1000 mountains, 150 valleys and 615 lakes - Graubünden is a place where everyone can enjoy a restful holiday. “Patschifig” as the people of Graubünden say, means peace and well-being.
Summer guests started it all long ago. English Lords, Italian Countesses and German Industrialists created Graubünden’s first wave of tourism. Old photographs show pictures of a former era. Stern-looking mountain guides with clipped military moustaches accompanying elegant and finely dressed city people through beautiful woodlands - all for the sake of art . The most likely outcome was romantic poetry. In these pictures children were rarely seen.
Those who today take summer holidays in Graubünden today enter into an entirely different world. On the one hand there are the top holiday destinations such as St.Moritz and Davos Klosters. On the other hand there are the “small but beautiful” destinations which open up the many unique and unspoilt mountain villages and valleys. Here smaller and larger groups of brightly dressed men, women and children are found exploring. The sound of laughter accompanies them. This is certainly not a deadly serious expedition with the purpose of thrusting a flag onto a mountain summit. Rather a joyful excursion over rugged landscape, even when on occasion a route is more demanding. But this is all part of the fun!
What a special atmosphere the jutting rock faces of the Rhine gorge between Tamins and Ilanz create! In this strange and wonderful world of the Swiss Grand Canyon a thoroughly enjoyable trip is rewarded with one spectacular view after the next. And with only an hour’s walk along the side valleys of the Upper Engadin the last fingers of glaciers can be easily reached. The railway heritage trail of the Albula line provides fascinating insights into the truly heroic engineering feats of the Rhaetian Railway. The “Champlönch” nature trail in the national park offers an utterly different perspective. Using the GPS-guided “park ranger“ a virtual marmot or red stag appears and informs you about the hidden secrets of Switzerland’s nature park.
Many of the best bike trails are here in the mountains, for example the multi-stage bike tour Nr.90, which challenges even the best-trained bikers to put in 100%. And yet, there are also many trails that pass through flowering meadows and ascend gently through delightful forests. For those who prefer more leisurely bike tours there is a wonderful discovery awaiting – the electro-bike. In many places electro-bikes can be hired. A survey of bikers quickly proves that Graubünden’s battle slogan is understood as it is intended – with a pinch of salt! Then anyone who is spending all their holiday producing a high level sporting performance is going to miss so much more of what Graubünden has to offer. However, anyone who is spending their entire holiday partaking in such a high level of sport is going to miss all the other aspects Graubunden has to offer.
Graubunden combines nature with three diverse languages and culture like nowhere else in the world:- medieval churches, castles and ruins in Domleschg, religious architecture and farming villages in Surselva, Italian inspired palaces in Valpsoschiavo and the monastery in Müstair, (now a UNESCO world heritage site), Peter Zunthor’s thermal baths in Vals, the art museum in Chur showing the works of Segantini and the Giacometti family and finally the beautiful church in Zillis with its painted panelled ceiling.
Wonderful stories are plentiful throughout Graubünden. Even the very first village, and gateway to the canton has its own special story, as it is the home of the region’s favourite youngster, Heidi. Brought to life by author Johanna Spyris, the homesick little girl left Frankfurt and finally returned to her beloved Alps located just above Maienfeld. Engadin, situated in another corner of the canton, was home to Schellenursli, another famous ‘graubundener’ who braved the winter trek to the Alp hut to collect the large cow bell for the “Chalandamarz” spring festival.
Stories likes these, in addition to the nature and adventure trails and fixed rope paths turn Graubünden into an ideal holiday destination for families with children. Magical woodlands, enchanted lakes and cascading waterfalls all create the perfect setting in which to stimulate a childs mind. In most villages the message is very clear – “Families are always welcome” and many hotels tailor their activities and menus in order to cater for young families.
In the early days of tourism the wealth of the canton was reserved for an exclusive clientele. Stylish, luxurious and expensive hotels continue to be part of Graubunden’s tourism, but are now much more accessible due to an array of special offers and discounts. As a result this treasure chest has been opened up to people of many different nationalities and walks of life.
The statistics prove it. Every year over a million holidaymakers come to Graubunden during the summer and stay in a selection of 800 hotels. Particularly, sought after are hotels with “all inclusive” offers in Arosa, Engadin St.Moritz, Davos Klosters, Savognin and Samnaun. As long as guests stay for one or two nights in a hotel, they have the free use of the cable cars. The canton’s symbol is the ibex (a type of goat) ; a creature of almost mythical quality and renowned for its quiet majesty was wiped out nearly a hundred years ago. Then rangers re-introduced the animals from neighbouring Alpine regions. The ibex then quickly re-established themselves. Despite the initial hunting the ibex are accustomed to people’s presence and often come quite close.
Even golfers can get closer to nature. The region’s golf courses are designed in such a way that stags and wild geese can often appear along the fairway. A hooked or sliced shot can deposit a golf ball in the long grass and so abruptly stir a hare into action. Replace with: There is even a chance that a hooked or sliced shot could disturb a hare in the long grass. In addition to the scenic beauty of the courses Graubünden also offers a great deal of choice on the golf front. Pro capita there are twice as many golf courses in Graubünden then there are in England! And ten times as many as Germany!
Hiking. Biking. Golfing. Each of these whets the appetite for summer fun. Especially here in Graubünden where the mix of culture produces an exciting array of cuisine. A quick inspection of any restaurant’s cold dish specialities is evidence enough. Here you can find Graubünden’s succulent dried meat and raw ham from the German areas, sausages with unusual names such as Andutgel and Salsiz from the Romansh valleys, and Formaggi from the Italian region. A traditional main course of Capuns, for example, washed down with a world class Pinot Noir from the north of the canton or alternatively a fiery Veltliner is a real treat. It is all just another wonderful way to discover the delights Graubünden can produce through its nature, people, agriculture, tourism and diverse culture. Replace with: This is just another wonderful way to discover the joys of Graubunden and experience the diversity of the canton’s tourism offering.
