Bernina Pass

A Winter’s Day on the Bernina Pass

Layered snow on Bernina pass.

In February 2011 I spent a few days in Rome and Sicily and on my way back home decided to make a short visit to Bernina Railway in Switzerland. This should be the first time for me to go there during winter and I didn’t really know what would await me – except for loads of snow, of course.

One of the new and rather splendid “Allegra” EMU arrives in Tirano with a Regio from St Moritz.

Over 100 years old: Class Ge 2/2 shunter 161 at Tirano RhB station. In the background the station building of the Trenitalia/Trenord station is visible.

Tirano, the southern terminus of Bernina railway is just about two hours away from Milan. After I spent almost 20 hours on the ICN from Palermo and arrived around noon, I took a regional train from Milano Centrale to Tirano which brought me to the small city in little over two hours. There, I had enough time to change stations (the Trenitalia and RhB stations are adjacent in the centre of the town) and even make a photo of the southbound train coming from St Moritz which would then return to th famous Engadin resort town and take me to Ospizio Bernina. The day before I still was at Palermo, enjoying the mild temperatures and the sun, now  in Tirano it was dark, grey and rather chilly so I was hoping for better weather the follwing day.

From Miralago to Le Prese the railway runs along Lago di Poschiavo.

Ospizio Bernina station in the fog.

Finally, I emerged the train at Ospizio Bernina. Now I would only have my way to Albergo Ospizio Bernina, my hotel a few metres up on the hill. However, I somehow underestimated what it means to trudge through the snow up the hill with my two backpacks. Two steps forward, one step back… The thick fog and the fact that it was getting dark quickly were not really encouraging either so at one point I thought that it would be better to return to the station if I didn’s see the Albergo within the next few mintues. Finally, I made it to the hotel and got a bed in a big dormitory for about 40€ including breakfast.

While dinner was served downstairs (too expensive for me…) I had a look around the massive building and finally ended up watching TV in the common room. Honestly, there is not much else to do up there in the evening…later, I was joined by an elderly German gentleman who turned out to spend his vacation here every year and could tell countless stories about St Moritz upper class which he seemed to know thoroughly.

Good morning!

Just after surise.

Piz Carale, Piz Cambrena and Piz d’Arlas (left to right), below under snow and ice Lago Bianco.

The next day I got up quite early to enjoy sunrise. Before breakfast, I went outside to get some pictures of the stunning scenery and to check if it would already be possible to get some train photos but the tracks along the Lago Bianco were still in the shadow, so I had to content myself with the landscape shots. I went back to the warmth of the hotel to get breakfast and then checkout and store my luggage at the reception.

2309 metres a. s. l.: Albergo Ospizio Bernina

After breakfast, I decided to walk along the road to the north since it runs more or less parallel to the tracks in that area which made it easier for me to get to a nice photo spot. Indeed I got a good photo of a northbound Regio but then returned back along the road since I wanted to capture the next train at a particular spot next to the hotel.

Having left Ospizio Bernina just a few minutes ago, this Regio now heads down to St Moritz.

During the winter, a lot of effort is needed to keep both road and railway clear of snow.

Did I mention that it can snow quite a bit up here?

The path from the station up to the Hospiz.

My lookout.

Bernina Express on its way to St Moritz.

I had my shot, and decided to go to Alp Grüm with the next train. My eyes already hurt since I had no sunglasses and getting to other places along the tracks seemed almost impossible due to the high snow.I had been to Alp Grüm before and knew that you can get some nice views in the vicinity of the station.

A Regio arrives Ospizio Bernina at 2253 metres above sea level. This makes the Bernina railway the highest railway across the Alps.

Right after Alp Grüm station, the line describes a sharp 180° bend and continues its 70 percent decline to the Valposchiavo, visible in the background.

Albergo/Ristorante Alp Grüm.

Alp Grüm is a popular stop for hiking tours along the Bernina line. During the snow-free season you can easily walk on a well-signed path from Ospizio Bernina station along Lago Bianco down to Alp Grüm. If you are in no hurry, this will take around two hours. During the winter, you would surely need snow shoes to do this.

After I made some photos around the station I spend the rest of the time waiting for the train back to Ospizio Bernina in the fine restaurant inside the station building. If you want to, you can also stay overnight here and enjoy the views of Piz Bernina and the Valposchiavo.

“My” train arrives at Alp Grüm.

Palü Glacier seen from the train.

On the way back to Ospizio Bernina.

The south dam of Lago Bianco as seen from the train between Alp Grüm and Ospizio Bernina.

Southbound Bernina Express.

Fortified by snack at Alp Grüm I now trudged as far as I could to another photo spot near Ospizio Bernina station. I “walked” until I was stuck almost hip-high in the snow and was rewarded with a magnificent view over snow-covered Lago Bianco and Lej Nair and the surrounding mountains. As it was not possible to go along any further I had to turn around and return to firm ground. Once again I walked along the road and then took the path to the north dam of Lago Bianco. This path crosses the tracks close to the European watershed that separates the drainage basins of Danube and Po. Soon, two trains passed by and I could go back to the station. My eyes desparately needed some shadow – next time I will surely take sunglasses with me, that’s for sure!

The watershed between the Po (Adriatic) and the Danube (Black Sea) is just north of Lago Bianco.

A Regio to St Moritz has just left Ospizio Bernina…

…and will pass the watershed in a few seconds.

Not much to say here.

On the way back to the station I could barely believe my sore eyes as I saw something yellow on the railway along the lake: It was one of the two vintage ABe 4/4 I railcars, dating back to 1908, the opening year of the Bernina line! If I had waited just a few minutes longer at the place I have been before…but alas, you’re not always lucky I guess.

Who can spot the vintage ABe 4/4 I?

Ospizio Bernina station.

I spent an hour or so at the station so my eyes could recover a bit, then left again for two more photos before I went to the hostel to get my stuff and board a train that would bring me down to Pontresina. From there, I started my long trip back home: I had to change in Samedan, Chur, Sargans and Feldkirch before I could finally board the night train back to Graz. In Feldkirch I met a friend who just came back from his InterRail trip through France, Portugal and Spain which made the long trip through the night much more fun.

The Bernina Railway definitely is one of the most fascinating lines in Europe and I would recommend everyone to spend one or two days there.

A Regio along the shore of Lago Bianco. Above the train the Bernina road is barely visible.

The shadows are getting longer.

One last shot. ;)

Bernina Pass timings:

St Moritz – Tirano, including St Moritz Bernina Express trains

Tirano – St Moritz, including St Moritz Bernina Express trains

Davos – Tirano Bernina Express

Tirano – Davos Bernina Express

Chur – Tirano Bernina Express

Tirano – Chur Bernina Express