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Switzerland's Best Kept Secret

Although the alpine Canton Graubünden is well known to European travellers, it's often overlooked by overseas visitors. All too often our guests rush through our scenic and diverse canton by train without taking the time to see and experience more of this diverse region.

The old town of Chur Bos-cha and the Engadin Alps
Introduction | Videos | Regions | Good to Know

An Introduction to Graubünden

Most of you might have heard of the two famous trains - Bernina Express and Glacier Express. You might even know that Graubünden is the fictional home of Heidi. Perhaps you've heard rumors of sparkly St. Moritz and the ski resorts of Klosters-Davos and Arosa.

Honestly though, Graubünden has much more to offer than snobbish ski resorts and famous train excursions.

Graubünden was always a region of transit. Each Valley presents a different facet of the cantons diversity. People, goods and ideas circulate here since time immemorial and have left its mark in form of languages, uncountable dialects, customs and habits, culture and architecture.

Graubünden is a canton of contrasts in all aspects; various different languages and sub languages require concessions. Everybody belongs to some degree to a minority: Originally, the valleys were inhabited by the Raeti (Celtic origins). The German speaking Walser, member of an alpine tribe that migrated in the 13th century from the canton of Wallis mingle with the Romans that brought their own culture with them in 15 BC and from which the Romansh and Italian speaking population originates. People live in mundane ski resorts or isolated nooks and to get along with each other, compromises are necessary.

Graubünden (in German) is the only Swiss Canton where three of our four official languages are spoken (and varieties of dialects in all three languages, I might add): The name in Italian is "Cantone dei Grigioni" or "Chantun Grischun" in Romansh. If these are all tongue breakers for you, try the French version: Grisons.

The old town of Chur Part of the old town in Chur

The free-spirited people of Graubünden are first and foremost "Bündner"(meaning people coming from Graubünden, and I am one of them :)). We are fiercely independent; some would call us stubborn. We don't always see eye to eye with the rest of Switzerland, and we might need a little more time adapting to new technologies. But when we do, we tend to become leaders.

Praettigau valley A small slice of the Pr├Ąttigau Valley, seen from the village of Fanas

Just take the proposal of building railroads. Skeptics feared noise and pollution would interfere with their idyllic life and scare their cows to death. Once resistance broke, they went on to building the World's largest and cleanest narrow gauge railway system - the Rhaetian Railway, our beloved RhB. Sections of it became part of the UNESCO World Heritage in 2008.

And since I am ad it, electricity was somewhat seen as evil's work. Little did these backwoods experts know that Graubünden would become Switzerland's largest supplier of clean water energy!

We might be a little rough around the edges. And our humour might be a tad unconventional. Who else but Graubünden can come up with some of the weirdest advertising campaigns without offending our guests?

Postcard from Graubunden That's how we Bündner treat our guests!
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Graubünden is a Delightful Destination in every Season

Graubünden is first and foremost an outdoor arena for winter and summer sports. Whether you want to climb craggy mountains, wander along ancient routes and gurgling streams, hike in the history rich landscape and through lush larch forests, visit our diverse towns and villages or just hang out in thermal bathes, experience living traditions and eat yourself through local dishes - I promise you plenty of "I-can't-quite-believe-this" moments.

Summer in Graubünden

Winter in Graubünden

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Graubünden's Regions

Just off the bat, not all regions below are "politically correct". I merged a few to make it easier for you to navigate and find them. I hope Flims can forgive me for taking them out of "Imboden" and adding them to the "Surselva", for example.

Churer Rhine Valley and Bündner Herrschaft | Prättigau and Davos |
Surselva and Flims | Plessur | Hinterrhein | Albula and Surses | Mosea (Mesocco) | Lower Engadin and Müstair | Upper Engadin, Bregaglia, Poschiavo
A regional Map of Graubunden

Rhine Valley, Bündner Herrschaft

The view from Jenins to the Rhine Valley

Graubünden's gateway is the wine growing region and its capital Chur:

  • The Alpine city of Chur with its mediaeval charm, history rich culture and unexpectedly mild climate;
  • A walk through the vineyards of the Rhine Valley and a visit in the romantic castle garden Haldenstein;
  • "Bündner Herrschaft" - vineyards, food and an unexpected museum;
  • Maifenfeld, the town of international horse races and the fictional home of Heidi.

