The Bernina Pass via train, Swiss and Italian Alps
I’m not sure when my love of train travel first began, but whenever I get the opportunity I travel by train. So when I read about a mountain railway that traveled across the Alps from Switzerland to Italy I knew I had to check it out for myself.
The Bernina Express is the highest railway across the Alps linking Chur / Davos / St. Moritz on the Swiss end to Tirano on the Italian end and on the way it “negotiates 55 tunnels, 196 bridges and inclines of up to 70 per mille with ease”.
You can of course take the Bernina Express in either direction, but as I was arriving by train from Salzburg, Zurich was the obvious starting point. I boarded a train from Zurich railway station and sat back to enjoy the under 90 minute ride up to Chur where I was to switch over to the regional trains of the Rhaetian Railway, namely the Bernina Express. I alighted from the Zurich train and simply crossed the platform to the bright red panoramic Bernina Express train.
The complete journey on the Bernina Express takes around 4 hours, so plenty of time to relax and enjoy the scenery. There is no buffet/dining car but they do have a cart/mini-bar service for snacks and drinks during the journey.
The train from Zurich to Chur cost about $30, the Bernina Express was around $65 plus $10 for a seat reservation and the train itself has the large panoramic windows to give really good vision of the amazing scenery going gently past. You can get all these tickets from the ticket machines at Zurich main railway station (Zurich Hauptbahnhof).
When the train pulled into Ospizio Bernina station we were at the highest point of the journey across the Alps at 2,253 meters above sea level. A short stop to drop off and take on passengers (and to stretch my legs and breathe in the fresh mountain air) before we descended towards the valleys of the Swiss-Italian border and my final destination Tirano.
Leaving Ospizio Bernina and heading towards Poschiavo we pulled into the hamlet of Alp Grum, which is the last station on the line in the Romansh speaking part of Switzerland. Except in Summer, the railway line is the only accessible route to Alp Grum. After a brief stretch of my legs I re-boarded the train to enjoy more of the spectacular views, ‘tight curves and spiral tunnels’ heading down to Pushclav and the Italian speaking part of Switzerland.
The last stop before Tirano, tucked just inside the Swiss border, is Brusio. This section of the Bernina line boasts a spectacular 360-degree curve called the Brusio Circular Viaduct which helps the train overcome the drop in altitude in the narrow Valposchiavo.
Of course photos taken from the train windows hardly do justice to the spectacular scenery of the Alps and certainly don’t give you a clear impression of how fresh and clean the mountain air really is. If you happen to be anywhere in the vicinity of the Swiss Alps with some time to explore I highly recommend you take a day to enjoy this amazing train journey. I promise you won’t regret it.
I rounded out this section of my travels in Europe by enjoying the comfort of the TrenItalia train from Tirano to Milan airport (Malpensa) which takes about 3 hours 45 minutes and costs about $23. They run on average about 12 times a day during the week to Milan or you could head towards Turin.
Finally, I should point out that there are actually two train stations in Tirano. One which serves mainline trains to Milan and Turin and the other which serves the Rhaetian Railway and the Bernina Express. Don’t worry, they are both located adjacent to the main station square (Piazzale Stazione), the Rhaetian Railway (Tiarno RhB) on the west side and the terminus of the Tirano-Lecco (Tirano RFI) on the southern side of the square. I hope one day you get the chance to experience the amazing Bernina Pass Railway across the Alps aboard the Bernina Express.