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GRAUBUNDEN: exploring Pontresina, Sils, Poschiavo, Zernez, Guarda, Scuol

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Mar 6th, 2014, 07:30 AM
  #1
DAX
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GRAUBUNDEN: exploring Pontresina, Sils, Poschiavo, Zernez, Guarda, Scuol

We are planning to spend 3 days in Graubunden in late September. It will be our first time there. We're wondering if we can stay in Davos (easy freeway access from the Italian lake region) to do a daytrip by car to explore Zernez, Guarda/Zuoz, S-Chanf, and maybe even Scuol. on a different day we are thinking of driving to Pontresina, Sils and maybe Poschiavo on the furthest reach. Unfortunately most of us are not avid hikers so our goal is mostly sightseeing, eating, and soaking the atmosphere & view from the villages/towns. Does it even make sense for non hikers to visit Graubunden? Would Davos make a good picturesque place to stay in September?
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Mar 6th, 2014, 10:45 AM
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Davos is not exactly picturesque. To give you an idea of the architecture - think Bauhaus with balconies. It's a proper town, and the mountain scenery is not *that* dramatic. Better stay elsewhere.

Yes, it makes sense to go to Graubünden for non-hikers, too. There are lots of sights, from medieval churches and excellent (art and other) museums to rail trips and sights in the nature.

Three days is is very short, and you should concentrate on the highlights, I think - which means Engadine and neighbouring valleys IMO.

Staying in Zuoz would make sense. Easy access from there to both Upper and Lower Engadine, Müstair (UNESCO world heritage site Benedictine monastery with frescoes of the Charlemagne era). Coming from the Italian lakes region you could easily drive via Chiavenna - Bregaglia valley (detour to Soglio) - St. Moritz - Zuoz. Scenic and easy to drive.

As for Poschivao, I recommend to take the train. The road runs a different route that is by far not as scenic as the train route.

Why Zernez and S-chanf?
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Mar 6th, 2014, 11:13 AM
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It's very pretty there and there are plenty of completely flat walks you could do, too. We did two flat walks about ten years ago - one was following a river (large stream) from near Zuoz heading in the direction of Pontresina, and another one followed along a lake which I think was near Sils.

You would be walking amidst gorgeous scenery and just need decent shoes, not even hiking shoes.
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Mar 6th, 2014, 06:00 PM
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You are planning to visit a gorgeous part of the world! No need to be a hiker (although there are, as flygirl says, several hikes that are basically flat). With so little time, the challenge will be to decide on your priorities. Enjoy!
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Mar 7th, 2014, 09:48 AM
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Hi Ingo! Much obliged for your input, I was really hoping you would chime in knowing that you're the Graubünden expert.
Sounds like I should concentrate our limited time on the southern (upper?) Engadine & Bregaglia valley and just skip Zernez, Guarda & Scuol (less dramatic?). My dilemma is getting there from Lugano requires a long mountain driving (5 hours plus) from Lugano/Bergamo vs Davos (2.5 hour freeway drive). I haven't figured out a quick way to get to Sils/Pontresina by car. Not sure which route: Chiavenna or Sondrio/Poschiavo route. Hoping to hear from someone who has driven the mountain road from Italy.

Thanks Flygirl, It's good to hear what Zuoz has to offer. My main reason to visit Graubunden comes from a CD/DVD book on Waldhaus Maria am Sils history & renovation. So I see that Zuoz is not too far from Sils in case we want to do a worth while flat hiking trail.
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Mar 7th, 2014, 09:50 AM
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kja: thanks, which parts have you been to? Any favorite places?
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Mar 7th, 2014, 11:00 AM
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I visited Mustair and the Convent of St. John, then the Lower Engadine, where I stayed in Guarda (from which I visited Schloss Tarasp, Ardez, Lavin, Scuol, and Sent); and then the Upper Engadine, where I stayed in Pontresina (from which I visited Diavolezza, Soglio and the Val Bregaglia, and walked from Muottas Muralg to Alp Languard). I loved all of it -- stunningly gorgeous. With only 3 days, you will have to be selective. I defer to ingo's expertise.
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Mar 7th, 2014, 02:20 PM
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Hi DAX!

I am wondering from where you get the figures for the drive to the Engadine. The drive from Lugano to Davos or Upper Engadine (say Zuoz e.g.) using motorways is almost the same - until (roughly) Tiefencastel, a few km before Davos. From there it's about 25 km to Davos. To Zuoz e.g. you drive from there the scenic Albula pass road, about 40 km to Zuoz, not difficult to drive at all.

The other option that I mentioned above (from Lugano via Menaggio and Chiavenna) is shorter distance, but slightly longer driving time. All in all 116 km and 3.15 hours. Sure, the roads here are narrow and often windy, but it's very scenic. Forget the Sondrio/Poschiavo route, it's much longer and the drive through the Valtellina valley (Morbegno-Sondrio-Tirano) is rather boring.

The Upper Engadine is indeed more dramatic, has hardly any glaciers and almost no lakes. On the other hand, it's less touristy and the villages of Guarda, Ardez and Sent e.g. are very picturesque and unspoiled. It all depends on what you want.
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Mar 10th, 2014, 10:13 PM
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Hi Ingo,
You're right, I don't know which website I was using to get the 5 hour drive.
Thanks for your specific info! I may have more question later on now that Graubuenden is back on.
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Mar 10th, 2014, 10:23 PM
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@ Ingo -- Is it possible that something was inadvertently omitted from your statement that "The Upper Engadine is indeed more dramatic, has hardly any glaciers and almost no lakes. On the other hand, it's less touristy..."? It was my impression that the (more dramatic) Upper Engadine had more lakes and glaciers than the Lower Engadine, and that the Lower Engadine was less touristed.... (OMG, I'm going to be terribly embarrassed if I got this wrong, too....)
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Mar 10th, 2014, 10:40 PM
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Yes I was confused too by the comment on the area around Guarda/Ardez being MORE dramatic with no lake or glacier. I just didn't dare to blurt out another question before I study the area further.
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Mar 10th, 2014, 11:06 PM
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My apologies. It must be "Lower" instead of "Upper".

