Dreamscapes Travel & Lifestyle

Winter/Spring 2016

Dreamscapes Travel & Lifestyle Magazine

Issue link: http://read.dreamscapes.ca/i/631317

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Page 38 of 47

My journey begins in Ticino's Lugano, a place where guide Anna Bezzola says, "People feel their Italian culture." It's a cos- mopolitan city rooted in history, where strolling the waterfront promenade —gelato in hand—connects you with locals: families catching a ferry to Swissminiatur (where the country's landmarks have been meticu- lously recreated in small scale) or groups of men rolling bocce balls with the concentra- tion of Olympic athletes. Lugano is the launching point for the Bernina Express: first, by bus, we snake along impossibly narrow roads hugging the shorelines of lakes Lugano and Como, from Switzerland into Italy, past traditional vil- lages, vineyards and fruit orchards. At the Italian village of Tirano we break for espresso at a small café before boarding the dramatic rail portion of the Bernina Express to head back into Swiss territory. This is the only Swiss train to cross the Alps in the open air, without tunnelling through granite mountains. The early 20 th - century challenge had engineers fiddling with their slide rules, fixated on drawing boards as they calculated the perfect eleva- tion-gaining equations, creating ingenious curves along bridges and spiral viaducts. Climbing from Tirano, the tracks twist and turn, ascending through forests of pine, until the lakes and villages below look Monopoly-like. Higher, along flatter por- tions of the route, the track still winds ever so slightly, creating a gentle rocking. Snake- like, slithering through the forest. As the little red train gains altitude, there are patches of snow; soon a blinding land- scape of white as far as the eye can see. At the route's summit, turquoise lakes are icy pools fed by glacier streams. Kite skiers skim along the expanse of snow, chalking up bragging rights of zigzagging back and forth along the watershed divide between the Black and Adriatic Seas. Just as I begin to confuse the seasons, the train slithers back down the other side into summertime, stopping in medieval Chur, intersection point with the Glacier Express. THE WORLD'S SLOWEST EXPRESS TRAIN On reputation alone, I commit to this train journey. From Chur in the east to Zermatt in the southwest, a ride on the Glacier Express (happily) gobbles up an eight-hour stretch. While eight hours may sound like an inter- minable length of time to sit on a moving vehicle, truth is the time is filled with a stream of postcard scenery along valleys carved by glaciers, up and over the pinnacle of summer snowbanks at Oberal Pass, past some of Europe's highest vineyards, through the country's deepest gorges, finally spilling out at the end of the line: Zermatt. Stepping from the train, I am not imme- diately seduced. Zermatt opened to tourism in the early 1800s with scores of alpine- obsessed Englishmen pining for a challenge. Tourism exploded—bars, shops, restaurants, rental properties to satiate the masses. But one block from the station, the Matterhorn comes into view and I am trans- fixed. The commercial sideshow peels away and I see nothing but that one commanding peak: a top runway model, perfect cheek- bones, alluringly photogenic. From Zermatt, the cogwheel Gornergrat train transports skiers, hikers, shutterbugs and the curious to a higher plane; one with a sweeping panorama of 29 peaks in the 4,000-metre-plus club. But it is the shape of the Matterhorn that still hogs top billing. Aboard the Gornergrat a local confides there is superstition rooted in the peak's unique shape and a feeling that it needs to be respected at a distance. Back in Zermatt, a display at the fasci- nating Matterhorn Museum tells of the late Ulrich Inderbinen, a local mountain guide who made the difficult climb more than 370 times, including one at age 90. He seemed oblivious to the commercial trappings of his hometown—he never owned a telephone and to hire him, climbers looked evenings in the church square. Perhaps he chose his spot on a bench; the one with the unob- structed view of the peak he cherished. WINTER/SPRING 2016 DREAMSCAPES 39 T R A V E L P L A N N E R For more information, visit SwissTravelSystem.com/grandtraintour and myswitzerland.com. DS

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