice scenic holiday, but undoubtedly vastly increased in fun value by those who hosted or took us out to places for a catch up – thanks!

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