In the far eastern edge of Switzerland, where Italy and Austria meet, the Engadine valley traces the En river from the jewel-like lakes of St Moritz to the quiet traditional villages of the lower Engadine.
The Engadine region is, in general, little known and lightly visited. Although it is home to St Moritz, one end of the Glacier Express train route (Zermatt is the other), and one of the rich-and-famous magnets in the Alps, the Engadine is quiet and spacious.
Tradition is the word that best describes this area. This is a Romantsch region – Switzerland’s tiny 4th language, with only 50,000 speakers, many of whom live in the Engadine. A relic from an earlier time, it’s appropriate that visiting the Engadine can feel like going back in time. The architecture of the villages is magical, with cobblestoned roads and lopsided houses with decorative etchings that give a decidely Italian look. The tiny village of Guarda is a particularly atmospheric example, an idyllic cluster of houses and barns high on a bluff, and it is often cited as Switzerland’s prettiest village, but the style pervades the entire region.
In the upper Engadine, Pontresina is a favorite among hikers. A quiet but substantial village, Pontresina has a good amount of tourist shops and nice hotels packed into a small package. It sits at the base of the Bernina group of mountains – the largest peaks in the area – with numerous hikes in every direction. Although smaller than the mountains of the Bernese Oberland, Zermatt or Mont Blanc regions, the Bernina groups is still a dazzling collection of peaks and glaciers with a number of scenic huts to visit and passes to cross, and Pontresina is the perfect base to explore from. Nearby, the lakes of St Moritz are a quick daytrip away, and the very Italian-feeling Bregaglia valley adds a unique flavor to the region.
Swiss National Park
The Engadine is also home to Switzerland’s one and only national park. The Swiss National Park was established a century ago in response to the rapid disappearance of wild areas in Switzerland. Its purpose is provide space for nature to thrive without human interference. It’s Switzerland’s last wild corner, and a great place to spot herds of chamois antelope or the majestic bearded vulture soaring overhead. The park headquarters in Zernez has a museum where you can learn more than you ever thought you needed to know about marmot burrows and rock strata.
The Engadine might not be the most spectacular choice for a first and only trip to the Alps, but for a second or third trip, its quiet charm, beautiful mountains, abundant wildlife, and friendly people are an inspiring combination.
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