An Ultimate Alps Experience on the Bernina Railway

Bernina express railway train switzerland italy

Europe is a part of the world where traveling by train can often be an even better option than flying. Not only are they clean, comfortable, and efficient, but they also showcase some of the continent’s stunning natural beauty. The Bernina Railway is no exception. Starting in Switzerland and ending in Italy, this journey will take you a few hours. In that time, you’ll travel through 55 tunnels and across 196 bridges and experience some breathtaking views of the Swiss Alps. Let’s now talk about how to make this journey an unforgettable one.

The Bernina Railway

The scenic route of the Bernina Railway — a UNESCO World Heritage site — begins in Chur in Switzerland and ends in Tirano in Italy. Just like the Cinque Terre Express in Italy and the Linha do Douro in Portugal, the Bernina Railway is definitely one of the most unique train routes in Europe. In a trip of less than 50 miles, you transition from high-alpine scenery to a Mediterranean atmosphere.

Ticketing is also pretty simple. The Bernina Express is marketed as a sightseeing experience for tourists, and for good reason. It features first-class carriages with large glass windows and panoramic views. If there was ever a train journey where you’d want that feature, it’s this one.

Onboard you will be extremely comfortable. The seating arrangements are spacious, you can buy food, and the cabins are air-conditioned. There are even onboard tour guides that will point out important parts of the journey to make sure you don’t miss anything. In addition to the views, you’ll also get a history lesson.

The train runs all year round, but the experience might be slightly different depending on when you travel. In the spring, you’ll see beautiful sites the world has to offer; green fields and farming villages, and wintertime will feature frozen lakes and mountains covered in snow. This trip is worth it at any time of the year.

The Swiss Side

Given the train journey runs through two countries, it’s the perfect opportunity to explore both regions. Thankfully, both sides of the border have plenty on offer. On the Swiss side, make sure to enjoy the luxury resort town of St. Moritz. In the colder months, you have all sorts of fun activities on offer. In fact, St. Moritz has even hosted the Winter Olympics twice. 

Even if you’re there during the spring or summer, there are endless amounts of hiking, as well as water sports options on Lake St. Moritz. While in this famous town, make sure to also check out the Segantini Museum. Any art lover will feel at home here, with alpine-inspired works from 19th-century artist Giovanni Segantini on display.

While you’re on the Swiss side, your journey would be incomplete without sampling some authentic local cuisine. Hot fondue with chunks of bread is a popular option, as is Engadine walnut pie. In terms of drinks, there are many different alpine wines and mountain herb teas that showcase the unique flavors native to the region.

One sight you have to keep an eye out for on the Swiss side of the journey is the Morteratsch Glacier. This is an awe-inspiring sight, and it plays an important role in the ecosystem in a number of ways. Make sure you’re listening to the onboard guide to learn all about it.

avalanche dining table koket marble and brass round black or white

If culture and history are of interest to you, make sure to disembark at the Pontresina station. Here you will find the nearby Museum Alpin, home to many artifacts and exhibits showcasing the region’s origins and the local way of life.

Although the train doesn’t stop there, visitors to the region should consider stopping by Engadine. The picturesque Engadine Valley can be seen from the train, but visiting the region will give you a chance to immerse yourself in their local customs. Try the local pasta dishes like Pizokel and dough-filled meat rolls called Capuns.

One place where the train does stop is Bernina Diavolezza. Here, passengers can get out and take a cable car up to the top of the mountain peak for some even more incredible views and fresh air. For those feeling even more adventurous, the Berghaus Diavolezza is at the top of the mountain — a unique off-the-grid mountain retreat.

The Italian Side

As your train pulls into Tirano on the Italian side of the border, a small, charming town with a population of less than 10,000 greets you. Here you will find the Sanctuary of the Madonna di Tirano, an architecturally significant symbol of spirituality and history. In fact, it dates all the way back to 1504 when the Virgin Mary allegedly appeared before Mario Degli Omodei and led him towards faith-filled life changes.

One thing you will find here is art and culture flourishing in every corner. From the passionate notes of an Italian opera to artisanal workshops displaying traditional crafts, you’re bound to find something that piques your interest. We probably don’t have to tell you that Italy is known for its food, but make sure to spend some time at the local trattorias. Dishes here are prepared using fresh ingredients sourced from nearby farms.

If you’re a wine lover, venture beyond Tirano into the Valtellina vineyards. This is a region known for producing excellent wines like Nebbiolo. As you indulge in wine-tasting sessions, make sure to try some more food famous in the region — pizzoccheri. This is a pasta dish from buckwheat flour and layered with potatoes, cheese, and greens.

If you want to get your heart racing a bit, Valtellina is also a great place to go mountain biking amidst the beauty. The trails carve into mountainsides and com with steep slopes to speed down. Adrenaline junkies will feel right at home.

If the Sanctuary of the Madonna di Tirano has you even more intrigued about the region’s history, check out the remnants of old fortifications and ancient bridges around town. These bear testament to the strategic importance of Tirano in years gone by. Due to its location, it was a target as European giants wrestled for power. Tirano experienced both invasions and occupations throughout its history.

If you’d prefer to just wander, Tirano is also a good place for that. There are local markets often bustling with activity and plenty of opportunities to try traditional Italian espresso or enjoy some gelato.  

The Bernina Railway is one of a kind. It’s a relatively short journey, but it provides you with a wide range of different landscapes, cultures, and nature. You should definitely fit this into your itinerary the next time you’re in Europe.

Feature Image by Azzedine Rouichi

More to Love!