Walking Tour in the Graubunden Region of Switzerland
See the panoramic versions of the photos in the linked Gallery
Having had 3 holidays in the last 5 years in the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland (see Bernese Oberland section), Richard and I decided to explore a different area of Switzerland this year. Graubunden is a mountainous canton in the south east of Switzerland. The area, which is also known as The Grissons, contains many well known resorts including Klosters (popular with royal skiers), Davos and St Moritz. Like many Alpine regions, its main tourist season is the winter, and summer walkers can often benefit from reasonable rates in the hotels.
Following our earlier holiday in Wengen (Bernese Oberland), we had got on the mailing list of the Sunstar hotel group. Sunstar have a small chain of good hotels in Switzerland, mainly in the Bernese Oberland and Graubunden regions. One of the Sunstar mailings talked of a walking tour they offer between 3 of their hotels in Graubunden. The deal is that over the course of a week, you stay in their hotels in Davos, Arosa and Lenzerheide, spending 2 or 3 nights in each hotel and then walking across the mountains to the next hotel while Sunstar arrange for your luggage to be taken by public transport.
In the 1970's, Richard's parents and brother had spent a fortnight in Arosa and had always talked about it being one of their best ever holidays. We decided to go and see what the area was like 30 years on.
We had a great time. The weather was generally very good, the walking and scenery wonderful, Swiss transport as always efficient and Sunstar arranged everything perfectly. Contrary to popular expectations, we also find our holidays in Switzerland to be fairly economical, and this was certainly the case this time, as virtually all transport and many drinks were included in the cost of the holiday. The total cost of our week for the two of us was around £1,400.
Having left home at 5am, we arrived in Davos around 3pm. The journey went pretty smoothly, flying into Zurich (where it was warm and sunny) and taking an intercity train to Landquart, followed by a local train via Klosters to Davos Platz. The views from the local train were spectacular and an early reminder of why we keep returning to Switzerland!
After an ice-cream at the railway station, a shortish walk through town took us to the Sunstar hotel, where we were given full details of our walking tour. We were also told about the Davos card, which we had to collect from the local Tourist Office in order to receive free travel on all Davos buses, trains and cable cars. This is a new system called ‘all-inclusive' that is operating in both Davos and Arosa, and provides free local transport to all visitors staying in the resort.
One thing you need to be aware of in Switzerland is that their summer tourist season does not really start until July, and some cable cars and railways are closed during May and June. This was a problem we had a couple of years ago when we went to Grindelwald in May, and the cable car up the Mannlichen was not working. There are quite a few cable cars and mountain railways in the Davos region but some of them do not open until early July. This would have been a problem if we had had more than a couple of days in the resort, but as we were moving on there was enough to do.
As the Tourist Office closed at 5pm we went there to get our free card as soon as we had put our luggage in our room. Having got the card, we jumped on a bus that took us along the valley to Glaris, where a cable car goes up the Rinerhorn. We checked that the cable car would be operating the next day and went back by bus to our hotel for the evening meal.
Before the evening meal, we each had a drink on our balcony from the free minibar in the room. This is a nice touch in all Sunstar hotels. They provide a fridge with 8-10 bottles in it. These bottles of beer, coke, water and fruit juice are replenished daily and thus provided us with the free drinks I mentioned earlier.
After dinner, we were going to have a gentle walk through the town, but the sky looked a bit threatening and there were rumbles of thunder. We stayed in the hotel grounds and watched the storm developing from a seat, before retiring to our balcony as the rain came. The light and sound show became a fairly regular evening entertainment as they often are in the mountains in summer.
In our experience, good local walking maps have been available free of charge for all the regions of Switzerland we have been to so far, and this holiday was no different. The maps, which are available from hotels or the Tourist Office, show cable car and railway routes up the mountains, together with numbered walking routes. The routes are well signposted on the ground as well, but unlike in the Bernese Oberland, the Graubunden Region did not tend to number the walks on the signposts. The routes also give an indication of how long they should take to complete, and you will soon be able to work out how long the walk is likely to take you by seeing if you tend to go more quickly or slowly than they indicate.
