Tirano itself is a quiet town in northern Lombardy and would perhaps go unremarked if it wasn't also the departure point for one of the most scenic train routes in Europe, the Red Train (Bernina Express) that travels across the Alpine passes to reach Saint Moritz in Switzerland.
The centre of Tirano is dominated by the substantial Sanctuary of Madonna di Tirano, the principal monument in the town.
The church-sanctuary that you see today was built on the site of a smaller church at the beginning of the 16th century and is a very imposing monument with three apses, a colonnaded dome and an attractive belltower with eight levels and inset arches. Built in the Renaissance style, the decoration continues in the interior of the sanctuary which features many scultures and artworks from the 17th century.
The church was built after an apparition of the Virgin Mary took place here in 1504. The Virgin told a local girl, Mario Omodei, that she would end the plague in the town if in return Tirano would build a shrine dedicated to her. It appears that she kept her promise and the town duly built the imposing sanctuary starting in 1505.
Apart from the sanctuary there is little of historical interest in Tirano, but the town also attracts many visitors because it is the starting point for one of the most popular Alpine Train routes: the Red Train.
Red Train of Tirano (the Bernina Express)
The Red Train, a tourist train also called the Bernina Express, operates all year round between Tirano and Saint-Moritz in Switzerland. The train follow the Bernina Pass, with the journey taking about 2 1/2 hours each way if you continue as far as Saint-Moritz. The trains also take visitors to other towns and ski areas along the Bernina Pass.
The Red Train / Bernina Express route is the highest Alpine crossing (reaching an altitude of 2250 metres) and the steepest rail route in the world (with gradients up to 7%) and passes through very beautiful Alpine scenery for most of its journey. The route is one of very few in the world to even be listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, under the name of the Rhaetian Railway.
The views across the mountains and glaciers are truly stunning and enhanced by the train design which incorporates large panoramic glass windows. As well as the scenery you will also be impressed by the engineering feat that made the Red Train possible in the first place with the numerous bridges, tunnels and viaducts that were needed.
Note: there are two train stations here in Tirano: one is for 'regular' trains to and from Lecco, a town on Lake-Como, and the other for the metre-gauge railway route that carries the Red Train (Bernina Express) to Saint-Moritz.