Try Hiking Switzerland’s Scenic Upper Engadine
Try Hiking in Switzerland’s Upper Engadine
When you think about a hiking vacation in Switzerland, you can get overwhelmed by the choices. The country has so many beautiful mountainous regions that it’s tough to pick just one. After plenty of research, we decided to go hiking in the Upper Engadine region near St. Moritz, along Switzerland’s southern border with Italy.
The Upper Engadine is a hiker’s paradise – lots of scenic trails near glaciers, lakes, and rivers. It’s also away from most of the crowds. Plus, the hotels in the Upper Engadine offer summer guests (two-night minimum stay) a free local transportation card. The transit card provides access to all buses and lifts to trailheads in the area at a big cost savings.
Train Ride from Zurich to the Upper Engadine
From Zurich, be sure to take one of the scenic train rides through Chur to the Engadine. The views along much of the (roughly) four-hour route are gorgeous. Even in second class, the trains are very comfortable.
In some ways, the best part of this ride is the Rhaetian Railway section. Starting in Thusis, it’s one of only three railways in the world with a UNESCO listing. The highlight of the trip is the 213 foot high Landwasser Viaduct. Completed in October 1902, its high arches and elegantly curved form make it one of the most famous viaducts in the world. As the train approaches the viaduct, the conductor makes an announcement to prepare riders for what comes next. All of a sudden, many passengers jump up, open windows, and lean out to take photos. It’s a very fun moment!
The Lovely Village of Sils Maria
From the train’s arrival in St. Moritz, it’s an easy five-mile bus ride to the quaint village of Sils Maria, a great base for hiking in the Upper Engadine.
Sils Maria is right on the lovely Lake Sils, surrounded by mountains. This is the view from behind the charming hotel, the Chesa Randolina, where my husband David and I stayed.
Tomas Courtin, the third-generation owner of the Chesa Randolina, is a walking encyclopedia of the area. He gave us a tour of the inn and some insider tips on local hikes. One of the best tips was to take the local Post Bus, which stops right outside the hotel’s front door and goes to all the local trailheads. The bus service is so good that you don’t need to rent a car. Also, taking the bus allows you to compare notes with the many hikers who ride it. Aside from its great location, the other reason to stay at the Chesa Randolina is its restaurant, which serves regional dishes that change every evening.
Some Favorite Hikes in the Upper Engadine: Val Fex
The Upper Engadine offers plenty of great day hiking possibilities. Here are a few favorites. The beautiful Fex Valley is made up of scattered settlements, high pastures, and a few hotels. What makes it so special is that since 1954, building has been prohibited, including roads and ski lifts. As a result, the only way you can easily access the valley is on foot or by horse-drawn carriage from Sils Maria.
The Fex Valley hike begins right in Sils Maria. After about 45 minutes of sometimes steep climbing, you reach Marmoré Point, where the views are spectacular. Looking towards the high peaks, you see a gorgeous view of Lake Sgrischus surrounded by mountains.
You can stop for lunch at Hotel Fex, located at the end of the valley. The best part of lunch is sitting on the outdoor patio, which has a great view to the mountains.
If you’re not into hiking, a horse-drawn carriage can take you from Sils to the valley or back from the Hotel Fex.
Alternatively, if you decide to take the pleasant four mile walk back to Sils Maria, you’ll be rewarded. You can enjoy dessert on the patio at Hotel Sonne Fex. When you’re at the Sonne Fex, try some ice cream topped with a special warm homemade sauce made of local Arolla pine cones soaked in schnapps. It’s surprisingly tasty!
Hike to Fuorcla Surleij (Pass)
The 40-minute hike from the Murtel station of the Corvatsch cable car crosses a moonscape of rubble on the way to the Fuorcla Surleij hut. You’re not prepared for the magnificent views beyond it. Once you descend the trail towards the Coaz Hut, the views across the valley to the glaciers are stunning.
Hike to Morteratsch Glacier
You read about receding glaciers all the time. But, have you ever traced the path of a receding glacier in person? The Upper Engadine’s popular Morteratsch Glacier, near Pontresina and St. Moritz, has retreated dramatically. Signposts along the valley floor show the glacier’s front edge each decade for the last 130 years. In all, it has receded over 5,900 feet.
At the end of the trail, you come to a large milky glacial lake with rushing rivers and a long ice tongue. Morteratsch is unique in Switzerland because it is the only glacier with a “snout” that is easily accessible.
To preserve this national treasure and major tourist attraction, Swiss scientists are planning to create artificial snow and blow it over the Morteratsch glacier each summer to protect it and eventually cause the glacier to regrow. Simply amazing!
Spectacular Hike Down Piz Nair
I began this post by saying there are many glaciers, lakes, and rivers in the Upper Engadine. The hike down Piz Nair has this covered. It’s strange, but many area guidebooks overlook Piz Nair – we only heard of it by word of mouth. It turned out to be one of our favorite hikes in the Upper Engadine. From the cable car station in the ski resort town of St. Moritz, you ride up to the 10,026 foot summit of Piz Nair to the trailhead and take the steep trail down. The first part of the trail looks like a moonscape, with little vegetation.
As you descend, you’ll see glacial lakes and glacial rivers, like these, all the way down.
After you descend most of the way down Piz Nair, you can stop for lunch at the gourmet El Paradiso restaurant. It’s much fancier than the typical mountain huts you come across on the trails. Even if the food is very expensive, it’s also very good. But, this is St. Moritz, which caters to high-end ski crowds. Oh, and don’t ask me how that old sports car got here!
Why the Upper Engadine?
The mountain scenery in the Upper Engadine is spectacular. There’s an amazing amount of hiking amidst majestic scenery with constantly changing views. Plus, there are many quaint lodging options serving local dishes, like the Hotel Chesa Randolina. Finally, with great public transportation and lots of opportunities to meet other hikers, you’ll want to come back.