Thermal waters and rare butterflies: Weekend in Scuol

After passing through the longest tunnel on Switzerland's Rhaetian Railway network - the Vereina - you enter one of the sunniest spots in Canton Graubunden: the Engadin. Here, amongst glistening peaks and quaint hamlets, lies Scuol.

A village of around 2,000 inhabitants, its old town is a maze of buildings with sgraffito-decorated facades. Tim and I arrived on Friday and were immediately charmed. On our way down from the station, we filled our water bottles with the most flavoursome mineral water either of us had ever tasted from a street fountain - Scuol built its reputation as a spa town with pristine natural waters many years ago.

We found our way past 'Pastizzeria' (bakeries) selling traditional foods from the region such as Nusstorte (a caramelised, nut-filled pastry) to our B&B. After having ummed and ahed about whether to go hut-to-hutting this weekend, we had instead opted for cheap accommodation in Scuol that would have the character of a mountain hut. We had settled for Bun di Scuol and were delighted with our choice. It is an old building tucked away in a peaceful corner of the old town. Leah, our hostess, showed us to our room while giving us helpful hints about what to do in the area. The corridors were simple but clean, and the old building was delightfully cool compared to the heat outside. Our room was pine-panelled with a little window overlooking the vegetable garden below - and, the icing on the cake, it contained a bottle of Scuol mineral water. Breakfast the following morning was more lovely still - served in a pine Stube, it featured bread from the local baker, jam made with fruit from the garden and a light, fresh apple cake.

Anyway, that's getting ahead of myself. With a few hours left of Friday afternoon, we went to buy ice cream from a shop that boasted 29 different flavours - I opted for Rhubarb Yoghurt flavour - and walked down through the old town. Each square is crowned by a mineral spring - be sure to fill up water bottles there! Peaks peer up from behind the architecture, which looks a little Italianate in swept terracotta and cream hues. There is indeed a delightful sense of worlds beyond in Scuol - across one mountain ridge is Austria, beyond another, Italy.

We found our way across a bridge over the River Inn (a river that brings back happy memories for us both) and gazed at the church perched atop a mound in the foreground and the deep green forests that swept ever higher on the valley slopes. We dined early in Pizzeria Taverna - a restaurant I can only highly recommend. It looks slightly characterless from the outside - a typical main street establishment - but its sun terrace boasts views of the valley, and its food comes highly recommended. Tim said his pizza base was the best he had ever tasted, and I really enjoyed my creamy home made potato gnocchi in vegetable sauce. Later, we found our way to the village's mineral baths, Bogn Engiadina Scuol. Its pools - which range between temperatures of 34 and 37 degrees Celsius - are filled with water from four of twenty health-giving springs discovered by Paracelsus in the area hundreds of years ago. I particularly enjoyed the salt bath and the outdoor pool where, as the light faded, the mountains looked as if etched in charcoal against the moonlit sky.

Relaxing in thermal water was a fitting way to prepare our muscles for our hike the following day. Waking again to sunshine, we were raring to go on Saturday. We took a bus via S-Charl to Val Mingèr and the heart of the Swiss National Park. As we wound through woodland up to a col, we discovered plants such as the bright orange pinnate-leaved ragwort, common mezereon and rock jasmine, as well as clusters of butterflies that flew around us in their droves like a scene from a fairy tale. Some of them were a rare species in delicate pale blue (Schillerne Gaukler).

Above us were jagged summits and, as we climbed higher, views beyond to other valleys in Graubunden. When we reached the col at Sur il Foss, we were rewarded with some of the most spectacular views: below, a broad meadow filled with a cacaphony of cow bells. Tumbling down to there were steel grey scree slops, topped by stunning summits such as the Piz Plavna Dadaint. Benches were few and far between, so we shared our lunch stop with a lady from Lausanne. She told us how coming to different parts of Switzerland was just like being in a different country for her.

There were no huts on route apart from a cheese hut, and this was lovely, as it really meant there were hardly any people around. Our descent into the Val Plavna was pretty and took us down to what looked like a dried-up river bed and rather resembled a scene from a Canadian landscape. Eventually, the view opened up beyond the pine trees to the Engiadina Bassa. Proudly dominating the view was Tarasp Castle.

Shortly beyond, our walk finished at Tarasp Fontana, a pretty hamlet with a scattering of farm houses. "Can we move here?" was Tim's first comment. With the sun shining and the mountains gleaming golden, I did share his point of view. As always, we were sad to leave the mountains at the end of the day. But our train journey was livened up by a storm that was passing through the valley and, with a clear night's sky to welcome us in Zurich, we realised things could be much worse!

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