The freedom of the mountains, the joie de vivre of the south. The Bernina Express provides a link between both. It combines the cool beauty of the mountains with the warm of Italy, mixing truly impressive natural landscapes with the rich millennial cultural history of the Grisons/Graubünden region. Welcome to the observation cars of the Bernina Express.
Points of interest:
Early stone-age hunters were already stopping tor wellearned breaks in what is now Chur in around 11000 BC, as revealed by archaeological digs. Present-dayattractions include such sights as the 800-year-old cathedral, along with 130 restaurants and 500 shops to choose tram. Since 1904, when the Albula Line was opened, and 1910, which saw the inauguration of the Bernina Une, Chur has also been an outstanding point of departure for some of the world's most beautiful mountain-railway journeys.
The two lines come together from opposite directions at the station in front of the castle, from where one (built in 1903) leads off to Ilanz and another (built in 1896) to Thusis.
There is probably no other place in Europe where you will find as many castles in an area as small as Domleschg. Solid fortresses like the brooding Schloss Ortenstein, watching over its mountain valley, coexist with hidden cultural treasures. One of these can be found on a hill near Rhäzüns in the shape of St. George's Chapel, known locally as the Kirchlein St. Georg, with its unique ceiling-to-floor painted interior dating tram the Middle Ages.
This is where the Albula Line proper begins. Just beyond the village lie the rocky walls of the famous Viamala Gorge, followed shortly thereafter by the great castle at Hohen Rätien.
The river Albula flows nearly 300 feet below the 138-foot vaulting span of the viaduct. This makes the Solis Viaduct not only the highest crossing on the Rhaetian Railway, but also the longest-spanning bridge on any part of the Albula Line. A masterpiece of the engineer's art.
The historic paths part here to run towards the Julier, Septimer and Albula passes. No wonder then that a roman citadel was built on top of Kirchhügel hill.
The almost 450 foot-lang viaduct does not just run, with its sweeping 300-foot arches, into the wild valley of Landwassertal; it is also the gateway - via a massive vertical wall of rock - to the more than 200-yard length of the Landwasser Tunnel. It is worth noting that the stonework on the 164 foot-high supporting arches was put in place without the use of scaffolding.
The imposing and richly-decorated stone houses of Filisur make the village a typical settlement of the Engadin region. The reason for this appearance was the frequent traffic over the Albula pass.
Once a farming village, the town is now the metropolis of the Alps. The speedy transformation of the village began in the nineteenth century, when the health-giving properties of high-altitude air were first discovered. Visitors did not just include patients looking for a cure however; guests included authors such as Thomas Mann, who set his novel The Magic Mountain in Davos, and he was soon followed by an avalanche of travellers from all over in the world.
At nearly 70 feet (204 metres) in length, the Wiesner Viaduct is the Iongest bridge on the line from Davos to Engadin. The connecting section from Davos to Filisur was opened in 1909.
Stugl / Stuls station
Untouched by the passing of time, the station at Stugl im Wald stands as it always has, with over 100 years of the history of the Albula railway behind it.
The station in Bergün, like its counterpart in Filisur, is also built in true Engadin style. The spa assembly room, with its Art Nouveau touches, was built in 1906, at about the same time that the railway was bringing the area into the modern world.
The line from Bergün to Preda has to deal with a differente in altitude of 1365 feet (416 metres) along the way. The line had to be artificially routed in order to reduce the resulting incline. This was done using a series of tunnels, viaducts, bridges and cuttings. The astonishing thing continues to be how well the railway line blends into the surrounding landscape.
At the turn of the twentieth century, the village's only land mark was the Hotel Kulm. This was before hundreds of workers were brought in. Preda grew into a shanty town while the Albula tunnel was being built. The resulting piece of civil engineering is now, at over 5900 feet (1800 metres) above sea level, the highest stand- ard-gauge railway tunnel in the Alps, through which it runs for same 3,7 miles (6 km).
