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The Alps’ Most Scenic Train Trips

August 22, 2015 Europe, Switzerland

Switzerland

The Swiss have taken train travel to new heights. Over the past century, Swiss engineering expertise has created an elaborate system of narrow passes, viaducts, and tunnels that make even the most dramatic Alpine scenery accessible to all. You can ride the rails between Zermatt and St. Moritz on the ever-popular Glacier Express, touted as the slowest express train in the world (it averages 25 miles an hour). This red little-engine-that-could passes through the heart of the Swiss Alps and offers an up-close look at riveting scenery on its roller-coaster journey. It passes over 291 bridges, many trestle high above dramatic gorges, through 91 tunnels, and rosses the Oheralp Pass at 6,706 feet—the 7.5-hour, 180-mile trip’s highest point.

Quintessentially Swiss, chocolate and cheese are both served onboard the Chocolate Train, a day-long journey that runs in summer and fall. Climb abroad in Montreux (see p. 202), overlooking Lake Geneva on the Swiss Riviera, for the nearly 10-hour roundtrip journey to Broc. As you roll northeast in the Lavaux vineyards, especially vibrant just before October’s harvest. In medieval, car-free Gruyere, you can visit the enchanting turreted castle and tuck into fondue at the cheese dairy Cailler-Nestle chocolate factory for a tour and a sampling of the 65 tons of chocolate produced-on-site each day.

Completed in 1910, the Bernina line is the highest railway crossing in the Alps. From St. Moritz to the charming northern Italian town of Tirano, the vertigo-inducing Bernina Express goes past the Morteratsch Glacier, with its jaw-dropping views and the highest peak in the Eastern Alps, the Piz Bernina (13,284 feet), before arriving to Italy on a famous corkscrew viaduct. The 90-mile, 4-hour trip reaches an apex of 7,391 feet then descends 5,905 feet before coming to the end of the train line in Tirano. In summer, you can continue by bus along the banks of Lake Como to Lugano (see p. 279).

BEST TIMES : May-Jun and Sep-Oct for most colorful scenery from the Chocolate Train; Jun for ideal weather for the Bernina Express; Sep-Oct for lighter crowds on the Glacier Express.
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