Anyway, after studying the map for Davos the previous night, we decided we wanted to go up the Jakobshorn and Rinerhorn cable cars on our one full day in Davos. So, after a good Swiss buffet breakfast, we went to catch the Jakobshorn cable car. This cable car runs from just behind Davos Platz train station (1540m). It is in 2 sections, and only the first section to Jschalp (1931m) was running at the time. This is a single large cable car, running every 30 minutes. The second section to the top of Jakobshorn (2590m) was due to open on 1st July.
At Jschalp, we had a bit of a walk uphill (route 46) but it was through the trees and the views were not particularly exciting at that level. We could see ahead above the tree line and towards the top of Jakobshorn and it looked like a good walk, but as we wanted to go up the Rinerhorn cable car, we retraced our steps to Jschalp. A few photos over Davos, before going back down in the cable car.
A repeat of the bus ride we had tried out yesterday took us to Station Glaris and the foot of the Rinerhorn cable car. This cable car runs a continuous loop of 6 person gondolas to Jatzmeder (2053m). From there, various walks are available, ranging from a challenging route to the peak of the Rinerhorn (2528m) to easy routes down through the forest back to the Davos valley floor. We chose to do a medium standard circular walk that went very gently uphill along route 70 to Abirugg (2105m) and then more steeply uphill for a short way along route 72 to Hubel (2281), before returning downhill to Jatzmeder.
This walk took us just less than 2 hours and while not too difficult for a first day in the mountains, it left us feeling we had exerted ourselves enough for a snack and ice-cream in the restaurant at the top of the cable car. The views were lovely and there were still lots of wild flowers (large and small gentians, dwarf rhododendrons, marsh marigolds, miniature harebells, orchids, etc) covering the hillsides.
After returning to the valley floor by cable car we took the bus back through Davos to Davos Dorf and the Davoser See lake at the western end of Davos. We walked back to Davos Dorf along the beautiful lake, stopping at a bar for the inevitable ice-cream.
A bus back to the hotel to watch the England Ecuador World Cup match which began at 5pm. Almost as soon as we had got in, there was a big storm, which was far more interesting than the football!
After our evening meal the storm had blown over, so we walked into town to check out the Schatzalp train station from where our walk to Arosa was due to begin the next day. Close to the station we found a small Co-Op Pronto supermarket, which was open late and on a Sunday. Although Davos has two large supermarkets, they do not open at all on a Sunday, and as we wouldn't really have time to shop the following morning, we took the opportunity to buy some nuts and chewy bars to have for lunch the following day.
Day 3 - Monday 26th June: Davos to Arosa (Weather: Hot and sunny)
We got up early and packed our luggage, as we had to get it to the hotel reception before 8am so that it could be taken to the train station to be transported to the hotel in Arosa.
After breakfast we got our day packs and walked to the Schatzalp station that we had been to the previous evening. From here, a train usually climbs the 350 metres to Schatzalp (1861m), but the system is being overhauled this year and a minibus replaces the train! We caught the 9am minibus and had an exciting few minutes going up a fairly steep and windy mountain track to the Schatzalp where there was a hotel and bar.
Unfortunately it was way too early to stop for a drink, and we had not yet done enough to justify an ice-cream, so we just put our rucksacks on and started the walk, uphill to Strelapass (2352m). No sooner had we started than we came across a couple of workmen, one of whom ran towards us waving his arms and shouting ‘schnell'. We heard a helicopter overhead and realised he wanted us out of the way, and fast! No sooner had we jogged 20 paces than the helicopter descended into a clearing with the surrounding trees swaying in its more than gentle breeze. We didn't hang around to see what was happening, but assumed that that was probably the way that materials were brought in for railway maintenance.
