Day 26 – Bernina Express to Lugano

Today we left the mountains of St. Moritz and journeyed to beautiful Lugano. To make the trip, we chose to go by the Bernina Express; it’s another of the wonderful panoramic trains offered by the Swiss.

After checking out, we used the hotel shuttle to go to the train station. The skies were looking a tad ominous and it was chilly. When we arrived the train was already in the station being readied for the trip. We waited on the platform for a few minutes chatting with a German couple who were taking the train to Tirano and then returning to St. Moritz.

Once they gave the signal, we boarded the train to get out of the chill. We still had about twenty minutes before we left and carriage slowly filled with people and luggage. We had the right side with the two window seats, so the views should be nice.

Right on time the train left the station and we were off.

The train takes about two and a half hours and you don’t want to look away from the window for a minute or you’ll miss the stunning scenery. Ok, that was a little exaggerated – you don’t see much when going through some of the tunnels.

However, even the tunnels are incredible when you realize what it must have been like tunneling through the mountains at that altitude and along the cliffs. Heck, I can’t even walk on the curb without stumbling.

The train travels up from St. Moritz to Ospizio Bernina at 2253 meters and then makes its way down to Tirano at 429 meters. You travel through the towering mountain glaciers, pass by mountain lakes, cut through valleys and end up among palm trees in Tirano.

So here are a few highlights and then I’ll post some pictures. Again, most of the pictures are through the train windows, so pardon the reflections.

  • As the train travels up to Ospizio Bernina and you can see the way the glaciers have flowed over the ages.
  • The lakes high in the mountains with their clean, clear water.
  • Gazing down into the valleys from high above.
  • The buildings high up in the mountains with no visible means to get up there.
  • The monkeys racing along the train. (just kidding – I wanted to see if you were just skimming or really reading this)
  • The high stone bridges.
  • The spiral aqueduct in Brusio.
  • The train traveling down the middle of the street like a tram in Le Preso.

Ok, and now pictures.

The end point of the journey is Tirano, Italy. It looked very pleasant, but for us it is just a change point. The second part for us will be on the Bernina Express Bus.

The bus will take us from Tirano, Italy to Lugano, Switzerland in about 3 hours with, no worries, a stop for the toilets and coffee along the way.

The bus route winds through many small towns along narrow twisting roads and along Lake Como and then Lake Lugano. We ran into patches of rain along the way, but not enough to distract from the scenery. We sat in the first row and were able to experience the drive without actually having to take the wheel.

Kudos to our driver for safely maneuvering the roads and hairpin turns while having to watch out for some of the idiot drivers and motorcyclists. I would have ended up with laryngitis from yelling, while he just calmly took it in stride.

Here are a few pics through the front window along the way.

When we arrived in Lugano, it was warm and sunny. We grabbed a taxi to get to our hotel and ten minutes later, we were there.

We are staying at the Hotel International Au Lac, located right on the waterfront. It’s a beautiful old hotel, close to shops and restaurants and especially close to the lake.

Our room is on the fourth floor and is very nice. It is a decent size, has a nice comfortable bed, two chairs, a desk and two windows that open onto matching balconies. Oh, and with an awesome view of the lake.

We were really pleased with the room and could have just gazed at the lake all evening. However, we were both hungry.

For dinner we went to an Italian restaurant called ‘Ristorante Galleria’. Nice place, but we had a little trouble finding it as one of the piazzas was under some construction. A little help from google maps got us there on time though.

We had a nice table inside, which happened to have a/c, as it was still warm and humid outside. As others filtered in, we laughingly said we were in the English room. The only difference was we were able to order in Italian and say a few other things unlike our roommates.

Our favorite comment of the trip came from a couple sitting at the next table, who live in North Carolina. After we ordered and made very small talk with the waiter, they asked where we were from and if we live here now. I guess our Italian is getting better.

Dinner was a caprese salad for both of us, then Sue had penne pasta with salmon and prawns, while I had linguine with chunks of lobster – all paired with a bottle of Arneis from the Roero region of Piedmont. Dessert was tiramisu for Sue and a glass of limoncello, while I had a Creme Caramel and a glass of Vin Santo.

