The Bernina Express is a great relaxing way to travel to the Swiss ski resorts along its route. This scenic train winds through the resplendent valleys of the Swiss Alps, reaching an altitude of 2,235 metres before descending into the Italian town of Tirano. I took the railway on my way to Pontresina.
My journey actually started on a standard double-decker from Zurich. It zoomed through the urban sprawl and then ran along the south side of Lake Walen, where rugged snow-topped cliffs on its north side offset the calm, flat water.
Shortly after, the train pulled into Chur, where the Bernina Express begins. The narrow-gauge tracks from Chur are also used by the Glacier Express, which runs from Zermatt to Davos or St Moritz. There was ample time to jump aboard and settle in on the smaller train before departure. The large windows to the ceiling in some carriages ensured excellent views of the ever-changing panorama outside.
Our first stop was Reichenau-Tamins, not far from the Laax/Flims ski area, but still at a low altitude in the valley. Further along the valley at Thusis station, a bronze statue called Die Reisende (The Traveller) caught the attention of the passengers in my carriage, while new passengers boarded in ski gear with skis in hand — a novelty to see on a passenger train.
As the train passed waterfalls and luscious green forests in the valleys, a voiceover told passengers of the upcoming viewpoints in Italian, German and English. The first breathtaking feature was the Landwasser Viaduct — a tall, curved bridge, more than a hundred years old that connects directly to the rock-face of the Landwasser Tunnel. As the train exited the tunnel, snowflakes were falling, providing the perfect welcome to the higher peaks.
After Bergün station, I noticed a wide, gentle sledge run. Families on toboggans and sledges smiled and waved at our passing train as they slid down the track. The course begins 6km further up, conveniently at the train’s next train stop, Preda. You can hire toboggans here, and I was tempted to alight and have a go.
The railway tracks curve and spiral to gain altitude gradually, avoiding the need for a cog system. It’s lovely to look down at the tracks and bridges just crossed, as well as the views that were only visible from the other side of the train just moments earlier.
One leg of the Bernina Express branches off and stops at St Moritz, so a further train change is sometimes required. My stop was soon after, at Pontresina, but I travelled a little further the following day to sample some of the most breathtaking scenery the journey has to offer.
I stopped for lunch at the renovated Berninahaus restaurant and hotel, originally built in 1515 as a refuge for travellers crossing the Bernina Pass. At an altitude of 2,046 metres, it was a welcome relief from the wintry air outside. Trains stop at the nearby Bernina Suot station, just one stop away from the Diavolezza/Lagalb ski areas.
The Bernina Express chugged past me at Lago Bianco — where I tried snowkiting — before its descent into Italy without me. The return trip to Chur a few days later was as interesting as it had been for the outward journey, and I’d recommend it to anyone travelling to the ski resorts along its route.
Wendy stayed at the five-star Grand Hotel Kronenhof in the heart of Pontresina – one of the stops along the Bernina Express and Glacier Express. The hotel is just a few minutes’ walk from the station, and there is a free shuttle service for guests.