ST. MORITZ, SWITZERLAND — As the train circles and winds up endless valleys, fields and mountains, the scenery outside reminds me that I am no longer in the canton of Zurich. My destination is St. Moritz, a small, secluded town set in the Engadin Valley on the shores of Lej San Murezzan. Lej means “Lake” in Romansch, a language spoken only in the Engadin Valley, located about three hours from Zurich by train.
Home to numerous winter sports and a playground of the wealthy in the winter, St. Moritz is also a haven for hiking, biking and other summer activities from June to September. It additionally serves as an excellent base and transportation hub to reach hiking routes, lakes and small towns in the region.
When I arrive, the air immediately feels crisper and cleaner than in Zurich. There is an aura of peace and quiet not found in cities, and is further eccented by the fact that it is off season. Many hotels, stores and restaurants in St. Moritz will close from May to mid-June, and tourists are visibly scarcer. If you’re looking for some calm after the chaos-filled year that was 2020, the Engadin Valley may be the place for you.
Above: There are many valley restaurants, like the one left. Right, a small train carries hikers to the top of Muottas Murag.
Where To stay
Although a small town of approximately 5,000 people, there is no shortage of places to stay, especially if you arrive during the “on season.”
Badrutt’s Palace Hotel is a classic choice if you’re looking to indulge. Their distinctive, fairy tale castle architecture is immediately visible once you step off the train, with their rooms combining luxurious Swiss architecture and stunning views of St. Moritz’s lake. No matter if you are a guest or not, their serene infinity pool and spa is definitely not to be missed.
Set a little higher up on the hill, Kulm Hotel is another choice that cannot go wrong. With beautifully furnished rooms and suites overlooking the lake, and afternoon tea served in their opulent lobby, you are sure to feel pampered in their capable hands.
If you have something a little smaller and local in mind, Hauser Hotel in the centre of St. Moritz Dorf (village) is the perfect choice. A family business in its fourth generation, Hauser offers simple wooden Swiss architecture and perfect hospitality for its guests. An added benefit is the Confiserie, which sells a myriad of pastries, breads, macarons and cakes.
Finally, Villa Flor is perfect for anyone looking to combine the experience of “village life” and art. Located in the nearby village of S-chanf, approximately 20 minutes from St. Moritz, peace is guaranteed with only 600 inhabitants in your vicinity. Each of Villa Flor’s seven rooms is uniquely and personally decorated, with its walls carefully adorned with well-known Swiss and international artists, such as Julian Schnabel, Philipp Keel and Nathalie Du Pasquier.
Where to hike, or 'wanderung'
Although St. Moritz is known for its skiing in the winter, hiking around the area is not to be underestimated in the summer. With luscious larch and pine trees, bright yellow mountain flowers and sparkling turquoise lakes, each photograph that you take will be in Technicolor. Hiking trails around the Engadin Valley are easily accessible by train or bus, and are clearly marked.
After the long train ride from Zurich to St. Moritz, a walk around St. Moritz’s lake is a welcome and a stunning way to stretch your legs. A full lap of the lake takes approximately an hour, with views of the turquoise water, ducks and coots visible along its entire length. Snow-covered mountains encircle the lake, providing the perfect environment to drink in the scenery. The route is popular with dog walkers and locals, and a friendly “Gruezi!” (a typical Swiss greeting), is always appreciated as you pass other hikers.
Above: The valley is full of charming villas that are surrounded by breathtaking mountain scenery.
Although St. Moritz’s lake is too cold to swim in, even in the summer, Lej da Staz, or Stazersee, offers a beautiful bathing spot. It can be reached by following the trail that branches off of the one that encircles St. Moritz lake and takes approximately 30 minutes to reach from the lake. The water is often quite warm by late morning and afternoon, and I suggest you bring a towel or mat to sunbathe on after your refreshing swim. If you get a bit hungry after your swim, Hotel Meierei, located on the trail to Lej Da Staz, or Hotel Lej Da Staz (on the shores of the lake), both serve delicious cakes and coffee.
In the vicinity of Lej da Staz is a tranquil hiking trail called Barfussweg. By continuing along the road past Lej da Staz, you will encounter signs marked “Trail 2” with an icon of a pair of feet. This is descriptive of the trail’s name - Barrfussweg translates directly to “Bare Feet Trail.” Cushioned with soft grass and chips of bark, the trail is meant to be walked on with bare feet, allowing you to truly experience the beauty of the Staz Forest (although shoes are very welcome). The trail winds through the Staz Forest, with tall pine trees and mountain flora on all sides. Views of the surrounding mountains are occasionally visible, with one lookout point providing a breathtaking view of San Gian Church. If you set out early in the morning, squirrels and birds may be the only life you find around you in the early morning light of the forest. The loop takes approximately an hour and 45 minutes to complete.
