Fairy-tale villages. Alpine lakes as blue as cobalt. Regal ibex standing sentry on misty ridges — the Engadin Valley, a narrow ravine cutting across the Swiss canton of Graubünden, is one the most sublime pockets of the Alps. Long a coveted destination for skiers, hikers, and outdoor adventurers, the valley has culinary verve and cultural cachet worthy of its scenic splendor. From the glitzy, celebrity-studded ski resorts of St. Moritz — the St. Tropez of the Alps — to sleepy mountain hamlets frozen in time since the medieval era, the Engadin mesmerizes.
The isolated valley, located three hours by train from Zurich, is also the traditional homeland of the Romansh, one of Europe’s most enigmatic ethnolinguistic groups. As with the Basques of the Pyrenees Mountains, the Romansh’s precise origins remain shrouded in mystery, but evidence suggests they speak the oldest language in the Alps. While recognized as Switzerland’s fourth official tongue, Romansh is today an endangered language spoken by less than one percent of the Swiss population. In the Engadin Valley, however, exuberant Romansh festivals, soulful cuisine, and warm hospitality still flourish.
While one continuous valley, the Engadin is traditionally divided into the two geographical sections: the Unterengadin (the lower Engadin) and the Oberengadin (the upper Engadin). As the name indicates, the Unterengadin is slightly closer to sea level; this half is wilder and less densely populated than the Oberengadin, which is home to the valley’s largest city, St. Moritz. Renting a car is the easiest way to explore the valley, but if you’re trying to save Swiss francs, buses and trains are easy and convenient, too.
Things to do in the Engadin Valley
Learn about Romansh culture
Begin your visit to the Engadin by plumbing the annals of Romansh history in the Biblioteca Rumantscha, a museum library housing the largest collection of Romansh literature in the world. A stately example of the Engadin’s vernacular architecture — trapezoidal roofs to slough off snow; small windows to conserve heat; and heavy, carved wooden doors — the building was originally an aristocratic home built in 1595. The museum preserves the grandeur of the artwork, tapestries, and furniture of the original residence, and placards and videos explain the fascinating history of the Romansh people and language.
Biblioteca Rumantscha: Mulins 2, 7503 Samedan, Switzerland
Hit the trails
After all the spirited gobbling and swilling the Engadin offers, a beautiful hike is a welcome counterbalance. The trail between Alp Languard, a snug mountainside restaurant, and Muottas Muragl, a peak that also lends its name to a stunning hotel at the summit of Vadret Mountain, takes about three hours. Snaking along alpine ridges and through dense forests, the trail yields ineffably beautiful views — mountains and lakes of such grandeur to inspire even the most stoic of trekkers to flights of yodeling. With luck, you might even spot a herd of grazing ibex.
Walk the halls of a medieval castle
Overlooking the town of Scuol, a mere handful of cottages smattering the mountains, Tarasp Castle is a medieval fortress seemingly conjured from the pages of Tolkien. Once inhabited by a branch of the Habsburg Dynasty, the castle, open to the public, is now owned by renowned Swiss artist Not Vital. Within the castle’s lordly halls, artwork runs the gamut of medieval iconography to exuberant Rococo ceilings and portraits of Habsburgs garbed in royal regalia, chins protruding as dramatically as the Matterhorn. It takes about an hour to get from Scuol to the castle on foot, but buses are available to drop off visitors within a five-minute walk of the castle’s entrance. Make sure to charge your camera for the visit; the castle’s upper parapets offer panoramic views of the mountains.
Tarasp Castle: Sparsels 145, 7553 Tarasp, Switzerland
Where to eat and drink in the Engadin Valley
Luscious bowls of fondue, roasted Raclette melted over fresh bread, plates of gruyere paired with cherry brandy — beloved Swiss delicacies abound in the valley’s cozy restaurants and pubs. But equally enticing are idiosyncratic Romansh delicacies like venison sausage, ibex charcuterie, or Bünder gerstensuppe, a thick barley stew salted with bündnerfleish (air-dried beef jerky). Italy lies just over the Alps from the Engadin, and echoes of the Magic Boot are palpable in Engadiner chefs’ penchant for pasta specialties embellished with regional ingredients like pears, bündnerfleish, or fresh mountain cheeses.
One memorable place to sample local fare is Restorant Dorta, an elegant bistro inside a 12th-century inn that celebrates traditional Romansh cuisine in all its sausage- and cabbage-laden glory. Designed for long, cold Alpine nights, dishes like rösti (fried hash browns coated with Raclette) or cullas da Vná (pork dumplings atop tangy sauerkraut) are as flavorful as they are comforting. Pair all that hearty fare with a good glass of local Zweigelt, a robust red strong enough to stand up to roasted venison or beef.
