The Reluctant Travellers' Swiss Adventure - part 4

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rockoyster
rockoyster
4014 posts
expert
Jun 26, 2017 - 3:48 AM

All the way on the Bernina Express

Well rested, we arose early to catch the 8:32am Bernina Express; another beautifully clear, sunny, Chur day greeted us as we set off for the station.

We arrived 25 minutes early to find the train was already at the platform. Being the first to board there were no problems with luggage stowage and as with the Glacier Express plenty of space under the seats for backpacks. Hint: There is limited storage as you enter, but more space through a door at the opposite end of the first class carriages.

It’s hard to define but somehow the Bernina has a more laid back feel compared to the Glacier. Maybe it had something to do with the people we were sharing the carriage with. Certainly the refreshment service was more laid-back with a jolly man intent on selling as much beer as possible wheeling his refreshments cart up and down the train.

One of our co-travellers turned out to be a train driver from Zurich on a train driver’s holiday. He must have done the Bernina route several times because he knew all the route and provided an entertaining addition to the standard on-board commentary. He was first to give us a heads-up to the approaching Landwasser Viaduct. The train slows down as it nears and crosses the viaduct but you still have to be quick, and on the right-hand side of the train, to get reasonable photos (see photo #1 for my rushed attempt). Never mind, there are a million photos on Google and elsewhere. I particularly like this one https://goo.gl/MrdJkD which must have been taken by a hiker from Filisur. There are plenty of other opportunities to capture further viaducts, especially between Bergün and Preda, as the track spirals ever upwards (photo #2).

The road (photo #3) follows the track quite closely in many locations and in winter forms a six-kilometre sled run (see https://youtu.be/LSYBq T8Y-pg and https://goo.gl/b9LcaS). Looks like great fun.

A guy in a truck (photo #4) was trying to burn us off but we got him at the next level crossing. As you approach the Bernina Pass the scenery just keeps getting better (photo #5, #6, and especially #7).

The train stops at Alp Grüm for about 15 minutes providing an opportunity for a leg stretch and to take photos (see photos #8, #9, #10). From there the descent into the the Poschiavo Valley starts with a sweeping 180° curve. Photos #11, #12, #13, #14, #16 and #17 were all taken on the descent towards Italy. The Brusio Circular Viaduct is a favourite with photographers (photos #18, #19).

On arrival at Tirano our first goal was to locate the bus that would take us on to Lugano. We had expected it to be directly outside the station - but no. Surprisingly there is no actual sign which says “Bernina Express Bus - This Way”. When I was a little lad I was taught “If you want to know the way ask a policeman”. So I started to approach a member of the Carabinieri, patrolling with a large alsatian, but had second thoughts when I saw how ferocious he looked (the bobby not the dog). Anyway the Bus is not that hard to find (see thread “Finding the Bernina Express Bus at Lugano https://goo.gl/NHQ2Bc). Later in that thread I have attached a couple of pictures, taken from Google Maps, marking out the route.

If you want to buy lunch in Tirano remember to take some Euros (thanks for the tip Lucas). We had planned to look for something to eat in the town centre but having carted our cases to the slightly remote Bus Station and found a shady spot to sit, decided to stay put. The vending machine in the Bus Station is well stocked.

I had wondered why our reservation on the bus said “Carriage 1”. Turned out there were two buses. The first, carriage 1, was the iconic red Bernina bus. The second bus was a yellow Post Bus model. Check your reservation - it pays to know which bus you are on in order to speed up the loading process.

It’s amazing how “cosy”, some might say cramped, the bus felt after spending so much time on panoramic trains over the preceding day and a half. Unlike the trains you can’t get up and wander about. Photos on the move are out of the question unless you have a window seat and a fast camera.

The first part of the trip is almost entirely on the flat covering miles and miles of mixed rural, semi-industrial and residential communities. The sameness is strangely mesmerising. Things pick up scenically and become quite entertaining once you reach Lake Como at about the halfway point of the three hour journey.

