Above: The Glacier Express passing Celerina, near St. Moritz

Sightseeing Aboard the Glacier Express

Part of my trip around Switzerland was aboard one of the world’s most famous trains, the Glacier Express. The service began in 1930, and the narrow-gauge line between St. Moritz and Zermatt goes through 91 tunnels and crosses 291 bridges, including the extraordinary 213-foot high Landwasser Viaduct. Long sections use a rack-and-pinion system for ascending and descending the gradients. Often, the train can only proceed in spirals. The highest point of the trip is the 6,706-foot Oberalp Pass. Although the journey is a distance of less than 200 miles, it takes 8½ hours.

I boarded the train in St. Moritz at 9:45 a.m. and found my reserved First Class seat. This was wide and comfortable, though it did not recline and faced a table that partly folded away when not in use. An extremely friendly English-speaking carriage attendant gave me a map and pointed out the complimentary headphones, through which it was possible to listen to a description of the principal points of interest.

Today, most travelers on the Glacier Express are foreign tourists, and the specially designed carriages have glass roof panels through which to view the scenery. However, as the line inevitably runs along steep valleys or gorges for much of the way, you often can’t see the high snow peaks, even though many 4,000-meter (13,123-foot) summits, including the Jungfrau, are close to the route (as is the 14-mile-long Aletsch Glacier, the largest in the Alps). Probably the ideal time of year to make the trip is late spring, when the sky should be clear and the snow has not yet melted. At any season, the countryside is absurdly pretty, with idyllic Alpine villages, old wooden chalets and blue-green rivers (including the headwaters of the Rhine and the Rhône).

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