Bags effortlessly stashed in the Glacier Express in a well designed area for the purpose, the train leaves the Zermatt station at 8:52 am on the dot! Slowly gathering speed, the morning light streams in through the large panorama windows and we catch a glimpse of the Matterhorn bidding us farewell as our journey eastward toward St. Moritz begins. Excitement is in the air as we settle into our sheepskin seats in groups of twos and fours. The cabin manager welcomes us and eight hours of pure delight across 291 bridges and through 91 tunnels have begun!
We pass through the glorious landscape at the perfect speed to enjoy the continuously changing landscape. Steadily descending from Zermatt into the valley at Visp and Brig, we leave the snow behind and admire the unique sun-burnt wood surface of the quaint Valais chalets, only to once again steeply climb.
Glacier Express features
Along the way, the train’s audio channel provides us with fascinating stories and background information via the supplied headphones. Theodor Tobler invented his Toblerone in Matterhorn shape in 1908. Visper Termine village grows excellent grapes at the highest altitude in Europe. The unspoilt valley of Binntal is renown for its music festival and its ten to twenty million year old prolific mineral wealth, and when we pass by the hamlet of Niederwald we are reminded of César Ritz’ amazing rags to riches story of how he became “the king of hoteliers.” We have barely started on our journey, yet there is plenty to entice us to return already!
In Andermatt we feel the slight tug as the train engages the cog rail to negotiate the 11% gradient increase for the next ten minutes to the highest point en route: Oberalppass at 2033 meters above sea level. As we descend once again we find ourselves in a different landscape. Canton Grison is the only canton in which three of the four languages of Switzerland are spoken. In Disentis we take our first thirty minute stop and admire the seventh century monastery from a distance.
Before long, we find ourselves in the fourteen kilometre long Rhine gorge. The area is famous for its intact flora and fauna and fantastic river kayaking. As the Glacier Express follows an ever widening, emerald green Rhine river I understand why this area is dubbed the “Grand Canyon” of Switzerland. In Grison’s capital city Chur we stop a second time and are entertained by a local folk dance group and their musicians in traditional dress.
The final stretch of our eight hour journey, by now deep in the eastern part of Switzerland, leads us past the earliest north-south European trading route and the well-maintained, proud castles of the Domleschg. The six hundred metre vertical Viamala gorge drop was conquered with a first bridge in 1739, which is said to have come about through a pact with the devil!
In Bergün, just before our final destination St. Moritz, we can observe Europe’s most famous tobogganing path – six kilometres long and illuminated at night – a thirty minute joyride with 416 metres difference in altitude.
In-between all these glorious vistas, our palate is equally entertained: espresso and croissants during the morning, a delicious lunch at midday, and beverages and snacks throughout the day, all served to the table with a smile and a steady hand.
We started in Zermatt at an altitude of 1,604 metres and the Glacier Express delivers us at St. Moritz at 1,775 meters above sea level. In-between these two famous resort towns lies an unforgettable panoramic journey of superlatives with some of the most impressive mountain scenery in this UNESCO World Heritage region. It’s a bucket list item, guaranteed to astound and entertain.
Have you travelled on the Glacier or Bernina Express (the extension to the Glacier Express)? Share your experience and leave a comment below.
Switzerland travel enthusiast. Cat lover, bicyclist and classical music fan. I prefer walking over running and enjoy a good Swiss card game of Jass with friends. More about Silvia and Swiss Wanderlust »
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