At 3,000m above sea level, Diavolezza affords splendid views of 4,000m mountain peaks, ski pistes with plenty of snow and the longest signposted and secured ski piste on a glacier.
Another highlight in the Diavolezza area is moonshine skiing in the period from January to March. Of course, the Diavolezza transport system also operates in the summer season, taking hikers and glacier climbers up to the mountains.
In the mountains, the houses are commonly built with very thick walls to keep warmth inside during the cold winters during which the days are short and the light scarce; the house builders wanting to keep warmth inside also make small gaps in the walls, so the windows are small.
The old farmhouses of Engadine display often very different window types next to each other on the same wall (picture 1), and there may be some reasons for that; on the first picture, you see in the middle a “deep” window, which gives an idea of the thickness of the wall, and on the right, a “middle” window, without shutters. Imagine you are living in that house and want to see what is happening on the street; if you want to see on the street, you have to open the window and lean out. . . BRRRR! Cold is coming inside! So, a bay window is a solution, you are above the street, can look left and right, without opening! Another advantage of the bay window is of course that you can get more light inside. Well, that is the way I understand the bay windows here.
Not sure if these windows should be called bay windows (I thought of triangle window, but oriel window seems appropriate) when you look at these small windows, build with wooden frames, sometimes in very simple style (picture 2), sometimes more elaborate style (picture 3)***.
Other windows are like little towers near the corners of the houses (picture 4), and all is nicely decorated in local style, and on more moderns houses, the towers are a bit pretentious (picture 5), but still in the same vein. Windows give the streets and houses their picturesque character!
***Thanks to Leyle, TheWanderingCamel, who suggested me the name of “oriel window” for that sort of little window.
I initially called all windows “bow windows”, but according to my research, “bay window” seems more appropriate for windows “projecting outwards”, “bow window” being that sort of window, but with curved shape.
Oriel window is the most appropriate for the small ones as they are supported by corbels or do not reach the ground.
Road trips in the mountains offer beautiful views, and, if you want to reach trail heads, remote villages, you cannot do it quickly without a car.
Many places of Graubünden can also been reached by train.
Here are a few views taken during car tours going to hikes or coming back, and pictures from some villages, but when you are out for hikes, you want to reach the trails and do not take too much time to visit villages.
A look at Ftan (picture 1), before heading to Piz Tasna, a look at Livio (picture 2) coming from Bernina pass. . . . the villages look like that, in the mist, and when you stop, you have funny surprises like here (picture 3) in Ardenz, where you may see a bike in “climbing position”.
In other villages you may have an insight on local decoration style of the houses (picture 4), and the Swiss always welcome you when you arrive at the trailheads, with signs for instance explaining in a funny way what you may discover in the area (picture 5)
Weather is unpredictable in mountains and sometimes you are trapped in the mist and clouds, like during a hike to Piz Tasna (picture 1), in the Silvretta massif, above the village of Ftan; on the way back, the weather was better and it was possible to enjoy wide views over the Inn valley to the Lischana massif (picture 2)
From the Diavolezza, you can have beautiful views over the world famous Morteratsch Glacier (picture 3), but better with clear weather probably; the picture has been taken right under the clouds.**
From Diavolezza the views over the Alps are grandiose (picture 4), with like here the Piz alf in foreground, the Fain Valley and the Northern Bernina massif in the background; in some places it is difficult to avoid the view of cables and ski installations. . . . .
Above St Moritz, view of the Alps from Saluver Pass (picture 5): rocks sharply carved by snow and ice, low clouds. . . . . it is not my country, my everyday environment, but I love to visit that sort of place and I always have a feeling of deserving these views, when I walked a few hours to get there!
** There is a cable car going from the Diavolezza pass (Highest train station of Europe) train station) to the Diavolezza hut, and you can admire the glacier from above after a 15-20 mn ride.
You are more relaxed to look at the nature when you are walking down, and it is then a real pleasure to look at all the flowers growing on the mountains, look at the valleys and villages from high above.
Is this tiny pansy (picture 1) not courageous, strong, growing here close to 3000m elevation? The Julier Valley (picture 2) is very far down, but we will not walk that far, the landscape is just grandiose!