The “toilet stop” at the Hotel Europa, Sorico at the northern-most end of Lake Como was a welcome break in the journey (judging by the queue for the single toilet which took nearly 30 minutes to subside). It was hot and the little kiosk at the Hotel Europa did a roaring trade in ice creams and cold drinks. We thought later that the queue for the toilet may not have been so long if the toilets at the Bus Station in Tirano had not been so awful.

From Sorico the bus follows the north-western shore of Lake Como until turning west at Menaggio and heading for Porlezza at the eastern end of Lake Lugano. We had booked seats on the left-hand side of the bus to get the best views of the beautiful lakes - a good move.

The roads are narrow and winding and at many times pass right through the centre of small villages. Only a narrow sidewalk separates the road from the buildings. I was sitting in an aisle seat three rows back from the driver. This gave a weird perspective of the amount of space available to the left of the bus. On numerous occasions it appeared impossible that the driver could negotiate a fast-approaching and fast-narrowing gap. But he did and we sped on. If you want a really hair-raising ride try booking the two seats on the right-hand side of the bus alongside the driver (I think seats 14 & 16 but the seat numbering system is a little crazy). I’d love to see someone shoot a video from this vantage point.

We continued along the shores of the lake all the way to Lugano. There are many road tunnels and some of the villages have traffic lights at either end as there is only room for traffic in one direction at a time. At Gandria we left Italy behind and re-entered Switzerland.

The bus deposits passengers at the main station, high on the hill above Lugano. At the entrance to the station there is an escalator which takes you down one level to where you find the super-modern, fully-automated funicular which takes you down into the centre of the city (Lugano-TPL station).

A lot of people ask which is best, the Glacier Express or the Bernina Express. Having done them both on consecutive days we agreed that for us it was the Bernina. We had glorious weather on both days but the Bernina journey just seemed more interesting and the scenery more impressive and varied. But of course this is terribly subjective and others will arrive at a different conclusion. Adding the bus trip makes for a very long day of travelling and it does get a bit wearing towards the end. One tourist website says "In summer, Bernina Express passengers can prolong their journey by taking the red Bernina Express Bus from Tirano (Italy) to Lugano . . . . ". With hindsight their use of the word “prolong” seemed apt. I didn't try it, but if you have a smartphone you can install an app which provides an audio commentary (see https://goo.gl/jnaaXh).

Our first five days in Switzerland had been non-stop. Lugano was to be our first five-night stay and we were sure looking forward to a slower pace.

Coming up next . . . . Lugano and beyond.

For earlier editions of The Reluctant Traveller’s Swiss Adventure see

Part 1 - Initial Report (https://goo.gl/8bw51n), Part 2 - Basel to Brig (https://goo.gl/626K1i), Part 3 - The Glacier Express (https://goo.gl/K9hHfR)

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rockoyster
rockoyster
4014 posts
expert
Jun 26, 2017 - 3:58 AM

More photos . . . . (#12 is a dud and shouldn't have made the final cut)

Last modified on Jun 26, 2017 - 4:51 AM by rockoyster
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Arno
Arno
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Jun 26, 2017 - 7:08 AM

Thanks again Rockoyster! This reports is a big help to people considering this ride I think. I'm a fan of the Bernina Express too. Lots of variety in scenery. I've done the sledging down to Bergün. Indeed great fun!

Adelaidean
Adelaidean
108 posts
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Jun 26, 2017 - 8:59 AM

Enjoying all your instalments, Rockoyster, your tips and thoughts very helpful.

rockoyster
rockoyster
4014 posts
expert
Jun 26, 2017 - 9:21 AM in reply to Adelaidean

;-)

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Jun 26, 2017 - 9:47 AM in reply to rockoyster

Hi rockoyster,

I thoroughly enjoyed your description of the trip on the Bernina Express. You certainly captured some beautiful views on this trip! I think you did very well with your Landwasser Viadukt photo. As you said, you do have to be quick, as it is all over in about 20 seconds. Travelling south is the best view I think, as you see the train heading for, and going into, the tunnel in the rock face at the end of the viaduct. Travelling north, unless you are facing backwards, you miss this view. You have a nice couple of photos of the Brusio circular viaduct too. It’s wonderful when practicality and beauty are combined in one structure. I love the contrast of green and white in those village photos!

