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Hiking the Sunny Side
by Karen Walker

Embraced by the Austrian Tyrol to the east and the Italian Lake District to the south, Switzerland's Engadine, named for its En River, combines a bit of each: warm, sunny weather with spectacular glaciated peaks. The culture reflects a blend as well, and travelers accustomed to the ubiquity of Swiss chalet style throughout the Alps will be delighted by the quirky combination of the Italian, Germanic and Romantsch. influences. Best of all, the Engadine offers delightful, moderate hiking, both in its lift and infrastructure intensive Upper Engadine in the south and in the lesser known Lower Engadine to the north.

The Upper Engadine

Home to the glitzy resort of St. Moritz, the Upper Engadine also has a number of smaller resort villages, including Pontresina and Sils Maria. Either is an excellent base for walking, and many fine hiking routes link the two, as does convenient and frequent bus service.

Situated on a plain between two lakes, Sils is a tiny village. Accommodations range from three to five star, including the well known, five star hotel, the Waldhaus, and the Edelweiss and Margna, both well-appointed, gracious four star hotels.

Pontresina, a larger resort village, is located east of Samedan en route to Tirano and offers views south to the Bernina Massif and an opportunity to stay in a village that includes an economy outside of tourism. Home to the five star Grand Hotel Kronenhof, Pontresina also has a number of fine four star hotels, including the popular Walther and the central Rosatsch with its well-appointed rooms and friendly management. A full range of hotels in the standard and tourist classes offer simpler accommodations at more affordable rates. The Rosatsch also offers three star accommodations in its Stammhaus; these rooms represent an excellent value as the entire hotel offers four star service and amenities. Elect to stay with a bed and breakfast arrangement, however, as the dining room serves uninspired cuisine.

A full range of hiking from gentle walks on to challenging ascents can be made from either village. A number use lifts. The Muottas Muragl, a well promoted funicular, carries hikers high onto a ridge above the valley with expansive views of the snowy Bernina Range, the valley and its lakes. From the lift station, it is possible to walk to Pontresina with both extremely gentle and more strenuous options. The gentlest route skirts the flanks of the Piz Muragl and offers a route to Pontresina with virtually no ascent. A more challenging option involves ascending to the Segantini Hut, a tiny mountain restaurant with simple food-- soup, sausage and such, and continuing along to Alp Languard, where one can descend by foot or lift to the village. This tour can be extended almost indefinitely, on to Piz Languard or even to the remote Furcla Pitscha, a pass above the Bernina Suot rail stop.

An extremely gentle tour can be made from Pontresina by ascending the lovely Val Roseg. At the Hotel Roseggletscher, one can return by horse drawn carriage (in town, they'll try to tell you that you can only purchase round trip tickets, but if you show up at the hotel on foot, they will carry you back on a space available basis!). First, be sure to enjoy the fabulous dessert buffet served after 11:00 a.m. on the hotel terrace. If you need more exercise after your berries, tortes and meringues, continue up the valley to the south and east and visit the Tchierva Hut. From the hut, there are spectacular views of the Biancograt of the Piz Bernina and the Piz Roseg. It is worth the effort to make the ascent. Return to Pontresina by the same route, down the Val Roseg, either on the carriage road or the footpath that diverges from it just below the Hotel Roseggletscher. If you want to enjoy a pleasant morning's walk, ramble from Pontresina to St. Moritz by the Lej da Staz. It's a short outing with virtually no ascent or descent. While in St. Moritz, make a stop at Hanselmann's-- a famous bakery deserving its reputation!

The Silsersee (Lake)From Sils, there are also excellent walks, including a lift assisted ascent to Fuorcla Surlej. Ride the Corvatschbahn gondola to the midstation, climb briefly through moonscape to the pass. At the pass, you can continue on a long traverse to the remote Coaz Hut, perched high above the Roseg Glacier, or you can descend directly into the Val Roseg (redundant if you have already made the Val Roseg walk). For the ambitious, this hike can be made in the opposite direction. From the Coaz Hut, return by the same route or, for a long day, descend into the Val Roseg. Two pleasant morning's walks can be had from Sils by walking along the Silsersee through Isola on to Maloja, or along the Silvaplanersee to Silvaplana. One can return from either hike by foot or bus, or combine both hikes for a long, lakeside ramble. (Photo: Silsersee and Silvaplanersee.)

A moderate, short day's outing from Sils ascends to the head of the Val Fex via the Muot Ota, a small summit with great views over the lakes. From the highpoint, the route follows blazes along the ridge top, then descends to the valley by a small farm. At the head of the valley is a restaurant that serves an excellent mushroom risotto and an admirable gerstensuppe-- a regional soup made with barley and cream seasoned with a bit of bacon. Either is an excellent warm up on a chilly day. From the head of the Val Fex, you can ride back to Sils in one of the horse drawn carriages if you are too full, or walk down the road. It is easy, pleasant walking with no traffic other than the occasional Pferdbus (carriage).

