Bernina Express


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The Bernina Express scenic railway operates between Chur, Switzerland and Tirano in northern Italy. Reaching an altitude of 7,391 ft (2,253 m), it is the highest railway crossing in Europe and the third-highest railway in Switzerland. The majority of the route, from Thusis, Switerland to Tirano, has been designated the “Rhaetian Railway in the Albula/Bernina Landscapes” UNESCO World Heritage Site, partly for its outstanding technical, architectural and civil engineering achievements of 55 tunnels and covered galleries and 196 viaducts and bridges. These include the famous Landwasser Viaduct, the viaducts and spiral tunnels at Preda, and the Brusio Spiral Viaduct near the Italian border.

We had already covered half the route on the Glacier Express between Chur and St. Moritz, and completed the journey the following day. Starting at altitude 5,820 ft (1,774m) in St. Moritz, we ascended the Ospizio Bernina to 7,391 ft (2,253 m), pictured above, and then descended a series of switchbacks towards to Tirano at 1,407 ft (429m). The scenery was wonderful, and we very much enjoyed passing along the Brusio Spiral Viaduct.

From Tirano the route returns to Switzerland by bus to Lugano, but no seats together were available. We looked for alternatives and found mydaytrip.com, who specialize in sightseeing transfers between cities. This worked out wonderfully. In addition to being more comfortable than being packed onto a bus, we could travel at our own schedule and had the flexibility to make stops along the way. After spending a few hours exploring Tirano, we met up with our driver who transported us to Lugano with stops at Domaso and Mennagio along Lake Como.

Below are highlights from July 5th, 2022. Click any image for a larger view, or click the position to view the location on a map. And a map with our most recent log entries always is available at mvdirona.com/maps.

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Rabbits
The mascot for the 1928 winter Olympics held in St. Moritz was a rabbit, and became the official trademark of the Hotel Steffani. The rabbit theme abounds in the hotel, including this desktop lamp depicting rabbits lending a helping hand. We’ve seen similar statues along the Gota Canal in Sweden and in St. Petersburg, Russia, but have never been able to find a connection between them or the origin of the statues.
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Luxury Goods
The resort town of St. Moritz has long attracted the rich and famous for all over the world, with many luxury stores catering to those visitors.
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Escalator
Riding the triple-level escalator, the longest in Switzerland, down to Lake St. Moritz and the train station.
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Bernina Express
Today we’ll be taking the Bernina Express, a scenic train ride between Chur and Tirano, Italy. The route overlaps with the Glacier Express between Chur and St. Moritz so we’ll just board the train here.
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Altitude Profile
An altitude profile of the Bernina Express route between Chur and Tirano, Italy. From St. Moritz at altitude 5,820 ft (1,774m) we’ll ascend the Ospizio Bernina at 7,391 ft (2,253m) and then down to Tirano in Italy at 1,407 ft (429m). From there the route goes by bus back to Switzerland at Lugano at altitude 885ft (270m). The railway reaches an altitude of 7,391 ft (2,253 m) and is the highest railway crossing in Europe and the third-highest railway in Switzerland. To manage the incredibly steep descent from Alp Grum to Tirano, the train passes through a series of switchbacks and spiral tunnels.
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Reformierte Kirche San Gian
The ruins of Reformierte Kirche San Gian, originally built in 1478. The church initially had a large wooden spire that was struck by lightning in 1682 and not restored.
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Morteratsch Glacier
View to the Morteratsch Glacier, the largest in the Bernina Range, from altitude 6,673 ft (2,034 m) as we ascend the Bernina Pass.
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Bernina Express Plate
We had the tasty Bernina Express Plate for lunch, with pear bread and local sausage and cheese. And it comes with a souvenir beech plate and pocket knife.
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Lago Bianco
The view south across Lago Bianco at altitude 7,329 ft (2,233 m). We’re near the summit of the 7,391 ft (2,253m) Bernina Pass and Lago Bianco drains to the south whereas the smaller adjacent Lej Nair drains to the north.
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Alp Grum Station
The Bernina Express train makes one brief stop en route from St. Moritz to Tirano, at 6,860 ft (2,091 m) Alp Grum Station on the other side of Bernina Pass. The station and hotel here were built in 1923. From here, the train descends at an average 7° grade into the valley below through a series of switchbacks and spiral tunnels. The next station is 1,300 ft (400m) below and just under a mile (1.5km) away in a straight line, but the train will travel 3.7 miles (6 km) to reach it.
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Palu Glacier
The reason for the brief stop at Alp Grum is for the fabulous views to the Palu Glacier
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Val Poschiavo
View to the Val Poschiavo valley from altitude 5,244 ft (1,599 m). We’re about to descend into the valley along a series of four switchbacks.
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Mountain Home
One of several mountain homes perched on the steep grade along the switchbacks. The house will have an excellent view to the Val Poschiavo below.
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Le Prese
The train passes through the town of Le Prese on the main road, effectively becoming a street car. The buildings are so close we could almost touch them.
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Lago di Poschiavo
Passing along emerald-colored Lago di Poschiavo that we could see from way above as we looked down into the Val Poschiavo.
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Brusio Spiral Viaduct
One of the many highlights of the Bernina Express route is passing over the 1908 Brusio Spiral Viaduct. This is the view to the viaduct from above to the tracks we are about to travel. We’ll approach from the left over the viaduct and loop down underneath it.
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Exiting Spiral
Looking back to where we’ve just come from as the tail of our train passes underneath the Brusio Spiral Viaduct. The spiral allows the train to achieve a maximum 7° grade to support heavy freight trains as well as passengers.
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Waterfall
One of many waterfalls along the steep slopes above the Val Poschiavo.
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Carrozza Panoramica
Carrozza Panoramica cars at the station in Tirano, Italy. In July and August, open-air carriages are carried along the run between Poschiavo and St. Moritz.
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Piazza del Stazioni
The Piazza del Stazioni outside the train station in Tirona, Italy. Even after all our time spent in Europe, entering another country without any passport checks (or anything else) still feels very strange.
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Collegiata di San Martino
The beautiful interior of the Collegiata di San Martino catholic church in Tirano, built in the mid-seventeenth century
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Archway
Looking through a low archway to pastel-colored buildings along a cobblestone street in Tirano.
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Palazzo Salis
The Palazzo Salis was built in the second half of the 17th century for an important noble family and now is a public museum.
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Fresco
Many of the rooms in the Palazzo Salis are ornately decorated with impressive frescoes and stucco.
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Italian Garden
The carefully-tended Italian Garden behind the Palazzo Salis with box hedges surrounding roses and a fountain in the middle. This style of garden is rare in the alpine climate of northern Italy.
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Old and New
An old building, renovated at right in the style of the original.
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Porta Bormina
Looking out Porta Bormina, one of three 15th-century city gates still standing in Tirano.
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Ponte Vecchio
Looking along the river Adda from the Ponte Vecchio.
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La Gatta
The La Gatta winery in a recently restored Dominican monastery, viewed as we drive from Tirano to Lugano. Nebbiolo, one of our favorite grapes, is the dominant varietal grown.
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Grumello Castle
The ruins of Grumello Castle, built in the 13th century, are open to the public.
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MyDayTrip.com
The Bernina Express continues from Tirano to Lugano by bus, but no seats together were available. We looked for alternatives and found mydaytrip.com, who specialize in sightseeing transfers between cities. This is our driver Giordano, who picked us up at the train station in Tirano.

