Glacier Express

Sight-seeing contest

Sight-seeing contest - Glacier Express

The Glacier Express is famous for the stunning landscape it passes through on its journey from Zermatt to St. Moritz. But what does the same route look like from the road? Contura put it to the test by travelling part of the route from Disentis to St. Moritz in parallel – on board the Glacier Express and by convertible … A few impressions of the two trips. 

Train: The Glacier Express arrives in Disentis just after one o'clock. The hustle and bustle of lunch is over; now it is time for passengers to sit back and enjoy their afternoon coffee. Perfect timing: coffee and cakes are the ideal way to start this journey by train! Something those travelling by car will miss out on …

Convertible: We have to pick up something to eat ourselves: before driving off, we buy some sustenance for the road from the Goldmann bakery and café. Coffee and a piece of the local nut cake. By the way: this Goldmann speciality picked up the gold medal at the Swiss Bakery Trophy 2012 awards.

Train: And we're off. The large panoramic windows are truly one of the highlights of this train! The towering clouds are impressive. And now and again a ray of sunlight chases away the drops of spring rain on the windows.

Convertible: Time to study the map – sadly, the goats watching us do so are not really any great help. The minor road on which we find ourselves leads down to the tracks – but is that the way we want to go? We see the Glacier Express go cruising past.

Train: We glide along the banks of the Anterior Rhine – and suddenly find ourselves in the middle of the Rhine Gorge. The Ruinaulta – Romansh for 'high pile of rubble' – came into existence at the end of the last ice age following massive landslides at Flims. The gorge, cut through by the clear water of the Rhine, is truly spectacular.

Convertible: A number of roadworks slow us down on the stretch of road to Ilanz – now the Glacier Express is definitely getting away from us. The Rhine is mostly hidden behind trees and bushes. But we do catch a brief glimpse of the legendary maple tree of Trun, under whose branches the Grey League (from which the canton takes its name) was formed on 16 May 1424. Sadly, we don't have time to stop off in Ilanz, the first sizeable town on the Rhine, known as the 'Gateway to the Ruinaulta'.

 

Train: We make a slightly longer stop in Chur – perfect for all the tourists, giving them time to take pictures of themselves posing alongside the Glacier Express. But it's not only tourists who are fascinated by the Glacier Express: as we journey on from Chur there are children waiting along the line to wave as we pass by.

Convertible: As soon as we reach Reichenau-Tamins, where the Anterior Rhine meets the Posterior Rhine, we see the Glacier Express from Chur approaching. It seems to be travelling at a fair speed after all, this slowest express train in the world … It turns off and continues on towards Thusis. We take a quick look at Reichenau Castle, where the man who was later to become King Louis-Philippe I of France taught at the reformatory which was once housed in the castle. Wine is now being produced at Reichenau Castle by the von Tscharner family. But enjoying a glass of wine and driving definitely don't mix – so we soon head off again in the direction of the Solis Viaduct.

Train: Our train crosses the Solis Viaduct and enters the Schin Gorge. Spanning the Albula river, its height of 85 metres makes it the highest viaduct along the UNESCO World Heritage route – so we learn from the audio guide that passengers listen to through headphones. We can see the road just a few metres away – and there it is again: the convertible.

Convertible: Now we're getting somewhere. We reach the Solis Viaduct ahead of the Glacier Express. Which means there's time for a short coffee break at the Solisbrücke restaurant in Alvaschein. 

Train: A further highlight of the train route is about to come into view: the famous Landwasser Viaduct with its five tall pillars. It has come to symbolise the Rhaetian Railway, and not without reason: seen in ground plan, the railway line traces a circular arc with a radius of 100 metres – and it is thanks to this curve that passengers can observe the front of the train heading into the Landwasser Tunnel. Suddenly all the passengers rush to the windows, hoping to get a snapshot of this imposing structure before the train disappears into the towering rock face.

Convertible: Slowly but surely, we make our way up from Filisur towards Bergün. The Glacier Express is following the same route: now and again we see a flash of red on the hillside. At Bergün Station, we pay a short visit to the Albula Railway Museum – where one of the famous 'Crocodile' locomotives, the Ge 6/6 I 407, is housed. But we need to get back on the road quickly – we fly through the quaint village with its well-preserved historical buildings. 

Train: The Glacier Express continues to climb. One of the most technically challenging sections of RhB track lies between Bergün and Preda: thanks to three spiral and two helical tunnels, the trains overcome the more than 400-metre difference in altitude, seemingly without a problem. Not without reason was the Rhaetian Railway in the Albula/Bernina Landscapes given UNESCO World Heritage status in 2008.

Convertible: The Glacier Express has disappeared from view. Shortly after Preda we pass the clear blue-green waters of the Lai da Palpuogna lake, which serves as a source for hydropower generation. The temperatures drop the higher we climb. But the Albula Pass makes up for the cold we are now feeling with its wonderful views: shafts of sunlight break through the clouds, bathing the pass in mystical colours. We take a moment's time to soak up the atmosphere.

Train: We exit the Albula Tunnel at Spinas and make our way through the idyllic Bever Valley. From Bever it's full speed ahead to St. Moritz, our final destination. This cosmopolitan little town is world famous and one of the best-known winter sports and spa resorts in the Alps. The sun comes out again and we enjoy its warming rays as we drink a last cup of coffee.

Convertible: From the Albula Pass we drive non-stop via La Punt-Chamues-ch, along the first electrified RhB line (Bever – Scuol) to St. Moritz … where the Glacier Express is already waiting.