Reaching great heights by going round in circles

After 3 massive rides in 3 days – Stelvio, Mortirolo and Gavia (total climbing of over 4,000m) – the talk at breakfast on Tuesday centred around the possibility of a “recovery day”… perhaps just a bit of an easier ride, not, you understand, a day lying in the hot pools at the wellness centre up the road!

I too was looking for an easier walk, and having exhausted the options in the nearby vicinity, I hopped on a train.  Not just any train, but the World Heritage Bernina Express, in my case travelling from Tirano (a 40 minute drive down the road) to St Moritz!



This little red train, with panoramic views through wrap over windows, is a masterpiece of engineering, climbing from Tirano at 426m to Ospizio Bernina at 2,253m, gaining 70m in elevation per km travelled – a massive feat for a train!  This is achieved by lots of looping round and round through tunnels and along mountainsides, amidst some of the most spectacular mountain scenery (even mostly without the snow at this time of year).


Literally getting to great heights by going round and round in circles.  I put that in a tweet, and the Rhaetian Railway company sent me a message asking if they could use my quote in their marketing!


For my engineering friends, the train is electric, direct current at 1000volts.

Technicalities aside, I was especially fascinated by how it just takes over the main road in some of the villages we passed through, literally stopping traffic, and also by the long distances that the track runs alongside the road, with nothing more than a painted white line dividing it from the traffic!  Clearly no health & safety police here!

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Just after the highest point at Bernina, you see two lakes – creatively named black lake and white lake.  Maybe a New Zealander was involved in the naming?  Perhaps the same guy who gave us North Island and South Island?  What makes these lakes special is that the point between them marks the watershed between the run-off to the Adriatic Sea from White lake (which is fed by the glacier above it) and the run-off to the Black Sea, from Black lake.

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St Moritz, for those who haven’t seen it before (and I had not) is just as I imagined it – straight out of a chocolate box;  and to be honest, I wasn’t planning to walk at all.  I had a 3 hour stopover, and was planning a long lunch – the jugged hare with spaetzle nearly dragged me in – overlooking the lake.  But the day was so glorious, the lake so sparkling, and the path around it looked just doable in a few hours – so I parked the lunch idea, bought a filled roll and a bottle of water, and set off on a brisk walk in the sunshine.

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And it was good!

And when I got back, the boys had had their “recovery ride” which was just as well, because although I’d been telling them we still had one more day in Bormio, I was completely wrong!  And the route to our next destination goes – you guessed it – back up the Stelvio again and down the other side!

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