The gentians (picture 3) grow quite higher than in Auvergne here, but I do not know if they are used to make liquors.
We are now back in the meadows and the wild orchids (picture 4) are just a feast for the eyes!
Finally, we arrive back at the summer village of Cuorts (picture 5), and you are reminded in what country you are walking! I love those high day hikes with high altitude changes.
From Pontresina, (KM 0) drive across St Moritz (KM 7), turn right to Julier Pass (KM 20), at Silvaplana (KM 13 ), drive down on the Julier road, pass Marmorera lake (KM 32), and turn right (KM 35) to Sur (KM 36); a small forest road gets you to Cuorts (KM 38) from there (1970m), hike up to Piz d’Err (3340m) across the meadows and the scree.
The mantle? Yes the Earth Mantle, rocks which usually are at 30 or more kilometres depth can be here studied, sampled, or just looked at on the peaks above Alp Flix; when Apulia, a northern promontory of Africa (Yes, most of Italy is geologically Africa! And even further North of Italy, the famous Matterhorn (Cervino) is “African”) entered in collision with old Europe (Eurasia), the deep African rocks have been pushed above Europe , and this is just a little episode of the growth of the wonderful Alps story. The “deep” rocks had in fact, long before been “exhumed” by the formation of Téthys, the ocean which has been closed by the drift of Africa towards Europe; these particular rocks were the ocean floor 150 million years ago, and began to slide over Europe 40 million years ago. . . . . . The Ocean disappeared and we can observe few pieces of him at 3000m elevation. . . . .
Well, during hikes in the mountains we can think about that story (which in detail is much more complicated), but on the way to particular spots, like the normal hiker, let us look at beautiful landscapes, alpine flora, small villages, barns, and enjoy the beauty of nature.
To reach Piz d’Err and Piz Calderas in the Falotta Massif, you have to walk across the Alp Flix meadows; beautiful look outs, alpine flora, small brooks cascading down the slopes, wind playing with your hair. . . . just enjoy the mountains.
The peaks we will visit today (picture 1) are in the background, but before we walk on trails across the flowered meadows; the trail takes across scenic brooks (picture 2), and higher, the rhododendrons spot the big boulder scree (picture 3), soon the vegetation will get rare. . . The Piz d’Err (picture 4) is finally here, waiting for us; these black rocks (picture 5), where only lichen can grow are pieces of the mantle! We are at the foot of Piz d’Err, will make a number of observations, discuss, and on the way back, we will take more time to look at the flora and at the landscapes. . . . next tip
From Pontresina, (KM 0) drive across St Moritz (KM 7), turn right to Julier Pass (KM 20), at Silvaplana (KM 13 ), drive down on the Julier road, pass Marmorera lake (KM 32), and turn right (KM 35) to Sur (KM 36); a small forest road gets you to Cuorts (KM 38) from there (1970m), hike up to Piz d’Err (3340m) across the meadows and the screee.
Lots of hikes can be undertaken from Pontresina, and there are for all tastes; I like a lot to see people I would not at all expect in these places undertake hikes (picture 1); yes, “ma soeur”, wish you a nice walking day!
I did not find a map in a bookstore in Pontresina, but at the train station is a poster of hiking maps you see an extract here (picture 2), and the maps are very accurate and hold lots of information besides topography: places for drinking, altitude restaurants or cafés, location of cable cars or lifts. . . . The hiking trails are also very well signed with the same type of information (picture 3), which makes the hikes easier, and also tell you about the average duration of the hike you want to undertake. However, do not expect to find those signs at high elevation.
Some high areas, like Piz Nair can be reached by cable car, as the places are departures of downhill ski; in summer many people enjoy to go up by cable car and walk down; in picture 4 is a view over St Moritz valley from Piz Nair, departure of a Olympic downhill track; at Piz Nair is also a restaurant. . . . So, the Swiss manage to maintain hiking trails for every taste and every physical condition. . . .
