Hello from Switzerland where cleanliness is a national sport and paths criss-cross the landscape like scribbles on a child’s drawing, enabling transportation the old-fashioned way: walking. We see octogenarians with trekking sticks making their journeys alongside the extreme-sports crowd. Walking here is a way of life and Pontresina offers some great easy-hiker options.
We spent a week in the Upper Engadin, basing ourselves in Pontresina on the banks of the Bernina River. Surrounded by rugged peaks and glaciers, we found a network of buses, trains, and lifts that take one from the highest ski resorts to the most charming valleys and offering something for everyone.
I came down with a cold and have struggled with coughing and wheezing all week, so we were not as active as we were in the Val Gardena for the prior two weeks. Even with six days of near-perfect weather we did not see every corner of this area, but here are some highlights for those interested in an easy-hiking stop in Switzerland.
Best Single Day: Val Roseg
For a real workout you can hike both ways to the Hotel Restaurant Roseg Gletscher but if you are not up for the 8-mile round-trip, consider taking the horse omnibus out and returning on foot after lunch. The hotel is situated with a view of the glacier in a peaceful valley with a restaurant terrace designed to make the most of the view. We boarded our carriage with 8 other passengers and one well-behaved dog at 11:10 am. The scenery was spectacular. We shared the road with walkers and cyclists while engaging in limited conversation with our mostly-German-speaking companions. Once at the hotel, we enjoyed a lovely lunch of pasta and local beer. In about an hour we were ready to start the trek back along the flat valley trail. There is no need for trekking sticks nor even hiking boots. Just sturdy athletic shoes. Bring water (we now like to travel with collapsible bottles) as there is none along the trail.
The elevation change in the valley is only about 741 feet: all up on the way there and all down returning but, in either case, very gradual.
The return walk of four miles took us about 1.75 hours at a relaxed pace with frequent stops for photos. This walk could be done with a pram if you were willing to push it slightly uphill or if the omnibus (or a private carriage) would put it on board.
Options for extending your hike include going beyond the hotel to get a closer look at the glacier and as high as a hut at over 9000 feet. Not easy-hiker territory.
For an even easier outing, you can travel by horse omnibus both ways, taking a break for lunch at the hotel.
Morteratsch Glacier Valley by Train
We love a good outing by train that facilitates a walk and a fine meal. This one checks all the boxes. For a fine half-day trip, the little red trains of the Rhaetian Railway will take you to the on-request station of Morteratsch. We were a little unsure about requesting a stop, but it is as easy as doing so on a bus. At Morteratsch we found a classic alpine hotel with a large restaurant. The terrace is the place to be for lunch before or after your easy-hike.
From the restaurant, follow the crowd (yes, it is popular) up the wide, well-groomed trail about 50 minutes to a glacier viewpoint. It’s about 450 feet of elevation going and all downhill on the return. Again, it is a pram-worthy hike if you are willing to push a little uphill. No sticks and just standard hiking shoes required.
This is not a touristy place. Many locals enjoy such outings on a fine day. On the day we visited, a Saturday, there were large groups of men – young and old – trekking together, drinking beer, eating lunch.
Watch the time carefully as the trains run each direction only once per hour. You do not want to be walking toward the hotel and see your train pulling away.
We had hoped to do the famous Panoramaweg from Muottas Muragl to Alp Languard, ending in Pontresina. My energy level with the cold just would not support it, but we rode the fabulous and historic funicular anyway and were rewarded by the views.
There is a very short Rundweg just above the Romantik Hotel Muottas Muragl with an art installation commemorating the 100th anniversary of the funicular, which was built in 1907. This walk is suitable for anyone, even small children, while the Panoramaweg is quite exposed along a ridge (with views of the Bernina peaks and glaciers) and takes 2.5 to 3 hours to complete.
Most lodgings include a lift pass covering the gondolas and funiculars in St. Moritz and Pontresina. At the higher elevations, we found a stark, rocky landscape and trails we deemed too tough for easy-hiking but it was worthwhile taking the lifts for the views, especially with the included pass.
You can acquire an Engadin Mobile Card at the Tourist Info office. Load it with Swiss Francs and use it to buy your bus and train fares at a 20% discount from the full fare. If you over-estimate how much credit you need, they will refund the balance to you. Switzerland has an amazing public transportation system making it easy to avoid a car, another easy-hiker preference.
For more on this canton, please hop on over to Girovaga.com for my Postcard from Switzerland.