Out and about on e-bike in the Upper Engadine

E-bike is a great way to get around in the Upper Engadine, taking advantage of those sweeping valley paths that are cross country loipers in the winter, and helping you climb the steeper sections of woodland.

Ahead of us is a view that could be a Turner landscape: emerald blue water in soft focus amid dusky summits, those in the near distance sharply defined, but melding into misty haze in the distance. Not that I can pay too much attention to the view: I am hurtling downhill on an e-bike and trying to avoid tree roots and pedestrians. 

We hired our bikes earlier this morning at Colani Sport, a family-run sports outfit in La Punt, and found our pedals, so to speak, as we cycled out of the village past the park and followed the river towards Bever and then Samedan. Just outside Bever we encountered congestion: a herd of bullocks was enjoying the only patch of sunlight in their field, which happened to be on the cycle path/road. Later we passed horses grazing by the river and all the way, trains intermittently chugged past.  

On the edge of Celerina, the 15th-century church of San Gian looked like brushed gold on its hilltop in the morning sunlight. We skirted around its base, passing a wood chopping yard where I inhaled deeply, that delicious scent of pine oozing into my nostrils. Then it was a steep climb - thank goodness for our e-bikes! - into the loose woodland around Lej da Staz. On its throne high above we could see the elegant Muottas Muragl funicular station. The lake was dark green, almost black in tone.    

Up and down, up and down we went as we passed Lake St. Moritz and Lej da Champfér in quick succession. Which is where we find ourselves now, zooming downhill towards Lej da Silvaplana. We're planning to picnic in the buttery light and listen to the waves gently lapping. From there it will be a gentle route onward to Sils, but I've a feeling a headwind will be accompanying us for the return journey. Better check the battery levels on our e-bikes!

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Galloping into the prettiest valley in the Upper Engadine

Take a carriage ride into one of the Engadine's prettiest side valleys then walk back out, taking in the colours and details at a slower pace. 

There's a buzz in the air around Pontresina train station, where hikers, bikers, and day tourists are gathered in the morning sun. It's dazzling now after an ethereal start, the valley cloaked in a thin veil of mist. Cherry red trains chug in and out of the station, and to each one Albie cries "choo choo" and points in rapturous excitement.  

We're not boarding a train, but instead the Pferde-Omnibus. It's a sunshine yellow affair with three sturdy steeds roped on who will pull us halfway up Val Roseg, one of the prettiest side valleys in the Upper Engadine. It's exquisite: the glacier shines like marble at the top of the valley, where it is embedded in the pristine, powerful Bernina Massif. 

Not far into the valley we almost collide with a biker who waves his fists and shouts effuse angry words in a Basil Fawlty comedy moment that probably doesn't have the desired effect. We soon lose sight of the view as it becomes obscured by a leafy web of tangled larch, stone pine and rowan trees. Stray branches brush our faces as we hurtle along the track. As we follow the icy, gushing river up the valley we pass a meadow of cows wearing huge bells, and a multitude of bikers and other carriages, all clamouring for space.

From the shade, the landscape suddenly opens up onto the broad valley bottom, grassland spreading until it meets rock and then ice. The sun dazzles in this natural amphitheatre, where our journey ends at Hotel Roseg Gletscher. We pat Wanda, Maggie and Flurina in thanks; their flanks are lathered from the effort of climbing into the valley. We, in turn, have taken the easy option: it's all downhill from here. 

The path leaves the plateau and ducks back into the woodland, meandering above the river on the opposite, and sheerer, side of the valley to which we arrived on. There are gigantic boulders and dainty fairy pools draped in juicy red rowan berries, so heavy the trees' branches are bowing under the weight. All this red in the landscape - the berries and the Rhaetian Railway trains that streak through Pontresina - is as if put there by an artist. But it's nature's perfect eye, captured here in the Upper Engadine like nowhere else on earth. 

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Magnificence despite depletion: Morteratsch Glacier, Upper Engadine

Temporality makes the Morteratsch Glacier even more beautiful. It's worth a visit before it disappears completely.

The Morteratsch Glacier remains proudly magnificent despite its belittling depletion in size that is occurring rapidly, a shrinking of proportions that is represented by waymarkers along the path up to it. It presents a scene among the most beautiful I have ever laid eyes on: a tumbling river of ice bedded between jagged white summits that rise above deep green pines and, between them, an ice blue, roaring river. 

From the car park just outside Pontresina on the road up to the Bernina Pass, the walk to the tongue takes just under an hour and enjoys views the whole way. At the start you're in 1870, and from here the shrinkage accelerates, so between 1980, 1985, 2005 and 2015, the signs - and the ice loss they represent - comes thick and fast. Since 2015, the glacier has retreated to a shocking extent. The tree cover becomes thinner as you advance, yet it is surprising how quickly the foliage has pushed through where the glacier lay as recently as 2005.  

Albie shrieks and points at the sights; he's in raptures when a train passes on the line that cuts across the path at the opening to the valley. We picnic among wild mushrooms and discarded boulders, in the shade of larches that will soon turn yellow, and ponder on how small Morteratsch Glacier will be when Albie reaches adulthood. 

More information: https://www.pontresina.ch/en/activities/outdoor-mountainsports/mountain-biking/bike-tours/detail/morteratsch-glacier-trail/ 


The best views of the Upper Engadine: Muottas Muragl

A must-do when in the Upper Engadine, Muottas Muragl is no less enchanting for its touristy status. Take the funcicular up to 2,456 metres for sweeping panoramas across the whole region. 

