The Lower Engadine
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Beyond the mountains, in the farthest corner of Switzerland – and requiring some dedication to reach – is the Lower Engadine (Engiadina Bassa in Romansh, Unterengadin in German). Remote from Chur, let alone from the rest of the country, this attractive valley nurtures a quite distinct, thoroughly Romansh culture that has been allowed to flourish in isolation for centuries. Although the Austrian Tyrol is just a few kilometres away on the north side of the impassable Piz Buin range, it might just as well be on the other side of the continent. The succession of hamlets which cling to the banks of the foaming River Inn (or En in Romansh), tumbling its way towards Innsbruck, the Danube and eventually the Black Sea, show their Latin origins as much as does the language of their inhabitants: thick-walled houses stuccoed in cream abound, complete with small, deep-set windows and scarlet geraniums sprouting from every windowbox, reminiscent of Mediterranean village architecture found much further south. Everywhere you’ll see the characteristic sgraffiti decoration – ornate, curlicued designs, pictures and even mottoes or dedications studiously etched into the white stuccoed facade of a house to reveal a darker, coloured layer beneath. The beautifully decorated little cottages and quaint cobbled squares, set against a tremendous backdrop of dark pine forests and looming mountains, combine to give the fairy-tale valley a uniquely romantic air.

Scuol is the main town of the valley, prefaced by a succession of charming cliffside villages such as Guarda and Ftan. Zernez serves as the gateway for exploration of the Parc Naziunal Svizzer, Switzerland’s only national park, a vast chunk of highland wilderness. Beyond the park in tiny Müstair village is one of Switzerland’s greatest cultural treasures – a Carolingian church sporting perfectly preserved medieval frescoes.

Transport in the valley isn’t easy. Trains from St Moritz and, with the opening of the Vereina Tunnel, also from Klosters, serve both Zernez and Scuol, while postbuses run northeast to the Austrian border and southeast to Müstair. Timetables, though, can leave you waiting a couple of hours between buses and unless you’re on an extended walking tour of the valley, driving is really the transport of choice, allowing you to detour to hamlets which take your fancy, or enjoy the sunset in Müstair and still make it to St Moritz well before bedtime.

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