Stazione Centrale, Milan – 1,558 miles, and the end of the trip
Day 8 of my big summer train trip around Europe finishes in Milan, after a thrilling ride on the Bernina Express train from Zürich that travels right across the roof of the Alps.
All I can say is – wow, what a finish!
It needed something special, after travelling almost 1,600 miles through 9 cities in 9 countries, and the Bernina Express does not let you down. Special is what it does, from the minute it leaves Chur station (an hour or so out of Zürich) and slowly climbs up into the mountains, through wide valleys dotted with precariously sited alpine villages.
Special is what it does
There are all sorts of jaw-dropping moments to come, not least 55 tunnels, 196 bridges, a 200-foot-high curved viaduct and a highest point of almost 7,400 feet. Crossing the windswept Bernina Pass itself, snow patches and the retreating tongue of a glacier are visible, while on the final descent to the Italian town of Tirano (where you change for Milan) there’s an extraordinary spiral viaduct, where you can see the entire train curving around on itself. You see more big-sky scenery in the 9 hours between Zürich and Milan than you thought possible – and the 4-hour, 90-mile, central stretch that winds up and over the pass really is as good as it gets.
It’s a truly remarkable train ride – the best in Europe, many say – and it travels all year round as a regular service train, though with reserved seats in special panoramic carriages on certain departures. Astoundingly, you can book tickets on the whole ride for as little as €30 and, rather than have me try and explain how to do it, you should simply do what I did and rely on that Train Oracle, The Man in Seat 61. You genuinely can’t go wrong if you follow his advice, right down to which side of the train you should sit on the for the best views in either direction (on the right if you’re heading south, as I did, to Milan).
There’s no time in Milan to do anything much more than lie in a darkened room for a while, recovering from the sensory overload of the train ride. But as it is the end of the trip, following a fabulous day, I deserve to be eating the best pizza in Milan, which current opinion has it is at Pizza AM.
I got there just before opening time, with the shutters still down, and there was already a queue, but no matter because the cheery owner walks the line dispensing free pizza squares and a glass of Prosecco to anyone waiting for a table. The cramped interior looks like Mirò got to decorate a Mexican cantina, which is kind of fun, and everyone speaks English, so no need to worry that the only pizza name you’ll recognise is the Margherita. The other half dozen are all veggie (one has anchovies, but that’s it), and they appear quick-smart out of the wood-burning oven, blackened and pock-marked with charcoal in all the right places. You can probably tell I liked it, and for €9 to €10 a pop they are an absolute bargain. Top tipping tip by the way – your bill already includes the mysterious Italian ‘coperto’ or cover charge (€2 per person, charged for no apparent rhyme or reason), but if you also leave a tip the owner bangs a gong and everyone cheers you, which is also kind of fun.
And that’s it, the end of the line in Milan, which is why this post is ‘Over & out’. It’s been an absolute blast, and I’ve enjoyed having you all along for the ride – thanks so much for the comments and encouragement along the way.
I started out in Berlin and now, finishing in Milan, it’s been 9 cities and 9 countries, from Central Europe to the Balkans and the Alps. I’ve loved every early morning, every station croissant, every train-seat snooze in the sun on a bright European summer’s day and every single mile through some of the most extraordinary countryside in the world. It’s all there, waiting for you, and it’s all very possible to do on a budget – it you need any help, just let me know!
Tomorrow on Day 9 I’ll be heading back to the UK, so until the next time, ciao!