Winter Special: 2 Train Journeys for Stunning Views of the Swiss Alps

Navigate some of the highest Alpine railway tracks. | By Gina Tanik  
Oberalp Pass Switzerland Glacier Express
The dreamy winter landscape of Oberalp Pass is one of the highlights of the Glacier Express but the little towns the train passes through are equally picturesque. Photo: Martin Ruetschi/Keystone/Corbis/Imagelibrary

Much of Europe gravitates to Switzerland in the winter for its ski slopes and winter sports. But what if you don’t ski or aren’t keen on zipping at high speed down a hillside of white powder? Cocooned in a Swiss train you can marvel at the coated conifers, the sweeping sheen on the Alps, and shimmering glaciers, without your toes freezing over.

Travellers on the Glacier Express cross the valleys of Valais, the 400-metre-deep Rhine Gorge, and about 291 bridges as they make a leisurely seven-hour journey from Zermatt, the postcard-perfect, car-free town at the foot of the mighty Mt. Matterhorn to the resort town of St. Moritz (200 km/2.5 hr southeast of Zurich). Large panoramic windows, which extend along the length of the compartment, offer uninterrupted views of the frosty Swiss wilderness. Soak in the views with a mug of hot chocolate and plug into the audio guide available onboard. A little bell alerts travellers so they can plug in their earphones every time information is being relayed. Tuck into lunch while the smooth, sloping canvas of snow hushes by.

Train Glacier Express Switzerland

The tourist-friendly panoramic trains have large windows, and travellers can enjoy the food and drink sold on board at their seats. Photo: Sonderegger Christof/Prisma/Dinodia

Another way to experience Switzerland’s dramatic winter landscapes is from the warmth of the cheery red Bernina Express. Starting in the town of Chur in northeastern Switzerland (120 km/1.5 hr southeast of Zurich), the train travels on the highest railway track across the Alps, past snow-brushed peaks of the Bernina range, the stunning Morteratsch glacier, and frozen streams and lakes to Tirano in Italy. Most visitors however opt for a shorter section from St. Moritz to Tirano, a popular stretch that has UNESCO World Heritage status.

Though the express runs only once a day during winter, a special Bernina Express panoramic car is attached to all regular trains between St. Moritz and Tirano, running every hour. The train travels to an altitude of 2,253 metres, journeying through many spiral loops, 55 tunnels, and 196 bridges to reach that height. Many travellers swear by the words “the journey is the destination”. The expression may be clichéd, but a trip on these panoramic trains definitely lives up to it.

Appeared in the November 2015 as “Winter on Swiss Wheels”. Updated in November 2016.

The Guide

The winter service of the Glacier Express will run from 11 December 2016 to 12 May 2017 between St. Moritz and Zermatt. (From CHF153/₹10,418; children under 6 free; seat reservation charges for winter CHF13/₹885 apply for all; meals available on board for extra charges; www.glacierexpress.ch; +41-848642442). The winter service for the Bernina Express will operate from 11 December 2016 to 12 May 2017 from Chur to Tirano once a day. A final leg of the journey that involves a bus journey from Tirano to Lugano only operates in summer. (Adults from CHF72/₹4,900; children 6-16 from CHF41/₹2,791; children under 6 free; seat reservation charges for winter CHF10/₹680 apply for all; there is only a minibar and snack service on board; www.rhb.ch; +41-81-2886565). Seats in the Bernina Express panoramic car that is attached to regular trains running hourly between St. Moritz and Tirano, come at a surcharge of CHF5/₹340 over regular fare and should be booked in advance.