Prättigau and Davos

The Praettigau Valley

Despite the immediate proximity to the world famous ski destinations Klosters and Davos, the Prättigau Valley hardly ever makes it into travel guides. You'll have serious bragging rights upon returning home:

  • A string of charming and authentic villages;
  • The 12 km / 7.5 miles toboggan run in Fideris;
  • Skiing at its best on the legendary Parsenn Derby run;
  • Serious mountain climbers appreciate Mt Schesaplana, the Silvretta range, and the Via Ferrata on Mt Sulzfluh;
  • Intertwined with competition worthy mountain bike routes and a bike roller coaster in Klosters;
  • Dischma, an enchanting side valley in Davos.
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Surselva and Flims

Val Lumnezia and the village Degen

The Surselva consists of four remote valleys that spread out from the medieval town of Ilanz. Flims belongs to the neighbouring region but fits perfectly into a visit with the Surselva:

  • Ilanz, the first city on the River Rhine;
  • Rumor has it that Asterix lived in Falera;
  • Lumnezia, the valley of light between Ilanz, Vrin and the tundra like Graina highlands;
  • Disentis: a monastery, challenging off-piste ski slopes and Lake Toma, one of the two Rhine sources;
  • Safien, the remotest of them all. Alone driving up the narrow valley with its switchback road is an experience in itself;
  • Vals, known for its mineral rich water and thermal bath, an architectonic jewel;
  • Ruinaulta gorge, also called Switzerland's Small Grand Canyon between Ilanz and Reichenau.


A train journey through the Schanfigg

From the city of Chur, the Plessur region leads through the Schanfigg to Arosa or via Churwalden toLenzerheide. Arosa and Lenzerheide are connected through hiking- and biking tails in summer and it's a fabulous ski region in winter:

  • Schanfigg valley: Traditional small villages along the River Plessur;
  • Arosa - a wellness oasis in the Swiss Alps. 10 alpine lakes with crystal clear water;
  • A charming ride with the Rhaetian Railway (RhB) - Arosabahn - from Chur to Arosa;
  • Lenzerheide, a winter and summer playground with impressive bike trails, a romantic lake, a paradise for families and a hiking and ski arena connecting with Arosa.
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Hinterrhein (Posterior Rhine)

Cresta in the Avers Valley

2000 years of alpine transit has left its marks in this region. One Nature Park, four valleys and two cultures with intact village and unique churches:

  • Gorges Viamala and Ruinaulta, and the mineral bath Andeer;
  • The remote Avers valley with Juf, the highest year-round inhabited alpine village in Europe;
  • Zillis with its 12th century Romanesque church and 153 painted wooden panels;
  • The Via Spluga between Thusis and Chiavenna (Italy), a 65 km long cultural hiking trail influenced by travellers for centuries;
  • Beverin Nature Park.

Albula Valley and Surses

The famous Landwasser Viaduct in the Albula Valley

Merchants and pioneers have used these alpine routes over the passes Albula and Julier since time immemorial:

  • UNESCO Albula Line of the Rhaetian Railway (RhB) connects Chur with the Engadin and the Valley of Poschiavo. The viaducts and switch-back tunnels were engineering feats and are fascinating to this day;
  • Road trippers love the winding alpine pass routes;
  • Parc Ela is Switzerland's largest nature park;
  • Circular Kesch hike in the Parc Ela;
  • Alp Flix, a biodiversity hotspot with more than 2,000 species of animals and plants
  • Bergün - an authentic village and a gripping toboggan run;
  • Savognin, an ancient village and paradise for families and nature lovers.
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Lower Engadin with Müstair

Scraffito, murals on Engadin houses

You'll be greeted in Romansh and Italian. This region will accelerate your heart beat - in the best of ways:

  • Thermal bath pleasures in Scuol, the town of healing waters;
  • Storybook and authentic villages throughout the Lower Engadin;
  • The only Swiss National Park with over 80km (50 miles) of trails in an unspoilt landscape;
  • Castle Tarasp and Vulpera;
  • Val Müstair - a pristine alpine area of myths and legends and a monastery;
  • Samnaun, the border village with toll free shopping and border free hiking and skiing with Austria.

Upper Engadin, Poschiavo, Bregaglia

A picturesque village in the Val Bregaglia

While most have heard of mundane St. Moritz, I'd rather guide you to more beautiful areas:

  • Val Bregaglia: the charm and unique mountain valley is a dreamy beauty in Italian speaking Grigioni;
  • Val Poschiavo: One of the most scenic train trips - the Bernina Express - cuts right though this rugged valley with its cultural interesting main town, Poschiavo. Southerly hospitality awaits you;
  • Cross country skiing at its best between Maloja and Zuoz, a 42 km / 26 mile marathon run;
  • St. Moritz looks its best from Muottas Muragl above Pontresina.
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Mosea or Val Mesolcina (Misox)

Village in the Val Mosea

The Mosea valley connects Graubünden with the Canton Ticino via San Bernardino Pass, a rugged beauty on an ancient route:

  • Chur - Bellinzona, a road trip through a diverse landscape and over winding roads;
  • Wild nature and unspoiled hamlets in the Calanca Valley. The Baroque Churches in Sta Maria and Sta Domenica are evidence of a long-standing Christian civilization in this remote valley;
  • Val Cama, a well kept secret for hikers;
  • Switzerland's largest castle ruin, Castello Mesocco, a site of national significance.

