Your journey into the Lötschberger country
Even after the opening of the Lötschberg Base Tunnel, the traditional Lötschberg mountain line between the Bernese Oberland and Valais has lost none of its charm. Train and nature aficionados therefore leave the trip through the 34.6-kilometre-long base tunnel to those in a hurry, and instead enjoy the splendid views reaching as far as Kandertal and the journey across the breathtaking viaducts of the southern approach. Yet the places and valleys along the railway line also entice guests back for another visit with their appealing leisure opportunities.
One train – two destinations: board the section of the train appropriate for your destination
The RegioExpress Lötschberger takes you directly from Bern to either Brig or Zweisimmen. The train is split up at Spiez. The two front sections of the train travel to Frutigen-Kandersteg-Goppenstein-Brig, while the latter section(s) continues on to Zweisimmen. So please note the destinations shown on the train when boarding.
The Bern–Spiez section
The valley between Bern and Thun is named after the Aare, one of Switzerland's longest and most beautiful rivers. The source of the Aare is the Aar glaciers in the Grimsel region, from where it flows through lakes Brienz and Thun, before winding its way past Mount Belp on its way to Münsingen and Bern. In Bern, the Aare flows around the medieval city centre and the idyllic Engel peninsula.
The Bernese love their river: a swim in its cooling waters and the boat ride from Thun to Bern (a good three hours) are some of the most popular leisure activities here, and are as frequently engaged in by the locals as a Sunday walk is in other parts of the world. When crossing the Uttigen bridge, train passengers catch a glimpse of the lively goings-on on and around the Aare. Depending on how high and choppy the water is, below the Uttigen bridge is the only precarious spot along the otherwise comfortable route.
Once arrived in Thun, travellers will immediately notice why the picturesque town by the lake of the same name is called the “gateway to the Bernese Oberland”. Thun lies nestled in the majestic mountain landscape of the Alps.
Spiez lies nestled between hills and vineyards on the shore of Lake Thun, with views out onto the mountains of the Bernese Oberland. The town is home to the famous “Spiezer” wine.
The Spiez–Zweisimmen section
Simmental is the longest valley in the Bernese Oberland. It measures 50 kilometres in length, from the Wildstrubel massif in Lenk to the valley exit at Wimmis. There is therefore lots to see during the journey from Spiez to Zweisimmen or vice versa.
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, a famous German composer, was an early admirer of the Simmental, praising it as “the greenest valley in Europe” during his travels. And indeed, the threatening confinement at the start of the valley soon gives way to a wonderful green expanse, laced with artfully decorated farmhouses dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth century, which tell of long bygone times. The Säbelzahnhaus (literally “sabretooth house”) in Oey dating from 1738 is a good example, its inscription “Come and rest, you weary wanderer” inviting visitors to take their ease on its shaded wooden bench.
And the upper and lower Simmental both have plenty in store to make the hearts of nature lovers, sports enthusiasts and walkers beat faster. Guests from around the world wonder at the raging torrents of the Simmen waterfall and the slightly hidden Iffigfall waterfall near Lenk; walk around the deep-blue Flueseeli lake in the Wildstrubel region; and – in winter – enjoy lightning-fast descents on the pistes of the area’s many ski resorts.
The Spiez–Kandersteg section
From Spiez, the line initially ascends at a steady incline of 15 millimetres per metre through Frutigtal via Reichenbach and on to Frutigen. Only here does the 13-kilometre-long Kandertal begin, which connects Frutigen with Kandersteg and is classified as the actual mountain section of the BLS northern approach.
Why this is so will soon become apparent: upon exiting Frutigen, the line ascends at 27 millimetres per metre, and passes the ruins of Tellenburg Castle on its way to the most photographed structure of the Lötschberg line – the imposing Kander viaduct. The train then reaches Kandergrund, the only town in Kandertal. The name Kander derives from the Celtic “kandara” (the luminous, the white). And the traveller does indeed catch repeated glimpses, between the countless tunnels, of the luminous and creamy white River Kander, which winds its way through the valley bottom.
After an about-turn from south to north, the route continues to wind its way further up the mountain slope. Time and again, it disappears into dark tunnels or traverses spectacular viaducts, such as the 40-metre-long Haltenwald viaduct. Here the train plunges into the 1,655-metre-long helical tunnel which restores the north-south direction of travel. The breathtaking journey continues through additional tunnels and across bridges, reaching Kandersteg, the gateway to the Lötschberg Tunnel, after 31.5 kilometres.
The Goppenstein–Brig section
After travelling through the Lötschberg Tunnel for around eight minutes, the train stops at Goppenstein station. Well over 3,000 workers lived in this small town during the early twentieth century when the rail tunnel was being built. Today, only a handful of Lötschental’s 1,500 inhabitants live in the hamlet. Many customs and traditions have been preserved in Lötschental, which has always been a remote region, attracting quite a few tourists each year.
The train continues its journey on the eastern face, along the narrow Lonza ravine, and crosses the Lonza viaduct before disappearing into the darkness once more. The change from light to dark continues for a while before one suddenly emerges in the wonderful expanse of Rhonetal.
This section, the southern approach, is not called the Südrampe (literally “southern ramp”) for nothing: travelling across sun-kissed slopes, the train slowly descends 450 metres in altitude into the valley bottom. It is not only the impressive Bietschtal viaduct, which can even be purchased in miniature by model railway enthusiasts, but also the many exciting sights that have earned this section its status as a classic: the train carries passengers past small, steep vineyards, historic man-made irrigation systems and the grave of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke.
Once arrived at the valley bottom following the Südrampe, the train soon reaches Brig station. This little town, home of the distinctive Stockalper Palace, is waiting to be explored.
The Brig–Domodossola stretch
Shortly after Brig, the train disappears into the 19.8-kilometre-long Simplon Tunnel. Since its opening in 1906, the Simplon Tunnel has been facilitating direct train travel between Italy and Switzerland. After a breathtaking stretch, the train arrives in the Italian city of Domodossola. This provincial capital combines Alpine backdrop with Mediterranean flair. Its ancient alleys give hints of the city’s eventful history. To this day, the Saturday market attracts many excursionists to the former trade hub, while the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sacri Monti offers impressive landscapes and vistas for walkers to enjoy.
The Lötschberg line – facts and figures
The mountain line
Culmination point in the Lötschberg Tunnel at Km 7.234
Entire length, Frutigen–Brig
Length, northern approach Frutigen–North portal, Lötschberg Tunnel
Length, southern approach Brig–South portal Lötschberg Tunnel
Largest gradient on the approaches
Smallest bend radius
Number of stations and stops, Frutigen–Brig
Number of bridges
Number of tunnels
Construction of northern and souther approach begins
Mechanised tunnel drilling on north side begins
Breakthrough, Lötschberg Tunnel
First train travels through tunnel
BLS begins operations
Completion of twin-track expansion, Spiez-Brig
Completion of rolling road expansion
|Construction costs, Frutigen–Brig (price in 1913)
Max. number of workers, northern approach
Max. number of workers, southern approach
Max. number of workers per day on both sides, high-elevation tunnel
|CHF 138 m
Construction of the high-elevation tunnel
Average advance per day