WIN­TER WON­DER

Switzer­land is known as a lav­ish land of snow-capped moun­tains and ex­quis­ite scenery.

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From the snow-packed trail, I have a moun­taineer’s view of Switzer­land’s Up­per En­gadin. Silvery frozen lakes strung along the Inn River, far be­low, lead my eye south-west up the val­ley into Italy where the set­ting sun swal­lows the de­tails of dis­tant peaks and clouds. This morn­ing I was at the ocean shore for sunrise. Now I’m breath­ing alpine air at 2700 me­tres above sea level. It took some se­ri­ous win­ter climb­ing to get here, though no cram­pons or ice axes nec­es­sary. Just a rail pass and a fu­nic­u­lar ticket.

Such ease and speed of ac­cess to the En­gadin, in Switzer­land’s largest and most east­erly can­ton of Graubün­den, has only been pos­si­ble since 600 or so Ital­ians con­structed this rail­way line around a cen­tury ago. These men also lib­er­ated the re­gion from its wretched chicory-and-cof­fee-blend ways, in­sist­ing on the real full-strength deal or

niente was go­ing to get done. This feat of brawn and brains means trav­ellers can now ef­fort­lessly as­cend 1721 me­tres from Zürich to the Up­per En­gadin’s cap­i­tal of Samedan in less than three hours.

Af­ter a quick and easy train change at Chur (pro­nounced koor), the cap­i­tal of Graubün­den and re­put­edly Switzer­land’s old­est town, I no­tice a dis­tinct shift.

Vil­lages are more pre­car­i­ously po­si­tioned in an in­creas­ingly dra­matic land­scape. There’s more snow; it fills walled church­yards and set­tles around the head­stones. Dec­o­ra­tive pat­tern­ing etched into pas­tel plas­ter­work, called

sgraf­fito, is ev­ery­where. And there’s a new lan­guage in my ears.

“Al­le­gra,” the guard says with a smile when she checks my ticket. This is Ro­man­sch, the coun­try’s most re­cently ac­knowl­edged na­tional and of­fi­cial lan­guage along­side Ger­man, French and Ital­ian. Af­ter Ro­man sol­diers de­feated the Celts here about 2000 years ago, they put down roots. Cen­turies of iso­la­tion saw very lit­tle change to their spo­ken Vul­gar Latin apart from the de­vel­op­ment of di­alects.

The other no­tice­able dif­fer­ence af­ter Chur is more skiers on the train.

The sport­ing legacy of St Moritz

Some say win­ter sports were born in the En­gadin. The Swiss Alps were a sum­mer­time-only tourism des­ti­na­tion un­til the orig­i­nal owner of what is now St Moritz’s Kulm Ho­tel of­fered some English guests free un­lim­ited win­ter ac­com­mo­da­tion. Months later they fi­nally dragged them­selves back to Bri­tain, sun­tanned and changed for­ever.

Then in 1928 St Moritz hosted its first Win­ter Olympics, in 1929 it opened the ski school and then trade­marked it­self with a sun logo rep­re­sent­ing its 300-

plus days of an­nual sun­shine. A yearly snow polo tour­na­ment has been held on St Moritz Lake for over 30 years now.

Yet En­gadin tra­di­tions have sur­vived. In a cave-like cor­ner of St Moritz, Lud­wig Hate­cke presses and air-dries lo­cally sourced meat to cre­ate bünd­ner­fleisch.

Lesser known Zuoz was once the po­lit­i­cal cen­tre of the Up­per En­gadin and re­mains a well-pre­served Ro­man­sch vil­lage where lo­cals em­brace the quiet life. Sgraf­fiti-adorned Ho­tel Cr­usch Alva, built around 1500, over­looks the cen­tral plaza. Nearby, Galerie Tschudi has a me­dieval tower to dis­cover above its tra­di­tional Ro­man­sch rooms.

Philosophis­ing on a peak

But I don’t stay on the train to St Moritz with the skiers to­day. I change again in Samedan for one stop to Punt Muragl. En­gadin trans­port is a spi­dery col­lec­tion of bus, rail­way, fu­nic­u­lar and even horse-drawn sleigh routes.

Punt Muragl fu­nic­u­lar cov­ers about 700 al­ti­tu­di­nal me­tres in 10 min­utes up to the Ro­man­tik Ho­tel and its fourk­ilo­me­tre Muot­tas Muragl to­bog­gan run.

The ho­tel, at 2456 me­tres, puts Ro­man­sch first in its sig­nage and is a ski-free zone. The first en­ergy-plus ho­tel in the East­ern Alps, it has 16 rooms and a huge sun­deck. The restau­rant serves up Ital­ian and old Ro­man­sch favourites.

I walk off my herds­man’s mac­a­roni and nut tart along the Philoso­phers’ Trail and, at its height, stop to gaze out at the val­ley I have a week to ex­plore. For to­day, though, I’ve come a long way and in­tend to stay on this high for a while.

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03 01 View from the Cor­vatsch 02 Snow Polo World Cup 03 Per­fect cross-coun­try trails 04 Lights of the Up­per En­gadin

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