mydaytrip.com worked out wonderfully. In addition to being more comfortable than being packed onto a bus, we could travel at our own schedule and had the flexibility to make stops along the way. Here we are making a brief stop in Domaso to view Lake Como.

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Domaso
Idyllic Domaso on the shores of Lake Como.
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Narrow
Some of the streets along the way are really narrow.
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Villa
Lake Como is lined with elaborate estates. Actor George Clooney is one of many wealthy home-owners here.
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Promenade
Lush gardens along the lakeside promenade in Mennagio.
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Cafe del Press
Enjoying the view to Lake Como from the terrace at Cafe del Press in Mennagio.
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Via Calvi
Restaurants and shops line Via Calvi, with the tower of 17th-century St. Stephen’s Church visible in the distance.
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Bellagio
To some US visitors Bellagio might be better known as the name of a Las Vegas casino. But the real Bellagio is along the shore of Lake Como across from Mennagio and it’s really special.
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Tunnel
Passing through a graceful windowed tunnel as we approach the Swiss border.
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Entering Switzerland
Returning back to Switzerland was a non-event. We were just waved through the border crossing as usual.
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Wine Menu
Giordano dropped us off at our hotel in Lugano and we headed out for dinner after checking in. Here we are trying to pick a wine at Osteria Trani. Their wine list was by far the largest, and heaviest, we’ve ever seen.
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Osteria Trani
The fabulous setting outside on the steps at Osteria Trani, with 3,035-ft (925 m) Monte Bre visible in the background. We had an excellent meal and just loved the table.
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Life Will Win
The “Life Will Win” tour, a charity event for the benefit of Ukraine, performing in Lugano. The event name derives from a quote made by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a speech to the European Parliament: “Life will win over death, and light will win over darkness.”
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LUGANODANTE
A drink on the terrace of our hotel, LUGANODANTE (we’re not sure why the name is spelled all caps).
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Monte Bre
The evening view northeast across Lugano from our hotel room, with 3,035-ft (925 m) Monte Bre rising in the distance.
Show locations on map Click the travel log icon on the left to see these locations on a map. And a map of our most recent log entries always is available at mvdirona.com/maps.

 
 


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