The evening was beautiful and the sun was setting over the lake, so we took a pleasant stroll and then found a bench to just watch the water.

We headed back to the hotel to relax after a long, but excellent day.

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Day 25 – St. Moritz Lake and a little rest

We woke up to another beautiful morning. It looks like a nice day to enjoy some sunshine before the afternoon rain comes along.

We cleaned up and went down for breakfast. The breakfast room looks like it was a dining room of a restaurant at one time. They have a nice variety of food for breakfast and there always seems to be plenty no matter what time you arrive.

I love the fresh breads with jam or cheese each morning, along with my orange juice. I’m the simple one; they also have Sue’s yogurt, various fresh fruits, meats, cereals, eggs, sausage, bacon, pastries and juices. If you can’t find something you like, you are not trying.

Anyways, after breakfast we went out for a walk down by the lake. The lake is basically two levels down from where we are located. The ritzy hotels either have rooms that face the lake or have rooms high enough to view the lake over other buildings.

At $650 a night, those better be great views

If you are just one of the little people, St. Moritz has you covered. They have installed escalators to take you down to the lake level from the town center level. If escalators are a problem for you, the also have an inclinator, which is basically an elevator that goes up and down at an angle.

The Inclinator to the lake

We walked around the lake for a bit then headed back the other direction. A complete lap of the lake takes about an hour and a half. The fresh air was great and was cool enough in the morning to be refreshing.


St. Moritz is about a mile above sea level and I can really feel it. After a bit of activity I find myself having to catch my breath. I may not be an athlete, but I’m not that out of shape – jeesh!

After walking and taking some pictures, we headed back to the hotel.

The Palace Hotel

Having money doesn’t mean you have good taste

For the first time, I had to admit I was in pain and needed to rest my back for a while. It felt good to just be lazy today. We’ve been on the go for four weeks already and tomorrow we’ll be on the move again.

While catching up on things and reading, we could hear the rumbling of thunder in the distance. The skies darkened with clouds and before you knew it, the rain arrived. It rained pretty hard for a while with a couple flashes of lightning and some thunder.

We had 7:00 pm dinner reservations and we were hoping there would be a break so we wouldn’t get drenched. Luckily, there was a break in the rain as we were getting ready to go. The surprising thing was the temperature dropped over ten degrees after the rain passed through and it was actually chilly out.

We ate dinner at a restaurant called ‘Acla’ located in the Hotel Schweizerhof. The food was very good and it was busy. Sue had a pasta dish, similar to tortellini, that was cooked in a sage butter sauce and I had lamb chops. We both went with a salad to start to keep the meal a little lighter… and to save room for the tiramisu.

A quick walk to an ATM to save some time in the morning and then a quick walk back to the hotel finished off our day. A little bit of packing and then an early night as we need to get up early tomorrow for our train.

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Day 24 – Sunny day in St. Moritz

After last evening’s rain, we woke up to a sunny day with blues skies and just a few puffy white clouds. I see some walking in our future.

We went down to breakfast and then stopped by the front desk to ask about a travel pass that was mentioned at check-in. The woman quickly took care of the passes for us and then went on to tell us how to use them. It turns out they not only provide us with free bus rides, but also cover the cost of funiculars and cable cars.

We asked about places she might recommend and she ended up giving us some suggestions and maps to get us there. She was extremely friendly and helpful. If not for her, we would have just wandered around the town close to the hotel.

Her primary suggestion was to visit the ski area at Corviglia or maybe the mountain peak Piz Nair. So off we went.

Our day’s adventure started with a short walk over to the first step, a funicular from St. Moritz up to Chanterella. At Chanterella, we changed to another funicular to go up to Corviglia. Once up at Corviglia, you transfer to a cable car that takes you to the peak – Piz Nair.

At Corviglia, there is a restaurant / lounge for a bite to eat or a drink while taking in the views. It’s also the starting point for many hikers and mountain bikers.

Next came a ride to the peak on the cable car. It moves swiftly, yet smoothly so you don’t really realize how high up you’re going until you get there. The scenery was beautiful all the way up. We even passed by a group of hikers that didn’t look like they were on the beginner’s path.

