Personally I don’t believe in the perfect anything, but I did have one train ride that came as near as I know to meeting the ideal; mountains, snow, electric trains, narrow gauge. Yes, you guessed it, this perfect ride was a rail journey in Switzerland.
It was on the Bernina Express from Chur to Poschavio in March when the snow was still on the ground. I can’t say I understand all the connections, hook ups and detachments that make the Bernina Express and its route and make up vary from season to season. Although possibly not quite as celebrated as the ever popular Glacier Express (even though both share the journey between Chur and St Moritz), this was a sightseeing trip that I’d been patiently waiting a lifetime for. Did someone say ‘Bucket List’!
We were seated in Swiss first class luxury with windows that not only lined up with the seats (a very annoying failure in United Kingdom train design) they also meet above ones head giving an all round view. ‘Express’ it isn’t – the route twisting and winding through valley and mountain pass keeps the speed down and with several stops en-route. The train climbed to St Moritz via several spirals and tunnels, each a monument to the skill of Swiss railway engineering.
After St Moritz still on upwards where the snow lay heavily to the Bernina Pass. It was almost a white-out here as the train snaked its way across flat terrain at the summit with only the two parallel dark grooves between the snow as a guide to our route plus the plucky pylons arising from the snow to carry the overhead power supply. It seemed to be just us, the train and wild nature. For a short while it seemed that we had left civilisation behind (in the most civilised of countries), and we were on our own.
At this point we are over 2,200 metres having climbed from 585 metres leaving Chur. We then climbed down from the pass and, indeed the Alpine range itself , via continuous twists and turns and drop down through small settlements and wooded valleys.
Poschavio is a lovely old Italian-speaking settlement on the Swiss-Italian border, and the last station in Italy. Time for a look round, lunch and then back the way we came with all the sights and sensations in reverse.
In summary, the Bernina Express is a brilliant train journey and almost the perfect day, spoiled (only slightly) by the limited views on the Pass due to the low cloud – but don’t let that put you off railway travel.
To find your perfect train ride, take a look at the many tours on offer presented by LOCO Journeys