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Italy Switzerland itinerary feedback generally - Bernina or Glacier Express or both?

Briefly we will be spending 5/weeks next Late April through May in Italy and Switzerland. We have previously always rented a car but have decided to use trains this trip.

Fly into Naples and back out Zurich- flights are booked.

OK- this is where we need help.

Train from Lake Como to Torino and pick up Bernina express to Chur
Chur to Zermatt - Glacier Express

Too much scenic train? Should we pick just one? Use regular trains for some ? We understand that Glacier Express is VERY slow.

We have been to Italy several times, so are just planning on revisiting our favorites or missed sites.

Naples 3 days archeological museum
Ravello 3 days. Loved it from previous trip. Positano day trip
Florence 3 days This will be our 4th stay here!
Bologna 3 days
Bolzano 2 days
Trento 1 day
Milan 3 days
Bellagio 3 days. 3rd time here
Train and Bernini Express to Chur 2 days
Glacier Express to Zermatt. 2-3 days?
Murren 4 days. Loved from previous trip
Lake Lucern. 2 days Ditto
Zurich 2 days

We like scenery, hiking, soaking up the ambiance of Europe. I’ve tried to keep distances down so entire day not taken with travel (except Glacier Express). Would value any feedback.

Posted by
1442 posts

I think you meant to write “train from Lake Como to TIRANO” rather than “Torino”which is Italian for the industrial city Turin.
The Bernina Express runs from Tirano Italy to Chur, Switzerland via St. Moritz and vice versa. It takes about 4 hours. After seeing most of the scenic train routes in Switzerland, this was the best, IMO. The Glacier Express was impressive but not more so than the Bernina Express train route and it takes 8 hours. Because both routes share St. Moritz to Chur, I think you could take the Bernina route and skip the Glacier route. BTW, trains from Chur to Tirano run on the same tracks as the special panoramic train called the Bernina Express but you see the same scenery from regular trains on that route and tickets are less expensive.
If you’re going to Bolzano you might consider taking the 45-minute bus from there up into the Dolomite mountains and stay a couple nights in Castelrotto (Kastelruth in German) where there is spectacular scenery. You could chop a night off Milan and a night off Bologna to have 4 nights in Castelrotto.

Posted by
32964 posts

I've done both and while both are scenic I find that I return to the Bernina line but never the Glacier.

I fond the Glacier route quite repetitive and long. The Bernina line is full of variety.

Posted by
269 posts

Thank you. I’m thinking regular train from Chur to Brig and then pick up Glacier Express for last leg if I can get the schedule to work out.

Posted by
6930 posts

Rather than Chur, I'd stop off for 2 nights in the St Moritz region (Pontresina or Samedan are good bases). Chur is nice but the Engadine valley (name of that region) is stunning.
From there, the easiest way to Zermatt is the Glacier Express. Regional trains are just as slow, and you need to transfer, which is a way to stretch your legs but also an annoyance - your call!

Posted by
269 posts

Great input. I originally was thinking regular train to St. moritz, two days there and then Glacier Express to Zermatt with maybe an over night in Chur to break it up. Then the Bernina came into play. We are coming from Bellagio. I was planning on a standard train from Verrena to St. Moritz.

Thoughts?

Posted by
6930 posts

Ok, I can't post pictures but I'll try to explain.

The Bernina Express and the Glacier Express actually share a relatively long section of route.

The trip from Lake Como to Zermatt uses the following railroads:

  • (Milano)-Varenna-Tirano (🇮🇹-🇨🇭border): Valtellina Railway

  • Tirano-Pontresina-St Moritz: Bernina Railway. Stunning section, used by regional trains and the Bernina Express. Regional train is the simpler choice here (no reservations needed).

  • St Moritz-Samedan-Thusis-Chur: Albula Railway. Almost as scenic as the Bernina Railway, at least until Thusis. Used by the Bernina Express still, and by the Glacier Express as it leaves St Moritz, and by regional trains.

  • Chur-Disentis-Andermatt-Brig-Zermatt: mostly the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn. Only the Glacier Express covers this in one go. Regional trains follow the same route, but you have to change trains at each of the intermediate stations I mention.

So, your original plan already included the Bernina railway, even if you were not aware of it.
Breaking the Glacier Express journey in Chur is not a bad idea if you have a night to spare, as Chur is a lovely town for an afternoon or so. Especially since hiking in the Engadine might be limited and many cable cars might be closed in late April/ early May, so 2 nights will do.

Posted by
269 posts

Balso,

Thank you SO much! I will go forward with this plan - St. Moritz, Chur, Zermatt. Following your tips. We were in Briancon in the French Alps this year mid May too and had very little snow. Nice for us, terrible for Europe this summer.

BTW, always appreciate your input on this forum!

Posted by
269 posts

As I remap this trip, I still have 2 days to play with

Bellagio 3 days. 3rd time here
Train and Bernini Express to St. Moritz 2 days
Chur. 1day.
Glacier Express to Zermatt. 2-days
Murren. 4 days

Thoughts on where to add?

Posted by
6930 posts

Maybe add a night in Zermatt in case the Matterhorn is playing hide-and-seek?

And thank you for this ☺️:

BTW, always appreciate your input on this forum!

Posted by
4465 posts

Youtube is full of vlogs of both the Glacier and Bernina, you could compare and contrast. There's also a Canadian doc about the Glacier, I think it's part of a series called Mighty Trains or such.

My impression from watching videos of the Glacier is that it would be better to stop halfway and spend the night in that town with the nice church. It is possible to get too much train. And as the joke goes, the "Glacier Express" is the slowest "express" you'll ever ride.

Posted by
1442 posts

Dolomites would be beautiful with Castelrotto and Ortisei just one hour by local bus from Bolzano.
I agree with Balso’s suggestion to stay in Pontresina or Samedan, instead of St. Moritz as they are both beautiful alpine towns—far more so than St. Moritz. Pontresina is just a 10-minute train ride from the Morteratsch Glacier which can be reached in a 40-minute flat hike from the Morteratsch train station.

Posted by
269 posts

Great input on St. Moritz. I grew up in ski resorts in the Rockies and there is a sameness about the architecture and developments. I’ll look into these other towns.

Posted by
269 posts

HELP. We already have our flights and always travel shoulder season but as I look at hotels in Zermatt, everything seems to be closed in May. St. Moritz too?

One of the goals of this trip was to ride on the trains from Italy to Switzerland. As I mentioned earlier, we were in French Alps this year and although many things closed, we had no snow and plenty of restaurants and hotel options. We liked the lack of tourists.

Short of rebooking, should we reevaluate at least those two stops. Or just stay one night each and just enjoy the train ride and scenery?

Posted by
6930 posts

Some hotels will be closed in both Zermatt and St Moritz/Pontresina, but not all of them! You will find a place, I'm sure.
Cutting Zermatt to one night is not a good idea in my opinion, because you'll just have long train rides to and from Zermatt for almost nothing.