Switzerland is blessed to have breathtaking scenery everywhere you look. Whether you are crossing the spectacular Golden Pass across the Swiss Alps or simply enjoying the views from the shores of Lake Lucerne, it’s no surprise that visitors flock here from all corners of the globe to admire this beautiful country. During our recent visit to Switzerland, we believe we have taken the beauty of this nation to the next level when we traveled on the train from Chur to Tirano, a small town in Northern Italy. Welcome to the Bernina Express!
Having spent quite some time exploring the beauty of Switzerland’s natural landscapes, we really didn’t think that this journey in the south-east corner of this country could better anything we had previously experienced. It goes without saying the Bernina Express route is renowned as one of the most prestigious train journeys not only in Europe but anywhere in the world. We can 100% attest that this journey delivers way more than you could ever imagine.
The beauty of traveling through Switzerland’s spectacular landscapes by train is that for the most part, you are moving at a relatively slow speed which enables you to appreciate everything you see around you. We hope that after reading this post and admiring what we consider to be some of the best photographs we have ever had the privilege of taking, you will be inspired to take a trip on the Bernina Express.
Chur to Tirano – Eurail Pass
One of the huge benefits of purchasing a Eurail Pass (regardless of whether it’s a one country, Select or Global Pass) is that you have the opportunity to experience these amazing train routes that perhaps otherwise you wouldn’t think about exploring.
Simply hop on the train and enjoy this breathtaking route on the Bernina Express. No reservations are needed for this journey unlike some other iconic routes across Europe and I think this alone makes this one of the best options for those looking at taking the best train journeys on the continent.
For those of you opting to purchase a Eurail pass, you may be wondering how much money you can save. Just to give you an idea of approximate ticket prices for the Bernina Express, at the time of publication, a second-class ticket would cost CHF 63 ($64) and a first-class ticket (for those of you who prefer to travel in luxury and if you read our post on Eurail first class travel, I can certainly understand why) will cost CHF 111 ($113).
Bernina Express Route
If you choose to embark on the Bernina Express, we recommend breaking this route into a couple of segments. This is exactly what we did during our recent adventure, by taking the train from Chur to St. Moritz, and then St. Moritz to Tirano. Not only do you get to experience two epic train journeys but you can also spend some time in one of Switzerland’s most iconic alpine towns.
We will take a look at the two routes in a little more detail later but if you are thinking about admiring those glistening glaciers and appreciating a myriad of alpine villages, the train journey along the Bernina Express will not leave you disappointed.
There are not many train journeys around the world that offers those onboard the opportunity to admire such magical scenery while negotiating 55 tunnels and 196 bridges! It’s a pretty incredible experience and honestly, words and pictures will never do this train ride enough justice.
Here are the approximate train ride journeys on the two “legs” of the Bernina Express.
- Chur to St. Moritz – Approximately 2 Hours
- St. Moritz to Tirano – Approximately 2 Hours
As you can see, be prepared to allocate at least 4 hours to experience the Bernina Express but the reality is that you will need more time if you follow our itinerary given that you will spend a few hours in St. Moritz.
Crossing the beautiful canton of Graubünden, the Bernina Express is an unforgettable experience offering high alpine scenery on the Bernina Pass and spectacular natural beauty on the lower Poschiavo valley en route to Tirano. Let’s take a look at some of the experiences you can expect on the two legs of this journey, along with a few reasons why St. Moritz is worth exploring for a few hours.
Chur to St. Moritz
After taking an early morning train from Basel via Zurich, we boarded the train in Chur for the first leg of the Bernina Express. The first few minutes of this journey lead you outside of the town and honestly, nothing in the early part of this train ride will prepare you for what is to come later on.
It’s only when you start climbing after passing through the villages of Reichenau, Thusis and Tiefencastel that you start realizing exactly why the Bernina Express is such an incredible train journey. As you meander through the Domleschg valley known for historic ruins and castles, you cannot help but start admiring the breathtaking scenery around you.
As you pass over the curved Landwasser viaduct, one of those iconic spots where if you are lucky, you can capture a picture of the front of the train entering the tunnel, you are immediately transformed into a winter wonderland.
For the first hour of the journey from Chur, we experienced nothing in terms of snow but as we started to climb sharply, the snowfall started to appear and it honestly made the experience that much more exhilarating.
At an elevation of 1,800 meters (5,910) feet, you arrive in the alpine town of St. Moritz, iconically known as hosting the Winter Olympics on multiple occasions.
Although you may not want to leave the train after such an amazing journey, this is a good place to get out and stretch your legs for a few hours and grab a bite to eat before enjoying what we consider to be an even more spectacular second leg of the route to Tirano.
Olympic Town of St. Moritz
When you think about the Winter Olympics and historic, landmark destinations that have hosted this global competition, there are not many places more infamous than the alpine town of St. Moritz in the heart of Switzerland.
After hosting the Winter Olympics in both 1928 and 1948, it’s no surprise that St. Moritz is a town that has plenty of history surrounding it. Whether it’s the historic Olympic Stadium that is unlike the more traditional stadia that we associate with Olympic Games, or perhaps the iconic ski slopes that many of the world’s leading skiers have ejoyed, St. Moritz is a town that is well worth exploring.
