48 Hours: Across Switzerland's Albula Railway

Looking for something extraordinary to take part in? Why not discover the historic Albula railway in beauitful Switzerland.

by Diccon Bewes

 Hiking through the mountains and travelling by train are national obsessions for the Swiss, and they excel at both. No surprise then that the two have been combined into a wonderful hike in Graubünden. A new Bahnerlebnisweg (or railway adventure trail) runs along the route of the Albula railway between Preda and Filisur, giving you an up-close look at the vast viaducts, sleek trains and bucolic landscape. With an overnight stop in a historic hotel in Bergün, it makes for a perfect two-day walk that’s suitable for everyone, even beginners, and not only for trainspotters. We put on our boots and went out walking.

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It all starts with a train ride, of course. From Chur you meander south into the mountains and just before Filisur comes the first highlight: the Landwasser Viaduct, which the train crosses high above a deep ravine before plunging straight into a tunnel in the cliff. A marvel of engineering, it’s even more impressive from underneath but for that you have to wait until tomorrow

Landwasser c swiss-image.ch Christof Sonderegger

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First stop is the pretty town of Bergün, with its decorated houses, chunky church and a splendid hotel, the historic Kurhaus. This is the ideal base for the trip, both in terms of location and facilities. The 111-year-old building has been meticulously restored so that it offers the luxuries of today with the atmosphere of the past, and exemplary service. Drop off your bags and stroll back to the station for the next train south.

DB Stage 5 river

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At Preda the walk begins. The train disappears into the dark tunnel but we set off downhill along the gravel path back to Bergün, 7km (or three hours) away. Each stage of the walk is marked with a bilingual info-board detailing the building of the line, which opened in 1903. But this walk is as much about nature as history. Surrounded by lush meadows, craggy peaks, fresh air and only the occasional other human, it’s hard not to have a spring in your step. This isn’t off the beaten track but still it’s an adventure, one which gets even better with the first viaducts at Stage 5.

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The marvel of the Albula Line (and the reason it’s a Unesco heritage sight) is the succession of vast viaducts and spiral tunnels that help it master the terrain. It’s really rather thrilling to stand beside, or under, the giant stone arches as the red train rumbles over the tracks. And then moments later be hiking alongside a rushing clear stream with only birdsong for company.

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Stage 8 is a good place to wait for trains to pass, as here they cross the road and river then curl around inside the mountain and emerge above your head. If you’re lucky it will be a steam train or the famous ‘Krokodil’ engine with open-air carriages, both of which run regularly in summer.

Stage 8 c swiss-image.ch Christof Sonderegger

It’s a gentle stroll on to Bergün. If you arrive in time (or maybe after breakfast the next day), then a visit to the Albula Railway Museum opposite the station is worth it. The fascinating story of the line is well told, with lots of hands-on displays, old film and memorabilia.

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Next morning it’s on down the line to Filisur, 9km away. This 3-hour downhill hike is as scenic as yesterday but it’s a case of more trees, fewer trains, making for a relaxing walk in the woods and fields. After a well-earned break in Filisur it’s onward to the last section, and undoubted highlight of the whole walk – going down under the Landwasser Viaduct, a two-hour round trip but totally worth it.

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First head for south viewpoint to see the trains rumble across the bridge and disappear under your feet. Then a short but steep hike down into the valley to stand beneath the 65m-high stone pillars and take picture-perfect photos. Lastly up again on the far side of the ravine to the north viewpoint, directly above the railway line to see both bridge and tunnel.

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For more ideas on how to Do, Dine and Spend in Switzerland, visit our Destinations pages.