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Glacier Express

Swiss tour train follows a thrilling Alpine course

Glacier Express on Landwasser viaduct, Switzerland

The Glacier Express departs the mountain resorts of St. Moritz and Zermatt on a breathtaking journey through Switzerland's Alps. Shown: Glacier Express on Landwasser viaduct, Switzerland. Photo: © Wikimedia Commons.

The grandeur of the Swiss Alps can overwhelm the senses. Snow-capped peaks pierce the clouds, fresh-water lakes glisten in the sun, and green pines stretch as far as the eye can see. Through this Paradise of Europe, Switzerland's fabled Glacier Express penetrates deep gorges and scales dizzying heights on its way between Zermatt and St. Moritz.

Operated jointly by two narrow-gauge Alpine railroads, the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn and Rh”tische Bahn, the “World’s Slowest Express Service” takes around eight hours to cover the 180 mi/290 km course. Its unrushed pace provides ample time to appreciate the route's stunning vistas.

The Glacier Express sets out from Zermatt, the world famous spa town at the foot of the Matterhorn. Dipping into the Rhone Valley, the train burrows through the Furka Base Tunnel, stopping at the tiny village of Andermatt before beginning its most dramatic ascent. The "Express" relies on a rack-and-pinion system to scale the route's steepest incline. At 6,670 ft/2,033 m, the Oberalp Pass marks the highest altitude reached along the journey.

Beyond the Pass, the railway makes its way through the magnificent Rhine Gorge -- Switzerland's own "Grand Canyon" -- en route to Chur: the country's oldest city and a transalpine railway crossroads.

Entering the picturesque Albula Valley, the train picks up the UNESCO World Heritage-designated portion of its itinerary; for many, the most exciting part of the trip! Following a precarious cliff-edge approach, the route rounds the curve of the famous Landwasser Viaduct, and then tunnels through a craggy mountain face. Re-emerging, the Glacier Express begins its final climb to the chic holiday village of St. Moritz. In summer, service to the international resort of Davos is also provided.

Glacier Express passengers choose between two onboard experiences. Both feature travel aboard custom-design panoramic coaches with oversized picture windows, sightseer skylights and face-to-face table seating for four. All coaches are carpeted and air-conditioned. Personal earphones provide a multi-lingual route commentary.

Economy Class is the ideal way for budget-minded travelers to enjoy all the Glacier Express has to offer.

Spacious Comfort Class coaches provide a first-class travel experience with roomier seats, more leg room and optional two-person table seating.

Dining options cater to all tastes and wallets. Local favorites, including Swiss chocolates and cheeses, are menu highlights. Popular libations include Swiss fondent -- sipped from a "tilting" wine glass designed to cope with steep mountain inclines. At-seat offerings include three-course "menu of the day" and ala carte choices served on real china. Lighter fare -- including snacks and sandwiches -- is available from the Railbar. Picnic lunches may also be taken aboard!

Travel through most of Switzerland is synonymous with rail and nowhere is that truer than among the remote reaches of the Swiss Alps. Whether you're bound for a popular Alpine destination or merely along for the ride, the Glacier Express will dazzle with its dips, and leaps, and over-the-top vistas.

The Glacier Express operates daily, year-round (Davos service in summer only). Tickets can be booked online. Youth (12-25), children (4-11), and seniors (60+) are eligible for discounted fares. Economy fare travel is included for Swiss Pass holders and Eurail Pass holders are eligible for reduced fares. A seat reservation charge is mandatory in all instances. Same-day "Fast Baggage" service is available for suitcases, bags, skis, snowboards, sleds, and strollers. Stations and trains are wheelchair accessible however 24-hour notice is required. Dogs may travel for half-adult fare (lap dogs, under 12 in/30 cm in height travel at no charge).

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