Perhaps the most interesting touristic region of Switzerland is that of the Engadine. Canton Graubunden in the southeastern portion of Switzerland is an intriguing corner to explore, not only for the hiking but for the culture, architecture, and ambiance. The broad valley of the Inn River is home to a number of villages and towns that are perfect hiking bases. The southern or upper Engadine is better known and offers a highly developed trail and transportation system. Mountain restaurants and berghauses and huts dot the mountains and provide sustenance and shelter for the long-distance hiker and daytripper.
We recommend avoiding overdeveloped and overpriced St. Moritz to enjoy one or more of the smaller resorts. Pontresina offers access to fabulous trails of all difficulties and a well-developed lift system. Tiny, sleepy Sils Maria is a jewel of a village located on a plain between two sparkling lakes studded with brilliant wind-surfers. Samedan is a larger town, bustling with contemporary life, free from tourists and filled with intact examples of Engadine architecture. From any of these locations, you can enjoy fabulous hiking with views of the snowy Bernina massif, glacier-clad peaks, and the lakes along the valley floor.
Further south and below the tortuous Maloja Pass (and beyond the headwaters of the Inn River, so not technically a part of the Engadine) is the Bergell or Bregaglia region which offers remote and beautiful hiking with views of the granite spires of the Sciora Range. Here lies the wonderful village of Soglio, clinging to the side of the valley like an Italian hilltown. Its cobbled streets, stone construction, circular plan and church complete with campanile have qualified it as a national treasure, protected against development. Though a somewhat inconvenient base for day hikes, it merits at least a visit from anyone visiting the region and an overnight visit for those with the time to spare.
The Lower Engadine
At the northern end of the Inn River valley, the lower Engadine is ringed by the Silvretta range and the Lischana group. Home to numerous, tiny, antique villages, the region is traversed by a long distance panoramic trail. There is excellent moderate walking and some strenuous, longer forays into the higher peaks, but do not expect the lifts, mountain restaurants, or other touristic conveniences of the upper Engadine. Here you will get a chance to see the unique Romansch culture still intact: you will hear and see the language written, observe the architecture unspoiled, meet the people who will greet you with their joyous “Allegra!” and walk through villages almost unchanged from the 18th Century.
The regional center of Scuol is a good base and an authentic town with both antique and modern culture and a fabulous new, futuristic spa. The old town has intact examples of regional architecture, a charming covered bridge and a large church where visitors can hear a mass conducted in Romansch. The new town is a fine example of contemporary Swiss life and offers a full range of shops and the ancient “waters” and modern baths– whirlpools, hot tubs, and swimming pools– of the spa. Anyone staying overnight in Scuol should visit the baths!
Throughout the region are sprinkled a number of sybaritic, first-class hotels, and charming and authentic small inns. Tarasp, Ftan, and Guarda give visitors the opportunity to stay in a small village and allow access to some of the region’s hikes. Guarda, in particular, is a gem. It’s 17th Century homes, cobbled streets, communal fountains, and pristine architecture have merited it a spot on the register of national treasures, and an overnight stay will leave you with a sense of having traveled back in time to a simpler era.
To the south is the Swiss National Park which offers longer forays into unspoiled terrain excellent for spotting wildlife and seeing Switzerland as it was before tourism brought alpine club huts, mountain restaurants, lifts, and other amenities into the wilderness. The villages of Zernez, Bever, and Zuoz provide convenient access and also have a range of inns from simple to simply fantastic.