Boarding early to get the prime luggage storage spot is certainly a good idea when a train is waiting at the station! That’s a good tip about where to find additional luggage space too. What a bonus to have the Zürich train driver to provide some additional commentary.

Your description of the Bernina Express bus route is illuminating … I think this bus trip has just sunk to the bottom of my list :-D I have travelled along the rest of the route, which is also part of the route for the Palm Express, and that is indeed beautiful, and you have captured the experience of going through the narrow streets in those villages very well! I’ve noticed the bus drivers in Switzerland have only one speed, best described as “bolting along”, regardless of the terrain, the width of the road, or an oncoming cement mixer! It makes for some thrilling rides.

It seems that they have a new funicular at Lugano. It was out of action last year at the end of September, due to the major construction taking place at the station. When I had last used it, in 2010 I think, it was best described as “vintage”!

By the way, I think it’s possible your Alp Grüm photos are #9, #10 and #11. Photo #8 is a lovely view, which I have never managed to capture myself. I think it (together with #13) is likely to be Lago di Poschiavo. The view in photos #3 and #5 is gorgeous. I think that might be the Morteratsch Glacier. I wonder whether anyone else can confirm that?

Looking forward very much to hearing about your experiences in Lugano!

Alpenrose

Last modified on Jun 26, 2017 - 9:48 AM by Removed user
rockoyster
rockoyster
4014 posts
expert
Jun 26, 2017 - 10:06 AM in reply to Removed user

Hi Alpenrose,

Thanks for your feedback. The Lugano Funicular is indeed upgraded. See attached preview from next installment.

Photo #8 was actually taken from Alp Grüm - a bit of a telephoto rendition of Lago di Poschiavo though. I'm pretty sure #11 was taken from the train after leaving Alp Grüm. Palü Lake I believe.

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Arno
Arno
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Jun 26, 2017 - 10:10 AM in reply to Removed user

I agree with the photo locations you mentioned Alpenrose. #11 is the lake (Lagh da Palü) down in the valley, one can see it from Alp Grüm. The Lago Di Poschiavo makes for a nice break on this route. One can walk from Le Prese to Miralago.

Last modified on Jun 26, 2017 - 10:12 AM by Arno
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Jun 26, 2017 - 11:08 AM in reply to rockoyster

>> The Lugano Funicular is indeed upgraded. See attached preview from next installment

Oh, very fancy!

>> I'm pretty sure #11 was taken from the train after leaving Alp Grüm. Palü Lake I believe.

Yes, that lake is the one you see from Alp Grüm, but your photo is lower and closer than the view from Alp Grüm station, so it was probably taken while the train was negotiating those switchbacks below Alp Grüm station.

I had no idea Lago di Poschiavo was visible from Alp Grüm! I will have to keep my eyes open next time. I guess I was so absorbed in the view of the Palü glacier and lake that I didn't look around in any other direction!

Alpenrose

Last modified on Jun 26, 2017 - 11:33 AM by Removed user
Cotts4
Cotts4
2 posts
new member
Jun 26, 2017 - 11:12 AM

Thank you so much for your blog and photos Rockoyster. Very helpful and informative. Hubby and I will be doing the Bernina Express this time next year (but in the opposite direction). Hubby was particularly excited when he heard about the man selling as much beer as possible. I think they will be firm friends by the end of the journey.

maggiehorswell
maggiehorswell
641 posts
top member
Jun 26, 2017 - 2:31 PM in reply to rockoyster

Hello again Rockoyster

I am thoroughly enjoying your adventures! We did the train part of the Bernina Express last summer from St. Moritz to Tirano - unlike you I had forgotten to take my euros! Our views of the early part of the trip were very different from yours as we had had an unexpected snowfall the night before - see my post of July 17 2016 and report July 22. So the contrast between St. Moritz and Tirano were very marked.

