Basing myself in Chur, the oldest town in Switzerland, I took the Bernina Express to Tirano, Northern Italy, over the Landwasser Viaduct and through the Bernina Pass at 2200m where the Bernina glacier is. The train rarely travelled next to a road, so you really are in the stunning Swiss countryside, passing the flower-filled meadows and into the snow-capped mountains. The train makes about 12 stops along the way for picking up and dropping off, and stopped for about 10 minutes at the Bernina pass, so you can get off and take photos. Shortly after the pass we came to a large frozen lake which was just starting to thaw with pockets of aquamarine visible. After this, the engineering magic begins as the route corkscrews round the mountain, finally coming into Tirano over a circular viaduct. If you love mountains, lakes, meadows, glaciers, trains, railways, engineering, or hiking, this is a trip to take. Chur to Tirano took about 4.5hrs, and took the same route back to Chur.
My tip for the Bernina Express is to reserve a seat on the right-hand side facing – the majority of the views are on the right, and you can reserve a seat up to 3 months in advance. You must reserve a seat in addition to purchasing a rail ticket. Although I was travelling for 2 days, a 3-day railpass was cheaper than buying individual tickets – the railpass cost 238CHF.
The next day I took the Glacier Express from Chur to Brig, travelling through the Rhine Valley and up to the Oberalppass at 2003m, before descending down through Andermatt into Brig. The first 2 hours of the journey was following the Rhine, and after Disentis the train started to climb, passing by several mountain villages, and a golf course which must have been at around 1700m above sea level! Getting to the Oberalppass the train stopped for about 5mins, so everyone could get out and enjoy the view.
With the Bernina Express, much more of the route is in the mountains, whereas with the Glacier Express, the ascent and descent into the mountains is much steeper, so the vast majority of the journey is following the river through the valley. The journey from Chur to Tirano took about 4hrs.
Again, you must have a seat reservation in addition to your train ticket, and you can make reservations up to 2 months in advance. With this journey the views were more or less equally split on either side, maybe a little more of the mountain views were on the left-hand side facing.
I only had 1 hour to run around Brig and enjoy a gelato, but can highly recommend it – full of medieval charm and not packed with tourists; I think most people change trains here and don’t stop long.
Finally 1 night in Zürich. Absolutely beautiful, and so tranquil. Will definitely return! Incidentally, if your railpass or train ticket is still valid, it also includes the cost of a 90min lake cruise!