I think the LOWER Engadine is more dramatic - the valley is not as wide, the side valleys (e.g. from Scuol to S-charl) are really narrow, with big elevation difference, the Inn river forms gorges where they do white water rafting for example. And it's definitely less touristy.
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Mar 10th, 2014, 11:08 PM
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kja
 
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BTW, DAX, when planning my trip to Switzerland, I used 6 different guidebooks, a number of online resources, and (of course!), this forum. For Graubunden, I found the most useful source OTHER than Ingo to be the Michelin Green Guide. Although the MGG was a decided 2nd place finisher, it might be worth checking if you are considering a visit to the area.

I don't suppose you could add any time there? I can't imagine that you would regret it...
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Mar 11th, 2014, 12:15 AM
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I thought the views from Muottas Muralg pretty darn dramatic ... but oh, how the Lower Engadine entranced me. When I'm asked what part of Switzerland I liked the most, I can't answer, but I find myself waking up to images of the Lower Engadine, so maybe I can answer after all....
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Mar 11th, 2014, 06:50 AM
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I am confused too:

Guarda - lower or upper?

Pontresina - lower or upper?
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Mar 11th, 2014, 11:26 AM
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Guarda is in the Lower, Pontresina in the Upper Engadine.
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Mar 11th, 2014, 05:39 PM
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Kja: I'm dusting off my Switzerland Michelin green guide but will still need to rely on Fodorites to help me plan my jaunt into Graubunden.

Ingo: thanks, so I plan to drive from Bergamo after breakfast through Chiavena with a lunch stop in Soglio, walk to the famous bench overlooking the valley towards Stampa then drive to Sils Maria. Dinner at the hotel.

The embarrassing question that I have now is what should we do in the area for two days if we are not hikers or train buffs. We hope to stay at the Waldhaus.

I'd really appreciate suggestions and tips on what not to miss.
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Mar 12th, 2014, 12:33 PM
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DAX, sounds like a good plan for the drive. The Waldhaus in Sils is an excellent choice.

No hikers or train buffs. Well ...

If staying at the Waldhaus in Sils, then a horse-drawn carriage ride in the Fex Valley is a must - the hotel sits on a cliff right at the entrance to the valley. Fex valley is car-free, there are a couple of good restaurants there in the several hamlets - one in Platta (that's the first hamlet coming from the Waldhaus, but on the other side of the creek), two in Fex-Crasta (Hotel Sonne and restaurant Cresta, the latter famous for the blueberry cake) where you should have a quick look into the Gothic chapel with frescoes, finally Hotel Fex at the end of the road - great views of the glaciers and peaks while sitting on the terrace and enjoying a meal (I had chestnut pasta e.g., and their red house wine is also excellent, from Sicily IIRC).

A funicular ride up to Muottas Muragl is a *must* - gorgeous panoramic views. The restaurant up there (hotel) and the funicular are open until 11 pm, I heard the food is very good and the sunsets are definitely spectacular.


On the Bernina pass route:
At the train station Morteratsch (accessible by car, too), is an Alp hut where they make cheese, rustic ambience. Yummy! As far as I know you can watch the procedure in the mornings and late afternoons, but check when you're there.

Another *must* is the cable car ride up to Diavolezza - the view of the glaciers and peaks vis-a-vis is gorgeous.

The excursion to Poschiavo is a very good idea - I know you'd rather drive, and if you must, well ... do it. It's a pleasant Italianate town with well restored old town, picturesque market square (food etc. market once a week, it's advertised and you'll find out if on the day you're there), interesting museums, bone chapel and a couple of interesting churches.

I'll think about some other stuff for you, but that's what came to my mind right now. You may also want to check out these pages with tips:

http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/4166c/a88f9/

http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/4166c/a8634/

http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/4166c/a8843/

http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/4166c/a8a16/

http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/4166c/a8b3c/

http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/4166c/a8885/
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Mar 12th, 2014, 01:45 PM
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DAX
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For a while I thought I was asking an impossible question, but you came up with excellent suggestions. Thank you Ingo!

I really like the idea of combining cheese making visit with mountain sight seeing peppered with good places to eat. I am always looking forward to my next meal stop. Do you by any chance remember a spectacular must place to dine or picnic?

I am still trying to understand the charm of staying at the Waldhaus. I imagine that it's the experience of being connected to the history, place and tradition, but perhaps there's more that I don't know about the hotel. Is there an expectation to be more swiss proper?
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Mar 12th, 2014, 08:56 PM
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We did a similar trip about two years ago and although we usually rent a car, we decided to use the train and buses since the Swiss have such a clean and timely reputation. After landing in Zurich we took a regular train which took the same route over the Bernina pass and stayed in Pontresina. Most of the hotels there at that time were giving a bus and lift pass with the hotel stay. In addition we bought a Graubunden train pass and went to most of the towns that you mentioned. It is absolutely beautiful in this area. We also had dinner at the top of the Muottas Muragl, Bergbahnen Engadin restaurant. We then took the train to Tirano,Italy,and switched trains to Varenna on Lake Como. Don't know if you could do some of this in reverse.
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