Restorant Dorta: Via Dorta 29, 7524 Zuoz, Switzerland
With a deeply rooted hunting culture and the need to preserve meat through the winter, the Engadin excels in charcuterie. For boards piled with carnivorous delicacies, head to Hatecke, a beautiful butcher shop in the village of Scuol. For adventurous palates, the ibex and venison sausages, emblematic dishes of the Engadin, are exceptional. So are more commonplace cured meats like prosciutto and speck. Snag a vacuum-sealed ibex sausage, nearly impossible to find outside the Engadin, to take back home in your carry-on.
Hatecke: Via Maistra 16, 7500 St Moritz, Switzerland
Orma Whiskey Distillery and Restaurant 3303
Arriving at Orma Whiskey Distillery, the world’s highest whiskey stills, requires two tram rides and a hike up mountain-hewn stairs, but the delights awaiting inside — exquisite pours paired with equally intoxicating views of the Alps — are well worth the schlep. The altitude and extreme temperatures supercharge the mingling of whiskey and wood, and the final product — silky smooth amber ambrosia — bursts with bold barrel flavors.
After a whiskey aperitif at Orma, sit down for pasta, stew, and other fortifying Engadiner specialties at nearby Restaurant 3303, also nestled on the summit of Corvatsch Mountain. Drinks are a bit pricey, but the 360-degree panoramic views of the Roof of Europe are gratis.
Got a tooth for something sweet? Then make a beeline for Kochendörfer, a bakery founded in 1896 in the quaint village of Pontresina. Each morning at the crack of dawn, the master bakers alchemize flour, butter, sugar, and fruit preserves into heavenly pastry — sweet treats delicious enough to knock you off your skis. If they’re not sold out, order a slice of Engadiner Torte, alternating layers of rich custard spiked with cherry brandy, walnut brittle, and pie crust — arguably the most scrumptious coffee accompaniment ever invented.
Kochendörfer: Via Maistra 228, 7504 Pontresina, Switzerland
Hotel Chesa Rosatsch
Hotel Chesa Rosatsch, in the village of Celerina, delightfully marries rustic charm with luxury. Adorned with panels of Swiss stone pine, a fragrant wood emblematic of the Engadin, Chesa Rosatsch is the perfect cozy retreat on a snowy night. Three in-house restaurants grace the property, and each is fabulous. For a rich steak dinner, book a table at Uondas, an open-kitchen concept grilling up locally raised beef and lamb. The restaurants share a well-stocked wine cellar with bottled treasures from across Central Europe, as well as an extensive selection of Swiss beers. In your free time, take a stroll along the nearby river to the Church of San Gian, a magnificent 14th-century sanctuary adorned with dazzling frescoes.
Hotel Chesa Rosatsch: Via S. Gian 7, 7505 Celerina/Schlarigna, Switzerland
Hotel Guardaval is a romantic hideaway in the charming town of Scuol. Each room in the 400-year-old building is unique, and harkening back to the days before centralized heating, guests sleep in snug upper lofts under thick fur blankets. Guests are also permitted access to the hotel’s spa, a collection of indoor and outdoor hot pools filled with Scuol’s geothermal mineral baths — sulphuric waters long coveted for their medicinal properties. The hotel’s restaurant Guarda Val treats guests to a gourmet tour de force of Engadiner cuisine, with luxurious pasta dishes, aged steaks, and a dazzling smorgasbord of cheeses from across Switzerland’s cantons.
Boutique-Hotel GuardaVal: Engadine Boutique-Hotel GuardaVal, Vi 383, 7550 Scuol, Switzerland
How to get to the Engadin Valley
From Zurich, it takes about three hours to arrive in the Engadin by train, but the journey, on the UNESCO-protected Rhaetian Railway, is almost as rewarding as the destination. The Bernina Express, one of Switzerland’s five premium panoramic trains, soars past mountain passes, forests, and alpine villages — a window-side show even more riveting than cinema.
From Zurich Hauptbahnhof, Zurich’s central train station, book a train to Chur (1.5 hours) and from Chur transfer to St. Moritz (two hours). Don’t be late for your train. Schedules run with the precision of a Patek Philippe timepiece, and departures leave exactly on the minute. We recommended downloading the SBB Mobile, available in English and German, to help you navigate your route.
Snag a Swiss Travel Pass to simplify your journeys through Switzerland. The pass allows unlimited train, boat, and bus travel access throughout Switzerland, with first- and second-class options available. Better yet, the pass lets you visit over 500 museums across Switzerland for free, so you’ll save serious cash if you plan to explore Switzerland’s cultural treasures.