In pursuit of the slowest express in Europe

The distance between Thusis and St. Mortiz is only 60 kilometres – one would say that it’s just a stone’s throw. However, the Albula Railway needs one hour and a half to cover this short and even trivial way. Sounds peculiar? Or maybe it is incredible if we say that this track in packed with 55 viaducts and 39 tunnels. Moreover the railway track isn’t straight at all, of course, apart from the 5-kilometre tunnel. The elevation difference between the first and the last station is only 1077 metres. We’d like to invite you for a brief trip in which we’re going to follow The Glacier Express – the slowest express in Europe.

Our tour is divided into three parts. The first one is a walking route from Laax to a canyon named Ruinaulta, exactly to Il Spir which is a viewing platform located above the bend of The Rhine. The second part is a car ride through Albula Pass to St. Mortiz where one can find the most alluring section of the railway line and finally we come back through The Julier Pass.

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Ruinaulta – Switzerland’s Grand Canyon

Our extremely convenient and easy route begins in Laax. The trail goes through the peaceful forest, between two lakes and that is why it is a perfect spot for a Sunday walk with a pushchair or (as it was in our case) for people who suffer from sore muscle after Saturday’s physical effort. Strolling like a couple of pensioners among moss or flowers, we are unwinding in pleasant shadow of trees while listening to birds tweeting above our heads.

To be honest, Lag la Cauma, a turquoise lake, is an enormous swimming zone surrounded by fence. The colour of water and the closest area are sufficient reasons to pay a few francs in order to enjoy a pure delight. Finding a remote and shady place is a piece of cake. However, our dreams still seem to be behind the fence.

We get to Il Spir, a viewing platform which hangs 400 metres above the gorge. This is an excellent spot that allows to admire the magnificent bend of the Rhine, which resembles a snake moving between white rocks. Only several metres above the surface of water is a railway track used by red trains heading towards Zermatt every quarter.

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The Conn Restaurant, a well-known place praised for local specialties, seems to look encouragingly. When we finally enter the restaurant it is obvious that without booking a table there is no chance to be served, especially in a hot day. Maybe next time. But then only dry provisions kept in our rucksacks and a bench overlooking a gorge have to satisfy us.

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Trasa ma równo 10km

Laax hiking trail to Il Spir

The Albula Pass

The height difference of Albula Pass is 1123 metres. At this altitude one can find the most interesting segment of the Glacier Express (this part is recorded in the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Site). It was a pity that we didn’t have enough spare time to go on a 3-hour trip along the river from Preda to Bergün. Instead of that we were driving through viaducts enjoying landscapes and looking for a red train.

The construction of this particular part of a narrow-gauge railway took five years (from August 1898 to July 1903). The most spectacular part is comprised of curves around Preda and the Landwasser viaduct of the arch length of 136 metres which hangs 65 metres above the river valley. The track leads directly to the tunnel.

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źródło: wikipedia.org, zdjęcie Daniel Schwen

The Albula Tunnel

The Albula Tunnel has a length of 5,865 metres and it connects a station in Preda with a valley in Bever. It was constructed in 1902 and the total cost was 7.8 million francs and due to some technical problems (the underground stream) ended with the bankruptcy of the first contractor. Eventually, the Rhaetian Railway took over the responsibility to build the tunnel. 1,316 builders were engaged in the project and 16 of them cost their lives. At 3 o’clock in the morning on 29 May 1902 the passage to the south was done. In 2009 the Rhaetian Railway decided to construct the second parallel tunnel. Nowadays the construction estimated cost is 260 million francs, which shows the scale of the venture.

After leaving Preda you aren’t going to see the express anymore since it enters a 5-kilometre tunnel. But we were heading towards the pass at an elevation of 2,315 m above the sea level so as to get to St Moritz. The views were truly mountainous.

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We had only fifteen minutes to visit St. Moritz, the last stop of the Glacier Express. Unfortunately, we can’t say anything more than emotionless and meaningless ‘nice.’ We just saw a lake, green surroundings, a Romanesque belfry next to the Romanesque little church and some mountains in the background. There was no more time for sightseeing. Sadly, a watch and our tiredness were relentless.

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Driving through the Julier Pass

The Julier Pass is parallel to the Albula Pass. It’s shorter and located a little bit lower that’s why it seems to be less severe. And that was the end of the landscapes for us. Two more hours left to reach Zurich.

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