From Zurich, the Lower Engadine forming Switzerland’s eastern corner can be reached easily and comfortably by train, but it wasn’t always the case. For centuries, before the Rhaetian Railway and good roads connected this deeply cut vale in the canton of Graubünden with the rest of the country, the speckled hamlets of Engiadina bassa were left to themselves in sleepy seclusion, all but inaccessible to the world beyond the mountains.
Here, the confluence of time and terrain nourished and preserved a distinctive Alpine identity. Hulking stone houses coated in pastel colors and plaster openly bare their decorative sgraffiti. Through open windows garnished with geraniums and lacework, one can hear the melodic murmurs of Romansh, Switzerland’s lesser-known fourth national language. From a nearby ustaria—a small eating establishment halfway between bar and restaurant—the aromatic smells of simmering cream and smoked bacon beckon a deeper exploration of the local flavors. Here, everything is as humble, natural, and pure as the peridot pastures overlaying the valley. Perhaps it’s this simplicity and lack of garishness that makes the Lower Engadine one of Switzerland’s most beloved regions.
This itinerary brings you on the eastern route of the Swiss section of Saint James’ Way—the popular pilgrimage leading to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. Starting in peaceful Guarda, follow the Way in reverse direction and walk eastward along the elevated valley terrace in the direction of Scuol.
Walking on the Way of Saint James
From Zurich, get on the train to Landquart. Once there, switch to the Rhaetian Railway heading in the direction of Scuol-Tarasp, and request to stop at Guarda. At the station, a connecting yellow Swiss Post bus will take you up a gently winding road to rustic Guarda village, home of Schellen-Ursli, the eponymous protagonist of one of Switzerland’s most cherished children’s books.
When you’ve soaked in the storybook setting, take the main road leading out of the village and start your stroll on Saint James’ Way. Revel in the beautiful vistas of the Sesvenna Alps as you pass through the small settlement of Bos-cha on your way to Ardez.
The approach of Ardez offers up one of the most spectacular views of the entire hike; its fairytale-like aura is accentuated by the forlorn ruins of Steinsberg Castle above the hill.
If you find your stomach rumbling for a midday break, take a seat at one of several ustarias on the main street and ask for a plate of capuns—a classic dumpling dish typical to this area, consisting of air-dried meat wrapped in chard leaves and then simmered in a béchamel sauce.
Whenever you feel reenergized, continue along the same road out of Ardez and onwards to Ftan.
The next segment of the trail turns into the mountains towards Val Tasna, curving down to the valley floor. After crossing Tasna River, the route doubles back and splits off from the main road into a steeping wooded path. Continue climbing until you emerge out of the forests and onto an elevated plateau. From there, it’s a straightforward half-hour walk to Ftan.
Explore Ftan, enjoy a homemade milkshake or some locally brewed beer at Cafè Butea Scuntrada, and catch another yellow Post Bus, this time to Scuol. On the way, be sure to look out the window for panoramic views of Tarasp Castle, an arresting 11th century fortification and cultural heritage site.
As the sun slowly makes its trajectory over the mountains, head down Scuol’s old town to Hotel Engiadina for a warm welcome, a delicious meal, and a good night’s rest. There are several charming boutique hotels in Scuol, but this one also happens to be a traditional 16th-century house situated right in the historic center. For dinner, try the chef’s variation on pizokels, a regional spaetzle dish. The added touch of chanterelles mixed with seasonal herbs and mountain cheese makes for the perfect mouthwatering reward to the day’s journey.
Rest and Relaxation in the Roman-Irish Baths
After a good breakfast of muesli, soft-boiled eggs, and cheeses over crispbread, spend the morning exploring Scuol, renowned since the Middle Ages for the healing properties of its mineral-rich waters. The main village fountain even has a spout for natural sparkling water, tapped straight from the source. For lunch, fill up on a hearty bowl of Gerstensuppe—barley cream soup and a staple of Bündner cuisine.
In the afternoon, check in to Bogn Engiadina, Scuol’s wellness wonderland. For a truly unwinding experience, make a reservation in advance for its Roman-Irish baths, which blends two ancient bathing rituals together with some additional pampering.
The three-hour circuit begins by warming the body up with hot, dry air. This is followed by a massage in your choice of either exfoliating honey or aloe vera yogurt. Alternatively, you can opt for a full-body lathering scrub. After rinsing off, head to the steam room for some serious detox, and then to the mineral pools, where you’ll gently cool down underneath swirling motifs of Melusines and colored lights. Towards the end of your circuit, you’ll be led to a glass relaxation room, helped into a cocoon of blankets, and left to bask and drift off underneath majestic views of the Sesvenna mountains.