Following on from last weeks rail based Adventure of the Week, we are sticking to the train line and going for a dramatic hike based around what many people quote as the ‘Greatest Rail Journey on Planet Earth.’ Bold claim and indeed the West Highland Line is up there too, but taking a train through the Swiss Alps is like taking a trip through a fairytale. So, all aboard, let’s check out The Glacier Express Rail and Hike.
This adventure is a twin-centre hiking trip in the Swiss Alps, linked together by a journey on the Glacier Express. Staying three nights in delightful Pontresina, exploring its Alpine surroundings, you then board the Glacier Express for an unforgettable day on a train. You then spend the remaining four days in the Swiss Alpine heartland of Zermatt.
Distance: The daily distances on this trip vary from 5km up to 15km. With the outstanding way that Swiss trails are waymarked, you can always add a little extra or take away from your daily walking. Also, having the fantastic, free Macs App, will help you plan additional routes and make sure you don’t get lost.
Grade: We have graded this trip as Easy to Moderate. While the daily distances can be small, you are still walking in the Swiss Alps, so there are some ups and downs. However, as I mentioned before, the waymarking is impeccable, and you don’t really have to worry about navigation. With the notes we provide and the signposting, this is a dream region to explore on foot.
The trip begins in Pontresina. Located at an altitude of 1,800m Pontresina has a luxurious feel, with its Swiss pine restaurants and gourmet cuisine. With all the luxe of St. Moritz without the crowds and a more compact town centre, Pontresina is the perfect base from which to explore the Engadine. You spend your final nights in Zermatt, a renowned mountaineering centre and Alpine hub. Wander around the car-free centre and grab some classic Swiss food like roesti or fondue in one of the many restaurants in the village.
Firstly, let’s focus on the Glacier Express itself. On day 4 of your trip, you will board ‘the slowest express train in the world’ for an 8-hour journey through the unforgettable Alpine scenery. It covers 90km, and with views like this, there is no need to rush! Cross the Swiss Alps, 291 bridges, through 91 tunnels and the Oberalp Pass at 2,033m. Lunch is included today and is served directly to your seat so you won’t miss a second of the panoramic views.
It is not only the drama and grandeur that will impress. The Swiss Alps have this ethereal sense of unreality about them. Their perfection, symmetry and cleanliness all give an air of surrealism as if you are travelling through a dream, or someone’s perfect vision of what mountain scenery should be. Every stone on the ground looks like it has been cleaned and placed precisely where it should go. A testament to the glory of nature and one which you will never forget.
Then there are the two towns. Pontresina is a quieter, more authentic version of St Moritz. It has all the glamour and splendour but lacks the crowds. You can immerse yourself in the ideal Alpine surroundings and eat and drink like a local surrounded by traditional Engadine houses and the elegance of large hotels of the Belle Époque. Zermatt is a real walkers paradise. The whole town is geared towards making the most of the outdoors. The surrounding area boasts 38 peaks over 4,000 meters and retains its original Valais mountain village character.
The walking on this trip is simply breathtaking, without actually taking too much breath to do the walks. We have tailored this adventure so that the focus is getting the best of the area, without expending too much energy. You will do enough exercise to justify that raclette at lunch, or that additional bottle of Swiss wine (a little know highlight) but nothing that will lead to aches and pains. You get to explore the Engadine valley and the base of the Matterhorn, two iconic, expansive areas of Alpine wonder.
The season for the Glacier Express Rail & Hike is reasonably short, from the end of June to the end of September. Basically, when the snow clears the tracks and trails, we can get you out walking here.
Flying into Zurich or Bern, you can take a couple of trains to get to Pontresina. All train travel in Switzerland is a dream come true. Sparklingly clean, always on time and so silent that you feel you are gliding along through the countryside.