Monday, September 8, 2008
Hiking and Eating in Poschiavo Switzerland
One of our favorite places to visit is Poschiavo Switzerland. Poschiavo is about four and a half hours from Zurich (on the train!) in the south east corner of the country. To get there you go to Chur on the standard gauge SBB (national railway) and then transfer to the narrow gauge Rhaetische Bahn (RhB) railway. You take the RhB through the Abula Pass to the Engardine Valley, then transfer to another RhB train that takes you over the Bernina Pass. It's a railway junkie's dream.
In 2008 UNESCO declared part of the Abula rail line a UNESCO World Culture Site. The RhB have done an excellent job developing creative new services and promoting rail travel. For example there is a history trail along a particularly complicated portion of the Abula line. Many railways could learn from their high quality and creative approach to the railway business (but that's for another post).
The train continues south from Poschiavo to Tirano Italy (the Valtellina Valley). People in Poschiavo speak Italian and the valley combines the best of Italy and Switzerland in much the same way as the more well known Canton of Ticino.
We stay in the Hotel Albrigi located on the main square of Poschiavo. On our first trip we met the owner (Claudio Zanolari) and he made such a great impression we have been back many times since then. The Hotel Albrigi is a historic hotel, it has only about 10 rooms and the bathrooms are on the hall. It's not for everyone (but the family also operates the Hotel Croce Bianca, which is more modern).
The food at the Hotel Albrigi is excellent, even if you don't stay in the hotel do eat there! They make wonderful pizzas (wood burning oven), great local specialties (more in another post), and excellent meat dishes. The local wine - mostly from the Valtline Valley of Italy - is great. We often start with a pizza to share and then move on to the main courses. There are tables on the square and that's a wonderful place to eat at midday and on warm nights.
Poschiavo is an excellent place to use as a base for hiking trips. This year we made three all day hikes and one short hike. Since this is Switzerland, you can take public transport (Post Bus or RhB) to most of the trail heads fairly easily from Poschiavo, but you need to reserve in advance for some of the Post Bus lines (people at your hotel or the friendly tourist office - in the train station - can help you with this).
The first day we took the RhB train to Bernina Diavolezza. This is a ski resort in the winter and there is a cable car that takes you up the mountain to an elevation of 2,977 m (or 9,768ft). Then you hike about one and a half hours to the summit where you have a panoramic view of the Engardine and Bernina valleys - plus more mountain peaks than you can count. There is a good restaurant at the top of the cable car and if you stay in the hotel you can even take a hot tub bath (German) there overlooking the mountains.
On our second hike, we walked up the mountain from the Cavaglia RhB station to the Alp Grün RHB station. It's a short but strenuous hike uphill but the Alp Grün Albergo Ristorante at the top is warm and welcoming (watch out for the automatic door to the balcony overlooking the valley!). Many visitors are railway fans and they have an assortment of postcards and information. You can also stay overnight there. We were able to take one of the RhB's open wagon sightseeing cars down from Alp Grüm to Tirano, here I am enjoying the trip!
On Thursday we took a long hike to the San Romerio Alp. It took about seven hours walking (some strenuous) and a couple hours relaxing over lunch on the Alp. There is a very nice mountain church on the Alp and a guesthouse on the San Romerio Alp (Italian, German also available). It's best to get to the guest house early since if they are busy they run out of the specials. The food is mostly cheese and cold meat with bread, but you can order some of the regional specialties (e.g pizzoccheri) if you call in advance. You can also stay there overnight.
The church was locked when we arrived, but there were two children, probably no more than four or five years old, playing nearby. When they saw that we wanted to visit the church they ran off and brought the key, opened the door, then ran through the church showing us all the nooks and crannies.
They spoke Italian, and so most of the communication was their running around pointing excitedly. They ran up to the bell tower and started ringing the bell, then down to the crypt and then out the door. I was worried for a minute that they might lock us in, but they were just outside having returned to playing.
Our last hike was to the really beautiful Val di Campo. Again, we took the bus from Poschiavo on the main road over the Bernina Pass to a guest house at the beginning of a small road leading into the valley. There we transferred to a smaller bus (this is the one that requires reservations) and took this bus to the end of the line (another guest house - see photo).
From here it's a relatively short walk up to a beautiful lake, then you can take a more strenuous hike further to the border of Italy and return to the lake through another valley. We had beautiful weather and enjoyed a relaxing (very) late lunch at the guest house before walking back out to the main road (about 1.5 hours, but downhill so no need for the bus).
And, then, our holiday for this year was over. But we hope to return soon!