The route to Strelapass was a steep but very pleasant medium class, mainly grassy, ‘bergweg'. It was very warm walking uphill, and the trip to the top took us an hour and a half, during which we only saw one other walker. It was very windy at the top and the restaurant was closed, so we just rushed to the summit for a quick panorama before starting our descent. Fortunately, while we were at the summit a very fit, very thin walker passed close by and we communicated by sign-language that we would like to have our photograph taken.
The path the other side was less exciting than the one we had climbed up. We were aiming for a village called Langwies, from where we were to catch the local train the short distance to Arosa. The descent started off as steep scree and then became a gentler path alongside a river. The path across the scree still had a couple of patches of snow on it, and while we got across these okay, they were a little tricky as they were slopping downhill.
Below the scree we saw a couple of marmots (small beaver like mammals which are common in the Swiss Alps) in the grass down by the river. The river path developed into a farm track and there were a few farmhouses dotted about the hillside. One such farmhouse had been converted into the Heimeli restaurant and guesthouse. It was open and fairly busy, so we stopped and had a cold drink on the terrace.
The route we took to Langwies (1377m) then continued along the track which was made up in some places. It was just a little too steep to be a comfortable walk, and actually became a bit of a slog towards the end. There was another route signposted as a summer route, as it probably went across ski fields, and if we were to do the walk again we would try to follow that route. We finally arrived in Langwies and found the station. The trains only ran once an hour and we had a bit of time to kill. Fortunately, the station had a fridge, so we bought an ice-cream and sat on the platform sunning ourselves.
The hotel at Davos had given us a temporary ‘Arosa Card', so that we were able to travel for free on the train from Langwies to Arosa. The Sunstar Hotel in Arosa was a little way from the station, but when we got there our luggage was waiting for us in our room. Another nice room with balcony overlooking woods. We relaxed with a drink from the minibar and a shower before going down to dinner. The dessert at dinner was a strawberry and vanilla ice-cream in the shape of the Swiss flag, to celebrate the fact that Switzerland were playing in the World Cup that evening.
After dinner we walked around the Untersee, the smaller of two lakes in Arosa. Back to the room to watch Switzerland get knocked out of the World Cup on penalties.
Our hotel room cards served as our ‘all inclusive' Arosa Cards while we were staying at the hotel. There are 2 main cable cars serving the Arosa region and after breakfast we went to catch the cable car up the Weisshorn. This leaves from just behind the train station in the centre of Arosa and is a single large car, that goes from the bottom station (1734m) every twenty minutes, up to a middle station (2015m) where you need to change cars for the journey to the top of the Weisshorn (2653m).
There were excellent views at the top, although it was a little hazy in the distance. You could see down to Chur (the capital of the Graubunden region) and round to different mountain ranges. The view to Chur was reminiscent of the view we had had a few years ago from the top of the Jungfrau down into Interlaken (Bernese Oberland).
We decided to walk from the Weisshorn to the top of the Hornli which we could see in the distance. From the Hornli, we would be able to catch the second cable car system back down to the Arosa valley.
The walk was excellent. First of all we went steeply downhill to Carmennapass (2367m) and then traversed along a path just below the ridge, before climbing again to the Hornli summit (2513m). It was a good, mostly well marked path and you could see the route ahead of you. At one point there was a choice of routes and I think we took the more difficult one, but it was not a major problem. The walk took just less than 2 hours and the views were spectacular, particularly as we got towards the end when we could look down into the Urdensee, a small mountain lake high up on the opposite side of the ridge from Arosa. It was overlooked by mountains that still had small pockets of snow on them and as our route from Arosa to Lenzerheide in two days' time was due to take us across these mountains, we were slightly concerned after our experiences in the snow the previous day.
