A magical train journey to a little-known Italian part of Switzerland
Ciao! Parli Italiano? Where do they speak Italian in Switzerland? If your answer is Ticino, you’re only partially right.
There is a remote region in the southern part of Canton Graubünden that counts Italian as its official language as well: Val Poschiavo. The small Italian speaking area just over the Bernina Pass offers a number of unique attractions guaranteed to impress even the pickiest visitor.
The easiest way to get to Val Poschiavo is by train. (Mountain railways and cable cars in St Moritz Engadin region are actually free between May and October for those staying in local hotels for two or more nights!) Trains run hourly from St. Moritz and the journey is so breathtaking that the whole track, known as Bernina line, is a Unesco World Heritage site. In July and August, many trains include an open panoramic car. It’s an epic, wind in your hair ride not to be missed! The winding route is slowly climbing up to reach its peak 2,253m altitude at “Ospizio Bernina”, the highest railway crossing in Europe, before descending again to my personal favorite, Alp Grüm.
Alp Grüm (2,091 m.) is located high above the tree line and only accessible by train or on foot. The opening view of the majestic Palü glacier with its cascading streams on the backdrop of the multiple mountain peaks is stunning. From here you can enjoy a bird’s eye panorama of the Poschiavo valley all the way to Italian Alps. It’s also a starting point for a steep 11km hike. A well-trodden path takes us along rugged rock faces and groves of larches on to Lake Palü, before reaching another stop on Bernina line - Cavaglia. In Cavaglia all signs are already in Italian!
Glacial Potholes of Cavaglia
A short walk from Cavaglia is a glacier garden, an exceptional natural phenomenon from the last Ice Age. The melt from the Palü glacier have come down for centuries, drilling deep circular holes into solid rocks. Twentyone of them have been excavated. The locals call them “Giants cauldrons”. Those wonders of nature formed between 12,000 to 15,000 years ago are now connected by an explanatory trail. If you dare, you can even descend down some of the largest cauldrons!
Poschiavo, with its population of just over 3,000 (90% is Italian speaking), is the largest town in the valley. The heart of Poschiavo is its beautiful cobblestoned Piazza da Cumün. The typically Italian Piazza is framed by imposing pastel-hued mansions and a late-Gothic Church with a Romanesque tower. There are a couple of restaurants with outdoor seating right at the Piazza. A lovely setting to sip a glace of vino and savor la dolche vita!
Lago di Poschiavo
Visitors first catch a glimpse of those turquoise waters from Alp Grüm station. Located 10 km south of Poschiavo, the crystal clear lake is a popular destination for fishing and water sports.
Circular Viaduct of Brusio
Brusio is the last Swiss village before the Italian border. Bernina Line makes it famous 360-degree curve near Brusio. The train needs to bridge a huge difference in altitude in a very short distance: it reaches 2,253 m. while crossing the Bernina Pass and winds up in Tirano, Italy (only 429 m.). The line was built for tourists so they could enjoy the scenic landscapes and go through as few tunnels as possible. So instead of using switchback tunnels, the train uses switchback viaducts. The ingenious viaduct has been in operation since 1908 and is a true masterpiece of bridge engineering.
Indeed, Val Poschiavo has the most unlikely combination of it all: spectacular railway architecture, unspoiled natural landscapes, breathtaking hiking and mountain biking trails, pristine lakes, icy glaciers and Mediterranean culture.
Marina Moeller is a freelance journalist, who grew up around the world. She earned four university degrees - in economics, French poetry, accounting, and journalism - and worked in the US, England, Italy, and Germany before finally settling down in Zurich. Marina is very passionate about Italian art, culture, and Venetian glass. She represents one of the top Italian glass companies in Switzerland - Arte di Murano - and would be delighted to advise you on their beautiful products! Contact Marina at email@example.com.