No handrails, no steps – no way!

When you arrive at the top, there is a walkway that lets you see the surroundings from every angle. The peak mascot is immortalized with a statue overlooking the peaks and valley below. The views were amazing.

After being dazzled by the views and refreshed by the Prosecco, we headed back down to town. They really make it easy for tourists or hikers to move around and I’m sure in the winter, the skiers find it just as convenient.

The area we are in has a small concentration of hotels, as well as shops and restaurants. We walked around doing some window shopping and located our restaurant for later in the evening. Knowing that we would be eating in a short time, we bravely walked past the gelato shop without even shaking.

A quick clean up at the hotel and we were on our way back to the restaurant. Having scoped it out, it literally took about seven minutes to walk over. The restaurant is called ‘Dal Mulin’ and has been recommended and praised, so we were anxious to try it out.

We were greeted warmly when we arrived and given a nice table in the front. No tourist table by the bathroom. Yay! The restaurant filled up quickly with mostly locals or people who spoke German very well.

We started with a glass of champagne to celebrate being in St. Moritz before ordering. Everything on the menu looked good, but we were both ready for some fish since we’ve been eating lots of meat along the way. Sue had a clear tomato broth with mozzarella-filled ravioli and I had the gazpacho to start – both were very good. For our mains, we both went with the turbot accompanied by gnocchi and an aubergine mix. It was delicious! We paired our meals with a bottle of Swiss Chardonnay from the Lavaux region that was very nice.

The outside of Dal Mulin

The inside of Dal Mulin

The yummy side of Dal Mulin

It was a beautiful evening, so we took an arm-in-arm stroll back to the hotel. I know it’s off-season, but the streets were empty as if they were just for us.

Arriving back at the hotel, we stopped for a nightcap before heading up to the room. It was a great day and St. Moritz is very pleasant so far.

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Day 23 – St. Moritz via the Glacier Express

Zermatt was delightful, but now it’s time to head to St. Moritz. Our vacation time is disappearing faster than a bottle of Rosé on a sunny day.

Woke up this morning to beautiful clear, blue skies. We looked out the window and enjoyed the best view of the Matterhorn since our arrival.

Went downstairs to check-out and get a ride to the train station. Our driver was the hotel owner and he was very happy with our comments about the hotel and our stay in Zermatt.

When we arrived, the train was already at the platform. We are traveling on the ‘Glacier Express’ – another of the panoramic trains. This one is also called ‘The Slowest Express Train in Switzerland’. To enjoy the scenery all along the route, the train travels slowly across its 290 km (180 mi) journey, taking approximately 8 hours to get from Zermatt to St Moritz.

Along the way, the train travels through 91 tunnels and crosses 291 bridges, including many old stone bridges and aqueducts. It’s not a flat landscape either. We started off at Zermatt at an elevation of 5,263 ft, then head down to Brig at 2,202 ft before reaching the top of the Oberland Pass at 6,670 ft. From there, we once again descend down to as low as 1,919 ft before climbing back up to St. Moritz at 5,824 ft. Expect a little ear-popping along the way.

As it is a long journey, there is meal service available as well as a panoramic bar car. The food and beverage service was excellent as was the food itself.

Glacier Salads

Our seat mates for the journey were a wonderful couple from Capetown, South Africa – Janet and Frank. We really enjoyed chatting and over an eight hour period shared quite a few laughs. They own a mountain coaster in Capetown called ‘Cool Runnings’ and are frequent travelers. It was very nice meeting them.

My only criticism is that with the panoramic windows, it’s best to just sit back and enjoy the view because taking pictures with the glare is frustrating. Below are a few pictures that we did take, but keep in mind that they are through the windows.

After a long, but delightful train journey, we arrived in St. Moritz. We bid goodbye to Janet and Frank and then looked for the shuttle that the hotel provided for us. The driver was there and waiting for us.

We are staying at the Hotel Steffani, located right in the center of St. Moritz. It is an old -school, family-owned luxury hotel that opened in the 1890’s. They have recently gone through a renovation and the hotel is just what we wanted.

