The Bernina Express Out Of The Alps And Into Sunny Italy

The Bernina Express Train from Chur to Tirano is so beautiful.  I oohed and aahed through the alps taking a ridiculous number of pictures.  As a result, I split the trip into three posts.  The first post tells about the Bernina Express and covers our depart from Chur to the Landwasser Viaduct.  The second post describes the journey from the Landwasser Viaduct to the glacier at Alp Grüm.

Leaving Alp Grüm, the train turns sharply in one direction then the other, winding its way through the Palu Glacier and out of the Alps.  It turns and loops to the Cavaglia station.  The train zigs and zags through dark forests of pine and chestnut.   Whenever the train passes through a clearing, you can see more the Poschiavo valley and its brilliant turquoise lake.

We hear that in the summer, wildflowers line this route.  Hiking trails wind up the mountain.  On a nice day, it would be an incredible hike.

The train descends quickly as it winds its way down the mountain to Poschiavo.  The view changes constantly and dramatically.  The dark, old forests open up to a lush, green valley.

The Poschiavo Valley is agrarian with tobacco plantations, vineyards, fields and farm animals.  We loved looking at it all on the way down.

Finally, we reached Poschiavo Lake.  Who doesn’t love a Swiss lake?  I still get excited to see them and can’t wait to start dipping my toes in them again.  This one is at  965 m (3,166 ft) above sea level.  It was so sunny and vibrant, we felt Italy approach.

This view reminded me of Maine

Just before Brusio, the train descends the famous Brusio spiral viaduct.  These circular viaducts are used to allow trains to gain and lose altitude extremely quickly without the help of a cogwheel mechanism.   In other words, their only purpose is to adjust the line’s altitude.  It was pretty cool to be able to see both the front and back of the car curving toward each other like a bracelet.  From there, the train continues its descent into Tirano.

Just after Brusio is an enormous 36,000 h.p. hydro-electric power-station. It produces current for the Bernina Railway and industry in northern Italy.  The Bernina Express skirts Poschiavo, but not the towns near Tirano.  There, the train inches between buildings.  They were so close that we felt as though we could reach out and touch them.  For Americans who were raised on wide open roads, it was definitely different.

Upon arriving in Tirano, some people will turn around and catch the train back to Chur.  Others continue to Lake Como or Lugano.  We hopped on a bus to Lugano.  I was happy with our itinerary as some say the views heading south are even more spectacular than traveling north.

Our route – Map courtesy of Bernina Sud

Note: If you are thinking about taking a panoramic train in Switzerland, be advised that you need to make seat reservations.  You can do this at any train station in Switzerland and at most Swiss Travel System sales points abroad. You’ll just need your Swiss identity card or passport.  Since you leave Switzerland and enter Italy, be sure to pack it too.  Bon voyage!

11 thoughts on “The Bernina Express Out Of The Alps And Into Sunny Italy

    • They got better as the day went on. I finally figured out how to take pictures in the train car to avoid the glare. The panoramic cars are great and the extra glass makes it easier to gape at the mountains, but they also have tons of glare. I’m glad some of them came out because it was truly amazing.

      • The colors also look great! Are these pictures straight out of the camera?
        How long took the entire trip from Chur to Lugano and back?
        Thanks for posting these inspiring threads!

      • It took a whole day (approximately 8:00 – 4:00) to get from Chur to Lugano. The train doesn’t move very quickly so you can enjoy the view. After about a 60 minute “layover” at the Italian border town of Tirano, you board a bus for another 2 hours to Lugano.

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  6. Did this trip Aug 2012 – fantastic – for anyone thinking of taking this trip and you want good photographs, use the regional trains, they are slower, you can lower the windows and get better pictures.

    The return journey Tirano to Chur (pronounced Koor) is very good – the perspective is very different especially if you travel later in the afternoon for sunset in the Alps.

    The circular viaduct is immediately after Brusio when travelling to Tirano not before.

    Doing this trip again immediately after Christmas.


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