Insider Tips: Visiting Sils and St. Moritz
Insider Tips: Visiting Sils and St. Moritz
If you’re like most people, chances are you don’t know anyone who lives and works in the house where they were born. But Tomas Courtin, a third-generation innkeeper in the village of Sils, Switzerland, is one such person. We had the pleasure of meeting him when we stayed at his inn, the Hotel Chesa Randolina, a perfect base for visiting Sils and St. Moritz and all of the Upper Engadine.
I contacted Tomas to find out more about his life and his favorite things to do in the area. Here you’ll find excerpts from that conversation. Tomas’s comments have been lightly edited for content and clarity.
With a family going back generations in Sils, Tomas has deep knowledge of the area and the stunning high peaks along the Swiss-Italian border.
Whenever we asked him a question about local hikes or places to visit, he always knew the answer. As David said during our visit, “he’s like a walking encyclopedia – much better than a guidebook!”
Below are some of Tomas’ stories about how he became an innkeeper and why he loves living in Sils all year round. After that, he’ll tell you about some of his favorite spots in and around Sils and St. Moritz.
Rich Family Heritage
Sandi: Are you originally from the Sils/St. Moritz area?
TC: Yes, I was born in 1961 in room number 11 at the Hotel Chesa Randolina. At that time, we had a midwife in Sils, and the hospital in nearby Samedan was not open yet. My family had opened the hotel that same year.
The name, Chesa Randolina, comes from the local Romansch language and means “house of swallows.” Here, barn swallows and swifts build their nests on the roof and return year after year.
Sandi: Can you tell me a little bit about your background?
TC: I come from a local family with four children. My parents took over an old farmhouse in the 1950s. At that time, we had the biggest farm in Sils, with over 20 horses. In 1959, my father started a kind of regular bus service. With his farm horses pulling carriages, he used to transport people from Sils to and from the Fex Valley. In 1961, they started the hotel.
In 1969, my father died at the age of 39. As a result, my mother had to choose between running the farm or running the hotel, as she could not manage both. So, she kept the hotel and gave the farm away.
Since 1992, I have been running the hotel for my family. Finally, in 2015, I bought the hotel with my wife, Tanija.
Highlights of Living in Sils
Sandi: What do you like best about living in Sils?
TC: The natural setting of Sils is absolutely unique.
Sils sits between two large lakes: Lake Sils and Lake Silvaplana. As a result of its natural setting, Sils has unique light conditions. The special light is one reason why some famous writers and philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche, Thomas Mann, and Hermann Hesse stayed in Sils over 100 years ago. In addition, Sils sits in the wide open lake plateau of the Upper Engadine valley, which is surrounded by high mountains.
TC: Lastly, I love the seasons. Winters are cold and sunny with lots of snow. Spring is flower-filled. Summer is perfect for hiking. And Fall is unique, with all the larch trees turning yellow.
Sandi: Why should people visit Sils and St. Moritz?
TC: The calm, good air quality, and local traditions. It’s just the place to relax and read a good book. Or, you can do nearly any kind of sports activity here.
Plus, Sils has lots of culture, which reflects the many famous thinkers, poets, painters and musicians who lived or visited here. For instance, Sils has a concert series, Herman Hesse Days (June), Art and Literature Days (August), and a Nietzsche Colloquium (September). Not to mention some great local dishes.
Sandi: What other places and activities might you suggest for a one week stay?
TC: There are too many nice and special things to visit here and one week is by far not enough. With that in mind, let’s start with the Village of Sils.
Village of Sils
TC: Sils is only about five or six miles south of St. Moritz. So, it’s close to everything in St. Moritz, but it’s also a good base for exploring the region.
For culture in Sils, visit the two museums in the village square: the Andrea Robbi Art Museum and the Nietzsche House and museum. Nietzsche spent six summers in Sils in the late 1800s.
Sandi: What kind of local food specialties might people want to try in Sils?
TC: The famous “Engadine Nusstorte,” a kind of cake with honey and walnuts. Also, the air-dried meat called “Bündnerfleisch”. Finally, the different local cheeses made from goat and cow milk.
TC: There is so much to do outdoors in Sils, in any season. Take a walk or ride a bike around the lake. You can walk to the lake in less than five minutes from Hotel Chesa Randolina. Or, ride the lake’s passenger boat service (in the summer) to Maloja and then take a hike.
Two Valleys Near Sils: Fex Valley and Val Bregaglia
TC: From the village square in Sils, take the horse-drawn carriage to Fex Valley (no cars are allowed). Once there, have a look at the beautiful Fex Crasta chapel and the cemetery, where the legendary musician and conductor Claudio Abbado is buried.
TC: Located to the south of Lake Sils is Val Bregaglia. Here you will find two lovely glacial lakes which are fed by mountain streams: Lake Bitabergh and Lake Cavloc. In Maloja, you can pick up an easy hike that goes right by Lake Bitabergh and then Lake Cavloc.
Mountain Village of Soglio
TC: Also in Val Bregaglia, you’ll find the picturesque village of Soglio. In fact, Soglio is famous for its dramatic setting, which is on a high plateau surrounded by hills and jagged mountain peaks.
Sandi: From Soglio, you can walk on nearby old Roman roads, which are now trails. Plus, you can follow a trail downhill from Soglio all the way to the village of Stampa.
Giacometti House Museum in Stampa
TC: Stampa is the birthplace of three well-known Swiss artists all from the same family: Giovanni, Augusto, and Alberto Giacometti. Here, you can visit the atelier and museum of Alberto Giacometti.
TC: Now we come back to St. Moritz, a famous winter sports resort located just north of Sils, and host to two Winter Olympics: 1928 and 1948.
The frozen lake of St. Moritz is the setting for some exciting winter sports. One example is the famous St Moritz White Turf, a series of horse races staged on the frozen lake covered by snow. These races have been held here for over 100 years.
One other unique winter event unique to St. Moritz is the Olympia Bob Run. Here, athletes compete on the only natural-ice track in the world currently in use for international competitions.
TC: When you’re in St. Moritz, don’t miss the Segantini art museum. Here, you can see the mountain landscapes that inspired Segantini.
Sandi: Giovanni Segantini was an Italian painter who moved to Val Bregaglia in 1894. Most of all, he’s known for his large pastoral landscapes of the Alps with crystal-clear light.
Panorama Trail Near St. Moritz
Sandi: What is one of your favorite mountain hikes near St. Moritz?
TC: It has to be Muottas Muragl, one of the Upper Engadine’s most beautiful high-altitude panorama trails, above Pontresina.
Sandi: In fact, on the Muottas Muragl, you can hike the steep trail up to the Segantini Hut, built by Giovanni Segantini. Here, you get expansive views of the Upper Engadine lakes and mountains that inspired Segantini’s paintings.
UNESCO Train – the Bernina Express
Sandi: What other activity might you suggest for visiting Sils and St. Moritz?
TC: Ride the famous Bernina Express. It’s a panoramic train route, which has UNESCO World Heritage status.
You can pick up the Bernina Line in St. Moritz. It runs all the way to Tirano, in northern Italy. Throughout the ride, you see gorgeous mountains, lakes, and glaciers. At the end, in Tirano, you’ll see palm trees.
Sandi: Do you have any final tips?
TC: Come and see…….