The Hornli cable car system is another continuous loop of small 6 seater gondolas that goes downhill to Inner-Arosa. We had a car to ourselves and at the bottom caught a bus back to Arosa. As the bus is free on the Arosa card, we stayed on it as it went through the centre of Arosa and up into the hills on the other side. Its terminus was a restaurant and a few buildings called Pratschli (1908m). We stayed on the bus for 5 minutes until it turned round and took us back through Arosa and along to the Untersee from where it was only a couple of minutes walk to our hotel. We arrived back in time for Richard to go and have a swim and steam bath in the hotel's ‘wellness centre'.
After dinner, we walked down to the main lake in Arosa (Obersee) which is next to the station. Arosa were putting on a ‘Wasserspiel' on the lake 3 times a week. It was a light and music show that started at 9.50pm and lasted for about 15 minutes. It was quite good and the rain that had been threatening to come did not arrive to dampen our spirits.
Before breakfast we had a chat with Toni, the hotel's resident mountain guide, about our walk to Lenzerheide the following day. He thought the snow that we had seen the previous day was on fairly level ground and would not prove too much of a problem.
The forecast for today was not too good, so we decided not to do any hill walking and to get the train into Chur (pronounced Coor, as in the beer), the largest town and capital of the Graubunden region. This involved a famous train ride from Arosa. It was the only transport we paid for on the holiday (apart from our airfare), as everything else was covered on the Davos and Arosa all-inclusive cards. Indeed, we even got this trip slightly reduced, as the first section was via Langwies, and the Arosa card covered us as far as there.
The journey required a drop of over 1,000 metres and took an hour. It was quite hairy at points, looking down into the valley and going over viaducts and through tunnels. When the train arrived in Chur, it just went down the main road to get to the station, and cars had to get out of its way! We had a look round the station, as we thought we would probably be coming into Chur by bus in order to catch a train to Zurich for our journey home on Saturday.
Much of the railway station and its immediate vicinity were a building site, as it seemed much of the centre of Chur was being redeveloped.
We had a bit of trouble finding the Tourist Office, which turned out to be a 5 or 6 minute walk away (from Autumn 2006 it is due to relocate to the railway station). When we did find it, it was closed for lunch, although there was a leaflet with a town plan and walk in a container outside. We took a copy and followed the walk through Chur's ancient streets. It is one of the oldest towns in Switzerland with some fine old buildings and quaint squares. The terrain is not flat, and the hills provide vantage points from which to view the ancient buildings and rooftops. One such viewpoint above a vineyard had a number of lizards basking on the side of a wall. We managed to complete most of the walk in a couple of hours, and then went back to the tourist office to exchange our German copy of the town plan for an English version!
Chur boasts a cable car running from the Old Town to the top of its mountain, the Brambruesch (a winter and summer sports region for the city), but it was closed when we were there and its bottom station building had been taken over by a wholesale company. We enquired at the tourist office and were told the cable car was being repositioned during 2006 and would be open again in 2007.
Returning by train to Arosa, we bought some cakes in the Co-Op which we had in the room. (Lunch had been some health bars from a chemist shop in Chur, as eating out in Switzerland is expensive.) After the evening meal, we went for a short walk up to a church just above the hotel. A thunder storm was just beginning, so we didn't go any further, returning to the hotel and staying dry all day despite the earlier poor weather forecast.
We took our luggage down to reception early as it was going to Lenzerheide by train and bus. In reception we met a German couple who were sending their luggage as well. After breakfast it was raining a bit but we decided to try to walk to Lenzerheide rather than take public transport, which is always an option if the weather or your fitness means that walking is not possible.
Having said we were going to walk, we did in fact start by taking the bus to Inner-Arosa and then the cable car to the top of the Hornli. I think you would always want to take the bus as it would be a long slog at the start of the walk to the foot of the cable way, but in better weather and if you were fit, you might choose to walk up the mountain to the top of the Hornli rather than taking the cable car.