Our room was ready when we arrived and we received a complimentary upgrade. The room decor is very alpine with light wood trimming just about everything. There is a nice big bed, a desk area, good-sized sink area and a large walk-in shower, plus a soaking tub. We have a large balcony with two chairs and two doors to provide access. We were quite happy with the room.

While checking in, we made reservations to eat at the hotel restaurant – ‘La Lapin Bleu’ at 7:30 to give us a chance to put our feet up and relax.

We opened up the doors to the balcony for a combination of fresh air and to let in the music. We happen to be here during the ‘Festival Da Jazz’ and one of the outdoor stages is nearby. It was delightful way to relax.

As the time neared for dinner, we cleaned up and made our way down to the restaurant. We had a very friendly and patient waiter who guided us along with our German-ish language skills. We had a delicious meal and an excellent bottle of wine to pair with it.

Afterwards, we headed up to the room. I was tired and fell asleep instantly while ‘resting my eyes’.

Oh… Happy 4th of July to our friends back in the US !

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Day 22 – Strolling through the streets of Zermatt

It’s our last day here, so today we’re walking around Zermatt to see a little bit of the town. Everything I read about is centered around the Matterhorn and skiing, but the town is really charming and deserves to be explored.

From our hotel we walked down the street until it connected to the Bahnhofstrasse, which is the street where the railway station is located.

Just before we reached the Bahnhofstrasse, we came across a church with a mountaineers cemetery. It’s sad to see that the age of many of the people laid to rest is 20-something. That age of invincibility didn’t pan out for the adventurers. It’s also surprising to see that most of them died descending the mountain and not ascending.

At the corner we saw three Alphorn players carrying their instruments down the street. Given the size, I would definitely volunteer to play the triangle in that band!

The alpine styling of the buildings combined with the mountains in the background is something to behold. You really feel like you are walking through a storybook town.

Dam – look at all the beavers!

We walked down the street checking out all the little shops and doing some major people watching. After stopping in many little shops, we found one that had some perfect souvenirs. We ended up buying two Christmas ornaments and a small cowbell. Sue has promised not to make me wear the bell so she always knows where I am.

Next we stopped at the Gornergrat railway station for a picture with Wolli.

We also stopped at the Laderach Chocolate shop. Just a step through the doors and you hoped it will be what heaven smells like. We looked around at all the treats and settled on a piece of milk chocolate with three different nuts – hazel nuts, pistachios and almonds. I was gonna take a picture, but like magic, it disappeared. Next time!

From there we took a quick walk over to the train station to scope out the platforms for tomorrow’s departure to St Moritz. The Glacier Express has its own platform, so it will be no problem finding it and boarding. And we have the always helpful Wolli in case we get lost.

We were lucky enough to run into the Matterhorn’s little brother on the way back towards the hotel. He really wants to grow up big like his older brother and his favorite movie is “Rocky”.

Matterhorn Jr hanging out in Zermatt

Not far from our hotel is one of the original buildings from the 1800’s. Noticed the thick granite roof.

Back to the hotel afterwards to update the blog and relax before dinner. Hard to believe that the rain has held off while we were walking, but it did start once we were back in the room. In fact, it rained really hard for a while.

Our dinner tonight was at Restaurant Julen, which is right across the street from our hotel. When dinner time came, we dashed across the street between the raindrops.

Dinner was very good, as was the wine and the service. The restaurant specializes in lamb dishes, so that’s what we chose. Sue had a lamb shank and I had a rack of lamb. Both were delicious and very filling.

We were ready to make a mad dash across the street after dinner, but the rain had briefly stopped. We walked back and relaxed in the hotel for the rest of the evening.

There really isn’t much in the way of nightlife aside from a few people hanging out at some of the bars. Even the lounges in the hotels have been quiet along the way. No matter though, I have been a bit tired after walking around during the day and I think the altitude might be playing into it too.

Tomorrow we move on once again.

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Day 21 – Gornergrat and the Matterhorn

Today we’ll get as close to the Matterhorn as we can without climbing it. If only I had brought my boots.

It rained overnight, but the morning only looked slightly overcast. We went down for breakfast and to check the webcams from the nearby mountains. Though there are some clouds, we decided to head for the hills.

We walked from the hotel down to the train station. The Gornergrat Railway is located right across the street from the main train station.

Our timing was perfect as unknowingly, we arrived with just four minutes before the train departed. We already had our tickets, so we just had to go through the turnstiles and climb aboard.

Well, we used our “Wondertwin Powers” but still couldn’t figure out where to scan our tickets. The security guy did a great job of not laughing right in front of us, but we must have looked like we were from the ‘Midvale School for the Gifted’. Turns out there wasn’t a separate scanner – you just hold your ticket against the side panel. Oh well, live and learn – we’ll ace it on the way back!

On to the train and off we went. The Gornergrat Railway has been running since 1898 and connects the town of Zermatt with the summit of the Gornergrat. At 10,135 ft, it is the second highest railway after the Jungfrau that we took in Interlaken.

There are five stops along the rail line, most leading to alpine hotels or hiking trails. Most people seem to ride to the summit and then hike down from various stops along the way. While an easy way to reach the summit, the train is not inexpensive. Without a discount pass of some kind, it is $114 round trip per person. Our Swiss Travel Pass gave us a 50% discount on the tickets.

Along the way, the scenery is absolutely gorgeous. Mountains, valleys, waterfalls, alpine homes and grazing sheep and cows can be seen in every direction. The recommended place to sit on the train is on the right when going up for views of the Matterhorn.

Once you do reach the summit, you will find yourself surrounded by 29 peaks all over 4000m or 13,000ft. Some snow-capped, some just beautiful without the topping; you also get wonderful views of the Gornergrat Glacier.

The air is so fresh and clean, but the altitude once again found me a little lightheaded at first. Make sure to stay hydrated and take it slow at first. You should probably not get too close to the edges until you have your feet under you too.

That said, I was just blown away by the natural beauty – it’s stunning. We walked around taking pictures from every direction trying to figure out how to preserve the memory. D’uh, we took pictures!

We watched as others started their hikes down to some other scenic vistas, while we boarded the train. We made a point of being polite by waving to them and taking pictures as the train rumbled along.

We did hop off the train at the town of Riffelalp. A short HIKE from the railway station is a restaurant called Alphitta, which we wanted to stop at for a drink. The restaurant is perched on the side of a hill and you get a beautiful view of the Matterhorn while you imbibe or eat.

We took pictures while walking along – one that I just loved. It’s below.

Some others from our hike.

The restaurant was quite busy but the owner pointed us over to a great table. The owner is Dave and he is an Irishman hailing from Dublin. He is also a musician and a super-friendly guy. We shared a few good laughs with him and talked about his roundabout route to Zermatt. His wife was also fun, though Dave seemed to steal the show.

There was a Swiss family there celebrating the birthday of their father who turned 81. While enjoying himself, he looked like he was uncomfortable being fussed over. They must have said something to Dave, who promptly made an announcement that he was turning 81. Everyone applauded and whooped it up a little. A Japanese woman, who was leading a group of about a dozen people, then started up a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ that everybody chimed in on. The poor guy was mortified, but he was also very appreciative. He made his way around thanking everyone and shaking hands.

All spontaneous and all heart-warming, it’s those moments that keep us traveling. Meanwhile, as we were finishing up, Dave brought out his magic digestive elixir for a day-cap.

He makes it himself, starts with anise liquor, then he infuses it with sage, rosemary, thyme, lemon grass and a couple other things. He lets it sit for six months and it’s ready to go – and it was good!

Now raring to go, we HIKED back to the train station to catch the next train down to Zermatt. Our timing was good once again, as it pulled into the station right after we arrived. The scenery going down was just as beautiful as coming up.

Back in Zermatt, we meandered our way back up to the hotel to relax for a bit before dinner. After last night’s big meal, we decided to check out a small Italian restaurant just up the street from the hotel called Pizza Roma. Two caprese salads and a shared pizza with a bottle of Chianti was just what the doctor ordered – something different and something delicious.

The skies were rumbling when we finished up, so we hightailed it back to the hotel. Within twenty minutes of returning, it started pouring. A little thunder, a little lightning and a lot of rain that lasted well into the overnight hours.

We were so lucky that the weather held off all day so that we could go to Gornergrat and see the Matterhorn in all its glory.

Tomorrow it is suppose to rain on and off all day long. We’ll see what happens, but with no set plans, the rain doesn’t matter.

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Day 20 – Riding the rails to Zermatt

Travel day from the scorching heat in Lausanne to the cool mountains of Zermatt. The weather is showing a 30 degree difference in temperatures. Break out the woolies!

Up early to clean up and pack before heading out. We decided to take the 11:50am train to give ourselves a little time. We can’t check-in until 2:00pm, so why rush.

We really enjoyed Lausanne. There isn’t one thing that we would have changed about the itinerary. If the heat wave wasn’t in full effect, we might have had a little extra time for sight-seeing instead of taking three showers a day, but what the heck – we smelled good!

Off to the train station we went. It only took about 15 minutes to get there and we only had a half hour to wait for our train. Our route today had us travel from Lausanne to the town of Visp. At Visp we changed trains and then headed to Zermatt. The scenery along the way was beautiful, especially as we neared Zermatt.

Much of our journey went through agricultural regions with lots of fruit, vegetables and vineyards. When we neared Visp and headed for Zermatt, the scenery changed to high, rocky mountainsides with occasional streams of water cascading down between the rocky crags.

Below are a few pictures from the journey:

When we arrived in Zermatt, the town was bustling. Others from the trains, plus the daily tour bus people were scurrying about taking pictures, looking for rides or just wandering the streets.

Zermatt is a car-free town, but they do have some small electric cabs and vehicles from hotels to move people or luggage. Our hotel included a pick-up service, so we called and they were there for us in five minutes. It was a short trip to the hotel, but we managed to get a feeling for the way the roads worked.

Our hotel is the Hotel Bellerive and at first glance looked nice. Our location is nice and quiet with beautiful views.

We were a little early for check-in, but our room was ready for us. We’re on the third floor and there is an elevator – hooray!

Our room is wonderful. Wow! The bed is big and comfy, and there is a day bed in case a friend drops by. The outer wall is a sliding glass door and there is a balcony with two chairs and a table. Because I booked through the hotel website, we not only got the free ride, but we also have free access to the minibar for soft drinks.

I wanted to see the Matterhorn while in Switzerland – little did I know it would be the first thing I see upon opening my eyes each morning. Not that waking up on the other side and seeing Sue isn’t just as awe inspiring – sort of.

We are here, we are thrilled with our room and hotel, we took a little walk to get acquainted with the area and now it’s dinner time. For our first night we chose the Restaurant Spycher to entertain our taste buds.

After a three minute walk, we arrived at the restaurant and we were first. We made earlier reservations to avoid the crowds and so that we could get home earlier this evening.

Everything was truly delicious and we had fun with the servers. Fun with the servers means we tried to order in German, and then found that they also spoke Italian, so the night was a mix of bad German, bad Italian and English thrown in when we were completely stumped.

We sat outside even though rain was predicted. The Host assured us the umbrellas over our table would keep us dry, and luckily we never had to worry about it at all as the rain waited until the overnight to fall.

As for our meal, let me tell you about it. We had heard that the food was good here, but hadn’t anticipated it being as good as it was. We started with a glass of Prosecco, then had a bottle of La Coraline Cornalin 2017, which is a delicious Swiss red wine.

For our meals, Sue had a salad with greens, warm goat cheese, tomatoes and nuts. Her main was braised veal cheeks and she opted for a scoop of pistachio ice cream for dessert. For me, I started with a salad of fresh homemade burrata cheese with greens, sun-dried tomatoes and artichokes. My main was a filet sampler – veal, lamb and beef filets with side vegetables and spatzle. Dessert was a trio of chocolate – cake, mousse and ice cream with chocolate liqueur.

Yes, we were full. Yes, we loved it. And yes, we waddled our way back to our hotel to rest and digest.

We are crossing our fingers that the weather tomorrow will hold out – so we can go to the mountains.

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