In this Vigezzina–Centovalli review, we’ll delve into our experience riding the Centovalli Express Train, also known as the Centovallina, which Lonely Planet highly recommends as one of Europe’s most scenic train journeys. We’ll take a closer look at the incredible beauty of this journey, showcasing original pictures from my personal experience.
Taking you from Locarno in Switzerland to Domodossola in Italy, the narrow-gauge Vigezzina-Centovalli Train runs 52.2 kilometers. The train journey lasts approximately two hours, passing through 83 bridges, over 30 tunnels, and covering a height difference of 1,100 meters as it traverses the Hundred Valleys. Travelers can savor the stunning vistas of countless bridges, mountain villages, canyons, and scenery throughout the journey.
Overview: Vigezzina-Centovalli Train
There’s a fascinating history behind the Vigezzina-Centovalli Train. The project began in 1913 but faced many challenges, including the difficult terrain, financial issues, and the outbreak of war. It wasn’t easy, but the railway was finally opened in 1932, marking a major achievement for the region.
This scenic train ride connects Domodossola, Italy, and Locarno, Switzerland. Approximately two hours long, the ride offers stunning views of the Alps and valleys.
Centovalli Train meanders through the rugged Centovalli region, passing picturesque villages along the way. Since the railway was built in the early 20th century, it has become a favorite attraction for tourists. It’s a captivating journey year-round.
The Vigezzina-Centovalli Train is operated by FART (Ferrovie Autolinee Regionali Ticinesi), a local and tourist transport company based in Locarno. You can visit the website https://www.vigezzinacentovalli.com for more information.
What to Expect: Vigezzina-Centovalli Train Ride
Vigezzina-Centovalli Train Route
What used to be a journey made on donkeys can now be effortlessly traveled by the Vigezzina-Centovalli Train. The real gem of this 52.2-kilometer ride is the breathtaking scenery. Taking you underground from Locarno, a sight rare in Switzerland, the adventure only gets better.
Starting at Ponte Brolla, you’ll be greeted with splendid landscapes and dramatic gorges that continue to captivate you throughout the journey.
Intragna, with its towering campanile, stands as the highest bell tower in the canton. Once you pass through Intragna, you enter the heart of the Centovalli, a place of serene valleys. The sense of history and wonder only deepens.
Throughout the ride, your eyes will be treated to sparsely dotted mountain villages, charming traditional houses, a dearth of modernity, and pristine, untouched nature.
It’s a wonderful visual experience, no matter what season, as you ride along the rivers and discover Lago di Palagnedra. In the summer, the landscape is an enchanting green, while autumn transforms it into a breathtaking canvas of gold and yellow hues.
Vigezzina-Centovalli Train Carriages
- Panoramic Carriages: The train features panoramic carriages with spacious, large windows that offer good views of the breathtaking scenery. While the windows are admittedly not as large as other panoramic trains like the Bernina Express, these still offer generous views of the landscapes. Whether you’re seated at the front or the back, you’ll enjoy the same panoramic views, thanks to the consistent design throughout the train.
- Compact Size: It’s worth noting that the train is relatively small and narrow in size compared to other commuter trains in Switzerland.
- Seating: The seats on the train are comfortable, ensuring a pleasant ride. However, keep in mind that the train can get quite crowded, especially during peak times.
- Reservations: To secure your seat, it’s highly recommended to purchase a train ticket with a reserved seat or arrive well in advance to ensure a comfortable journey.
- Free Audio Guides: Passengers on the train can easily link their mobile devices to the train’s complimentary Wi-Fi network to enjoy free access to audio guides. The entire route features twenty-one points of interest, which are described in four languages: Italian, French, English, and German.
- No Bar Carriage: Unfortunately, there is no bar carriage on board for purchasing drinks and snacks, so plan accordingly if you want snacks and refreshments during your journey.
- No Play Area: Unfortunately, for those traveling with young children, the train does not offer a children’s play area. If you’re traveling with young children, it’s a good idea to bring some books or small toys for them.
Our Experience: Vigezzina-Centovalli Review
The highlight of the journey is undoubtedly the breathtaking scenery. I particularly enjoyed the view of the turquoise river waters near Ponte Brolla, the picturesque sight of Bacino di Palagnedra, and the serene green valleys.
I imagine that the autumn landscape would be equally charming. Our summer trip was lovely, but the fall season could also offer a different kind of beauty.
We took the train in both directions and on both trips, it was quite crowded. After driving from Alassio, Italy, we were uncertain about which train to take and hadn’t made any reservations. So during the first leg, we had to stand in the aisle the whole trip. My tip: if you can predict your journey, consider making a reservation. It’s worth the additional expense.
On the second leg, we arrived very early, and despite many reserved seats (including a large group of seniors), we managed to secure seats. It was a very enjoyable journey.
Vigezzina-Centovalli Review: Is it Worth it?
