Summer Getaway: the Swiss Engadin Valley
It’s already summer half-time (or is it early late end already?) and all I can think of is what kind of trips I’d like to squeeze into the remaining weeks of this always too short season. I’m thinking white sandy beaches on Greek islands, bustling seaside cities like Barcelona and endless party nights spent in romantic rooftop-bars in Istanbul. The invitation for a getaway to the Engadin valley in the Swiss Alps totally took me by surprised – summer holidays in the mountains? Without the snow and all? This would prove interesting but Katja and I were determined to give this an honest shot. Move over palm trees and ocean waves – hello mountains!
Our trip started with the most scenic train ride imaginable. The line across Albula and Bernina is so special that it was declared world heritage by UNESCO in 2008 and the views you get completely live up to the promises this makes. The train rides through romantic villages, along steep slopes and quite literally right through the Alps: the most impressive landmarks are the winding tunnels between Bergün and Preda and the circular viaduct at Brusio.
The ride certainly gave us a taste of what we’d be in for those next couple of days and we were giddy with excitement when we got off the train in St. Moritz – what would happen? How much better could it possibly get?
Not being able to keep the „Awws“ and „Ohhs“ to ourselves we arrived at the beautiful design hotel Nira Alpina, a true gem as far as accommodation is concerned and easily one of the best hotels of the area. As beautiful as the journey was our arrival here. In fact, everything in the Engadin valley looked like from a catalogue – Switzerland certainly rolled up their sleeves on this one: romantic houses in the hills, sun-dipped mountain tops, lakes in all shades of blue, children playing by the water and beautiful people working out in their fashionable sports gear. I would have bet this was a scene crafted in Hollywood, had I not seen it with my own eyes. I could have been fooled into believing that visitors have to undergo a casting to be allowed in, that’s how well and happy everyone looked! Ok, maybe not everyone…
Nira Alpina lies a 10 minute drive away from St. Moritz, just above the Silvaplana lake. The hotel’s architecture somewhat reminded me of a mountain in its own right, as every floor steps up to the next. Thanks to its hilltop position the panoramic windows offer great views over the tiny village of Surlej and the turquoise lakes at the bottom of the valley. All rooms have a private balcony or terrace – with guaranteed direct access to the Engadin summer sun! Apart from that the bathroom the definitely another highlight of our room, respectively the fantastic rain shower.
We enjoyed a warm welcome by the hotel’s staff, a little tour around and especially the massive jar of Swiss chocolate at the reception! Insider tip: no one will look at you funny if you grab a few too many, but you don’t know that from us, ok?
The possibilities of what to do in St Moritz in winter are obvious – skiing and snowboarding tops this list, both of which being super easy to do with Nira Alpina’s direct link to the Corvatsch cable car underground, the area’s only ski in – ski out hotel. Engadin is also known for its frozen lakes and the possibilities that come with that. If you’re into polo, you’ll be delighted to hear that this spot is renowned for winter polo.
Nonetheless, we had not come here for ski and snow, we were team summer! For that we were handed a silver platter of possibilities – we simply had to pick from a luscious menu of outdoor and water activities, all of which are best enjoyed on a warm, sunny day. And guys, with 320 days of sun per year these are just endless in this part of the world! The staff at the Nira Alpina front desk is full of suggestions about what to do in the area, and happy to assist organizing any of the mentioned activities below and many more!
Due to the steady wind conditions (the Maloja wind from Italy sets in every afternoon) Silvaplana lake is a paradise for wind and kite surfing. The village has a kite surfing school which offers classes and equipment rental. If you don’t dare getting out there you can enjoy the beautiful mountain panorama spotted with many colorful kites up in the sky.
As far wind is concerned, the same heavenly conditions apply to sailing. While surfers stay in Silvaplana, sailors hop over to the St. Moritz lake. More our style, we got aboard Giachen Ün – one of the sailing club‘s boats which you can rent by the hour with a skipper included. Soon we figured out that we would be lost without our two skippers Simone and Tobias: Again what are all the ropes for? Why is the boat leaning at this insane angle? Will we make it back to the shore dry and alive? After an exciting hour on the lake with our lives on the edge we stepped back onto solid ground and treated ourselves to a beer at the nearby restaurant. Sailing in St. Moritz might not hold the same options as a big lake like Como in Italy or the open sea, it does however offer ideal conditions to learn this sport and perfect your maneuvering skills – the lake’s compact size ensures for constant turning and wind is guaranteed!