We have been considering the Bernina bus and the Palm Express for this year and trying to decide which if any we should try. Both would involve quite a complicated return to St. Moritz from Lugano so we have also been weighing up whether to do the Palm Express route just as far as Soglio as suggested by Alpenrose. I have researched the timings so we can decide later.

Only just over a couple of weeks and we will be on our way to start this year's visit!

I look forward to your next instalment especially as we have been wondering whether next year we might spend a week in Ticino before going on to the Bernese Oberland. There are several places there we have not had the chance to explore. Later I shall see advice on best place to base ourselves - Lugano? Locarno?

Thank you again for an informative and entertaining post!

Maggie

rockoyster
rockoyster
4014 posts
expert
Jun 26, 2017 - 11:45 PM in reply to Cotts4

Hi Cotts4,

Thanks for your feedback. Whilst the beer seller was enthusiastic I don't think he met his quota on the morning journey. I expect he does better in the afternoons. Glad I have given your hubby something to look forward to. ;-)

rockoyster
rockoyster
4014 posts
expert
Jun 27, 2017 - 12:03 AM in reply to maggiehorswell

Hi Maggie,

Thanks for your kind feedback and links to your earlier reports. I'm going to go back and read all your reports as we make plans for our next visit. Alpenrose has already got us thinking Engadin and you've reinforced that idea.

cheers

Adelaidean
Adelaidean
108 posts
active member
Jun 27, 2017 - 2:11 AM in reply to rockoyster

....."as we make plans for our next visit" ...

Not such a reluctant traveller now, rockoyster 😂

(I confess I have a second itinerary already developing and we haven't been on our first trip yet - I just love reading TR's and adding to my wish list.)

rockoyster
rockoyster
4014 posts
expert
Jun 27, 2017 - 4:22 AM in reply to Adelaidean

It's a drug!

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Jun 27, 2017 - 7:10 AM in reply to Arno

>> One can walk from Le Prese to Miralago.

That looks like a lovely walk. It's going onto my list for a future trip!

Alpenrose

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Jun 27, 2017 - 7:55 AM in reply to maggiehorswell

>> We have been considering the Bernina bus and the Palm Express for this year and trying to decide which if any we should try. Both would involve quite a complicated return to St. Moritz from Lugano so we have also been weighing up whether to do the Palm Express route just as far as Soglio as suggested by Alpenrose.

Hi Maggie, I think your idea of doing the Palm Express route just as far as Soglio is a very good one!

You will get to see the best of the route at the St Moritz end (the Engadin lakes, the Maloja Pass and Bregaglia Valley). On a future trip, you could see the best of the Lugano end (Lake Lugano, the descent into Menaggio, Lake Como). The bit in the middle (Lake Como to the Swiss border) is pleasant, but many other places would be more worthy of your time!

rockoyster's description of the Bernina Express bus route from Tirano to Lake Como indicates - for me, anyway - that there is no compelling reason to travel along that route, so it is off my list for now :-D

Alpenrose

Last modified on Jun 27, 2017 - 7:57 AM by Removed user
Debra
Debra
153 posts
active member
Jun 27, 2017 - 1:31 PM

Your photos remind me of a scaled down version of the Million Dollar Highway between Durango and Ouray, Colorado, and the train a more modern version of the Durango-Silverton steam train that runs through the San Juan mountains there. I guess they call that region the Switzerland of America for a reason!

Last modified on Jun 27, 2017 - 1:36 PM by Debra
AlanPrice
AlanPrice
200 posts
active member
Jun 27, 2017 - 10:57 PM

Thanks for posting all the photos RockOyster, they're great! I can travel vicariously until my trip next year. Can I take it from the hat in trtsa-p4-7 that you visited the Boags Brewery in Launceston?

rockoyster
rockoyster
4014 posts
expert
Jun 27, 2017 - 11:01 PM in reply to AlanPrice

Affirmative. I wondered if anyone would spot that. I travelled around sporting a Blundstone cap. ;-)

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