On the Road in the Magnificent Lower Engadine.
The Ice and Castle Master
From Martin Hoch
Mario Riatsch opens the kitchen window and looks out. A cold, biting draft sweeps in. He points down and asks, "Can you see the deer down there”? The visitors look down nervously from the Tarasp Castle, enthroned high above the Inn Valley, and see the deer. Riatsch adds, "These deer are here every day, they are free but belong to the castle garden."
Tarasp Castle is located across the valley from the Ftan Sun Terrace, near Scuol. It stands on a towering rock, surrounded by the mighty mountains of the Lower Engadine. Riatsch manages the castle and guides visitors through the walls on a regular basis. In addition to guided tours of the castle, it also offers cheese and dried meat tastings with meat from the butcher, Hatecke from Scuol. Mario Riatsch, family man and firmly anchored in the region, was once a forester. Since then he became a lock and ice master. He owes this rather unusual career to his waking mind; thinking outside the box. And that is how his story started.
From Forester to Ice Master
It was a cold, wintry day. Mario Riatsch went through his forest in Sur En, ten minutes east of Scuol. The day before, it rained down in the valley. The forest roads iced up overnight. It rattled in Riatsch's head. He put two and two together. This path, he was sure, would be ideal for an ice-skating rink, like the one he once saw in the Albula Valley. Together with Wolfgang Bosshardt and Grant Fletcher from the adjacent campsite, they ran the rope park here in the woods during summer, which was an idea he implemented seven years ago.
The three-kilometer ice skating trail runs like a loop through the magical coniferous forest. The path is just as suitable for beginners as it is for sporty ice skaters. Most of the ice rink runs at ground level, however, it sometimes slopes downward making the ride slightly faster. At the same time, the forest convinces with silence and at intervals you’ll see sparkling sunshine through the branches.
For some, experiencing nature is of utmost importance, for others, the ride is the best and most fun experience. Children especially might enjoy such a walk in the woods a lot more than just walking around. Ice skates can be rented on the spot, so that a spontaneous visit is easily doable.
The Ice Master Becomes a Lock Master
The announcement came six years ago and quickly spread through the Swiss forest: Not Vital, the internationally renowned artist from Sent, has acquired the Tarasp Castle. For years no one knew what was to happen to the castle - the family owners, from German nobility, wanted to get rid of the castle; which was built in 1040 by Ulrich von Tarasp. A sigh of relief went through the Lower Engadine. The Fixstar of the Inn Valley found a new buyer. And even better: a local. But only a few knew who was behind this coup. It was Mario Riatsch. Once again, he’d put two and two together.
After a meeting in the community centre in Tarasp Riatsch, the local president and a local farmer stood together outside, making small talk, as they breathed the fresh mountain air of Engadine. The view fell on the castle, the current ‘problem child’ in the village. One of the two thought aloud: "And what do we do with the castle?" For Riatsch it clicked. He suggested, "Let me ask my uncle." Maybe he is interested in taking over the castle. So Riatsch addressed his uncle Not Vital. One thing led to the next. Not Vital bought the castle and opened it regularly to visitors, as they should be able to share his joy for the castle. "My uncle is incredibly happy with the castle," says Riatsch. It is obviously visible to him that he loves it.
In fact, the castle is a jewel: a castle with large historical halls, small neat bathrooms, and sleeping quarters for noblemen - in front of one of the beds is stretched a bear's skin with the head – and everywhere is full of ornate furniture. A tour is a discovery tour; it’s worth paying attention to the countless details. The works of art exhibited by Not Vital are also thrilling. This includes not only some of his own works but also those of other artists. In one of the halls is Europe's largest privately owned organ. "It is the heart of the castle," says Riatsch. He adds, "It is a pleasure to work here." And no, nothing has haunted the castle, yet.
Martin Hoch was on the road for over seven years. Whether by train, bus, sailing ship or converted bus, the encounters with people were important to him, and he was driven by his love of nature. Back in Switzerland, he devotes himself to travel journalism, still regularly travels far away and is just as fascinated by the Swiss mountains.