In my opinion, it’s worth riding the Vigezzina-Centovalli Train. There’s a good reason that Lonely Planet has named it one of the most beautiful train journeys in Europe.
This train journey provides a unique experience compared to the Glacier Express and Bernina Express, which showcase glaciers and high alpine peaks. The Centovalli train offers lush green valleys and quaint, almost forgotten villages.
Although these valleys might not be as famous as other Swiss destinations, this ride is a popular choice among both tourists and locals. The train also runs regularly throughout the day, making it easy for passengers to plan their trip around their schedule.
The Centovalli train is also a very affordable option for travelers, with tickets starting at just 22 CHF and reservations at 8 Euros. It is an excellent choice for budget-conscious travelers who still want to experience the beauty of Switzerland and Italy.
I highly recommend this two-hour journey to anyone who has the time and doesn’t care too much about not having food or drink service onboard but wants to see the beautiful panoramic views. Booking a reservation is also recommended because it will be hard to get a seat, especially during peak season.
How to Get to the Vigezzina-Centovalli Train
The train departs from Locarno train station. Just find the FERROVIA LOCARNO-DOMODOSSOLA sign and it will lead you to the underground section.
You can also catch the train from Domodossola, Italy, or any of the other stops along the way.
Here’s a list of all the stops on the Centovalli Train:
- Ponte Brolla (Stop is only for boarding)
- Intragna (Stop is only for boarding)
- Camedo (Stop is only for boarding)
- Re (Stop on request)
- Malesco (Stop on request)
- S. Maria Maggiore (Stop on request)
- Druogno (Stop on request)
- Trontano (Stop on request)
- Masera (Stop on request)
- Domodossola, Italy
How Long Does It Take From Locarno to Domodossola?
The following table shows the travel duration from Locarno to Domodossola (updated November 2023):
|Locarno FART – Domodossola, Italy||1 hour and 49 minutes|
|Domodossola, Italy – Locarno FART||1 hour and 54 minutes|
How Much Will the Train Ticket From Locarno to Domodossola Cost?
As of the time of writing (updated November 2023), here are the train ticket prices from Locarno to Domodossola:
|Route||Full Fare||Half Fare|
|Locarno FART – Domodossola, Italy||CHF 44.00||CHF 22.00|
As you can see, if you avail of the Half Fare Travel Card, you can save on your fare for long train journeys. So this is something to consider during your travel to Switzerland. You can do simple calculations and decide from there if it will be worth it for you.
You can make seat reservations online via the website https://www.vigezzinacentovalli.com/ for an additional cost of 8 Euros.
Do You Need a Seat Reservation on the Vigezzina-Centovalli Train?
Although there is no need to reserve a seat, I highly recommend it since the train is quite small and the ride is popular among tourists and locals alike.
Final Thoughts: The Vigezzina-Centovalli Review
The Centovalli train is a scenic railway that offers a unique experience for travelers. The train runs through the picturesque valleys of Italy and Switzerland, providing stunning views of the surrounding mountains and countryside, chestnut forests, and vine-covered slopes.
After experiencing the Centovalli train journey, I can confidently say it’s worth it. I do regret not having a reservation, so I highly recommend booking one.
The trip could be even more enjoyable in the summer and autumn, perhaps combined with a scenic hike in Rasa or Loco or a bike ride back to Locarno. Another option is to take the train from Domodossola to Stresa and then the Lago Maggiore Ferry back to Locarno, offering a different perspective on this picturesque route.
Overall, the Centovalli train is an excellent choice for travelers looking to experience the beauty of the Italian and Swiss countryside. With its stunning scenery and panoramic carriages, it is a unique and memorable way to explore the region.
- Vigezzina Centovalli Train. https://www.vigezzinacentovalli.com/en/.
- Der Centovalli-Express. 1001 Ausflugsziele, Weltbild.
- Haywood, Anthony. Europe’s most scenic train journeys: 10 great railway rides for 2023. https://www.lonelyplanet.com/articles/best-train-journeys-europe.
- Schaefer, Barbara. Auf Entdeckungstour: Über Berg und Tal – mit der Centovallibahn nach Italien. Tessin, Dumont Reise-Taschenbuch.
- Zygmunt, Laura. 3 Schweizer Zugstrecken für einen unvergesslichen Herbstausflug, 20 Minuten. https://www.20min.ch/story/panorama-blick-3-schweizer-zugstrecken-fuer-einen-unvergesslichen-herbstausflug-491927490123. Accessed on 6 November 2023.
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Darla Uhl is the owner of TouringSwitzerland.com. Her home is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Having lived almost 20 years in Switzerland, she's traveled extensively all over the country.
Darla's favorite regions to visit in Switzerland include Engadin, Lake Geneva, Bernese Oberland, Ticino, and Valais. She loves spending time with her family, hiking, visiting museums, and reading books.