Never has the old adage, It’s better to travel, than to arrive, been more apt. As beautiful as the resorts of St Moritz and Zermatt are, the journey that links these two Swiss jewels, The Glacier Express, surely proves beyond doubt that it’s the journey, not the destination.
The Glacier Express is an eight hour thrill ride, there’s so much to see and what you do gaze upon, through the panoramic windows, is for the most part, truly awesome and spectacular. During the journey you’ll cross 291 bridges, pass through 91 tunnels and climb over the 2,033m high Oberalp Pass, the scenery is varied and spectacular. The journey is beautiful all year round, so no matter whether you experience the journey is summer or winter, you’re assured of exceptional panoramas.
There’s an option to don headphones and listen to the running commentary, or you can sample some Swiss Folk music but mostly you’ll just want to gaze in awe as the vistas unfold throughout this fabulous journey.
The Glacier Express travels between St Moritz and Zermatt, two stunningly beautiful Swiss resorts, both world renown and not without good reason. St Moritz is situated in a stunning location on the shores of a lake. There’s an old world charm here but St Moritz doesn’t rest on it’s laurels and is no faded star. The resort gained it’s reputation in the 60’s when it was the place to be seen, where you could mingle with the jet set and rub shoulders with celebrities.
Zermatt, on the other hand never had a heyday. This stunning resort was never the flavour of the month, to be passed over when the next resort became fashionable. Zermatt was and always will be timeless, as pretty as a picture, it will always have an eternal appeal. The fascination with Zermatt started 150 years ago, when Edward Whymper donned his climbing boots and became the first climber to conquer the majestic Matterhorn. There’s an air of tranquility in resort aided by the fact that Zermatt is car free. The footfall and birdsong creates a wonderfully calming soundtrack to the delightful charm in resort. Nestled as it is in a natural three sided bowl formed by the mountains on it’s flanks and with the Matterhorn at its head, there’s a cosiness here that feels like an embrace from mother nature.
The Glacier Express started service in 1930, however no through trains were operated between 1943 and 1946, due to World War II and there was further interruption to services in 1991 when a huge landslip just below Zermatt at Randa, completely disconnected the railway and road. Large portions of journey utilises a rack and pinion system both for ascending steep grades and to control the descent of the train on the back side of those gradients. Between 1986 and 1993, the operators invested nearly CHF40 million in constructing 18 new first class panorama cars for the train. By 2005 more than 250,000 passengers were traveling on the Glacier Express each year.
In 2006 a few scenes of the documentary film ‘The Alps’ were shot inside the train, and further new panorama cars were added to the Glacier Express passenger car fleet. In 2008, parts of the route were listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Currently, the Glacier Express is especially popular with tourists from Germany, Japan and India.
Until 1982, the Glacier Express operated only in the summer months, because the Furka Pass and the Oberalp Pass were both snowed over in winter. However, unlike the British trains which grind to a halt at the merest hint of snow, the Swiss overcame this problem and the trains now run throughout the year.
This journey should be on everyone’s bucket list. I’ve done the return journey three times and I’m planning on doing it again later this summer. I’ve done it in both the summer and the winter and I can report that both seasons provided me with equally unforgettable experiences.