West to Disentis/Mustér
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Some 5km west of Laax is the town of ILANZ, known in Romansh as Glion. These days it’s a lively commercial and cultural centre for the Surselva region, but in times gone by this was one of the most important towns in the whole of Graubünden. From the train station, which holds a tourist information counter (Mon–Fri 8–11.30am & 1.30–6pm; 081/925 20 70), a short wander through the town centre, spanning the River Vorderrhein, will turn up a surprising number of stately sixteenth- and seventeenth-century townhouses. The town has a couple of unassuming hotels, including the Rätia, on Via Centrala by the bridge (081/925 23 93, fax 925 32 93; b), with an excellent, local-style restaurant serving regional cuisine. From Ilanz, a couple of minor roads penetrate two beautiful side valleys famed for their broad meadows and cherry trees: the Valser valley (named for its thirteenth-century Walser colonizers, and still German speaking today), which ends at the village of Vals; and, to its west, the lush, Romansh-speaking Val Lumnezia rising to tiny Vrin.

There’s little to stop for further west up the valley of the Vorderrhein until, after 28km, the huge white abbey of DISENTIS (also known by its Romansh name of MUSTÉR) hoves into view. A Benedictine community was founded here in the eighth century, only to be sacked by a marauding Saracen army in 940. Later churches were replaced in the late seventeenth century by the current Baroque building – itself badly damaged by the French in 1799 and by a fire in 1861. Nonetheless, the community survived and today numbers about forty priests and novices. The white interior of the great abbey church is immediately impressive, not least because of the startling contrast of such lavish ornament with the wild, open countryside all about. Built in 1712 by Kaspar Moosbrugger, architect of the church at Einsiedeln, it is covered in gilt and ornate stucco, with light flooding in from high windows and a deep choir. An internal passageway in the west wall signposts the way through the corridors of the monastery and up some stairs to the still and silent Marienkirche, its triple apse surviving as the only remnant of the tenth-century church sacked by the Saracens.

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