The father of winter tourism, the St.Moritz Hotelier Johannes Badrutt was a true visionary, but he could hardly have imagined that out of his first winter season such a diverse holiday and sporting region would grow. Badrutt had made an offer to some of his British summer guests to spend several days in winter in the Engadin. He back his offer up with a wager – should his guests be disappointed, he Badrutt would reimburse their travel costs completely. Or if they preferred, they could stay as long as they liked for free! According to the legend four British guests duly arrived at Christmas and remained until Easter. That was winter of 1864/65 and with it the start of the first tourism-based winter season anywhere in the Alp. Badrutt’s promotion paid off. Winter holidays became an immediate success and not only in the Engadin. Today, around 900,000 guests choose to stay in Graubünden’s hotels for the winter season.
“Sure, I ski quicker than most. But in Graubünden I am not that unusual. After all here children are practically born with the skis on,” jokes Carlo Janka, the Olympic gold medallist (Giant Slalom) in Vancouver 2010 and winner World Cup Champion (Super-Combined) 2009/10. His speed and skills were first honed in Obersaxen, a family-orientated skiing region in the Upper Rhine valley. Later he could be found on the ski slopes of Laax with its high altitude and longer runs. It is typical of many of Graubünden’s bigger ski resorts. Lenzerheide is also a classic example with its demanding and diverse piste. Of course, there are also plenty of smaller family-friendly ski resorts such as the very convient Heinzenberg or Savognin, where children can ski alone without any worries.Then there are many snow parks such as the new indoor Freestyle Academy in Laax, where snowboarders can perfect their agility and speed. And for those who don’t think that is thrilling enough can opt for something completely different - the electrifying bob run in St.Moritz. Worldwide there is not another bob run built with just natural ice. On this one even visitors can hop behind a trained pilot and experience 75 seconds of sheer, spine-tingling excitement. Bob runs might not be a new idea, but the iced-skateline in Albulatal is the first in Switzerland. Here skaters can demonstrate just how quick they are. To assess its speed, it is probably best to use the term “bpm”. The same definition would also fit the rhythm found in an energetic night club.
The world of cross country skiing has totally different rhythms. On the one hand there is the slow almost lackadaisical style of the skier who while en route slows continually just to get another glimpse of Alpine grandeur. On the other hand there are those who strive to emulate Dario Cologna the world champion. Of course, it almost goes without saying – yet another champion from Graubünden, this time from Münstertal! Two rhythms, two paces and both amply catered for on Graubünden’s network. Then with 1,800 kilometres of runs there is more than enough room to relax or overtake.
Winter in Graubünden can conjure up pictures of serene, restful pleasure. The steady walk along the prepared winter hiking paths on a snowshoe tour or ski touring followed by the wellness oases. One such example is the thermal spa in Vals, a masterpiece of architect by Peter Zunthor or the Tschuggen mountain oasis in Arosa. It does not get much more restful and unwound than the Schatzalp in Davos, where the 111 year old sanatorium “Zauberberg” was built especially to relax in. Here the two lifts bring skiers leisurely up the mountain. Within a short time the hustle and bustle of everyday life starts to slip away and melt into the snow. In Graubünden we call this “patschifig” meaning a sense of rest and well-being.
There are few places that are more associated with exclusivity than St.Mortiz. Where else on events such as the “White Turf”, polo tournaments, or the bob race the “Cresta Run” does so much aristocracy and the jet-set meet? Yet here in the Upper Engadin the region plays host to major sporting events too. Every year over 10,000 skiers from all over Europe and every walk of life assemble and take part in the Engadin Cross Country Ski Marathon. It truly is a fanfare for the common man.
Fanfare for the common man might remind you of Emerson Lake and Palmer, but the international spring festival in the Silvretta Arena in Samnaun/Ischgl has drawn big names from the world of rock for years. A casual glance down the list proves the status of this concert: Tina Turner, Elton John, Jon Bon Jovi, Diana Ross… They all have been here and that’s why the audience keeps coming back for more.
The Burton European Open in Laax also enjoys enormous popularity, which in just a few short years has become a key event for snowboarders. As the biggest and most important snowboarding event in Europe it is not surprising that the best of the best come to Laax to fight for the crown.
The carriages of the Rhaetian Railway fit more into the category small yet fine, which literally plough their way through the winter landscape. A superb example is the Bernina Express. On a starlit night or full moon what could possibly be finer than eating fondue while passing glaciers in style?
Small yet fine can also be applied to the expeditions organized by the ranger Jon Gross for Val Müstair. With skis or snowshoes he takes his guests on tours into the winter grounds of ibex; quietly, carefully so that winter rest of these creatures remains undisturbed.
Finally, small yet fine is also an expression that fits many places which carry the designation “Families are Welcome”. Here are simple ski slopes with attractions designed especially for children. In Grüsch-Danusa just on the edge of the piste is Füchsliland with its ghost train, a tree xylophone and a cinema for children. In Arosa a fairy godmother and an ice castle invite children into the gondola for a trip into a fantasy world. In the entire canton 59 toboggan runs of varying velocity wait for intrepid participants. The thrills and spills along the way make this so much fun.
Towards the end of the long and eventful winter the people of the Engadin, southern valleys and the Oberhalbstein look forward to the old and perhaps even ancient tradition of the Chalandamarz. On 1 March the colourfully costumed school children with bells and whips gather to chase the winter away and greet the spring. But the next winter is never far away.