I mentioned yesterday that our hotel in Tirano was near to the basilica. It was so near that we could actually see the church from the skylight, and as we were going to bed last night we realised that it had been completely illuminated.
When we woke up this morning there had been a big improvement in the weather, and from our window we now had a more dramatic view of the basilica against a very blue sky.
The hotel we were staying in was really lovely, and we enjoyed a breakfast buffet which contained an exciting amount of cake. Upon checking out, we were very surprised when we were presented with a bottle of the local wine to take with us. We managed to safely stowe it away in Tim's suitcase and hopefully it will make the journey to Bolzano in tact!
As we walked towards the station to catch our train, all of Tirano looked a lot more cheerful in the sunshine.
When we were planning our holiday many months ago and decided that we wanted to go to Bolzano, I had assumed that getting there from Tirano would be a fairly trivial undertaking. If you look at the two towns on the map, they don't look particularly far apart as the crow flies. Once I started planning a route, however, I quickly discovered that things would be a lot more complicated than I had thought. There are some quite significant mountains in the way, which means that there aren't any useful rail connections, and because the towns are in two different Italian provinces, there aren't any interconnecting buses. When I researched the best route on the Internet, most of the advice I read suggested travelling all the way from Tirano back to Milan, and then from Milan out to Bolzano. That didn't strike me as any fun at all, so I decided to invent my own route! My route ultimately turned out to be a bit complicated and needed to be spread over two days, but today has proven to be a lot more fun than a change of trains in Milan
The first stage of the route, which we were embarking on today, was to travel to Zernez in Switzerland. Tirano is a mere two miles from the Swiss border and so it is home to two separate train stations; an Italian station, served by the normal Trenitalia trains which go to Milan, and a Swiss station, from which the Bernina Express trains set off into Switzerland. The good thing which I discovered when investigating the timetables is that it's not just the (expensive and crowded!) Bernina Express trains which leave from Tirano, but normal regional trains which run to St Moritz. We had bought tickets to travel on one of these as far as Pontresina and as it was departing at 09.46, compared to a Bernina Express train departing at 10.03, I thought it was almost guaranteed to be free of tourists.
Happily I was right, and for the two-hour train journey which followed we had an entire carriage almost to ourselves, so that we could change sides and seats depending on where the best views were The entire journey from Tirano to our ultimate destination of Zernez cost CHF 41, which at the point at which I bought the tickets I thought was a bit steep, but the train ride today was so spectacular that we changed our minds partway through the journey and decided that it was actually great value for money!
This was one of the first views we had as the train crossed the border into Switzerland and began its long climb upwards.
From Tirano at 440m, the train would ultimately ascend to the highpoint of Ospizio Bernina at 2,253m before beginning the descent to Pontresina.
We passed by Lago di Poschiavo. The photo is a bit wonky as it was taken from the train, but you can tell from how well the photos have turned out how clear the train windows were, despite the fact we were just on a normal train and not the panoramic one
We travelled alongside a river for a while...
...then climbed higher and higher so that we had a view back towards the lake and villages we had passed through.
It was absolutely beautiful.
Soon we had reached Alp Grüm, from where we had fantastic views of Piz Palü with its glacier and lake.
From there on we got increasingly close to the snow.
It wasn't long before we reached Ospizio Bernina, the highest railway station in Graubünden.
The station is next to Lake Bianco which is a watershed, with all the water to the south of it flowing into the Adriatic, while all the water to the east flows into the Black Sea.
From there it was all downhill, albeit gradually.
The station of Bernina Lagalb was also pretty spectacular...
...and there were some amazing views of glaciers still to come.
We arrived in Pontresina at 11.50 and were supposed to be getting a connecting train to the Engadine at 12.02. When we looked at the arrivals board, however, the unthinkable had happened; a Swiss train had been cancelled! For reasons which weren't entirely clear, the 12.02 train only appeared to be running as far as Samedan and everyone was advised to get on that and change.
It didn't take long to reach Samedan, and once there we assumed that we were going to have to wait another hour for a connecting train to Zernez. We had just about made up our minds to have an early lunch, when at the end of the platform I caught sight of something which looked suspiciously like the apparently cancelled 12.14 train we were suppposed to be on! It turned out that it was and we managed to get on just in the nick of time
The journey through the Engadine to Zernez only took half an hour, but this was a lovely journey too.
Zernez is a small place, so once we had arrived it didn't take us long to find our hotel.
Paradoxically the hotel room was both the cheapest one I had been able to find in Zernez and the most expensive one of any of our holidays all year Once we got inside we saw it was beautiful though.
We headed out again straight away to have lunch, and managed to find delicious rösti a few doors down.
We were extremely full after that, so went for a stroll around the town. I've been to Zernez before, but only in the rain, so it was fantastic to see it on such a bright sunny day.
Just the views from the train station were beautiful.
It wasn't long before we had done a complete circuit of the town.
It was still only early afternoon, so we decided to walk a bit further along a path above the river in the direction of a village called Susch.
We never made it as far as Susch, walking for about an hour before we decided we had better turn back, but the path was everything you'd expect from a walk in Switzerland... Alpine flowers...
...a river in full flow...
...and mountain views.
On the way back we noticed that clouds were starting to gather and sure enough, as evening came the town was enveloped in rain and thunderstorms. There was a break in the weather just long enough for us to go for another stroll and find this tower, which we had somehow missed earlier.
Tomorrow we are leaving Switzerland and travelling across the border to Mals, from where we will be able to get train connections to Bolzano. I'm not sure tomorrow's journey stands any chance of surpassing today's in terms of scenery, but it should still be exciting