Expatica’s country editors offer their travel tips for their respective countries. This week, we ride on the Bernina Express through the Swiss-Italian Alps.
Life does not always run in a nice, straight line. There are also bends, curves and the occasional obstacle to negotiate.
Or so they say at the Rhätische Bahn, the network of trains that includes the Bernina Express, the only way to cross the Alps from north to south by railway. Traveling on some of the world’s most beautiful railway routes, its panorama train cars have tall vertical windows, so that looking in any direction assures you of a spectacular view. It’s simply a photographer’s heaven (aside from the reflections of fellow passengers off the glass). The trains are unique; not only with their observation coaches, but also in that they can reach elevations and inclines that normal trains can not.
The Bernina Express
In a matter of four hours, you pass through mountain forests in the wild Albula Valley, see snowy summits of the Bernina mountain range, snap shots of green rolling pastures, “white” lakes, massive glaciers and pass over legendary viaducts with their tall elegant arches, like the 450-foot (137-metre) long Landwasser Viaduct above. The view of its 300-foot (91-metre) arches is seen on every postcard in the region and on any promotional piece for the trains… with reason. Watching the back of the train pass over the viaduct is truly a sight to see, but hurry, because after the last arch, you go into a 200-yard (183-metre) tunnel, tunnels abound when traversing the Alps!
Stopping off in Italian villages
We hopped off at Poschiavo just before the Italian border, in what turned out to be the most charming of Italian villages right out of an Italian storybook. And on a Sunday in the middle of August, you could not find a more peaceful village to stroll around in for a two hour break, before taking the Bernina back up north on the same route. So following our Brötli and Gipfeli (bread rolls and croissants) for breakfast on the train heading out of Zürich, it was then pasta and gelato for lunch. If not for the unmistakable Swiss flags looming over the pocket-sized main square, you would be sure to have already landed in Italy. A quick glance around, and you’ll see the signs for the pasticceria and gelateria, the groups of Italian men lazing about with their espressos, watching the Swiss Italian women stroll by, children chasing each other around a beautiful stone fountain, and you’ll hear the sounds of romantic Italian floating through the air.
Lunch at the Hotel Albrici
Once again, a Sunday afternoon in August didn’t leave us with too many choices for lunch. So it was the restaurant on the left, or the one on the right. We chose the right, where there seemed to be more locals, lounging about with their plates of paper-thin pizzas and calzones the size of footballs. The Hotel Albrici has been in that spot since 1862, a family-run hotel with a spot on its terrace in or out of the sun, calling out at you as you approach. The menu, in Italian and German, was extremely thorough, with two full pages of pizza alone, 40 varieties with any and every ingredient you could hope for. The Pizza Americano had tomatoes, cheese and French fries. I’ve never seen Americans eat French fries on their pizza, but that’s just me.
It was a fresh insalata verde for me with endives, grated carrots, corn and sunflower seeds. And a plate of spaghetti with olive oil, tomatoes, peppers and, in my husband’s words, a LOT of garlic for him. A little touch of basil and diced tomatoes on the borders of the modern-shaped plates made for a nice presentation. Fresh ingredients and super fast service – that is, in getting the food. Thereafter, good luck trying to get the check!
Desserts at Caffe Semadeni Garni
A walk up and down the charming paved streets and back to the same square for dessert. This time, we went to the place on the left, with its menu of desserts hanging outside. When in Rome…! Gelato it was, and huge sundae glasses filled with it. We both went for the meringue flavor, which was really stracciatella with bits of crushed meringue and nuts. Delicious nonetheless. And then back on the train, where I spent almost all four hours in a little nook I discovered. Between two train cars there were small windows that could be opened. So it was, four hours that I had my head, or at least my camera, out of two windows, switching back and forth between them, watching the train curve along the tracks, wind and sun hitting my face, and certainly no reflections on those photos!
Plazza da Cumün 137
Caffe Semadeni Garni
Plazza da Cumün
Text and photos: Kerrin of MyKugelhopf