The beauty of Switzerland can be best experienced on a train ride aboard the Bernina Express that will take you through some of the most scenic vistas of this beautiful country.
Snowcapped mountains, meadows filled with bright hued wild flowers, lush green pastures and streams and waterfalls that meander their way through the landscape. Sounds like a painting? Welcome to Switzerland, where the majestic Alps and beautiful natural environs make for such pretty sights that it always will seem like a live painting. On a recent visit I had a chance to see the Italian part of Switzerland that is a mélange of cultures with history seeping through modernity. The best way to explore this part of the country is to hop on to the Bernina Express part of the Rhaetian Railway that happens to be a UNESCO World heritage Site (only two other railway lines have this honour).
My first stop is at the charming town of Lugano Switzerland’s third most important financial centre. At the heart of the town is Lake Lugano and being surrounded by San Salvatore and Brè mountains, gives this place a nice salubrious climate through the year. A walk around the town is the best way to explore the town dotted with parks and the colourful flowers blooming all around will surely entice you. The Mediterranean vibe is manifested in the architecture of the buildings here and the central square here is a hub of activity dotted with cafes and restaurants. This is where you can walk on cobble stoned pathways to the exclusive-shopping street Via Nassa that has a motley mix of high street brands like Emporio Armani and Louis Vuitton as well as local boutique stores. I suggest a stop at Coop or Manor Stores for some interesting souvenirs. The gourmet-street Via Pessina is where you can tuck into some local Swiss food. The lakeside promenade and the Park at the end is a riot of colours including flowers like camellias and magnolias apart from a profusion of sub-tropical plants. A unique experience here is eating in a Grotto, a traditional kitchen set amidst a garden that pride themselves on serving only local food and wine.
Hoping on to the Bernina Express Bus that take you along the turquoise blue waters of Lake Como through the Valtellina valley to reach Tirano in Italy, I stop for a quick lunch and gelato before heading to the Brusio Circular Viaduct. This is an engineering marvel a set of nine arches over which the trains ply making for some lovely Instagram worthy images. Walking through the landscape to reach the duct, I stopped at small dome liked stone structures which were used as storage spaces in the past and even today the inside is actually cold, almost feels like a refrigerator. The duct itself is made of stone and is 360 feet long. The red coloured train makes for a stunning visual against the green and brown backdrop. This area is known for its vegetable and fruit farms and the luscious strawberries of this region are a must try.
Continuing my onward journey I reach the quaint village of Poschiavo where the nip in the air is quite palpable. Walking from the train station to my hotel, it is the gushing water from the hills that are channeled into an organized stream that runs through the city that is unmissable here. With narrow cobbled streets, this village is well known for its Spanish quarter with beautiful homes and stunning gardens. The best way is to take a walk here and you can admire the architectural nuances like the windows and detailing on the doors. However it is the myriad hued flowers in the gardens surrounding the homes that make for a stunning visual against the majestic mountains that surround this place. The small town square is home to historic hotels that date back to over a century and serve some lovely meals in an al fresco setting. Located close by the town of Le Prese where a cruise with the Sassalbo boat on the Lago di Poschiavo, the beautiful lake here is an experience in itself. You can also munch on small bites and local cheese and wine on the cruise as you soak in beautiful views of the lake and the mountains. There are small fishing boats which can be hired and you can actually have your catch cooked for lunch or dinner. Le Prese is also home to Raselli Erboriseria, a small enterprise that focuses on organic farming and has fields filled with herbs and flowers. Interestingly, there is a farm here who make the famed Ricola candies that are actually made from a herb grown on the field here.
View from the Top
Continuing my journey, I hop into the Bernina Express to reach Alp Grüm. Interestingly this place can only be accessed by foot or train and some of the most panoramic curves can be seen from here. A short trek will take you up to a view point from where you can see breath taking views of the Poschiavo valley framed in the background by the Bergamasker Alps. In fact simply gazing into the expansive frame of nature where the air is so pure is exhilarating. As I sat at the restaurant writing out postcards for my family I was mesmerized by the sheer stunning beauty of the landscape here. Soon however it was time to head to Pontresina on the Alpine Classic Pullman train. Another quiet town, Pontresina is known for some lovely hotels and resorts that make for a holiday nestled in the lap of nature. The churches have an old world charm and the town itself is known for its hiking trails, cable car rides and sports activities especially winter skiing. Interestingly, this place is known for Ibex sightings as they come down in hordes to graze here. Pontresina is also your getaway to destinations like St Moritz an alpine resort town that has hosted the winter Olympics as well as Muottas Muragl. A funicular train ride takes you over the steep 700 meter climb to the peak from where you can see jaw dropping beautiful views of mountains interspersed with lakes. Naturally cameras go trigger happy here. Looking down from the peak all I feel is an immense sense of happiness; perhaps it is nature’s bounty and I think to myself that the country’s tourism’s tagline is so apt – ‘in love with Switzerland’. What’s not to love?
This story first appeared in The Hans India dated Feb 9, 2020 here: