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Bernina Express and other Zurich-Lugano train ?'s

Bernina Express and other Zurich-Lugano train ?'s

Jan 22nd, 2016, 02:31 PM
  #1  
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Bernina Express and other Zurich-Lugano train ?'s

Dear Fodor Travel Experts:
I'm in the early stages of planning a trip based mainly in Dolomites and Lakes Region (Como or Garda). We will land and depart in Zurich. I'd love to take the Bernina Express in one direction from Zurich to Lugano, but it looks like it is a 10 hour journey! Is that correct? When I look up a more direct route via Chur, which I hear is quite beautiful, the journey is only 4 hours. Both of these journeys entail a bus. Is that really necessary? Is the direct route (3 hours) almost as scenic? Should I make the extra effort to take the Bernina and perhaps spend a night along the way? I'm getting a bit confused by the choices.
Suggestions, advice needed.
(We're planning to rent a car in Lugano for the trip through Italy.)
mermaid2020 is offline  
Jan 22nd, 2016, 03:01 PM
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To take the Bernina Express you also go via Chur and 10 hours sounds about right via the Bernina Express train then BE bus to Lugano.

The 4-hour route is I suppose from Chur via postal bus over the San Bernardino Pass to Bellinzona then train to Lugano (or maybe the bus goes all the way - I've taken the bus but forgotten.

The mainline route via the Gotthard Rail Tunnel is about 3 hours and is a scenic route but not nearly as scenic as the Bernina Pass Railway - to me the most astoundingly scenic railway in Europe and I think I've taken them all - a scenery of glaciers and top of the world look and feeling - yes you could break your journey in a place like Pontresina - a lovely town recommended by many here and then do the BE the next day (taking regular trains to Pontresina or St Moritz if you want a more glitzy city to put up in).

The bus route is scenic too but IME but not as awesomely so - (see pictures below) - I'd take the direct Zurich to Lugano train over it (since you have to change in Chur to get to the bus and no more scenic overall than the Zurich-Lugano direct route IME.

Q- Why not rent a car in St Moritz and drive on the road that also goes up and over the Bernina Express, at the summit next to the railway route - then you can easily stop for a walk - do a ramble to the glacier - easy to do from the summit and then motor down to Italy the same way as the train and head right to Lake Como without having to go to Lugano - which you can do on the way back - the road is yes twisting but not that scary - would save time if Lake Como is your goal.

For lots on the Bernina Express and Swiss trains check www.swisstravelsystem.com; www.budgeteuropetravel.com and www.ricksteves.com.

San Bernardino Pass Bus: https://www.google.com/search?q=san+...w=1920&bih=955
PalenQ is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2016, 07:38 AM
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Zurich airport (ZRH)- Lake Como (Colico) by public transport:

ZRH - Chur - Albula - Pontresina - Bernina - Tirano - Colico: 7 hrs
ZRH - Chur - Albula - St. Moritz - Chiavenna - Colico: 6 1/2 hrs
ZRH - Chur - Spluegenpass - Chiavenna - Colico: 6 hrs
ZRH - Lugano - Monza - Colico: 5 1/2 - 6 1/2 hrs
ZRH - Lugano - Porlezza - Colico: 5 1/2 - 6 1/2 hrs
ZRH - Lugano - Como - Colico: 6 1/2 hrs
neckervd is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2016, 12:10 PM
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neckervd - they want to go to Lugano to rent a car. Not directly to Lake Como.
PalenQ is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2016, 02:41 PM
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The direct Zurich to Lugano train though not nearly as scenic as the Bernina Express is obviously a lot faster if going to Lugano and it is one of Europe's most scenic main rail lines - currently using the old Gotthard Tunnel whilst a much longer new one is nearing completion (in which case you will see little of the Alps but a lot of tunnel!)

but the current line is sweet - especially unique is when the train passes the well-known Weisskirch in Weissen THREE times - as the train spirals up and through and in and out a mountain - each time it emerges the Weiss Kirche you are going by it in an opposite direction from the time before. and the descent to Italy after the tunnel is sweet Alpine scenery too - just not nearly - not even close to the scenery on the Bernina Express which is said to be the only main rail line that goes up and over the Alps north to south with the rest using tunnels.
PalenQ is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2016, 09:49 PM
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Dear PalenQ and neckervd - Thank you so much for your replies. I apologize if I made it seem as though renting a car in Lugano was written in stone. I was looking for a place that we could rent a car and continue to the Dolomites, after the Bernina Express and a few days near Lake Como. When I did a search for rental cars, the rates appeared astronomical from Como, pretty high from St. Moritz, and reasonable from Lugano. Do you know if, in general, car rental rates are higher in small towns?
Now we're thinking about taking the train/Bernina Express from Zurich to Como, probably spending a night along the way in Pontresina. Spend a few nights by Lake Como, then renting a car (from Lugano?), and continuing on our way. My questions are: 1) does it make a difference in views if we take the actual Bernina Express or just the "regular" train that goes along the same route? (if I'm understanding this correctly, one must make a reservation for BE and you have a reserved seat. It sounds like one can always find tkts. for the regular train.
2) is it really twice as expensive to rent a car from a place like Como vs. Lugano?
Thanks in advance for any help.
mermaid2020 is offline  
Jan 24th, 2016, 02:37 AM
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Perhaps you would like to read about the trai8n services on the website of the railroad which actually RUNS the Bernina Express: www.rhb.ch

There is no difference in the scenery between the Bernina Express trains and the "regular" trains which traverse the same route. The differences are actually in the timings. The "Bernina Express" is a train which requires no changes to get all the way to Tirano; the "Bernina Express" also carries panorama cars with their larger windows and yes you do need to reserve seats in those.

IF you do not mind changing trains and riding on more regular rolling stock you can do the same route using other timings.

As to rental cars: you talk about "expensive" but we have absolutely no idea what you think is "expensive." Have you considered renting a car in some larger place where rates might be cheaper? Have you looked at using a consolidator such as AutoEurope?
Dukey1 is offline  
Jan 24th, 2016, 03:01 AM
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Cross-border drop-offs are the problem - I expect you'll find rates much less if you pick up and drop off in the same country.

I'm always amused by the idea that the scenery is different from the actual Bernina Express - it's like saying the scenery is different when you drive a Citroen than when you drive a BMW on exactly the same road! ;0)

The Bernina Express takes you from Chur to Tirano, a fabulous trip - there are then Italian local trains from Tirano to Varenna & Lecco on Lake Como and Milan every 2 hours, no reservation necessary, fare a few euros, buy at the station in Tirano (in the cafe in cash if the ticket office is closed), www.trenord.it
Man_in_seat_61 is offline  
Jan 24th, 2016, 09:20 AM
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We have taken the Bernina express and, at a lower cost, regular trains over the same route. I give the edge to the regular trains. The cars on the Bernina express have larger windows, but a lot of these windows are in the roof so you can see only the sky. And the windows are sealed so if you want to take pictures of the scenery, you have to fight the reflections from the windows. The regular trains, especially in second class, have windows that you can open to get better pictures.

Let me suggest that the train from Chur to Arosa is exceptionally scenic, as is Arosa itself (a popular skiing area.) So if you need a place to overnight, I would take the train from the Zurich airport through Chur and on to Arosa. Either stay in Arosa or return to Chur. Then take the regular train from Chur to Tirano. Take with you a list of the stations the Bernina express passes, and give that to the agent when you get your tickets to insure you replicate the routing of the Bernina express.

I agree that you should rent your car in Italy and return it there.
clevelandbrown is offline  
Jan 24th, 2016, 09:48 AM
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What about a car rental immediately after the Bernina train ride?
http://italy.rentalcars24h.com/sondrio/hertz
BTW: there is also good public transport between many places along Lake Como and many places in the Dolomites. From where to where do you plan to go?
.....
neckervd is offline  
Jan 24th, 2016, 02:26 PM
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I agree with cleveland -the regular Bernina Pass Railway trains are IMO nicer than the official spittfy BE trains which are usually chock full in either class - the locals are often half empty so one can scoot from side to side as the scenery dictates - you are pretty much stuck in your seat on the official BE trains I have also taken. And yes the exact same scenery bien sur!

The best scenery however is mainly on the west side of the train.

If going to Lake Como for some days you do not need a car there at all- boats are best IME as you can see both sides and scoot from one side to the other - day boat passes are a great deal and save a few days on a car rental. Pick one up in Como when ready to motor!
PalenQ is offline  
Jan 25th, 2016, 06:43 PM
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Thank you so much to all who have replied. I really appreciate your sage advice. After looking at our initial loop route idea, I think it would be wiser for us to fly into Venice and out of Zurich. My plan would be to rent a car in Venice, drive to Dolomites and spend 4 full days. Even though it seems like having a car in Como region is not necessary, there is a Menaggio b&b that I really want to stay in, but it's up in the hills a bit, and cars are recommended. After 3-4 days in Menaggio, we'd head, via Bernina Express to Zurich. My question is - what is the easiest place to drop the rental car (on the Italian side) - Como? From Como, what's the best route to get to Tirano and the BE? Is there a bus? train? Or would life be easier if we ditched the car after Dolomites and just used public transportation. Having a car gives one freedom, but also can be stressful. Thank you in advance! (P.S. I now realize this should be in Italy/Switzerland forum, but can't figure out to add Italy at this point in the thread).
mermaid2020 is offline  
Jan 26th, 2016, 10:02 AM
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"My question is - what is the easiest place to drop the rental car (on the Italian side) - Como?"

Sondrio (see my post above), with no backtracking
Como, with backtracking: will cost you at least 3 hrs
neckervd is offline  
Jan 26th, 2016, 01:17 PM
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From Como, what's the best route to get to Tirano and the BE? Is there a bus? train?>

Take a boat to Varenna-Esino from Como (or a bus if there is one) and from Varenna get direct trains to Tirano, which would be the best place to drop a car if you can there - Sondrio being the next best but Tirano is where the Bernina Pass train starts.
PalenQ is offline  
Jan 26th, 2016, 02:18 PM
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Would it not just be easier to rent a car at a Milano airport and drive through the areas you'd like to see? I've driven over the Bernina and have taken the train. Yes, the train offers better views but driving offers more flexibility.
kleeblatt is offline  
Jan 26th, 2016, 03:10 PM
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Yes like Klee says you can drive up the Bernina Pass highway =- same views at the summit area with parking, etc. and then drive via St Moritz and the thrillingly scenic Maloja Pass road back to Lake Como - outstanding driving trip!

Maloja Pass highway - not for Nervous Nellies but I've driven many of these Swiss pass roads and the going is so slow that it is not as nerve-wracking at it may seem. Again you can easily stop to smell the Edewlweiss!

Those drives would give you the essence of the dramatic Alpine Switzerland.

Break up the drive in say lovely Pontresina or St Moritz or other town between the two passes though you could do the whole thingy in one long day.
PalenQ is offline  
Jan 27th, 2016, 02:17 AM
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1. Como - Tirano
easiest way: by train via Monza (train change)
most scenic way: slow boat up to Bellano or Colico, then train
fastest way: speedboat to varenna plus train
cheapest way: bus to Menaggio - Colico plus train
cheapest way for Swiss Travel pass holders: train to Lugano plus bus

2. Bernina rountrip by car:
stop at Bernina Diavolezza and take the gondola to Diavolezza, otherwise you would see no glacier along the whole trip.
stop at Punt Muragl and go by rope railway to Muottas Muragl (splendid view over the whole Upper Engadine)
go up from Spino to Soglio, a almost untouristy mountain village with splendid views to the Sciora mountains
neckervd is offline  
Jan 27th, 2016, 08:51 AM
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cheapest way for Swiss Travel pass holders: train to Lugano plus bus>

Swiss Travel Passes also valid on Lugano to Tirano Bernina Express Buses.
PalenQ is offline  
Jan 27th, 2016, 12:22 PM
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I once did that loop in one day - left Lugano on the Bernina Express bus to Tirano - took the Bernina Pass Railway to St Moritz and hopped Majola Pass bus to Lucerne - a full day but if you want a spectacular day in stirring Alpine scenery it's very possible. Lugano is a short train ride from Como.
PalenQ is offline  
Jan 27th, 2016, 02:47 PM
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stop at Bernina Diavolezza and take the gondola to Diavolezza, otherwise you would see no glacier along the whole trip.>

Would you not see glaciers at the Bernina Pass road summit - right next to the train there - or is that glacier you could walk to now a victim of Climate Change?
PalenQ is offline  

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