If you’re looking for a hike that’s a little more intense, try the trails on Muottas Muragl, which can only be reached via a gondola, that brings you up from Punt Muragl to Muottas, ascending to a height of 2,454m in just under 10 minutes. Punt Muragl can also be reached by both bus and train. The high altitude view is undeniably breathtaking and on a clear day you will be able to see St. Moritz’s lake, Silvaplana Lake and Lej da Staz all nestled in the valley below. Rocky, snow-capped mountains surround you, with a glacier visible from several of the trails. The view can also be enjoyed from the Panorama Restaurant, which overlooks the valley.
The hike to Lej Muragl is a moderate one, with some steep inclines and occasional unmarked paths. The beginning of the trail is marked, and brings you along the rocky mountainsides into the valley, where a small, turquoise lake, Lej Muragl, is your destination.
Above: The valley is blessed with some sparkling mountain lakes, like Lej Marsh.
Along the way, incomparable views of the valley below, a glacier and mountain flora and fauna are present, with the entire trail taking approximately two and a half hours to complete. In early summer (mid-June), snow may still be present on some parts of the trail.
Sturdy hiking shoes and a backpack with snacks and water are recommended.
If you have a penchant for small mountain lakes, the trail to Lej Marsh will be perfect for you. The trailhead can be reached by taking a bus from St. Moritz to Surlej Brucke, where following Via de Paluds toward Crestalta will bring you deep into the forest. A steep incline in the beginning affords a stunning view of Lej Silvaplana from the Crestalta viewpoint.
Continuing along the trail, Lej Nair is reached first. It’s a small mountain lake circled by trees and an excellent swimming spot. The water is crystal clear and the surroundings serene.
A short 20-minute walk from Lej Nair brings you to Lej Marsh. And if you haven’t had enough of lakes, you can take a short detour at Lej Nair to see Lej Zuppo. The trail ends at Crap da Schloss, a small castle on the shores of Lej Silvaplana. The entire loop takes approximately two hours. If you’re not tired yet, continue walking along the shore of the turquoise Lej Silvaplana, where a gentle two hour walk will bring you back to St. Moritz.
Where to eat
Although some of the hiking routes may be rather remote and tucked out of the way, there is always a place in the Engadin Valley to stop, eat and refresh yourself.
There is no shortage of places in St. Moritz for food: from high-end Asian fusion to traditional Swiss cuisine, you will find food catering to all tastes.
For a taste of the Engadin valley, though, try Badrutt Palace’s Chesa Veglia, a beautiful restaurant set in a farmhouse built in 1658. Delicacies include the Bundner Fleisch (an air dried meat) and Pizzoccheri (a buckwheat pasta).
Above: Restaurants in the valley serve up some wonderful regional dishes but the surrounding eye candy is sweet.
For a relaxed lunchtime meal, sit down in Hauser’s outdoor terrace in the main square where you can find a number of international and Swiss dishes. A highlight from Hauser is definitely their Confiserie, serving fresh bread, cakes and pastries (their Sacher Torte, a rich chocolate cake, is a must try).
If what you are looking for is desserts, you can’t miss Hanselmann, a bakery founded in 1864. Their wide variety of tarts and cakes are sure to please everyone — from fruit tarts, the Engadin “Nusstorte” (a nut tart), chocolate Sacher cakes, Black Forest cake, to boxes of chocolates and almond croissants. Their restaurant also serves a delicious seasonal menu among their traditional decor and architecture.
As for an aperitif, be sure to stop by Hatecke, a small restaurant serving drinks, traditional Engadin dried meats and cheeses.
For a wonderful view, take the gondola up to Muottas Muragl and have lunch at the Romantik Hotel. Their Panorama restaurant offers breathtaking views of the Engadin Valley, where you can see as far as Lake Silvaplana and St. Moritz, while savouring a variety of local and Mediterrean cuisine.
Or if you’re perhaps looking for something to snack on after a long swim in Lej da Staz, Hotel Restorant Lej da Staz offers delicious cakes and coffee, right on the shores of the lake. Hotel Meierei, located 10 minutes from Lej da Staz, offers similarly delightful refreshments.
The Engadin Valley is a breathtaking getaway for those looking to immerse themselves in Swiss nature, reset and just breathe a little after such a turbulent year. And after you visit in the summer, you’ll have all the more reason to come back in winter for the skiing!