But I like (and sometimes have to!) to walk up and the down, another way if possible; arriving at Piz Nair, coming from Piz Saluver, on picture 5; walking in the fresh air of high elevation is one of the best things to do on earth!
You may have a look at a few of my hikes in the next tips and see the mountains in the travelogues.
If you are not hiding in a small narrow back street, you will almost always have lookouts on mountains from where ever in the village; as the village is built on the right banks of the Ova Bernina and Flaz rivers, on the slopes of Piz Languard, you will enjoy most views to the South and West.
The Ibex on the picture is a sculpture :((, but the landscape is overall beauriful, when you walk on the main street at the easter end of the village (picture 1) with Piz Marsch and Piz ot in the background.
Piz Nair and Corviglia can be seen from the main street (picture 2), and broad view of Northern Engadine (picture 3) from the Eastern end of the village.
Just walk in the village, the nice houses in foreground, the mountains in background, not much more to tell (picture 4)
And you can prepare your trips to high Bernina valley and the glaciers, when looking to the Bernina from the village (picture 5). . . .
Windows are all different, have stories, tell stories, inspire poesy and songs; Jacques Brel may not have thought of the Pontresina windows when he wrote his song, Les fenêtres, but I had a thought for him, when walking in the village. . .
Elaborate frame, geraniums, nice shutters (picture 2), this is just one sort of window; opening it must be a nice feeling. . . . . other windows are behind balconies (picture 3), some keep shutters closed (picture 4) . . . . . , like in Brel’s song they are all different, can look outside different ways, or think of what happens behind the windows. . . .
And there are these monumental doors/shutters of hay lofts (picture 5), with their carved holes to give air to the hay inside. . . . Big hay carts do not anymore circulate in the streets of Pontresina, but I can think of hot summer days when the carts came back from the fields to bring food for the cattle in winter. . . . and certainly many stories happened on the haystacks behind closed windows.
No it is not publicity for the hotels, it is just that there are a lot and they give some character to the place, and some are even nice to look at; so, if you walk the main street, but also some backstreets, you will see many of these big beginning 20th century buildings.
In the mountains you find of course, the Ibex (picture 1), whose architecture and décor fit well in the village; the Belmunt (picture 2) is an impressive block and it is good it is outside the village.
Others, like the Kronenhof not only have a immodest name, they also try to look like palaces at the feet of the mountains. No, I prefer the ones in local architecture, nicely decorated (picture 4), and the more modest pensions (picture 5) which you would not notice, were it not written! Pontresina is a resort and the hotels give the village a special character, if not charm.
There are tens of hotels in Pontresina, for all tastes, and best is to visit the website which seems very informative.
I have no idea what this bird is, neither what it is supposed to represent! You will meet this bird (picture 1, picture 2) in a corner next to the main street, in the higher part of the village. May be a Swiss kingfisher? A heron, a stork? Whatever, local artists have imagination and decorate the old fountains in a nice way!
The Pyrenees are austere mountains, as their inhabitants are; here, in Engadine, and in most parts of the Alps, people try to put colours and fantasy to their environment, and not only geraniums or petunias on the balconies give colours to the houses and streets.
On picture 3, the haylofts doors have been transformed in coloured windows, dragons, here give light to the streets (picture 4), and if you are tired from the geraniums on the windows, find other décor (picture 5). . . .
People from the mountains who observe Nature take advantage of good adaptation to the slopes, as this bench (picture 1), with legs shorter on one side than on the other demonstrates. They learned this skill from a wonderful animal from the mountains: the Dahu.
Those who live in plains or flat lands don’t know this extraordinary animal whose main characteristic is to have two long and two short legs, but, unlike the kangaroo, the gerbil or the giraffe, where the difference is between front and back legs, for the Dahu, the difference is between left and right, a wonderful adaptation to the steep slopes of the Alps or Pyrenees, where the Dahu lives; that is why, if you have the luck to observe one, you will always see him walking in the same direction, as, if he goes the opposite direction, he will loose balance and fall, and eventually roll down to the valley.
