Although the names of its biggest resorts, such as St. Moritz and Davos, register almost automatic recognition, the region wrapped around them remains surprisingly unsung, untouched by the fur-clad celebs who make stages out of its sports centers, aloof to the glamour trends—quirky, resilient, and decidedly set apart. Nowhere in Switzerland will you find a sharper contrast than the one between
the bronzed seven-day citizens who jet into St. Moritz and the stalwart native farmers who nurse archaic dialects and gather their crops by hand, as their Roman-Etruscan ancestors did. Resort life in winter is quite different from everyday existence in Graubünden.
As it straddles the continental divide, its rains pour off northward into the Rhine River, eastward with the Inn River to the Danube River and Black Sea, and south to the River Po. The landscape here is thus riddled with bluff-lined valleys. The southern half basks in crystalline light and, if it weren't for the Italian-speaking Ticino, would receive the most sunshine in the country. Its 150 valleys and 615 lakes are flanked by 937 peaks, among them Piz Buin (10,867 feet) in the north and Piz Bernina (13,307 feet), the canton's highest mountain, in the south.
Like many Swiss cantons, Graubünden is culturally diverse. To the north it borders Austria and Liechtenstein, and in the east and south it abuts Italy. Swiss-German and Italian are widely spoken, and about one-third of the local residents speak Romansh, an ancient regional language. Even the name Graubünden itself comes in a variety of forms: Grisons (French), Grigioni (Italian), and Grischun (Romansh). It originates from the "Gray Confederation," one of three leagues that joined together in 1471 to resist the feudal Habsburg rulers. After a period as a "free state," Graubünden became a Swiss canton in 1803. With these dialects and their derivatives cutting one valley culture neatly off from another, it's no wonder the back roads of the region seem so removed from the modern mainstream.