I made two trips to the Engadine region, both were very well worth it. The first one was to Pontresina and the upper Engadine, and the second one was to the Lower Engadine. I also made a trip to Lugano, the region was interesting and very different from the rest of Switzerland, a great place if you need a change, but I would go only if my trip is anything more than 10-15 days.
Favorite places and experiences:
- The Food! Every meal I had in Engadine was excellent.
- The walk from Guarda to Ardez in the Lower Engadine.
- The lakes outside St.Moritz
- The Diavolezza cable car, near St. Moritz
- Tarasp castle, near Scuol.
- The Lugano Lake, especially the village of Gandria.
- Colani Stubli, Pontresina.
- Stuva Grande, in Soglio.
- Ustaria Crush Alba, Guarda, one of my best meals in Switzerland.
- Astras, Scuol.
- Chasa Veglia, Sent.
Things I could have done differently:
- Early june is slightly early for St. Moritz, especially if you want to hike around. Most hikes were covered with snow. Also, many cable cars weren’t open then.
- Spent a little more time around the lakes outside St. Moritz.
- Spent some more time at the top station on the Bernina Express.
Pontresina and St.Moritz
I reached Pontresina on a sunny June evening. The mountains looked great and the way to Pontresina was pretty good, green pastures and mountains at the backdrop. Checked in to the Youth Hostel near the station and had a good dinner of Pizzocheri and a sweet-sour local soup. Very well done. I wasn’t feeling very well, so went to sleep early. Woke up in the morning with a slight fever, but a determination to make the most of the day. The breakfast atthe hostel was very good, well made bircher muesli and good quality cheese. I had a regional card which got me free tickets for all the transportation in the region.
I took the Bernina Express up to Alp Grum. The views onto the Italian side were great from there. But I was more impressed with the area around the Ospizio Bernina, I didn’t have much energy to walk around, but otherwise this is the station to get off and get a nice walk. I got off at the Diavolezza cable car station and went up the cable car. Wow, what views! But the place was quite snowed in, so not many walking options. Otherwise, this place is a great start for hikes. Lunch was at Colani Stubli, I had an asparagus soup and a gnocchi with cheese, both very well made. Came back to the hostel and rested for a while. Now that I was recovering pretty fast, I decided to go up to Muottas Muragl. I took the trail to the base and went up the funicular. The view was very good from the top. You could see the lakes and several peaks in the region. I walked a little for a while, taking in the views and had dinner at the restaurant up there. I got a rosti and a dessert, both were pretty well done.
I wanted to explore some of the villages in the Val Bregaglia. I took the post bus to Soglio, with a change in between. The route was very beautiful, passing by the lakes and the peaks. It was a nice and sunny day. I walked around the village of Soglio, exploring places outside the village. The initial plan was to hike in the area, but I was just recovering, so I decided to let that go. In any case, it was quite hot and the sun was pretty strong, so it wouldn’t have been a good idea anyway. The peaks of the ranges infront were very well shaped, very sharp and commanding. The village was also very beautiful, very different from the villages in the german speaking parts. Very north italian like. Lunch was very good, I had a nettle soup and a polenta with cheese at Stuva Grande. I took a bus back to St. Moritz, stopping at Sils Maria on the way. Such a sight the lake was, paragliders flying all over the lake, the sun shining brightly, yellow wildflowers all over and the mountains at distance. Finally, I took a train back to Zurich from St. Moritz.
Lower Engadine : Scuol and Guarda
On one of the weekends, I took a train in the morning to the Lower Engadine. I fell in love with the area instantly. The villages looked more quaint, the mountains were absolutely green and lush and huge , no snow caps at all and the valley was very narrow and the construction was less. My first stop was the village of Guarda. Perched high up in the mountains, the village had some really well preserved painted houses. I spent a long time walking around the tiny village. Lunch was excellent, I had at Ustaria Crush Alba, I had a swiss chard based pasta, called Marolins, really well made, and a chestnut cake. I began a downhill walk to the village of Ardez. The walk was very interesting, the views of the mountains around was quite dramatic, the best of the views was while approaching the village of Ardez. I wandered around the village of Ardez and finally took a train to Scuol, where I had booked my accommodation.
