All Aboard the Glacier Express
Cork screwing across the Swiss Alps from Zermatt to St Moritz, the Glacier Express is one of the great train journeys of the world. In this week's blog, we invite you aboard.
A Brief History
In the 1920s, once isolated Swiss mountain villages such as Zermatt and St. Moritz were transformed into cosmopolitan resort towns as well to do society discovered the many charms of the Alps. Railway companies were quick to capitalise on the tourism potential of their various lines over the mountains and, on 25th June 1930, the now world-famous Glacier Express made its inaugural journey from Zermatt to St. Moritz. The trains were composed of elegant parlour and passenger cars with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd classes, along with dining cars on the St. Moritz – Disentis route.
Electric operation was introduced on the Furka-Oberalp network in the early 1940s, but World War II meant the express service was suspended in 1943. When the line reopened in 1948, the Glacier Express had lots its elegant parlour cars, but had gained dining carriages all the way to the Oberalp Pass. By the 1960s, it was possible to dine all the way to Andermatt.
Technological advances in the 1950s and 1960s led to shorter travel times and, on 26th June 1982, the completion of the 15km long Furka Base Tunnel between Oberalp and Realp meant the Glacier Express could finally run all year round.
Today’s Glacier Express is a perfect combination of tradition and modernity. Cutting edge technology and large-scale investments in infrastructure has led to benefits such as climate-controlled carriages with panoramic windows that extend to the roof line, while the dining cars hark back to a slower, more elegant age of travel. Guests who treat themselves to ‘Excellence Class’ can indulge in a seven-course banquet served on tables dressed in the crispest linen.
The View from the Windows
Even the train’s designers would agree that the Glacier Express is really about what lies outside those panoramic windows. This is one of the world’s most beautiful railway journeys. Travelling 300km from Zermatt to St Moritz, the route takes you through ancient gorges and 91 perfectly engineered tunnels and over 291 beautiful bridges and six breathtaking viaducts. Perching on six limestone arches rising 65m from the valley floor, Landwasser is the most breathtaking of all. Speed is not important – averaging 42km per hour, the Glacier Express is proudly the ‘slowest express train in the world’. Which means there is plenty of time for photographs – watch out for the moments the narrow-gauge railway takes a tight bend offering a view of the bright red train corkscrewing ahead of you.
The highest stretch of the journey is from Andermatt to Chur, where the Oberalp Pass begins. As the train winds its up to the summit of the pass at 2034m, travellers are treated to spectacular views of the entire Urseren valley and Gemsstock mountain.
In spring, there are carpets of wildflowers, in summer all is green, turning to orange and gold in autumn. Come winter, the landscape is a sparkling, icy wonderland stretching as far as the eye can see. And always it is magical!
Come and experience this incredible journey on our 2024 Festive Holiday to the Swiss Alps