St.Moritz to Zermatt : The Glacier Express.

Swiss Alps Travel Blog

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The Express awaits lift off.

Of all the little moments.  The tiny pebbles of consideration and inspiration that tumbled through my mind, eventually turning into the avalanche of conviction and desire that set me off on this journey there is one moment I remember exceptionally well.  Lying on my bed in a Lake District B&B in February watching Ski-Sunday on the TV one of the articles was of what looked a phenomenal railway journey through the Swiss Alps.  It was the Glacier Express running between the two famous ski resorts of St.Moritz and Zermatt and I knew there and then that this was one experience I HAD to have, and this is my journey today!

 

The morning is clear and sunny.

(Glacier XP) Muju [www.mujuworld.co.uk]
  I’m up early enough to see the rose pink colours of dawn finally glide down the snow-speckled peaks of the mountains visible from the Youth Hostel breakfast canteen.  Not a bad view to sip your OJ in front of!  I again rush down my breakfast and undertake the longish walk (esp. with the backpack!) to the Bahnhof to catch the 9.19 Glacier Express.

 

The Glacier Express marks the culmination of over a century’s development of the mountain rail network through the Swiss Alps.  Building commenced on the first line in 1889 and only in 1982 was the Furka basis tunnel completed permitting all year round travel the full 291 kilometres (as the crow flies) between the two principle ski resorts.  On route it crosses an incredible 291 bridges and goes through 91 tunnels.

  Some of the bridges (particularly in the early stages from St.Moritz on what is referred to as the Albula Line) are really quite breathtaking works of human engineering including the 65 metre tall Landwasser Viaduct.  It is this Albula/ Bernina stretch of the track that has been voted this year to be added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  The train starts (in the direction I’m heading anyway) at St.Moritz at 1,775 metres above sea level, reaches its lowest point in the principle town of Chur (Switzerland’s oldest town) at 585m and then rises back up to a staggering 2,033 metres as it travels through the snow-covered Oberalppass before descending by degrees slightly as it approaches Zermatt.

 

I feel it cannot be overstated how just about every mile of this luxurious 7 and half hour journey is mind-blowingly beautiful, viewed at ease all the way through the fabulous airy and light ‘panorama’ carriages that in their present form, upgraded, have only been rolling since 2006.

My carriage on the Glacier Express (yeah, and this is second class!!!)
  It prides itself on being ‘The world’s slowest express train’ and this is true.  A soothingly leisurely pace is maintained all the way, mostly because of the often impressive gradients that the train has to be pulled up, a lot of the way by a sturdy ‘rack and pinnion’ mechanism (at gradients as much as 12.5%).  Also, frequently it will stop as the many tunnels can only accommodate one train at a time and you must wait often some time for the train going the other way to arrive and pass you by.  This just gives you even more time to stand back in awe and admire the views.

 

The excitement of everyone on board is tangible in the air.  The carriage is surprisingly uncrowded at this stage of the journey - it is only once we get to Chur and byond that it starts to fill up a bit but that's a while away and I just love kicking back in luxury and chilling out with the views,a whole 8-seat section of the carriage aaaall to myself so that I can scamper from side to side to get the best of all views.

The briefest glimpse of the incredible Landwasser Viaduct as we skuttle along.
  Everyone is camera-keen and ready to suck every moment of this wonder-trip into the prison of their lenses.  It's fine.  Soooo much time on this journey that both your lens and your eyes will be spoilt by the end of it.  People are particularly snap-happy in the earlier stages of the journey, the Albula Line rising up north (at one point 400 metres up over only 4km ) from St.Moritz north towards and past the branch line to Davos (being the 3rd station point it is possible to commence the nearly full Glacier Express experience from), then over the incredible Landwasser Viaduct on towards Chur.  The Landwasser Viaduct is probably the prize jewel of the works of man here recognised now by UNESCO.  Hand-built by brick it rises gracefully to a height of 65 metres above ground level and passes for 130 metres around a radial track-section curving 100 metres around before you enter the Lanwasser Tunnel.  Be careful with such fleeting moments of greatness such as the Viaduct as, remember, you are on a train after all and these things can pass you by in the blink of an eye if you're faffing around too much trying to "get the right settin' on me camera!".
The train pauses pleasantly for some time by the Oberall reservoir so plenty of time for cheesy photography.
  In Chur I am joined by a very affable expatriot Swedish businessman (whose name I forget) who provides good conversation in the usual near-perfect delivery of English that the Scandinavians (and Dutch) always achieve.

 

The weather today is pretty darned good.  Despite the sun and baby-blue skies in St.Moritz the first leg of the journey is a little disappointingly mist drenched although still scenically powerful, but as we continue to head west through Disentis, over the incredible Oberalppass and through Andermatt towards Brig a beautiful battle between sun and cloud is occurring and all of the mountain peaks are in clear view.  Exiting the tunnel onto the highest point of the journey on the Oberalppass everyone on the train is momentarily blinded, our pupils fully dilated from our time in the dark tunnel, all of a sudden we are surrounded by radiant sun-reflecting snow! Quite a bedazzling moment to behold.

