Since the advent of the modern railways, the majestic landscapes of Switzerland have been home to some of Europe’s most stirring train journeys. This reputation continues today as modern luxury combines with age-old wonders to provide millions of passengers with an unforgettable premium railway experience.
Of the many rail journeys that cross Switzerland, the eastern canton of Graubünden is home to two of the best known and most loved: the Glacier Express and the Bernina Express. As jewels in the Alpine crown, these routes are celebrated the world over for their ability to astonish even the most seasoned of travellers.
Just ask Britain’s best-known rail enthusiast, Michael Portillo, who took the chance to experience the new Excellence Class on the Glacier Express last winter. For almost a century, the 291km express route from St Moritz to Zermatt has brought travellers up close and personal with some of Europe’s most dramatic scenery. Now the new Excellence Class offers the best way to do it in style.
On an eight-hour travail across the Alps, guests enjoy a seven-course meal prepared on board and served with champagne and fine wine – the perfect accompaniment to a rich journey taking in Rhine Gorge, the Landwasser Viaduct, and countless other sights. Sitting in their single aisle seat, Excellence Class passengers are supplied with their own tablet computer to tell them more about culture, history and the Albula and Bernina line, core zones of the Unesco world heritage site.
With an average speed of 42km, the journey is affectionately known as the slowest express train in the world – an accolade that wasn’t lost on Michael. ‘There is no reason to rush the scenery, and certainly not our lunch,’ he said during his trip – a sentiment shared by generations of travellers before him. ‘The journey isn’t about moving between two beautiful Swiss villages: it’s an experience in itself.’
The Glacier Express, which runs throughout the year, brings out the charm of the Alps whatever the season. Whether it’s the romance of the glistening icy villages in winter or the outbreaks of wildflowers in the spring, it offers a rotating menu of scenic delights that will stick in your memory – making it an unforgettable way for passengers to reconnect with nature.
Travellers keen to experience this must-see journey can choose from first- or second-class tickets, or follow in Michael’s footsteps by opting for the new Excellence Class. It’s a journey, says Michael, that takes you back into a bygone age, giving the modern traveller the chance to experience the pinnacle of Switzerland’s scenery and hospitality.
Alternatively, tourists can opt for its sister route, the Bernina Express – the highest railways in the Alps. This unparalleled route negotiates 55 tunnels, 196 bridges and inclines of up to 70 miles as it transports passengers through the glaciers and down into palms of Italy. At its apex, the route reaches 2,253 metres above sea level, giving passengers the chance to delight in the sight of the Ospizio Bernina.
Running since 1889, the Express is the jewel in the crown of the Rhaetian Railway (RhB), a historic railway company closely associated with the canton of Graubünden. For more than a century, it has acted as a gateway between northern and southern Europe, uniting languages and cultures.
Today, it carries more than 12 million passengers a year, many of whom come to Switzerland in search of a world-class scenic railway experience. While its route has been untouched for decades, today’s railway boasts a renewed focus on sustainability, with its trains powered entirely by water – which is bound to strike a chord with the modern, conscious traveller.
Operating all-year round, the Bernina Express features an audio guide in three languages (German, Italian and English), free wifi and infotainment, and a minbar service stocked with local produce. As with the Glacier Express, the train’s panoramic windows allow travellers to take in the sights throughout the journey.
To experience either route, UK travellers can fly to Zurich and then make their journey with the Swiss Travel Pass: a single ticket enabling visitors to make use of Switzerland’s trains, buses and boats for a specified period. Plan your luxury railway experience at MySwitzerland.com.