Pure mountain adventure on the Alpine Circle

About as panoramic as it gets! This road and rail trip offers magical views of the natural surroundings of the Grisons and Ticino.

Last fall, I embarked on an extraordinary adventure. My programme included the Alpine Circle, which combines all the highlights of the Grisons and a side trip to Ticino in one tour.

The great thing about this tour was that I was able to tailor the basic route Laax – Locarno – St. Moritz to suit my interests. The variety of experiences and opportunities for detours into the local mountains are truly endless here.

The Bernina Express travels from glaciers to palm trees – and back. ©Natalie Sidler

Three youth hostels – countless sights

The following youth hostels were booked as fixed points for accommodation:

The train ride automatically took me past the four main sights of the Alpine Circle: the Rhine Gorge, the Swiss National Park, the Diavolezza glacier world and the Rhaetian Railway Landwasser Viaduct near Filisur.

Of course, there were many other attractions to discover. In the end, I was lucky enough to encounter all the facets of the Swiss autumn in terms of weather.

View from the train window of one of the countless viaducts and the Grison Alps. ©Natalie Sidler

Mystical mist and wellness in Laax

On the rainy journey to Laax by train and PostBus, I benefited for the first time from the Rhaetian Railway graubünden Pass: This GA Travelcard for the Grisons gives you unlimited travel on Graubünden (Grisons) public transport.

As the weather gave me more mist than sunshine, I decided to go to the rows of stones from the Bronze Age in Falera. There, I caught a few shy rays of sunshine against the colourful autumn backdrop.

Falera in autumn colours with a view. ©Natalie Sidler

Lake Laax is also beautiful when it’s cloudy. ©Natalie Sidler

In the evening, I treated myself at the youth hostel – to some wellness for all the senses with a delicious plant-based curry at Restaurant Biblau and a relaxing break in the Aua Grava wellness area.

Flavourful and delicious: the healthy plant-based curry at the youth hostel restaurant. ©Natalie Sidler

In good weather, the mountain autumn in the Surselva region is wonderfully varied. You can find inspiration here in the Overnight Blog.

Serpentines from Laax to Locarno

This stage excited me: In turns, I was amazed by the incline, the many bends, viaducts and the fantastic view – but it was a bit tricky in terms of planning. The route went through Andermatt (in the canton of Uri) and thus out of my ticket comfort zone. But the lady at the ticket office in Disentis quickly helped me out, so I was able to continue on the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn towards the Oberalp Pass without any worries.

When your own train is further ahead in the bend. ©Natalie Sidler

I also just missed the time window when the PostBus services the «king of passes,» i.e. the Gotthard Pass (last year, the last trip of the season was on 9 October). Instead, I caught a glimpse of the famous Devil’s Bridge in the Schöllenen Gorge on the steep train descent from Andermatt to Göschenen.

Are you fast enough to take a picture of Devil’s Bridge? ©Natalie Sidler


Anyone wishing to photograph the spectacle without changing seats is advised to sit at the train window on the right (in the direction of travel).

My castle extra: A detour to Bellinzona

On arrival at Locarno Youth Hostel, I was already looking forward to the extended stopover – including la dolce vita on Lake Maggiore and a castle hike in nearby Bellinzona.

Picturesque evening ambience on Lake Maggiore. ©Natalie Sidler

The best place to start the castle tour is at the tourist information office. There, they gave me a map of the circular route through the UNESCO World Heritage Site and warned me that the third castle was quite high up. However, tired legs and good cameras still allow an impressive view of the stone giant in the forest (Castello di Sasso Corbaro).

The ascent to Montebello Castle (centre), with the third castle in the background (top right). ©Natalie Sidler

My favourite:

Walking across the wide walls of Castel Grande really took my breath away.

View of Castel Grande from the wall. ©Natalie Sidler

Off to Italy on the Bernina Express Bus

Well-rested, I continued my extraordinary travel experience on to Italy, boarding the red-and-white Bernina Express Bus at Stazione Nord in Lugano. Be careful, the bus stops a bit out of the way (hence the tip: Stazione Nord).

Bernina Express Bus: My journey continues on the road. ©Natalie Sidler

Lunch at Piazza Basilica in Tirano treated me to a very special encounter: The Bernina Express noisily crossed the intersection in front of the pilgrimage church before my very eyes!

In the middle of the intersection and right in front of the dining terrace, the Bernina Express surprises me on the track. © Rhätische Bahn / Christof Sonderegger

Things get really exciting from Tirano: This section of the RhB UNESCO World Heritage route took me on the Bernina Express panoramic car through spectacular Alpine landscapes on Europe’s highest railway tracks. Not only is it the steepest railway line in the world, it also passes through a total of 55 tunnels and crosses 196 bridges.

The Brusio spiral viaduct is a masterpiece of railway construction. ©Natalie Sidler

By the way, the Bernina Express is celebrating its birthday this year: For no less than 50 years, it has been transporting its guests up to the eternal ice, through rugged gorges and – in my case – past radiant autumn forests. There is even currently a chance to win a ride in your own panoramic car for you and your loved ones: 50 years of the Bernina Express.

The eternal ice of the Morteratsch Glacier behind golden trees. ©Natalie Sidler

Golden larch in St. Moritz

I was also greeted by bright yellow larches in St. Moritz. In autumn, they not only frame the award-winning youth hostel (Ibex Fairstay Award) but they also enhance almost any panoramic photo taken in the famous tourist resort.

Dogs also love the youth hostel and the evening scenery in St. Moritz. ©Natalie Sidler

The next morning, after an abundant breakfast, I took the opportunity to admire Lake St. Moritz in all its colours.

Autumn sunshine and sparkling water on Lake St. Moritz. ©Natalie Sidler

If you have more time than me, you can try the Diavolezza glacier experience, the Engadin lakes or plan a cultural tour of St. Moritz.

The Albula Line rocks

The last big route decision that I had to make before returning home: Should I take the Albula Line or the Flüela Pass?

I didn’t have to think for long, as I definitely wanted to check off the must-visit place near Filisur, the impressive Landwasser Viaduct. To do this, take the Albula Line (towards Chur).

The Rhaetian Railway landmark is 65 metres high and 142 metres long. ©Andrea Badrutt

With my head and my phone full of impressions, I arrived home happy. I won’t be forgetting this fantastic and varied round trip any time soon!

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