Glacier and Bernina Express
Mrs Hopkins was a client of Tailor Made Rail on the Glacier and Bernina Express short break itinerary in June 2014. She added an additional night in Cologne on the return journey
Day 1: London to Brig
It was with great excitement that we made our way to London St Pancras station to start our journey to Switzerland. Our Eurostar check-in was dead easy and we were soon on our way through the Kent countryside, and onwards to Paris at incredible speeds. For much of the journey, the train runs alongside the M2 in Kent and the French autoroute between Lille and Paris – its at these points that you truly appreciate the speed, as you watch even the most sporty of cars being left behind by the train as it reaches speeds of around 180mph.
On arrival in Paris, we headed down into the metro system and took an RER train the very easy 2-stop journey to Gare de Lyon, another grand, evocative station. With a journey of almost 4 hours ahead of us, we grabbed a quick bite to eat at a nearby bistro and bought some supplies for the journey, as the team at TMR had recommended. Settling into our seats, we were soon roaring down through France, peeling off the high-speed line at Dijon and heading due east to the Swiss border at Basel.
Basel station is large, but easy to navigate, and we crossed platforms from the “French side” onto a domestic Swiss double-decker train. Using our Swiss Passes, we relaxed on board and spent our first Swiss francs on some refreshments from the trolley, as the countryside morphed from rolling hills into more dramatic landscapes as we skirted the Thunersee lake and headed into the darkness of the Lötschberg Tunnel. Before we knew it, we were approaching the terminus, Brig, which was to be our first overnight stop.
Arriving at Brig and exiting the station, we were relieved to find that our hotel, the Ambassador Hotel, was only a 5-minute walk from the station. After a long day of travel, we showered and relaxed at the beautiful terrace and sipped a glass of Swiss wine. Dinner that night was a fondue feast at a local Swiss restaurant…when in Rome, of course!
Day Two: On board the Glacier Express
The following morning we woke with anticipation of the most exciting part of our short break away, when we headed back to the station after a tasty breakfast and awaited the arrival of the Glacier Express, along with many other wide-eyed passengers. Having started in Zermatt, the “World’s Slowest Express Train” travels north along the Mattertal before following the course of the Rhone at Brig. As we boarded the train, we took our seats in the panorama coach with windows all the way across the ceiling, and plugged in our headphones. Updates are provided every few minutes when a bell sounds, giving you information about the local area, which really adds to the enjoyment of the journey.
The countryside of the Rhone Valley soon begins to become even more dramatic and the first of the glaciers, that gives this train its name, was upon us. As we climbed, we could see the viaducts and track higher up the mountainside that was to be our course, and the sunglasses soon had to make an appearance to protect from the glow of the snow on the glacier. We continued climbing and the scenery was quite stunning on both sides of the train – snow-capped peaks and deep valleys along with waterfalls and babbling brooks, all from the comfort of our train seat. Lunch was served shortly before we reached the town of Andermatt, which is at the top of the Gotthard Pass, linking the north and south of Switzerland and a popular stop-off on the way to Italy. We soon moved east towards Disentis, which is in the Romansh-speaking heartland of Switzerland. First, though, we had to climb even higher, to the staggering height of 2033 metres (6670 feet) on the Oberalp Pass. From here, we could see the start of the Rhine Valley, the source of which is just a few miles away. Heading into Disentis and changing locomotive, we made our way along the Rhine Valley, watching as the clear blue water gushed along beside us on its journey to Germany.
Before too long we arrived at Chur, the end of our Glacier Express journey, and checked into the very convenient ABC hotel. The staff were so friendly and the room was very comfortable as we flicked through our photos from the day’s travails. We then headed into Chur, which boasts a charming old town, reputedly the oldest city in Switzerland. After a glass or two of local Calanda beer, we headed to a fabulous restaurant serving traditional Swiss dishes – I had a particularly hearty Alplermagronen, consisting of macaroni with bacon and melted cheese.
Day Three: The Bernina Express
The following morning, we arrived back at Chur station early for our Bernina Express journey. This is one of the most spectacular in Europe, travelling south and passing close to St Moritz, crossing the famous Landwasser Viaduct and numerous other viaducts. The journey passes through into a small pocket of Italian-speaking Switzerland before crossing into Italy proper, and into the town of Tirano, just a few minutes over the border. We wandered around Tirano and grabbed a bite of lunch in one of the cafes close to the station, and headed back north, this time changing in St Moritz.
This gave us the opportunity to have a walk around the famous resort, passing Rolex and Hermes shops, and people-watching from one of the kitsch cafes on Via Maistra, the main drag through the town centre. We were planning to go and see the Cresta Run toboggan track, but we were short of time and hotfooted back to the station for our regional train back into Chur. Settling in for a second night at the ABC hotel, our scenic rail journeys were almost over for the holiday, or so we thought.
Day Four: Chur to Cologne
The next morning, we packed our bags and boarded a Euro City train at Chur station, ready for the long journey up into Germany. We stopped at Zurich and Basel, then we were on our way north past the Black Forest on the right and the Rhine on our left. Once we passed the town of Mainz, we were treated to some fabulous scenery as we passed through the Rhine Gorge, past the Loreley Rock and umpteen vineyards, working barges on the famous old river that we had seen in its infancy in Switzerland just 2 days earlier. It truly was a fantastic and unexpected sight. The team at TMR had recommended this route to me but I had no idea it was going to be this beautiful and cap off a comfortable journey.
On arrival in Cologne, we were grateful to be at the Hilton hotel, which is right in the centre of town near the enormous gothic cathedral. Acting again on a recommendation from Tailor Made Rail, we found Peters Brauhaus, one of Cologne’s famous old brew houses, where beers are served in small 0.2 litre tubes for freshness. They also have a good and diverse menu of hearty German cuisine, so we were well fed and watered by the end of the evening!
Day Five: Cologne to London
The journey back to the UK the next morning was so simple and stress-free, especially when compared to the hassle of airports. In just 2 hours, we were in Brussels checking in for our Eurostar, completing all customs formalities on the Belgian side. Arriving into the centre of London was such a bonus too, and we were able to head back to Bedford from St Pancras without even a change of station. Thank you so much to the team and everyone at Tailor Made Rail who were excellent throughout, with their personal recommendations, attention to detail and very clear presentation (and translation!) of all the tickets, vouchers etc. We will be recommending you to friends and using you again for our Christmas Market trip in December!
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