The Bernina vs Glacier Express trip report

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40 posts
active member
May 27, 2018 - 7:22 AM

Any Top Train Trip rating in the world has these two trains rated amongst the top two . I have done a trip on these two a decade back and have travelled on both with my family (incl kids over the last 6 months). Both are unparralled experiences - that would arguably qualify at the top of any swiss spectacle along with the sight of the rising sun on the matterhorn or the sights at Jungrauch or Shilthorn .

The first negative which travellers in both trains have to do is rush to catch the morning departures out of Chur - not the most accessible station if you are staying anywhere else except Zurich . The counterpoint is to take train out from Zermatt or Tirano/Lugano ...but the experience is not the same ....

1. Glacier Express - What works for it is the sheer visual spectacle that the journey ..criss crossing from the rugged terrains of Chur and Andermatt all the way up to Oblerpass and heading down to Visp and the stream lapped meadows as you enter into sighting the ultimate Swiss Mountain - the Matterhorn . The most spectacular part is when the train enters the tunnel before Oblerpass ..and as you emerge out of the tunnel at Oberlpass you her the collective gasp as the train is surrounded the ice peak mountains and sheets of ice all around - the closet to an Arctic experience ..(have seen this in Apri and May). One can just imagine the winter experience .

As you come of the mountain terrain the sun kisses plains with a meandering stream running along the train a soothing experience. As the train meanders into Zermatt , you witness the sight of a series of peaks culminating in the breath of the Matterhorn peak

What does not work - 1) the length of the journey -over 7 hours 2) the ascent into heights for a long period cause light headedness - particularly with kids 3) the sustained period of UV radiation particularly if you are seated next to the large windows 4) Kids are likely to get bored .

But if you are a swissaholic like me , who wants to imbibe in the changing landscapes and spectacles and end up in "idyllic " Zermatt ...this is it

2. The Bernina Express at first sight is less imposing than the Glacier Express ...and the train width is smaller . But the "punch" it packs in its 4 hours journey starting at Chur and ending at Tirano (at Italy) quite impressive . it passes through the rugged terrain post Chur running over the famed Viadicut and rising up to the glaciers all the way up to Alphine Gruh. The train makes a stop at Alphine Gruh for some breathtaking photoop and the mountain air . It then begins its descent into the bernina pass and enters the Albula line (a UNESCO heritage sight) . While the individual sights are probably not as breathtaking have a fulfilled experience as it rolls down into the sunny valleys adjoining Italy and enters the quaint town of Tirano . Sights at Pointressina and Poschaivio are also breathtaking .

You end this trip much less exhausted ...and it is easy on the kids .The bus ride into Lugano from Tirano is rather mundane . I'd rather do the return trip back to St Moritz or Samedan .

While both these trains have limited opportunities for open air photography ..there are windows at the end of carriages where you could peep out for photographs are better of taking the regular trains with open carriages for photographs

Last modified on May 27, 2018 - 9:17 AM by Lucas
10496 posts
top member
May 27, 2018 - 3:19 PM in reply to Travelholic6

Thanks for taking the time to post this nice comparison!

107 posts
active member
Jun 13, 2018 - 3:19 AM

Sorry to here ‘it’s just not the same in reverse’. I did somersaults (yesterday!) changing our starting point from Chur to Torino. ☚ī¸

4976 posts
Jun 13, 2018 - 4:24 AM in reply to BarSal

You're going the best direction I reckon.

107 posts
active member
Jun 13, 2018 - 1:08 PM in reply to rockoyster

Thx ‘rock’. Don’t have to get the bus to Tirano til 10am and hoping Tirano to Chur will be quieter. Get in to Chur about 6:20pm and sunset is not til about 7:40. Should be a great day!

Lugano we are staying at Walter du lac on your recommendation- it was closed for renovations and is getting great reviews! Thx 👍

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