The Glacier Express, undoubtedly Switzerland’s best known and slowest (despite its name!) trains, winds its way through some of Europe’s most dramatic and beautiful scenery on the journey from Zermatt to St Moritz.
The Glacier Express is Switzerland’s most well known and most scenic train journey, covering 180 miles between the Matterhorn and St. Moritz. Its name may be a bit misleading though, as it is also billed as one of the slowest express trains in the world! In fact, it takes over 7 hours to cover the journey, but this is all for the best, as it gives passengers aboard the luxury train a chance to fully appreciate the wonderful scenery of the Swiss Alps.
The Glacier Express first ran in 1930, and went through several route changes until 1982, when the present one was arrived at. This new route also made it possible to take the train journey all the year through, and now crosses 291 bridges and goes through 91 tunnels. In 2006, some specially designed panoramic coaches were introduced to the service, enabling the views to be better enjoyed, and the train includes first and second class carriages along with a dining car.
The journey begins in Zermatt, which is an Alpine resort nestled in a valley close to the Matterhorn. The Glacier express then follows the Matter Vispa River to Visp, descending 1000 metres in the process. During this time, passengers will not only see some spectacular sights, but will also be visited by the staff walking up and down the train, taking orders for drinks, snacks and lunch. A pre-booked meal can also be arranged for the journey, although passengers can take their own picnic and drinks on-board if they wish.
Passing through Visp, the train then heads to Brig, where the first rack and pillion sections of the narrow gauge track are passed over along the way. Situated at the end of the Simplon Pass, the train then changes direction at Brig to follow the Rhone valley, where depending on the time of year, snow laden fir trees and icy rivers can be seen. Climbing through Betten, Grengiols, and Oberwald, the Glacier Express goes through the 9 ¼ mile long Furka Tunnel before emerging on the other side and heading towards Andermatt.
After briefly stopping at Andermatt, (a good chance to stretch the legs and have a cigarette if so desired!), the journey resumes once more, and at this point, those people who have ordered lunch will have it brought to them. There are a fine selection of wines to choose from as well, all helping to add to the specialness of the occasion.
As the train leaves Andermatt, it starts an ascent up towards the Oberalp Pass, which is the highest point of the line, before descending once more amongst breathtaking scenery towards Disentis. Passing the historic town of llanz, it carries on downwards to the beautiful Rhine Gorge, where the careful observer will notice a number of caves, continuing on to Chur.
After reaching Chur, the Glacier Express then backtracks somewhat to Reichenau-Tamins, before heading towards Hinterrhein. As it passes green forests, it then goes over the Landwasser Viaduct Railway Bridge which is one of the most spectacular sections of the journey. From here, it enters a tunnel carved into the rock, and on the other side, the train goes through the village of Flisur, where it then begins a climb upwards, achieved by a series of looped tunnels, spirals, bridges and viaducts.
Once the village of Preda has been left behind, the train then goes through the 3.6 mile long Albula Tunnel, which is actually classed as the highest railway tunnel in the Alps up at nearly 6000 feet. Having passed through, the train then begins a gradual descent through woodlands and pastures until it reaches its final destination at St. Moritiz.
Although a relatively short journey in both time and distance when compared with some other luxury train journeys, the Glacier Express packs in some truly spectacular views along the way. With stunning scenery combined with remarkable engineering works, the chance to see snow covered mountains, forests and of course glaciers, it deservedly earns its place as one of Europe’s most attractive train rides.