This “weakness” is in fact exploited since ages by Dahu hunters who, at night (as you won’t see him during day) listen to his call for his mates to locate him; once located, approach very very silently at his back and, once very close, call him, loudly! The animal turns to see who is calling and. . . . looses balance. . . . A friend downhill, just has to catch the stunned animal and put it in a big bag. . . easy!
Since nature protection activists condemn this barbaric practice, the young guys from the mountains convince curious, naïve young tourist girls from the plains to go for Dahu watching tours (watch-only, not hunting!) at nights on the steep alpine meadows, and, under the beautiful summer moon, the watching may take the whole night, and. . . and. . . . AaaaAaaaah!
There are benches, but many old houses of Pontresina have also Dahu style doors, like I show on the next pictures; are they not nice?
On the last picture, you see a Dahu adapted to modern cities with their sidewalks :-))
Picture taken from a website (link below) where you can learn a lot more about this fabulous animal. . .
Tourism and modern life has invaded Pontresina, like many other resorts of the Alps, but this village managed to keep some “character”, and it is a real pleasure and feast for eyes to walk in the streets at a quiet time of the day and for instance look at the variety of the house décor or the windows.
You will not see a lot of cattle, sheep, horses and other farm animals in Pontresina, but there are still farm houses, more or less renovated, and they give the village its character. The museum is in a typical farm house, but there are many other you can discover walking in the streets of the village.
They can be isolated like the one on the first picture, or make whole street sides, one against the other (picture 2), make high street corners (picture 3).
A big house (picture 4) in the main street of the lower village, was also a farm, and its transformation in office and flats has a quite beautiful result; other chesa (house in Rhetic-Romanche language) are more modest, but surroundings are so nice. .
Walk in the village, enjoy similarities and differences. . . .
We all have our clichés about few known places, aspects of life in this or that region, these or those people, and during travels, either correct our views, or comfort them.
A visit at the Alpine museum of Pontresina gives an interesting insight to past life in the mountains of Engadine, every day life and exceptional events; at sea level, sailors are experts in knots, using ropes to fix sails, orient the boom, tighten the various equipment on a boat, but in mountains, at high elevation and in snow and ice conditions, on vertical walls, good knowledge of knots can make life easier and even, save it! On the first picture is a display of various knots (with modern nylon ropes) and pitons alpinists have to know when they venture on summits; climbing techniques have been developed in mountains by people living in the mountains, and you will be impressed by the stories and pictures of mountaineering pioneers (picture 2) and the conquest of summits; these were not afternoon hikes, little games on a artificial climbing wall, or just fun to appear in the media! There is something mystic with these guys in their relationship with the mountains.
The Alpine Museum is located in a typical big farmhouse, built in 1716, converted later into a museum, nicely decorated in the local style (picture 5) and getting inside, you are warmly welcomed by the museum keeper who will be happy to explain you the displays, tell some stories; at the lower level are a few rooms showing how life was at the beginning of the 20th century in the mountain villages or farms, and you can visit a kitchen with utensils (picture 3), see how the bedrooms were fitted, how people adapted to the harsh winter conditions. . . well, learn about life in mountains. Many small mines had been active in the 19th century in the High Engadine, and you can admire a nice minerals collection (minerals not only from the Alps), and see mining tools (picture 4), displays of old photographs explaining mining techniques, and learn about local geological facts.
Also history of downhill skiing, sliding, a bit of natural history, wildlife. . . . somehow a very “compact” museum, which really deserves a visit, you may spend much more time there than you may think when you enter. . . .
Entrance 6 CHF, kids, 2 CHF
Were not the bell tower with its onion bulb on the top, you would not notice there is a church in the village of Pontresina; this church is a protestant temple.
When you enter, you are, like in most protestant temples, you are struck by the austerity of the décor; in Calvinist/Lutheran tradition, superfluous is useless! So, an austere nave(picture), with just wood at the lower part of the walls.
The windows are not the very most artistic, but you can notice, that in case you have forgotten, you are in the mountains, and Christ brings his good words in the mountains (picture 3). A bit fantasy in the carving of the benches (picture 4), and that’s it for the church; when you go out, have a look at a tiny little house next to the church, hidden in the trees, isn’t it romantic (picture 5), with the peaks in background?