The way is up

The way is up

What better way to enjoy breathtaking scenery year-round than a ride on the Bernina Express? Better known as the 'Little Red Train' or the train that scales the mountains, it is a truly historic feat of engineering. Built more than 1,000 years ago, the train still climbs up to the 2,235-metre-high Bernina Pass. Visiting the picturesque St Moritz, one of the most famous holiday resorts in the world, is the climax of the ride on this route.

From Milano, taking a bus to Tirano is a spectacular drive. The towns we pass by are Seregona (famous for furniture designs), Lissona, Lecco - we pass a long tunnel at the end of which Lake Como comes into view. It's the eastern side of the Alps, and the sight takes one's breath away.

We pass Bormio, the wine village, also known for its Alpine cheeses, and Bitto, known for its cheese specialities.These two towns are UNESCO-tagged as red-wine gastronomy centres. Apples are grown in plenty on the hill slopes, so these places are famous for apple pies, too. Terraced vineyards are seen all along.

Lake Como is one of Lombard's most lush, picturesque areas, though famed as a favourite haunt of international jet-set celebrities. Como and its innumerable villages nestling on the shores of the lake retain an intimate, welcoming atmosphere.

The city of Como, surrounded by softly rolling morainic hills and medieval walls, with delightful hidden corners and landmark monuments, presents a romantic atmosphere. However, its point of pride is the lake, featuring a number of stunning shore-side villas and breathtaking landscapes.

We proceed on the highway, east side coast to the north, passing the renowned Italian valley, Veltlin, which spreads in a  wide curve into the mountains of Graubünden.

At Tirano, Porta Milanese, Porta Bormina, Porta Poschiavina, the names of its medieval gates, continue to stress the strategic importance of the town. Tirano, which was once part of Graubünden, offers a heady and varied mix of historical treasures, like the Pilgrimage Church of Madonna di Tirano, and a rich culinary heritage. The 17th-Century Renaissance Church of Our Lady of Tirano is worth viewing. The doors open into a well-lit prayer hall, where pilgrims light candles and leave a memento of their dear ones.

Journey begins

We get into the Bernina Express at the Tirano Railway Station. The Rhaetian Railway or the Rhatische Bahn, as it is locally called, is the largest train operator in the Swiss Alps, famous for its unique mountain routes and services like the Glacier and Bernina Express lines. It has a 125-year-long history of supplying top-class rail travel experiences throughout Switzerland's trilingual canton of Graubünden.

The railway is unique, blending ideally with the Alpine landscapes. The train negotiates 55 tunnels, 196 bridges and an incline of up to 70 km per mile with ease. At the highest point on the Rhatische Bahn, 2,253 metres above sea level, you will find the Ospizio Bernina. Here, one can enjoy the Alps at its most impressive.

The Bernina is the only Swiss railway to operate a line top of the Alps - the highest-altitude railway. The journey from Tirano, which lies at an altitude of around 429 metres, takes you to the glaciers of the Bernina Pass, situated at almost 2,253 metres above sea level.

The difference in altitude of nearly 1,824 metres between Ospizio Bernina and Tirano is covered in a spectacular manner ­ ­ ­- over a horizontal distance of just 22 km without the use of cog wheels, considered a masterpiece of engineering, despite having to tackle gradients of up to one in seven, giving passengers truly breathtaking views of the imposing peaks of Graubünden - along with its ancient glaciers and beautiful mountain valleys.

It has been on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites since 2008. The Brusio Spiral Viaduct is considered the most spectacular construction on the Bernina Line, along with the Landwasser Viaduct, helical tunnels. The two-hour-long journey passes through alpine villages, while we enjoy fresh air and great views through the extra-large windows. The panoramic train cars offer unimpeded views of the fairytale winter landscape - from Tirano to St Moritz via Poschiavo. Stopping at quaint stations is an added thrill.

St Moritz is the place where the first skating school is located. The first Winter Games was held in 1878. One can view the whole of Europe from St Moritz. Many James Bond movies were also shot here in 1964 and 1981.

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