Scuol, too was an interesting town. Situated at the floor of the valley with mountains all over, a river and a nice looking bridge and church, Scuol impressed me. Dinner was at Astras, I had vegetarian capuns and mushroom stuffed ravioli, both were excellent. The next day, I went up to Tarasp Castle, my favorite castle in Switzerland. The location is very dramatic. You can see a huge part of the valley from the top, and is very well maintained from the inside. The tour which takes you inside is pretty good as well. The only downside is that you can visit the castle only through a tour, which is conducted just about 2-3 times a day. But the castle is a must-see in the area, nevertheless. I took a bus to Sent, but by this time, the rain had become very heavy, and it was quite difficult to walk outdoors without getting wet. At Sent, I had lunch at Chasa Veglia, I had a risotto, which was good. The rain showed no intention of withdrawing, and visibility was reducing as well, even in Scuol. So I finally took a train to get me back to Zurich.
Lugano and Bellinzona
I took a train to Bellinzona on a Friday night. The views of the lakes around Zug were absolutely brilliant. I arrived in Bellinzona and checked in at my hotel. The town was a little too quiet. I went up to the castle in the town, the views were quite good from the top. Dinner was at Ristorate Giordino, I had a truffle and multi-cheese pizza, which I found to be a bit too cheesy from my taste. I started the next day with a walk up to the top most castle. The views of the town below, the castles below and the wide valley were breathtaking. Very enjoyable. I hadn’t expected the area to be so mountainous.
After visiting the castles, I wandered about the farmers market in the town centre. A great antidote for home sickness. It looked quite similar to some of the farmer’s markets in the US, except that there were many polenta sellers. It felt nice to buy fruits from places which weren’t Coop or Migros. For lunch, I went to Cantina Del Gatt, in Bellinzona. I had a spinach tortellini and mascarpone with fruits. The next stop was the Madonna Del Sasso, a church located above Lugano. The Madonna Del Sasso has a fantastic location, it’s like the ideal monastery, hanging at the edge of a cliffside. The interiors are interesting as well. From here I headed to Lugano.
Lugano was unlike any other place in Switzerland. It reminded me of California and Italy. More busy, more lively, slightly smaller mountains, flat roofed Mediterranean kind houses perched up the mountains, it looked like refined Italy. I was enjoying it thoroughly, it was a break from the mountains and glaciers and hiking. I walked around the Promenade and took a long walk along the lake, there was a Harley Davidson bike rally on the weekend, so the place was filled with people, almost like a carnival. I had dinner at Ristorante Pestalozzi, I got huge plate of polenta with mushrooms, which really filled me up. Later I had really good gelato at one of the gelaterias off the main street.
The next day, I had breakfast at a café on the main street, a really good pistachio croissant and a hot chocolate. I entered the Chiesa De San Maria di Loreto and Chiesa di San Rocco, the frescoes were beautiful. The ferries into the lake weren’t very frequent, unfortunately. I got on to the ferry to Gandria, the ride was really good. The view of Lugano from the lake was brilliant, the Mount San Salvatore looked very unique, the mountains on to the other side of the lake completed the picture. The village of Gandria looked straight out of the medieval ages, as we approached it. I really enjoyed walking around the village, the alleys and painted houses, views over the lake were filled with character. I would definitely rate it as my favorite place in the Lugano region. I had lunch at Antico Ristorate, I had a mushroom on toast(absolutely wonderful) and a gnocchi with vegetables. I took a ferry to the village of Morcote. I didn’t wait for ling, since there was another connecting bus to the base of Mount San Salvatore. The area did look very interesting, but I wish I had prepared to swim in the lake. I reached San Salvatore, took the cable car up and marveled at the views. You get a feel of “Rio of the east” from here, but I’m sure it’s not even close. Nevertheless, the views from the top were extraordinarily good, I wouldn’t compare them with the other mountain tops in Switzerland. From here you can see a large town, mountains with different shapes, a lake which is more rain fed, the vegetation is different as well. I decided to give Morcote another chance, I took the bus up to Morcote and walked up the convent. The soft, slanting evening light with the creepers, towers and medieval architecture gave the convent a very special feel. I took a bus back to Lugano, had dinner at La Cucina Di Alice, had an interesting pasta, made with tea leaves and different kinds of tomatoes. Roamed around the lake promenade, which seemed much calm after the rally. Took an early morning train back to Zurich the next day.