 

The facilities are quite luxurious (even in supposed second class) and there is even a panoramic restaurant carriage you can book a meal on, or a standing table panoramic bar carriage.  They even have these sweet, specially crafted wine glasses that stand at a slant so that even on the steepest parts of the various rail ascents your wine will not spill over the lip.  Ingenious.  The journey costs approx 166 Euros but is worth every single penny, and frankly for the same money sometimes you won’t travel half this far or long from point to point in other parts of Europe and that’s before you even factor in the unbeatable scenery and luxury ride.  You also get a brochure and a set of headphones included which means throughout the journey there are interesting and informative talks on the in-train audio-guide that you can take in and keep track of where you are on the various maps.

 

It’s a great communal experience for witnessing pure unadulterated human excitement and awe (sorry there’s the ‘A’ word again!).  The whole carriage gasps in unison as mountains flash into view at the turning of a wooded hillside corner, or as the sun breaks through and rolls a golden carpet across the valleys, crevaces and rivers that you pass all along the way along with the innumerable quaint mountain towns, villages and hamlets and hilltop castles and churches.

 

And then sadly after 7 hours plus it’s nearly over and we’re approaching the legendary ski resort of Zermatt, a mercifully car free town nestled in arguably the most spectacular seat of the whole alpine range.

Mountain magic "Yeah!" :D
  There are a ridiculous amount of 4,000 metre plus mountains here including the Rimpfischhorn (4,199m), Dom (

4,545m), Weißhorn (4,505), Zinalrothorn (4,221m), Dent Blanche (4,357m) many others and most famously of all of course the iconic Matterhorn sat (not the highest) at 4,478 metres high.  We are in great luck with the weather as I later learn that rain and mist have rendered the Matterhorn invisible most of the week and the cloud-shroud has been completely impenetrable to the gaze in the last 2-3 days.  However on stepping out into the cool mountain sun in Zermatt there she is in all her glory.  The magnificent Matterhorn with a halo of golden sunlit mist wrapped around the nape of her neck, as she reaches up into the clear blue sky.  She must've known the Sunshine Kid was on a train into town!  It really is quite an unbeatable crescendo and finale to a day of wonder for the eyes.

There she be!!! One of my first glimpses of the Matterhorn!

 

My word!  How to follow up on such a day tomorrow?!!  I guess I better get me up into them there moutains tomorrow and have me a better view J

hummingbird50 says:
OMG Steve what an awesome day you had.....very cool! :) Thanks for taking us all on your great adventure!
Posted on: Oct 11, 2008
keeweeset says:
What a great experience! Thank you for sharing =)
Posted on: Oct 10, 2008
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The Express awaits lift off.
The Express awaits lift off.
(Glacier XP) Muju [www.mujuworld.c…
(Glacier XP) Muju [www.mujuworld.…
My carriage on the Glacier Express…
My carriage on the Glacier Expres…
The briefest glimpse of the incred…
The briefest glimpse of the incre…
The train pauses pleasantly for so…
The train pauses pleasantly for s…
Mountain magic Yeah! :D
Mountain magic "Yeah!" :D
There she be!!!  One of my first g…
There she be!!! One of my first …
Morning mountains over St.Moritz.
Morning mountains over St.Moritz.
A misty start to proceedings..Whe…
A misty start to proceedings.."Wh…
The alpine route-map tracking the …
The alpine route-map tracking the…
Landwasser Viaduct in the distance.
Landwasser Viaduct in the distance.
View through panoramic ceiling win…
View through panoramic ceiling wi…
Lake St.Moritz, a final view.
Lake St.Moritz, a final view.
The relatively recently upgraded (…
The relatively recently upgraded …
Chillin ahead of departure with t…
Chillin' ahead of departure with …
Snow capped Alpine mountains on si…
Snow capped Alpine mountains on s…
Some weirdo killing time whilst in…
Some weirdo killing time whilst i…
Suddenly out of a tunnel and blind…
Suddenly out of a tunnel and blin…
The reservoir that sits atop the O…
The reservoir that sits atop the …
Chugging through the snow
Chugging through the snow
Taking a break as the train has it…
Taking a break as the train has i…
Zermatt is pretty-pretty! :D
Zermatt is pretty-pretty! :D
Alpine evening scenes in Zermatt.
Alpine evening scenes in Zermatt.
View from Zermatt (as I struggle i…
View from Zermatt (as I struggle …
High up on the Glacier XP track th…
High up on the Glacier XP track t…
See dat? Dat over der.  Dats a m…
"See dat? Dat over der. Dat's a …
The main church in Zermatt.
The main church in Zermatt.
Evening mists begin to creep throu…
Evening mists begin to creep thro…
Swiss Alps
photo by: Stevie_Wes