No trip to the Upper Engadine would be complete without a trip into the Bregaglia, the deep valley with fabulous granite spires to the south via the Maloja Pass. An ultra-classic moderate hike, the Sentiero Panoramico, links the villages of Cassacia to Soglio, a charming hilltown with cobbled streets, a circular plan and a church complete with campanile. Be forewarned, bus service from Soglio is infrequent and stops altogether about 5 p.m. , so get an early start-- or better yet, plan to stay the night in this wonderful, antique village.

The Lower Engadine

The well marked trails, lifts, mountain huts and restaurants and frequent and convenient bus schedules of the Upper Engadine make navigating a pleasure for the hiker, who will never have to worry long about getting lost or going hungry. Nonetheless, the region is somewhat in the tourist mainstream. To get a bit more off the beaten path, head north into the Lower Engadine. Here, you will need to be a bit handier with both map and bus schedules, but you will be rewarded with the pleasures of untrammeled hiking through forests and meadows separating villages that appear to have been transported entire from the 18th Century. The Romantsch. culture is alive and well in the Lower Engadine, where you can admire the spectacular architecture, walk through unspoiled villages and past tin farms, attend a mass in the Romantsch. language, and exchange the local greeting-- Allegra!-- with the natives. It's an experience you will not soon forget.

The main village of Scuol is the simplest base, but you may choose to stay in one of the smaller villages, including Tarasp, Guarda, and Ftan, if you do not mind figuring out complicated transportation logistics and taking the occasional taxi (the phrase "you can't get there from here" may have been invented here!). The region abounds with special accommodations, including the famous Haus Paradies in Ftan and the quaint and charming Hotel Chaste Tarasp in Tarasp.

In Scuol itself, the Guarda Val offers pleasant rooms in two converted 18th Century Engadine houses with a good restaurant but indifferent family management. The large, four star Belvedere, conversely, offers large, clean, indifferent rooms with caring management, good food, and a convenient location right on the main street. For those on a tighter budget, the Crusch Alba offers clean and pleasant rooms and an excellent little dining room that specializes in regional cuisine and attracts a local clientele. The Grusaida, the best deal in Scuol, offers simple, clean rooms and a location just out of town but directly on the bus route. The village itself has much to recommend it. Its modern main street boasts a new futuristic spa-- a must do if you visit the region-- and the old town has cobbled streets, many beautiful examples of the region's architecture, a museum of the Romantsch. culture, a delightful old covered bridge over the En, and a large, picturesque church.

The valley and its slopes are crisscrossed by trails offering pleasant, moderate walking, and the long distance Via Engiadina Bassa is the centerpiece. It is possible to walk the length of the valley on this moderate trail that links villages, open meadows filled with wildflowers and dense coniferous forests. The trail is more conceptual than real, however, and you will need both map skills and a little sense of serendipity to enjoy the route. One pleasant, moderate section of the Via Engiadina Bassa is from Tschlin via the Val Sinestra to Sent and Scuol. There is a bus service to Tschlin, and one can bow out from the hike along the way at Vna (descend to the valley for bus service), the Val Sinestra (infrequent service) or Sent.

Mountaintop FtanA delightful, short circuit can be made of the high level route from the top of the Muotta Naluns lift to Prui and Ftan, and from Ftan through Ftan-Pritschen by farmroads through meadows back to Scuol. To extend this hike, ascend from Prui to Alp Laret-- the farmhouse there serves a simple lunch with a view-- before descending to Ftan. For a full day out, ascend the Val Tasna from Alp Laret, cross the bridge and descend the valley to Ardez, a village famous for its painted houses. If you choose the shortest version, allow for a mid- morning departure, and you will arrive in Ftan in time for lunch. If your idea of hiking includes a gourmet lunch at a world class restaurant, make reservations at the Haus Paradies, and be prepared to waddle back to Scuol. (Photo: Ftan - a fairy tale village among the clouds.)

A charming outing can be had from Scuol by crossing the river (the old covered bridge is a great start to the hike) and walking up the river to the old Trinkhalle, the original spa of Tarasp that still offers medicinal waters and other treatments, some with mysterious sounding names. From the Trinkhalle, climb the hillside to Tarasp, where it is possible to visit the castle, a leftover from the Hapsburg regime and now owned by an Austrian pharmaceutical manufacturer. Part is private residence and part is museum. Alternately, enjoy lunch at the Hotel Chaste Tarasp (check first to see that it is not their Ruhetag or rest day). From Tarasp, you can loop back to Scuol or continue on to Ardez via Funtana, Allatscha and the suspension bridge below Maria-Hof.

