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The Silk Route - World Travel: Bernina Express
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Switzerland: Bernina Express
February 2013

Chur-Tirano Tirano Tirano-Chur
Bernina Express Switzerland

 

One of the famous Swiss train journeys through spectacular snow-covered mountain landscape.

Chur-Tirano

Bernina Express Switzerland
The refreshment trolley!

A very early start one Saturday morning to take the train to Chur via Zurich. We had enough time for coffee before the Bernina Express set off. It was a bit misty in Chur but this soon cleared as we climbed into the Alps.

The carriages on the train are lovely, very comfortable, and with huge expanses of glass do that you can't miss anything of the spectacular landscapes that the train passes through.

Bernina Express Switzerland
Bernina Express Switzerland
Bernina Express Switzerland
Bernina Express Switzerland
The Landwasser Viaduct
Bernina Express Switzerland

 

The 65m high, 137m long Landwasser Viaduct is one of the most amazing pieces of engineering on the line. The curved track dives straight into the 200m Landwasser Tunnel. The travel guide notes that the stonework of the supporting arches was put in place without the use of scaffolding!

Bernina Express Switzerland
Bernina Express Switzerland

This is the highest mountain railway in the Alps running along 122 km of track through 55 tunnels and over 196 bridges and viaducts (lots of stats in the travel guide accompanying the ticket reservations!) - though I'm not sure how a bridge differs essentially from a viaduct.

 

Bernina Express Switzerland
Toboggans on the right.

We travelled over bridges spanning deep gorges, above wide valleys deep in snow, passing soaring mountains and crystal clear lakes - impossible to avoid reflections in photographs taken from the train!

Bernina Express Switzerland
Bernina Express Switzerland
Bernina Express Switzerland
Bernina Express Switzerland
Bernina Express Switzerland
Bernina Express Switzerland

Bernina Express Switzerland

The line between Thusis and St. Moritz is the Albula Line, from St. Moritz to Tirano the Bernina Line. Together they form the Rhaetian Railway, a masterpiece of engineering, passing through some of the most spectacular mountain scenery. The Bernina Line was actually routed through particularly stunning landscapes with tourism in mind!1

Bernina Express Switzerland

 

Bernina Express Switzerland
Bernina Express Switzerland

 

To climb and negotiate the Albula Pass the track performs several loops and passes through the Albula Tunnel.

The railway climbs and descends without the benefit of rack-and-pinion technology, using bridges, helical tunnels and loops in the track instead.

Bernina Express Switzerland

 

Bernina Express Switzerland
Bernina Express Switzerland
Bernina Express Switzerland
Bernina Express Switzerland
At Alp Grüm.
Bernina Express Switzerland
Bernina Express Switzerland
The track at Alp Grüm makes a wide loop, the railway equivalent of a hairpin bend!.
Bernina Express Switzerland
Negotiating the Alp Grüm loop, Palu Glacier behind.

The train passes through the mountains close to the skiing paradise of St. Moritz before reaching the highest point of the route, the Bernina Pass at 2253m. Soon afterwards, a little lower at 2091m, the train halted at Alp Grüm with fabulous views of the surrounding mountains and the Palu Glacier, covered in snow at this time of the year.

Bernina Express Switzerland
The Palu Glacier descends from the top left, draining into Palu Lake.
Bernina Express Switzerland
Bernina Express Switzerland
Val Poschiavo and its lake.
Bernina Express Switzerland

Palu Glacier and Lake.

We boarded the train again and began the long descent, a final view of Lake Palu and we were dropping rapidly down to Poschiavo, a thousand metres below, via a series of tight loops in the track.

Bernina Express Switzerland

Bernina Express Switzerland
Brusio circular viaduct.
Bernina Express Switzerland
Val Poschiavo

There had been a landslip so we did the last stretch by bus, but this stopped at the Brusio circular viaduct so that we could take photographs which was a bonus} The viaduct doubles back on itself and the track, back on the ground, passes under the raised arches.

Tirano

Tirano Italy Bernina Express
Santuario della Madonna di Tirano
Built after the Madonna is said to have appeared to an inhabitant in 1504, promising to end a plague if a church was built on the exact spot where she appeared.
Tirano Italy Bernina Express

 

 

 

There isn't a huge amount to see in Tirano which dates back to medieval times. It developed at a crossroads of major routes through the Alps.

We had a couple of good meals and one disappointment - the lamb at the Trattoria Valtellinese was tough, though they did a good sorbello Braulio, a liquid sorbet flavoured with a local spirit.

Tirano Italy Bernina Express

But lunch at Merizzi on arrival was excellent - a fantastic pesto and artichoke pasta, and the following day before leaving we had a very enjoyable three course meal at the Hotel Bernina.

We were actually staying at this hotel, though in a soulless suite of rooms in an office-type building a couple of blocks away on a noisy street. It was comfortable enough but there were no instructions for anything (including what to do if there was a fire!) and not even a spoon in the kitchen. Plus in the morning we had to walk to the main hotel for (not particularly good) breakfast, so all-in-all not one I'd recommend.

The lunch however was good - goose breast in a balsamic sauce followed by rabbit and then an ice cream/chocolate special (which wasn't) for me, local hams and cheeses and an excellent cheesy basket followed by duck with apple for Andrew - who also had the sorbello Braulio again.

 

Tirano Italy Bernina Express
Porta Poschiavino
One of three medieval gates.
Tirano Italy Bernina Express
Water troughs.
Tirano Italy Bernina Express
Medieval church of Santa Perpetua.
Tirano Italy Bernina Express
Santuario della Madonna di Tirano
Taken from the train on the way out.

 

Tirano-Chur

Bernina Express Switzerland
On the Brusio circular viaduct.

 

The track must have been cleared because the train departed from the train station for the return journey. Quite an experience as it trundles through the streets like a tram!

So we got to travel on the Brusio circular viaduct after all.

Bernina Express Switzerland
The Brusio circular viaduct.
Bernina Express Switzerland
There'd been light snowfall overnight at Palu Lake.
Bernina Express Switzerland
Bernina Express Switzerland
Lago di Poschiavo
Bernina Express Switzerland
Bernina Express Switzerland

 

References

  1. Rhaetian Railway