Ride through a UNESCO World Heritage train ride on the Bernina express from tirano in Italy to st. Moritz in Switzerland and experience the spectacular alpine beauty!
While on my recent visit to Italy, I had a spare day in Milan and wanted to make the best out of it. (You can also read about the top 5 places to visit in Milan). I was spoiled with charming day trip destinations like Cinque Terre, Bergamo, Verona, Venice, and Lake Garda. (We already visited Lake Como as a day trip from Milan). But we were looking for something else, something more exciting. And that’s when we stumbled upon the Bernina Express – a panoramic train that runs on a UNESCO World Heritage line, and can be covered as a day trip from Italy to St. Moritz!
Bernina Express is a panoramic train that connects Tirano in Italy and Chur in Switzerland. Swiss Rhaetian Railway operates the express train along the Albula / Bernina Line, a UNESCO World Heritage line. The train crosses the Swiss Engadin Alps on its way among picturesque scenery and gleaming glaciers. The Bernina Express travels through 55 tunnels and 196 bridges and touches the highest point of the route at 2253 m (7,392 ft) at Ospizio Bernina.
How to Book:
We booked tickets in advance from the Rhaetian Railway website (https:/www.rhb.ch) from Tirano to St Moritz. Now St. Moritz is in Switzerland, which does not fall under the Schengen countries, but since it is under the EU, you can only take the trip with your Schengen visa. We also found no checkpoints / passport checks in St Moritz (but be careful than sorry!).
How To Reach Tirano:
We caught the early morning train from Milano Centrale to Tirano for € 11.50 each way (don’t forget to validate your tickets at the station otherwise you might have to pay a heavy amount as fine). It took us about 2.5 hours to reach Tirano, the last station of the route (and also the last Italian town).
Tirano is a small scenic town with paved roads and European architecture. We visited the town in October and there were dramatic fall colors displayed in the surroundings. The wind also chilled me to the bones! (Don’t miss out on my Packing List for Italy in October).
We strolled around the town and bought breakfast from the shop right outside the station, Margy Bar. The apple strudel was delicious and inexpensive!!! The town has a few eateries and boutiques along with a few cathedrals that you can walk and take a look around.
The Rhaetisch Bahn (RhB) station is situated right next to the Trentalia station (Trenitalia operates all trains in Italy, they are like Italy’s IRCTC). It is a very small station with a reservation counter and bathrooms (not expecting too much here, and neither at Tirano station). As we waited for the Bernina Express to arrive, we saw the St. Moritz regional train stationed there.
There are 2 trains operating on the Tirano-St Moritz line -one being the Bernina Express and the other being the regional train. The regional train takes relatively more time to reach and does not come with the panoramic windows (although there would be comments on the main attractions only).
The Bernina Express:
As soon as the regional train left the station, the Bernina Express arrived in its bright red avatar. The train has plush interiors even in the second-class carriages. It has a touristy feel, but who cares?! Bernina Express ‘ second-class ticket costs CHF32 one way. The carriage has four seats on both sides facing each other. You would have to reserve your seats before booking the ticket. Do not worry while choosing the seats as you will be able to view the scenery from both sides (the line has a number of bends!). Every side has a tray and hooks to hang your things. There are clean toilets at the end of the carriages. The first class seats are the same with better leg room and more comfortable.
The Bernina Express began its journey at 10:06 AM. Each seat has a guide with the primary locations of the listed attractions and guidelines to link your mobile to their InfoT(r)ainment wifi for comments in 6 different languages!
As the train left the station, it slid steadily along the center of Tirano (almost like a tram!). It reached the quaint landscape of Le Prese (in Switzerland!!!) after crossing Tirano.
Soon after, we reached the town of Poschiavo. It is located in the Val Poschiavo of the Italian Graubünden (there are total 4 valleys). Because of this, inspite of being a part of Switzerland, the official language of Poschiavo is Italian!
After crossing Poschiavo, the train spiralled along the Brusio viaduct. The Brusio viaduct was constructed to limit the gradient of the line within the specified maximum of 7 deg. Soon after, we were greeted by the vast Lago di Poschiavo (Lake Poschiavo), a natural lake that is currently used as a reservoir. We were awestruck by the beautiful blue color of the water, reflecting sunlight. Behind the lake, stood gorgeous snow-capped mountains. At that moment, I could make out that this is going to be one helluva train ride!!!
The train started gaining altitude, twisting and turning through bends. It made its way through lush green forests with the waters of the lake glistening down below. At about 3 PM, we reached Alp Grüm. Its a quaint little station where the train stops for about 10 mins for a quick bite and great photo-ops. The Alp Grüm station is situated at an altitude of 6,860 ft (2091 m) and offers a great view of the Lago di Poschiavo and the Palü glacier (though the view is marred by hanging cable lines). There is a small restaurant at the station to grab your brunch.
10 mins later, we left Alp Grüm as we climbed higher towards Ospizio Bernina – the highest point of the Bernina Pass. Ospizio Bernina is situated right next to Lago Bianco (white lake), a reservoir fed by glacial water. One on side of the station were rustic hills displaying various shades of Autumn and the other side was the glacier-fed deep blue waters of Lago Bianco.
From Ospizio Bernina, we continued our journey towards the Bernina Diavolezza, the stop for taking cable cars to the skii destinations of Diavolezza and Lagalb glaciers. Bernina Express does not stop at any of these stations, except Poschiavo, Le Prese, Alp Grüm and Pontresina (and of course, St Moritz).
From Ospizio Bernina, the alpine landscape was covered with the autumn shades of red and yellow on one side and the sparkling white Morteratsch glacier on the other. It was truly a remarkable site! In the distance, we could see small stone walled houses and the church of Santa Maria along the railway line, indicating we are almost reaching Pontresina, a small town on the Bernina Pass.
In another 5-10 mins, the train rolled into the St Moritz station as we hopped off. St Moritz is an alpine resort town, famous for hosting the Winter Olympics twice.
The Bernina Express ride is one of my best travel moments till date and one that will be etched on to my memory forever. Maybe next time I will take the train upto Chur and take the Bernina bus till Lake Lugano.
Until then, ride through the UNESCO World Heritage train line for a spectacular alpine experience!!!