Gliding through a backdrop of glaciers, misty mountain snowcapped peaks, and postcard-perfect river valleys, the uber-luxury Glacier Express winds its way through Switzerland, from Zermatt to St. Moritz. A ride aboard the gleaming red and white train is a scenic-showstopper, a breathtaking cruise through some of the most beautiful countryside in Europe. It’s inaugural trip was on 25 June 1930, and since then it has become Europe’s premier rail experience. Though it’s called “the slowest express train in the world”, you’ll be so enraptured by the scenery that you’ll wish the nearly 8-hour trip could go on for a lifetime. Plus, this is a luxury train, and all the amenities of first class service provide an elegant experience. Are you ready? Here’s everything you need to know.
The 180-mile (290-kilometer) journey begins in the chic resort town of St. Moritz, a longtime vacation spot for skiers and snowboarders. The town, which because of its high Alpine location has 300 days of sunshine each year, has drawn the affluent since the late 19th century. From here it travels to Zermatt, another posh ski and mountaineering destination, surrounded as it is by mountains, including the famous Matterhorn. In between, the Glacier Express passes through 91 tunnels, cruises over 291 bridges, and makes 5 stops. Stunning mountain landscapes unfold along the way, with the train reaching a peaks of 6,667 feet (2.033 meters) at Oberalp Pass, which sits between Andermatt and Disentis.
It’s an epic journey to say the least. Inside the train, picture windows and glass skylights enable you to take in the panoramic views of the breathtaking scenery along the route. Much of the route passes along the Rhaetian Railway in the Albula/Bernina Landscapes, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is untouched nature, here, as logging and hunting is prohibited. The ride is lined with churches, hilltop farmhouses, rocky mountain valleys with rushing streams, and the most awesome mountain close-ups you’ll ever see.
Inside the Train
You can buy either 1st and 2nd coach tickets, the former has more space then the latter, but all have panoramic sealed windows that extend all the way to the roof. A trolley wheels by serving drinks, snacks, and souvenirs. Meals are served at your seat, but you can also wander to the Panorama Bar car for snacks and drinks. Headphones are available so you can hear announcements as you pass certain tunnels, towns, and other highlights. A bell will quietly ring every time an announcement is about to start. Brochures are in the pockets of your seat, and menus are distributed at the start of the journey.
Apart from the trolley that serves drinks and snacks, the staff will stop by and ask if you want to order anything. Around 11:30am, the table will be set for lunch. Two dishes of Swiss cuisine, plus dessert, is served from large communal trays, so you can eat as much as you like.
How to Book
You need to book your tickets and meals in advance through their site. You can travel independently or with a private guide. Lunch is not included with the ticket price. The fee varies by season and length of the trip: Mid June to mid September is most expensive, while mid December to March is cheapest. You don’t have to purchase a ticket for the entire route; you can buy a ticket from one stop to the next, if you prefer. Plenty of discounts are offered on the site, should you have a Swiss Travel Pass or a Eurail Pass.
· You don’t have to take the whole trip. You can book passage on any of the legs of the tour between five towns. All parts of the journey between the five towns are stunning. However, if you don’t have time to take the whole trip, the Oberalp Pass is a true highlight. Really, though, wherever you want to get on or get off, the parts is between are beautiful.
· Consider spending a one or two days in Zermatt or St. Moritz; each town is scenic in its own way, and both are worth exploring.
· If you want the lush Alpine greenery scene, take a summer train; if you prefer winter landscapes, book passage on a train from December to May.
· It doesn’t matter which side of the train you sit on; both sides are privy to stunning views.
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