The Bernina Red Train

From Tirano to St. Moritz among breathtaking landscapes and snow-capped peaks

by Lavinia Colonna Preti
The Bernina Red Train — Lombardia Secrets

Discovering the highest railway line in Europe, one of the steepest and with the greatest difference in height in the world, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

If only the idea of the art deco station clocks, the Belle Époque atmosphere and the characteristic whistle of the retro trains make your heart beat faster, the journey on the Bernina Express is one of those you must do at least once in your life.

The idea of the Bernina red train line was born in 1881 following the proposal to create a railway that would serve not only as a logistic link between Valtellina and Engadina, but also as a tourist engine driving the beauties of these wonderful valleys.

The Bernina Red Train — Lombardia Secrets
The Bernina Red Train — Lombardia Secrets

We can only see that the Bernina Railway has endured a struggle with the elements and has overcome hitherto unimaginable difficulties of such magnitude.

(BoD Ferrovia del Bernina, 1909)

Begun in 1906, the works were completed on 5 July 1910, thus giving life to one of the most beautiful rail routes in the world, now managed by the Rhaetian Railway, about 60 km long, with a maximum gradient of 70 per thousand, open all day year and ready to challenge any weather condition with its snow plows, reaching 2,253 meters above sea level.

To remain immersed in the magical atmosphere of the late 1800s, you can sleep in Sondrio at the Grand Hotel della Posta, dating back to 1862, which, located in the main square of the city, retains all the charm of the era in which it was inaugurated. From there, in about 30 minutes, you can reach the small station of Tirano in Valtellina by car from which the Bernina Express departs.

The Bernina Red Train — Lombardia Secrets

Better to leave in the morning, at around 10 am, in order to enjoy the optimal conditions of light and sun during the outward journey. As regards, however, the best time of year for the trip, it’s up to you to choose, as the route is magical both in winter with its white snowy expanses, and in summer and autumn with the spectacle of the foliage.

Leaving Tirano, a wonderful itinerary of about two hours (one way) begins during which the red train will cross prairies and bucolic Swiss villages skirting, as you climb in altitude, lakes, forests, frozen expanses, a kite surfer’s paradise, and snow-capped peaks, up to the elegant St. Moritz station in Switzerland.

The Bernina Red Train — Lombardia Secrets

Among the most interesting panoramic points, about 10 minutes from the start, we find the incredible Brusio helical double-bend viaduct, today one of the symbols of the railway and unique in the world where the tracks make a 360° curve entirely in the open, built to overcome a height difference of 30 meters.

Shortly after, you reach the Miralago station, where you can admire the beautiful lake of Poschiavo right next to the train tracks. From there you pass valleys, meadows, areas of summer pastures and the characteristic station of Cadera, a small wooden hut. From here the route becomes truly exciting, almost thrilling, between tunnels and switchbacks with a wonderful view of the surrounding mountains.

The Bernina Red Train — Lombardia Secrets

One day we were struck by a phrase they told us about Alp Grüm: Italy can be seen from up there.

(Marcel Proust, 1896)

Going up the Valposchiavo, you then reach the picturesque little station of Alp Grüm made of bricks and the characteristic red windows with its famous Belvedere. Continuing, another breathtaking panorama is revealed before our eyes: it is the enormous expanse of frozen lakes, including the immense White Lake, shortly after the Ospizio station, the highest point of the route at 2253 meters in height, right in the heart of the famous Bernina Pass to which the train owes its name.

After passing the Diavolezza ski resort, you immerse yourself in a narrow path between forests and frozen streams to reach the panoramas of the Upper Engadina, up to the St. Moritz station which is located near the frozen lake, the protagonist of the game of polo in the snow.

The Bernina Red Train — Lombardia Secrets

From here you can take a taxi and, taking about 10 minutes along the wonderful panoramic road with a view over the city, you will reach the brand new Langosteria St. Moritz, a splendid fine dining restaurant on the edge of the slopes, perfect for a lunch or an aperitif in the sun.

From here you can decide whether to stop in the Engadine or return to Tirano, to discover the other beauties of the Valtellina.

Remember, if you want to take pictures during the journey, to book in the standard carriages, available in first and second class, as they have windows that can be lowered, while the panoramic ones are characterized by large domed windows that cannot be opened, excellent for enjoying of the wonderful view on three sides.

The Secret

The Bernina Express was taken as an example and reference for the construction of the Hakone-Tozan railway line, inaugurated in 1919, located on the slopes of Mount Fuji in Japan, with which a twinning was then established. There are many scenic railway lines in the world, but only two others – the Semmering Railway in Austria and the Darjeeling Himalaya Railway in India – have achieved UNESCO recognition.

Useful Info

For info & bookings:
Sunrise Valtellina Hotels
Tel. +39 335 5475615

Discover the Secret Places closest to you