The main location in the Engadin region is also its railway hub. Samedan is also home to Europe's highest-altitude airport.
Luxury facilities and a jet-set lifestyle at nearly 6000 feet (1800 metres) above sea level make St. Moritz one of the most famous tourist destinations in the world. The area's great hotels trace the beginnings of local tourism to the early twentieth century, when British mountaineers and cultural travellers began to arrive. The imposing landscape of mountains and lakes continues to be as beautiful as it ever was.
The water trapped here by ancient glacial shifts has created a wonderful area of moorland that has come to characterise Switzerland.
Rumour has it that the Arabs may once have ventured as far north as this village at the foot of the imposing 13 OOO-feet (4048 metres) bulk of Piz Bernina. It has never been entirely clear whether the name Pontresina is derived from Pans Sarasina, or «Saracens' Bridge». We can however definitely be sure of the arrival of British mountaineers at this farming village, in the year 1850, for the first assault on Piz Bernina. This year marked the start of Pontresina's transformation from farming village into top tourist destination, complete with such legendary hotels as the Saratz.
Lago Bianco and Lej Nair
The waters to the north of the Bernina Pass naturally flow via the Danube and into the Black Sea, while the waters to the south of the pass end up in the river Po and the Adriatic. Efforts began in 1911 to change the natural order somewhat, and trap the water in artificial lakes such as Lago Bianco and Lej Nair, whose names refer to different colours: light for Lago Bianco; dark for Lej Nair.
The station lies at 7391 feet (2253 metres) above sea level, making it the highest-altitude station on the Rhaetjan Railway. The hospice from which the place-name is derived also marks the linguistic boundary between the southern, ltalian-speaking valley of Puschlav and the Engadin region, where the inhabitants speak Romansh (or more correctly Rhaeto-Romanic) and German. The station building and the mountain inn date tram around 1925.
The station and restaurant building, dating from 1923, is surrounded by a unjque mountain setting - including the Palü Glacier and Lake Palü - with panoramic views over Cavaglia and on to the ltalian Alps beyond. The architect Nicolaus Hartmann, who designed the station building, created structures in the same distinctive style in various parts of the region.
Palü and Cavaglia hydroelectric power plant
Hydroelectric power began to gain ever-greater importance in the Alps after the First World War, with the post-1926 period being marked by the construction of the power plant at Palü and Cavaglia. The industrial significance of this power plant is barely discernible from the outside however, as they look more like mediaeval fortresses.
«Puschlav is surely one of the best places in the canton of the Grisons», wrote a historian as far back as 1740. Poschiavo, the main town in the Val Poschiavo, owes its beauty to the imposing Renaissance style of its courtly architecture. These palazzi were built by prosperous local residents who had made their fortunes abroad. For this reason, one of the most beautiful districts of Poschiavo is still known as the Spaniolenviertel.
Brusio circular viaduct
The world looks different, and indeed takes on same meaning, as the Bernina Express winds up to, or cork- screws down from, the heights of the famous circular viaduct of Brusio. The viaduct, which describes a 360-degree curve, artificially allows the railway to perform a brusque change of height in a very short space.
Paria Milanese. Paria Bormina. Paria Poschiavina. The names of its mediaeval gates continue to stress the strategic importance of the town. Tirano, which was once part of the Grisons/Graubünden, offers a heady and varied mix of historical treasures, like the Pilgrimage Church of the Madonna di Tirano, and a rich culinary heritage.
This renowned ltalian valley, which spreads up in wide curve into the mountains of the Grisons/Graubünden, is famous for its fine wines. The Mediterranean vegetation and picturesque villages make it a destination well worth visiting - in one of the comfortable buses of the Rhaetian Railway. From Tirano, the trip continues on to the lively provincial capital of Sondrio and the lake of Como, on whose banks lie such attractive villages as Gravedona. The buses of the Rhaetian Railway can also carry you onward as far as Lugano.
Alternative A: Tirano - Lugano by the buses of the Rhaetian Railway (length: 123 km / time: 3 h)
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