A taste of Graubünden

Ravioli filled with chestnuts

Well, food is not a region but it's almost a universe on its own. Even our dishes are a bit different and an adventure in itself. Many specialties can only be found here, and they vary from region to region:

  • From hearty barley soup to tasty tong breakers such as "Chäsgätschädder" (melted cheese and cream over roasted bread) to Pizokels, Capuns, Maluns , specialty dried meats and calorie dense deserts such as nut tarts and rich pear bread will tickle your taste buds;
  • Switzerland's best known sparkling mineral waters are bottled in Graubünden - Valser and Passugger. Home grown wine, regional brewed beer and distinct liqueurs will please connoisseurs;
  • You won't return home hungry. Most likely cravings will be so strong that they will make you return for more :)
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Good to Know

Where in Switzerland is Graubünden?

Switzerland map with Graubunden

On a map, Graubünden has a similar shape like Switzerland itself and is tucked away on the top of the south-eastern corner.

The canton borders Liechtenstein, Austria, and Italy - and shares cantonal borders with Ticino, Uri, Glarus, and St. Gallen.

How to get There

By train
  • Zürich Airport to Landquart: Approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes to Landquart where travellers change trains to Klosters, Davos, the Engadin and beyond;
  • Zürich Airport to Chur: In a bit under two hours you reach Chur, from where the Rhaetian Railway or the postal bus will take you to the remotest corners;
  • Lucerne to Chur: a bit over two hours, depending on the route you choose: Direct via Thalwil or a bit longer via Zürich;
  • Bern to Chur: approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes.
By car

Motorways lead to Chur (and beyond) from all parts of Switzerland and the rest of Europe:

  • Zürich to Chur 118 km;
  • Lucerne to Chur 141 km;
  • Lugano to Chur 145 km (shortest route);
  • Basel to Chur 203 km;
  • Bern to Chur 243 km;
  • Geneva to Chur 396 km;
Nearest airport:
  • Zürich Airport;
  • Samedan if you arrive by taxi or private plane.
Getting around

You don't have to walk over hill and dale to happiness and mountain bliss. Public transport brings you to the most exciting destinations.

  • Trips on trains and busses are covered by one of the Swiss Passes and some of the mountain trips are even free in summer;
  • If you holiday mostly in Graubünden, do check out the Graubünden Pass for unlimited travel on the Rhaetian Railway network, including the Matterhorn Railway, part of the Glacier Express between St.Moritz/Davos, Chur and Zermatt, as well as postbus routes.

Best Time to Visit

Graubünden's climate is as varied as its landscape, languages, culture, and cuisine. Due to the Alpine location and the average altitude of more than 1000 meters above sea level (3280 ft.), winter lasts far into April with still excellent winter sport conditions until Easter. You can enjoy Magnolia flowering trees in the southern valleys and go skiing in the Alps on the same day.

It's beautiful in every season, except maybe November until mid-December. These months can be weather-wise neither here nor there with too much rain and not enough snow. Of course, being an Alpine Region, snow can sprinkle alpine areas pretty much anytime of the year though it tends to disappear quickly as soon as the sun brings out her shining glory in summer.

Graubünden lies in the Southern Alps and is influenced by the Mediterranean climate. Winter is exceptionally beautiful with more sunshine hours than anywhere else in Switzerland (sun-wise we compete with the Canton Valais).

Dry, clear autumn days are beautiful to wander through the extensive chestnut forests in the southernmost valleys. When green leaves turn to crimson shades and the larches to a yellowy orange glow under a steel blue sky, then it's definitely time to lace up the boots and go hiking.

Glorious autumn weather in the Engadin
  • Best for high alpine hiking: July to mid-September - for leisurely hikes June to end-October. Be aware that some of the mountain transport gondolas and funiculars are closed for maintenance right after the ski season ends and before it starts again. So do check if you visit off-season.
  • Best for winter sports: January to Easter - the closer to Easter the less skiers you will meet, the snow conditions are still excellent and the sun is warmer than earlier in the season;
  • Best for wellness holidays: Year-round.

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Where in Switzerland is Graubünden?

Switzerland map with Graubunden Switzerland's largest Canton lies in south-eastern corner of the country and shares borders with Austria, Italy and Lichtenstein as well as the Swiss Cantons of St. Gallen, Uri, Glarus and Ticino.

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