While it gets very windy in the afternoon the early morning (up until 11.30am) is the best time to paddle on one of those hot SUP (Stand-Up-Paddle) boards. Rental boards are available at the kite surf school in Silvaplana. The same counts for wetsuits which are an absolute must in the ice-cold glacier lake! We were definitely happy to have them on when we put ourselves out there!
If you are interested in the sport, be spontaneous and go to St. Moritz on August 24-25, when the European SUP Championship takes place.
What would an active holiday be without hiking? Engadin offers trails on all levels and numerous cable cars and gondolas spare you the exhaustion by taking you up onto the highest peaks. A little cheating has never been a bad thing! Even if you just get up there for the view the scenic spots are worth a visit! We recommend the trip up to Muottas Muragl from where you have fantastic vistas of the Engadin lakes and the surrounding mountains. Here and there you’ll spot a paraglider and sailplanes. By the way, the restaurant at the top station is a great place for lunch and perfect for a romantic date!
Another kind of cheating your way to a glimpse at the panorama is renting an eBike. We’re in the mountains, so naturally the bike trails are hilly and in order to reach a vista one has to go up to one first. The supportive engine of an eBike comes in quite handy there! We met our local tourguide Susi to go to Pontresina and rent bikes at the village’s rental station. Our legs (and the engine) took us along a pretty trail through the valley, up and down the slopes. Our goal, which we reached not even slightly out of breath and still fresh as if just showered, was the Alp-Schaukäserei Morteratsch – where you can watch cheese-making in progress. After learning everything about the local cheese Heuthaler and Gletschermutschli (awesome name btw.) we tucked in and feasted on Swiss delicacies and cold cuts. The cheese factory is a great excuse to come here at this time of the year: it’s open only in the summer months and offers daily brunch!
When coming back to Nira Alpina after a long day of fun outdoor activities there are three Travelettes-tested ways to recover:
An active day costs a lot of energy so you should fuel up at one of the hotel’s restaurants. As Stalla Vaglia wasn’t open when we visited we booked our table at Stars, the hotel’s rooftop restaurant. After a fruity aperitif at the bar’s terrace we sat down to a delicious meal with breathtaking view. 4 floors above our garden terrace the valley looks completely different again! Choosing wildly up and down from the menu we decided on three favorites: the soft ribs and the rosy entrecôte for meatlovers and the sea bass served in a banana leaf for those who prefer fish. Of course a dessert of Swiss chocolate is a must! If you’re up for more action and an interactive dinner-style we recommend the Fondue Chinoise, served with all kinds of meat and pickled vegetables.
To get rid of the surplus of energy after dinner – maybe the dessert was too much after all – we made our way to St. Moritz to check out the town’s party locations. Winter season and the necessary apres-ski are famous around the globe and George Clooney is not the only one you could meet on the snow-covered sidewalks. Anyways, we wanted to know what the summer crowd has to offer and we found some real gems. Starting the night with cocktails at Bar Verde or a fine glass of wine at Pavarotti’s just across the street, the real winner of the night is the tiny pubstyle bar Stübli. Daily live guitar music makes for relaxed atmosphere and happy Travelettes!
Yet our favorite way to recover from a strenuous day was a visit to the hotel’s spa Nira Spa. Enjoying the view from the whirlpool, sweating in the sauna and the steam bath or simply relax in the chill out lounge – not enough? Then choose from the spa’s menu: massages, body scrubs, facials, manicures and pedicures, they have it all. Our choices were the signature treatment Alpine Journey (a massage with essential oils, hot stones and wooden sticks) and the aroma therapy to revitalize your muscles.
Our three days in mountain paradise passed by quicker than we expected and soon it was time for us to leave again. Grabbing a bite from the Bakery – the hotel’s coffee and pastry shop selling sweet cupcakes, fresh sandwiches and yummy ice-cream – we made our way back to the train station. There was yet another scenic train ride waiting for us. Zurich, here we come!
Thank you Nira Alpina for inviting us to the beautiful Engadin valley, Swiss Tourism for helping with arranging our trip and Tourism Organisation Engadin St. Moritz for organizing one awesome tour after the other!
*all photos by Katja Hentschel, unless otherwise specified