THE GLACIER EXPRESS TOUR
Switzerland Alps Scenic Rail Vistas
Viewing great and vast unreachable mountain vistas from the seat of a moving train have held a fascination for travelers since the first locomotive chugged up a mountain slope in the 1800’s. One of the world’s best known scenic rail rides is the Glacier Express through the Alps of Switzerland. First named as a scenic route in 1930 after the completion of a series of rail lines through tunnels and across high viaduct bridges, the Glacier Express connected the famed Swiss resort towns of St. Moritz and Zermatt. A combination of the Rhaetian Railway, the Furka Oberalp Line and the Gotthard-Matterhorn railway, the Glacier Express train today is made up of special panoramic large windowed comfort seating cars and takes about 7 and a half hours to make its way from near the foot of the Matterhorn which stands above Zermatt, through the Rhine River Gorge called Switzerland’s grand canyon, over the Oberalp Pass and around the twisting and turning Albula line (now named a Unesco World Heritage site for its unique set of bridges, viaducts and tunnels).
In actuality there aren’t really glaciers to be seen on the Glacier Express, except for the end of one just visible with a quick look upward shortly after leaving Zermatt. The name comes from the glaciers to be found near either end of the route which can be discovered from St. Moritz or Zermatt. What you do see on the journey, sometimes called the “world’s slowest express train” as it makes its way up and down steep grades on cogwheel tracks and gliding quickly across the narrow valley’s between the high peaks, is a range of spectacular scenery, passing over 291 bridges and through 91 tunnels. In the summer, green valleys along the Rhone River, mountain canyons and Alpine hillsides dotted by slate-roofed Swiss farm huts and grazing sheep or milk cows, and the deep gorge of the young Rhine River near it's source. In the winter, crisp sparkling snow clings to the rocky crags high above the tall panoramic train windows.
Lunch on the Glacier Express is served at your seat by the wait crew so you needn't leave your seat. You need a reservation for the lunch and while well prepared and elegant, it is not inexpensive. Depending on the service, some trains offer no quick snacks on board so if you're a cheap traveler and don’t want the lunch, you should bring something before the train leaves. The stops of the Glacier Express along the way are only for a minute or two. The only stop long enough to dash to grab something from a vending machine or kiosk is 5 minutes at Disentis about half-way along the route. An audio system like an airline plays a selection of music on your headphone while recorded information about the local sights and stations along the route are announced when you hear an electronic gong and the headphone sign is displayed.
The scenic route of the Glacier Express travels across southern Switzerland from Zermatt, through Visp, Brig, Andermatt, Disentis, Chur, Filisur to St. Moritz. The Glacier Express can be taken in either direction, either one way or return. It is possible to board at Chur or Brig, but not getting to Zermatt or St. Moritz misses much of the pleasure and the point. Another line runs to Davos rather than St. Moritz. The Unesco World Heritage portion of the route with the Landvasser Viaduct (where the rails pass over a high curving bridge right into a tunnel half-way up a sheer cliff) is between Chur and St. Moritz. This section of the line is shared with the Bernina Express which heads over the highest Alps pass to Tirano, Italy (see Bernina Express Scenic Train). The nearest major airports to the Glacier Express are Geneva, Zurich and Milan, all about equi-distant, about 4 hours by train. Zurich is the closest to St. Moritz via Chur, or Zermatt through the new Lotscheberg Tunnel to Visp, but you can also come from Verona via Tirano. If traveling by car you can park in Tasche near Zermatt (no cars in Zermatt) or St. Moritz and take a round trip.
If you already have a Swiss Pass or Eurail Pass, a reservation fee of about $25 is all that's needed (see Swiss Rail Pass Value). The schedule varies a little depending on the season, but basically four trains a day departing either end between 9 and 10 am and arriving at the destination around 5 to 6 pm. The trains don't run from mid-October to Mid-December. Other regular schedule trains follow the same tracks, but don't have the special scenic windows and service. To see glaciers from either end of the route, take the Gornergrat cog rail from Zermatt for the best views of the Matterhorn (see Gornergrat Bahn) or the train from St. Moritz to the Diavolezza aerial tram. © Bargain Travel Europe
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