From Guarda, a worthwhile ramble ascends the Val Tuoi to the Tuoi Hut, where they make their own yogurt and tortes. The valley offers dramatic views of the Piz Buin in the Silvretta range separating the Lower Engadine from the resorts of Davos and Klosters. Return to Guarda by the same route, or cross over the river at the farm below the hut and follow the blazed, indistinct path on the other side back to Guarda or on to the valley floor at Lavin. For a longer venture, take the bus from Scuol to S-Charl (actually, request the Mingerbrucke stop and the driver will drop you directly at the trailhead) and enjoy a long, moderate ramble through the Swiss National Park's Val Minger that terminates in Tarasp.

The Engadine offers a wanderer's paradise, from ancient footpaths connecting pristine Engadine villages in the north to airy mountain trails overlooking majestic alpine scenery in the south. The unique cultural charm of the Lower Engadine, the convenient infrastructure of the Upper Engadine, and the legendary innkeeping and cuisine of both combine to make a hiking holiday filled with pleasure and charm.

Getting There

Zurich is the most convenient airport, about 5 hours away by rail to Pontresina or Scuol. For Sils, change to a bus at St. Moritz. The public transportation system, which you can use by purchasing individual tickets, a Swiss Pass (good for unlimited travel) or Swiss Card (good for travel to and from the airport and for reductions on all buses trains and lifts), allows access to the Engadine's trail systems (imagine that in the United States!).


The hiking season extends from June into October in the Engadine. The best times to travel are early July and mid-September when the tourist season is on its shoulder and the inns, trains and trails will be least crowded. Additionally, the flowers are at their best in early July, while the larches are turning, the autumn crocus blooming and the first winter snows dusting the high peaks in mid-September.


Purchase your hiking maps in Switzerland. Kummerly-Frey's yellow, 1:60000 Unterengadin and Oberengadin maps are the best. Additionally, the local tourist offices and lift stations will provide free graphic maps that are of limited value but do give you some idea of the local trails. The PTT also publishes and sells a small booklet of hikes accessible by Postbus that may be of some use.


Reservations are necessary during the high season from July through August and recommended at other times to prevent the tedium of looking for a hotel after the day on the trail. The Swiss National Tourist Office can supply you with a complete guide to the hotels of the entire country. Fax inquiries are simple and can be made in English to all hotels of the first class and most hotels of the tourist class. Simpler hotels may respond in German (but not in Romantsch.!).

Guides and Tour Operators

If you do not want to go alone, consider joining a group or using the services of a Swiss travel planning service.
The Swiss National Tourist Office can provide you with a full list of tour operators. Ryder/Walker Alpine Adventures offers village based tours and more challenging inn to inn treks in the Engadine region and a complete hiking itinerary planning service.

Swiss Travel Information On-line

  • Swiss Mountain Rambles Describes several walks ranging from easy to moderately difficult in the Berner Oberland, south of Interlaken.
  • Swiss National Tourist Office This site offers general touristic information about Switzerland and its resort towns. It is filled with contact information, but due to its large scope and the fact that it represents all entities equally, it is generally dull and ponderous. Contact the SNTO by phone (212) 757 5944 to request publications on Switzerland, hiking the Swiss Alps, a list of tour operators, and the very useful hotel guide, put out by the Swiss Hotel Association.
  • Swiss Hotel Association An interactive site that allows you to request information on hotels of any category in any Swiss location. It provides all the information of the Hotel Guide on-line. The printed version is faster and easier to use.
  • Swiss Rail (SBB CFF FFS) An interactive site that allows you to request fare and schedule information for routes between any destinations in Switzerland. Very Useful!
  • Lonely Planet-- Destination Switzerland Brief, general descriptions of a number of Swiss destinations and general travel info.
  • Through the Back Door An eclectic collection of personal recommendations on European travel.
  • A Personal Visit to Switzerland Detailed information for visitors along with recommended sights, hotels, restaurants and other sources of information.

Copyright © 1997 Karen Walker

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The author is a founder and officer of Ryder/Walker Alpine Adventures. Born and reared in the flatlands of the Eastern US, she quickly became a Rockies resident after her introduction to serious mountains. Interests and professions include English Lit., scaling mountains, rock climbing, skiing, hiking, managing a business -- and 'managing' a toddler. Karen much prefers the Alps to her Perth Amboy birthplace. The company specializes in hiking tours of the Swiss and Austrian Alps and the Mont Blanc area. In addition to serious trekking, their village-based tours offer the opportunity for more gentle rambling. In either event, they choose charming, first class accommodations with great food, character and every comfort after hiking.

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