The Bernina Express: The Red Train from Tirano to St. Moritz

Last month I took the Bernina Express to St. Moritz, Switzerland. It was my second most scenic train trip. My first was on the Taieri Gorge Railway in New Zealand. While the Taieri Gorge Railway is historical with century old wooden carriages and also runs along stunningly beautiful landscapes, the Bernina Express is like the train on steroid. Touted as the slowest express train, the Bernina Express has been on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites for its sixty-one kilometers of high-altitude engineering wizardly and running along the highest altitude mountain, against the backdrop of the tallest peaks of Graub√ľnden.

My train journey started in Tirano, Italy, a medieval town once said to be a part of Graub√ľnden. From the train station, I grabbed a map and informational guide that showed points of interest, towns and stations. After passing a Mediterranean scenic view, a narrow valley of vineyards, the train slowly ascended to Brusio circular viaduct, where the view went around while the train wound up to the corkscrews down from the heights of the famous circular viaduct. Sadly, I was not able to take good pictures of the iconic landscape as the couple sitting on the right hand side were hogging the window. He was filming while his wife was snapping away.

Fortunately, I was sitting at the very end seat of the last car that I was able to at least get up and take pictures from the backside. Then we passed the town of Poschiavo. It looked like a pastoral village dotted with Renaissance buildings (churches). We stopped at the Alp Grum for a while. According to the guide map, it was a station and restaurant building dating back from 1923. I did not mind the wait and did not bother to find out what was causing the delay because I was busy trying to take photos of the quaint Swiss villages surrounded by mountains. I saw a couple of people with walking sticks, so there must have been hiking trails in the area. 

Then the landscape slowly changed and became ridgy, miles of ridges, one after another with the stunning view of the Alps, including the Palu Glacier and Lake Palu – with panoramic views over Cavaglia and on to the Italian Alps and beyond. The man on my right side continued to hog the window that it was very disappointing for me as a photo enthusiast not being able to take photos of the breathtaking scenery.


We then reached Ospizio Bernina. The station lies at 2253 meters above sea level, making it the highest-altitude station on the Rhaetian Railway. According to my guide/map, the hospice from which the place name is derived also marks the linguistic boundary between the southern, Italian speaking valley of Valposchiavo and the Engadin region, where the inhabitants speak Rhaeto-Romanic and German. We passed the Lago Bianco and Lej Nair. It’s said that the waters to the north of the Bernina Pass naturally flow via the Danube and into the Black Sea, while the waters to the south of the pass end up in the river Po and the Adriatic Sea. I had a glimpse of the Morteratsch glacier where the Bernina Massif lay behind it, said to be the highest peak in Piz Bernina at 4049 meters above sea level. I never imagine such a breathtaking landscape within a little over an hour train ride.  

St. Moritz 


Our final stop was at St. Moritz. A few steps away from the train station I found the main entrance to the city. On the left side of the building I saw a viewing platform where I lingered to enjoy the breathtaking views of the lake and the mountains.  After enjoying the views, I started taking the high and long escalator ride and walked up the main road lined with high-end shops and palatial hotels. Everything was closed, but the chocolate store. St Moritz is supposed to be one of the most famous tourist destinations in the world, but I found the city to be boring. Don’t get me wrong, the city is beautiful with the lake and the surrounding mountains, but it has an air of exclusivity that I felt I didn’t belong there. Perhaps the city will come alive during the winter and ski season. My walk took me passed the clock tower, the iconic building and the only architecturally interesting building (in my opinion) in St. Moritz.


Nevertheless, the Bernina Express is never about the destination, but the journey. It was one breathtaking ride.

NOTE:  Photo collage by the author.  Photos shot on iPhone6 plus.

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