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Basel to Varenna via Bernina Express

Please comment if you think this is a viable and practical option to get to Varenna after departing our river cruise in Basel:

Depart Basel by train to Chur (approx 2 1/2 hr)
Chur to Tirano via Bernina Express (approx 4 1/2 hrs)
Tirano to Varenna by train (approx 2 hrs)

Does the Bernina Express arrive at and the Trenitalia train depart from Villa di Tirano? I want to make sure the train stations are the correct ones I am selecting when making reservations. And is the Varenna-Esino station the main station into Varenna? Been there before and I recall only one station in Varenna.

It’s a long day of travel but we have 3 days to relax and refresh in Varenna. Thank you, all, for your help with this.

Posted by
20289 posts

Just use "Tirano" on the rail planners. Nonetheless the Bernina Express arrives at a different station than the train going to Varenna. They are just across the piazza from each other. Yes, Varenna-Esino is the name of the station in Varenna.

It will be a long day if you insist on taking the named Bernina Express train, as it does not depart Chur until 1:34 pm, and arrivies at 5:59 pm. You will have 9 minutes to make it across the piazza to get the 6:08 train to Varenna, Otherwise you will have to wait for the 7:08 train.

Posted by
4902 posts

You can take the regional trains that run on the exact same tracks as the panorama trains. We rode those in 2021 and really enjoyed the lack of crowding, windows opening, and being able to move about as the scenery changed. No seat reservations are required, and you have many more schedule options.
Have a great trip in this beautiful country!

Posted by
1054 posts

The issue will be timing. Bernina Express leaves at 8:30 am or 1:30 pm (summer only). You won't be able to get to Chur in time to catch the early train. If you take the late train, you won't get to Varenna until 7:30 pm. We did a similar route and decided to stay overnight in Chur and catch the earlier train. Chur is an overlooked nice little town.

In Tirano, the Bernina Express arrives at Tirano RhB station, and the train to Varenna leaves from Tirano Trenord station. They are literally adjacent and only 1 minute apart.

Posted by
1817 posts

You do not need to take the Bernina Express on that route. You can take a combination of other trains.

So you can just plan Basel - Varenna-Esino via Tirano on, and just travel. The system will figure the route out for your, so you do not need to worry about what station you will change trains at etc... And you will get exact times, not aproximations.

Varenna has indeed only one station. Because it also serves the nearby village of Esino it is called Varenna-Esino.

Posted by
13 posts

Thank you all for your help. Several have told me to not worry about taking the Bernina Express and just use the the regular trains. My follow up question then: is the only difference that the Bernina Express uses rail cars with more windows for a better view? They all use the same tracks and same route? I am willing to sacrifice a bit of the view for the convenience of time.

Posted by
16459 posts

There is only one set of tracks, at least from Pontresina over the pass to Tirano, so yes, the “regular” regional trains use the same tracks and offer the same views.

Posted by
877 posts

To answer your second question, yes and no. Due to fewer travelers and no reservations you have the run of the train to pick and choose your seat. The windows are smaller, but since it is possible to nearly always have a window seat the point is moot. The bigger windows help those relegated to aisle seats and also when the "better" views are on the opposite of where you are seated. I hope this helps.

Posted by
32964 posts

The named train "Bernina Express" trades on it being the fancy one. Food and drink (in funny glasses which stand upright on steep inclines, if you turn them the right way), lots of international and domestic advertising, name recognition, plenty of FOMO, premium price.

The regular trains go the same speed, go on exactly the same route and even the identical tracks, and therefore give identical views. You can move around, you can stand in the vestibules, you can sit right next to the window so the size is irrelevant, and in any case they are plenty big. No food, but you can bring yours (and wine, etc., on with you).

I have ridden all the tourist lines in Switzerland, and I have never been on one of the named trains. I have always been a happy bunny.

Posted by
20289 posts

premium price

The premium is the 36 CHF seat reservation fee per person. The nominal full fare transportation cost is 66 CHF per person, so about a third of the 102 CHF ticket cost will be the reservation fee.

What you should do is buy now, for each person, a Saver Day Pass for 52 CHF 2nd class, or 88 CHF 1st class. That will cover the entire transportation from Basel to Tirano. You need to buy now because the price of these passes increases over time as you approach your travel date, or even sell out. Looking at tomorrow, they are sold out in 2nd class, and the earliest they are available is next Tuesday for 97 CHF. You know when your ship docks and when you want to depart, so it is pretty safe to buy them today. Otherwise, the full fare per person ticket price is 121 CHF from Basel to Tirano 2nd class, 206 CHF 1st class. You can take any train on your travel date with the Saver Day Pass. The reservation fee is always extra if you still want the named Bernina Express.

Posted by
2364 posts

you can sit right next to the window

And on most trains you can open it and take much better pictures than from the "express".

And you can interrupt your journey as you wish, e.g. in Alp Grüm, where the station has a nice little restaurant, and then with a bit of luck take the historic yellow railcar back to the Engadin.