In terms of iconic events, the adrenaline-fuelled bobsleigh run is perhaps the most famous that has been held in St. Moritz. Officially opened in 1904, the Olympic Bob Run St. Moritz-
The Olympic Bob Run St. Moritz-Celerina is the world’s only natural ice bob run and also the oldest bobrun still in operation. (My Switzerland)
For those of you that are not keen on hopping on this iconic track, perhaps high tea at the luxurious Badrutt’s Palace Hotel is more inline with your taste. When you think about top of the range luxury hotels, there are not many in Switzerland that are more impressive than this hotel.
Whether you are admiring this gorgeous structure from the outside or you are fortunate enough to stay here, along with many global celebrities that choose to spend a few days here, it’s definitely a hotel that aligns with everything else that St. Moritz offers.
Take a stroll along the main street into the heart of St. Moritz and glance over at the storefronts available here…it’s no surprise that only the cream of the crop in terms of fashion brands can be found here. Don’t expect to find too many bargain stores, rather the likes of Harry Winston, Cartier and Botttega Veneta can be found here.
Although our budget didn’t allow for us to spend too much time wandering around these high-profile shops, we did head back down to St. Moritz train station to enjoy a delicious sandwich and coffee at Caffè Spettacolo before hopping back on the train for the next part of the journey.
St. Moritz to Tirano
If you thought the first half of the Bernina Express was memorable, just wait until you have boarded in St. Moritz and started the two hour journey to the northern Italian town of Tirano. The worst part of this journey is that it lasts only two hours because after experiencing this route, you will be longing for much more.
Shortly after leaving St. Moritz, the train winds its way through the alpine valleys and passes the town of Pontresina before reaching the highest peaks of the canton of Graubünden. The Lago Bianco (also known as “White Lake” will appear) but it’s those towering alpine peaks that you won’t be able to take your eyes off.
On a clear day, this is some of the most breathtaking scenery that we have experienced anywhere in the world. A pretty bold statement to make but it really is that awe-inspiring.
I don’t think you will be surprised to hear that we were pretty trigger happy with our camera during this part of the journey. The beauty of traveling via first-class Eurail passes is that you can pick a carriage with windows that open, ensuring that your pictures will be crystal clear and not having to deal with the potential glare of the windows.
The small station of Ospizio Bernina may not seem like much but this is one of the iconic stops on the Bernina Express given that it marks the highest point of the route, at 2253 meters above sea level.
If you are adventurous enough and don’t mind waiting a couple of hours for the next train, this is a great area to get out and do some hiking. It’s pretty quiet up here but the solitude and calmness is part of what makes the Swiss Alps so magical.
What goes up has to come down but don’t worry, the journey to Tirano is equally awesome. After passing the station of Alp Grüm, offering an amazing view of the Palü glacier, the train winds through the Poschiavo valley as it makes its way into Italian country.
Many of the villages that you pass through have a very Italian feel to them, despite still being in Switzerland. It’s no surprise to hear that many of these hamlets, such as Poschiavo itself, are predominantly Italian speaking.
The Bernina Express cruises deeper into the Poschiavo valley, passing by Lago di Poschiavo (Lake Poschiavo) before crossing the Swiss-Italian border and into the town of Tirano.
We have been incredibly fortunate to experience some of the best train rides across Europe in recent years but I am going to go out on a limb and say that the Bernina Express is definitely our favorite journey so far. Not only do you experience breathtaking scenery but you also enjoy a variety of unique landscapes as you climb to the highest point on the route before heading back into the Poschiavo valley.
Whether you are an avid train aficionado that loves to explore using this method of transportation or simply prefer to hop on a plane and get from place A to B in the quickest time possible, this is a route that you cannot help but fall in love with.
From the history of St. Moritz to the beauty of the White Lake, the Bernina Express is a magical experience that will long live in your memory. We are already excited about trying to plan a return trip to Switzerland and Italy just to recreate the Bernina Express experience!
Which train journey around the world have you experienced that has left you speechless?
Wow! What a train ride! We are planning to go to Switzerland in August, so this is fascinating. It sounds like you stayed in Tirano . . .? Is it too far to go back to Chur the same day! The views are certainly aweome!
This is a breathtaking train ride Sharon! Actually no Sharon, we continued on from Tirano to Milan and then to Florence where we stayed that night – it was a long day of train travel for sure. If you take the early train, you could definitely go to Tirano and then head back to Chur if you wanted, entirely your choice, just make sure you look at the schedule before booking anything. We highly recommend taking this route, you WILL NOT regret it!!
This looks amazing! Thank you for sharing. Although you say no reservations are needed, can you make a reservation to ensure availability? We are hoping to pair this with a river cruise and the Passion Play in 2020, and would hate to assume we can take this train not only for the amazing scenery, but to progress toward our next date sensitive adventure? Thank you for your thoughts!
Hello Chris. Thank you for sharing the Bernina information. My wife and I are also taking this trip in Sept.
The one thing I didn’t think of was my reservation. I have made a 1st class reservation on the side of the train that has a two seat , #21 and 22.
Do you know if this is the more scenic side on the ride south from Chur? Thank you
Loved your article and thinking of doing this trip with the grandkids. We are from Cumming, Georgia, and plan to go over in May to mid-June if COVID doesn’t hamper our plans. I do have a question. Are able to continue south after Tirano, Italy? We are headed for Rome and then flying home. Do you have any recommendation for us? We are taking a cruise in the Baltics and then traveling through Germany to especially spend time in Idar Oberstein. My husband is a rock hound (hobbist). I originally wanted to go back to Amsterdam to Paris and then south to Rome. I would love your thoughts!