Muottas Muragl sits on the southern slopes of the Blais de Muottas, where it perches above the most stunning scenery the Upper Engadine has to offer. It's between Samedan, St. Moritz and Pontresina, and from the top of the funicular you can gaze across the twinkling lakes, rich woodland and clustered resorts, and up to the 4,000-metre Bernina Range topped by Piz Palü and cloaked in glaciers.

We wander at a steady height along the trail towards Lej Muragl, the terrain a grassy flank where marmots whistle and we find horses grazing wild. Across the valley is a murderously steep grey scree slope, and we can hear rockfall - or so we think. It turns out to be the gunshots of a huntsman seeking marmots. There are flowers here and there, not showy and bright like in the full throes of spring, but solitary and delicate: the last outliers of crocuses and gentians. 

The lake, when we arrive, is a giant's puddle, turquoise beneath a chalkboard of mountains. Crowds of summits come into view as we navigate our way back to the funicular station, the view unfolding beyond cow pastures onto that peaceful full scene of the Upper Engadine. Our return path is precipitously sheer and narrow. To be mindful would mean noticing the bubbling brook and lively crowd of cows outside the alm in the valley, but I am concentrating on not losing my footing or tripping in a marmot hole. 

As well as Piz Bernina, pointy and snowy, we can now see Piz Julier, an angular charcoal grey block, and Piz Ot too. The view stretches up Val Roseg and across lakes Staz, St. Moritz and Silvaplana. Bright blue puddles, sparkling, vying to grab attention from the undulating massifs. 


Slowly, slowly, slowly in La Punt Chamues-ch: Upper Engadine, Switzerland

It's funny how days that are planned to be easy rather than spectacular can be the most memorable of all, as we find out on holiday with a toddler in La Punt Chamues-ch.

La Punt Chamues-ch looks like a chequerboard from above. You can see it as you descend the steep Albula Pass: stocky houses in neat oblong arrangements rippling out from the River Inn. Woodland of stone pine and larches clings to the edges of the village, and Piz Mezzaun soars above - mighty but not imposing, for the Upper Engadine valley where La Punt sits is broad and U-shaped. The mountains are formed in meringue-like slubs. Like those fold-out greetings cards, one peak is layered on top of another, and where one ends another springs into view. Always above, huge, huge skies. The valley bottom is broad and often cloaked in mist on a September morning, so horses grazing in the meadows appear ghostly. Splicing the valley in two is the railway, serviced by the cherry red Rhaetian Railway trains.  

It's to this scene that we awaken every day in our Airbnb on the edge of what is a cross country loiper in the winter. Our windows look down the valley towards Zernez, the gateway to the Swiss National Park. From the other side of the house, it's uphill towards St. Moritz. I enjoy watching the light play on the mountains, mauve shade interplaying with silver. It casts definition on the pine trees as if they are little painted wooden models. In the evenings, there are pastel tones and an apricot sky. We easily settle into a daily routine of a morning walk and and afternoon of yoga, reading or cooking while Albie naps. 

We're spoilt for choice with local walks on the days we don't venture out into the mountains. On the edge of the village is a woodland trail that rises, falls and winds between stone pines, rowan, larch and birch trees. There are berries galore - my favourites, the red-and-white gemeiner Schneball (literally translated: evil snowball) - and wooden sculptures, too. One - a bear reclining in a leisurely pose - tickles me, because I had been wondering about the chances of encountering a bear in this wild terrain. 

It's nice to walk along the valley. One day we mosey to Madulain and then Zuoz. With 250 inhabitants, Madulain is the region's smallest village. It clutches the banks of the Inn, where it is overlooked by the ruins of 13th-century Guardaval castle. We find our way to the farm shop at Engadin River Ranch and pick up local honey and, as you do when you're in the region, homemade nut cake. Look up and before your eyes meet the sky they settle on bright rowan berries and Baroque spires - upward scene of the Engadine. The sgraffito that adorns many of the buildings is cheerful and childlike in its colourful broad-stroked simplicity.

We later stop to paddle in a shallow section of the river and enjoy that fizz of energy that comes from 'kneippen', the act of submerging your feet in cold water that is said to stimulate circulation. Further on, Zuoz, the region's former capital, is smart and well-heeled, composed of a cluster of patrician townhouses and presided over by the international school Lyceum Alpinum. Things weren't always so peachy: in 1499 locals burned down the village rather than let it fall into the hands of Emperor Maximilian I. We meander the cobbled streets before boarding the train to return to La Punt.

Another day we set out for Samedan, direction St. Moritz, because the path, which is a loiper in winter, runs right beside the house and we can take a pushchair along it. The sky stretches above from one meringue queue of mountains to another on the opposite side of the valley. I take in the colours: rosebay-willow-herb pink against the whirling ice blue waters of the Inn and the ombré flanks of the mountains. Samedan is deeply charming, the sort of place you might find on an out-of-the-way stretch of the Mediterranean. Shaded avenues of smart, shuttered townhouses open onto mountain flanks bathed in sunlight. 

But the moment I'll remember most of all is Albie's palpable excitement as we board the train in Samedan, the hub of the Rhaetian Railway. The buzz of the station around us, him cat calling every time a train passes through, clickety-clack. Then in the carriage, his face pressed up against the window, his mouth stretched into a Cheshire cat grin. 

La Punt is a great base for days out like these:

Hiking in Val Fex

Muottas Muragl

Morteratsch Glacier

Val Roseg

E-biking from La Punt to Sils

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