Emerald green, turquoise, then ice blue again: after every meter the Rhine glistens in different colors. Sometimes it meanders leisurely, sometimes it foams wildly pressed between mighty boulders. On its banks, limestone walls rise up to 400 meters in height. The spectacular Rhine Gorge was created by the Flims landslide 10,000 years ago.
“Isn’t that huge?” Asks Louis Henderson and gives the answer himself: “For me this is the Grand Canyon of Switzerland.” For him, the wild Rhine just beyond its headwaters on the Oberalp Pass is both a playground and a workplace. The Englishman came to the Surselva region west of Chur twelve years ago. Since then he has accompanied boat tours through the 14 kilometer long Rhine Gorge as a guide.
“The upper part from Ilanz is only for experts. Between Versam and Reichenau we go on the water with Funyaks but also with beginners, ”explains Henderson. The inflated rubber kayaks are much more stable in the water than classic white water kayaks. Protected with a helmet and neoprene suit, most of them manage the ride through white water without involuntary cooling.
Top cuisine after the river adventure
The starting point of the adventure is Ilanz, the birthplace of Andreas Caminada. The dark-haired man with green-blue eyes like the Rhine is the star among Swiss chefs. The Michelin Guide gourmet guide has awarded it the highest rating of three stars since 2010. At the time, Caminada was only 34 years old. His restaurant Schauenstein Castle is located south of Chur in Fürstenau.
There are gourmets from all over the world who only make a pilgrimage to Graubünden for this reason. Caminada burns off fireworks for the senses in the venerable rooms. Instead of oysters, Caminada prefers to serve his “Fake Oyster” with an amuse bouche: a porcini mushroom in a kind of mussel shell made from algae with overwhelming umami flavors.
A Pinot Noir after the tee
Like many people from Graubünden, Caminada is not only a passionate winter sports enthusiast as a snowboarder, but also a passionate golfer. Maybe that’s why he opened his first branch in Bad Ragaz. The place not only offers a thermal bath and spa clinics, but also one of the best golf courses in Switzerland. “I really like playing Bad Ragaz,” says Caminada.
Bad Ragaz is actually already in St. Gallen, but vacationers often add it to the more well-known Graubünden holiday region. From the spa you can also look directly at the Bündner Herrschaft: “This is one of the best wine-growing regions in Switzerland with first-class Pinot Noirs,” says Caminada. At the “Grand Resort Bad Ragaz” he runs his Igniv, a term from Caminada’s mother tongue, Romansh. Igniv means nest – and you feel like you are in one. The concept is relaxed, despite the two Michelin stars.
Caminada’s second Igniv is located in St. Moritz, in the Hotel “Badrutt’s Palace”, and only opens in winter, which is now the main season in the Engadine and almost everywhere in Graubünden. About 150 years ago it was different. It was not until 1864 that the hotelier Johannes Badrutt invented winter tourism by betting with his English guests that winter in St. Moritz was just as beautiful as summer. So over the years the warm season became the off-season. Apparently it took the pandemic to show the world how beautiful St. Moritz and Graubünden are in summer.
The Engadine is a sporty place
Only a few come to the cure. Today the Engadin attracts more active vacationers with warm days and cool nights at 1800 meters. There is enough space in the wide valley: hikers walk around the lakes, mountaineers climb peaks up to 4000 meters high. Cyclists tour relaxed on e-bikes, torture their way past the viaducts of the Rhaetian Railway over the Albula Pass on racing bikes. Paragliders do their laps, while golfers tee off in Samedan on the oldest course in Switzerland.
When the larches, which reach up to the green alpine pastures, turn yellow in autumn and snow hoods cover the imposing mountain ranges on both sides of the valley, the backdrop is almost kitschy. The density of luxury hotels, top restaurants, luxury boutiques and luxury cars makes it clear that the Upper Engadin is not a cheap place. The Lower Engadine around Scuol is cheaper.
Scuol is one of the gates to Swiss National Park. Founded in 1914, it is the oldest in the Alps. An area the size of the neighboring Principality of Liechtenstein is left to its own devices. Animals are not hunted and dead wood is not removed. The alpine wilderness is a research object for scientists.
Visitors can explore the park individually or on guided tours on around 100 kilometers of trails. In addition to red deer and chamois, ibex are among the animals that are frequently encountered. They were extinct in Switzerland at the end of the 19th century.
Where even Nietzsche enjoyed himself
There is no guarantee of seeing one of the Graubünden heraldic animals. The park is not a Disneyland. You can almost always rely on the marmots. The whistling rodents cavort on the alpine pastures above Sils Maria in the now car-free Val Fex, about which Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote: “Basically nowhere do I like it so much.” In the 1880s, the philosopher lived temporarily in Sils Maria, his accommodation in place today is a Nietzsche Museum.
Nietzsche liked to hike in Val Fex. Restaurants and alpine huts serve hearty specialties such as pizzoccheri, maluns and capuns. If you hike strengthened down to Isola, you can return on Europe’s highest liner route across Lake Sils. Only now and then sailing ships cross the path there.
There’s more going on on the neighboring Lake Silvaplana. Hundreds of kite and windsurfers cavort there when the weather is nice. Early in the morning, the mountain lake shimmers in the same shades of green and blue as the wild Alpine Rhine. When the Maloja wind picks up at noon, it glitters like mercury in the magical light of the southern side of the Alps.
The best travel time for Graubünden
Outside the winter season from May to October. Temperatures vary depending on the altitude. During these months, they range on average between minimum temperatures of 3 to 11 and maximum temperatures of 14 to 23 degrees.
Arrival in Graubünden
Traveling by train is comfortable and environmentally friendly. The red trains of the Rhaetian Railway run from Landquart.