Anyway, at the top of the Hornli (2513m) the weather was not too bad and we set off on our walk to Lenzerheide via Urdenfurggli. The path started off going downhill towards the Urdensee lake (2248m), and then flattening out before climbing again to Urdenfurggli (2546m). It was a very good walk and the snow we had seen from the top two days earlier did not prove a problem.. On the way, we met the German couple from the hotel, who had spotted a small family of steinbocks (ibex) on the top of the mountain. We stood and watched them looking down at us for several minutes.
By the time we got to the top of the pass at Urdenfurggli it had become misty on the peaks and it started to rain again. However, we could see down into Lenzerheide, and although it was some distance away, it was all downhill and we didn't anticipate any serious problems in getting there. As the rain increased, we sheltered by a skiers' building and then continued to Scharmoin (1904m) the middle station of a gondola cable way running from Lenzerheide (1490m) to the top of the Parpaner Rothorn mountain. We had a drink at the café at Scharmoin, and while we could have taken the cable way down into Lenzerheide, we would have had to pay for it, and as it had stopped raining by now we decided we had enough energy left to continue on foot.
On arriving in Lenzerheide, we found the Sunstar hotel and booked in. Our room was at the top of the hotel and had a balcony, but not as good a view as we had had at the 2 previous hotels. Our luggage had not yet arrived, so we went for a walk round the lake. By the time we returned to the hotel our luggage was in our room so we relaxed and prepared for the evening meal.
Lenzerheide were not participating in the ‘All Inclusive' offer (although we understand that they are doing so for summer 2007), so rather than pay for transport, we decided to spend our one full day in Lenzerheide walking from the hotel.
A leaflet we had got from the Tourist Office on our way through town the previous day had an article by the Tourist Officer in which he described one of his favourite walking/cycling routes in the area as a climb to a waterfall and then beyond to a restaurant at Alp Sanaspans. So, after the usual breakfast buffet, we set off from the hotel to walk his route. Leaving the town, it was a very good walk up through woods and over rocks. Although we had to use our hands in a couple of places, it was not too difficult. The waterfall was very spectacular, coming down in a few layers. From here, the route to the restaurant at Alp Sanaspans (2045m) crossed a couple of streams by logs, which we just about managed to do without getting our feet wet!
The restaurant was really a largish hut with a veranda around it. It had taken us two and a half hours to reach it and we had not been confident that it would be open in June, but it was and there were a few other people eating on the veranda. We joined them in the sun and had drinks and pastries with cream. The two pastries were a nusstorte (like a pecan pie but with pastry on top as well as the bottom) and a linzatorte (a fruit tart with a lattice top). The nusstorte was wonderful!
We walked down by the easier route which was a fairly wide track and would be the route we assume the Tourist Officer would use when he cycled. There was a car at the top, so it was possible to drive, but the track was not made up and pretty hairy for anything other than feet. Nevertheless, it provided a pleasant route down for us.
After a brief visit back to our room, we went off to find the site of Lenzerharley, a Harley Davidson bikefest that was taking place in the town over the weekend. The site was near the lake and looked quite small. There were quite a lot of bikers around the town, so we assumed most of them were staying at hotels rather than camping. We walked back to the hotel via a circuit of the lake.
After our meal we spent the evening in our room, listening to the AC/DC tribute band concert from the Harleyfest boom across the town.
At breakfast we had a chat to some English Harley Davidson owners who were staying at the hotel. Apparently they go to a number of Harleyfests all over Europe during the summer.
We didn't need to leave Lenzerheide until the afternoon, so after breakfast we cleared our room, left our suitcases in reception, and went for a local walk. We decided to have another look at the bike rally site and then carried on walking up the hill behind it, to do a circular walk on the lower slopes below the Piz Danis mountain. It was much hotter than previous days, so we didn't do anything too strenuous but even so, we soon fancied an ice-cream. We saw the Spoina restaurant signposted, but when we reached it, they didn't do ice-creams so we didn't stop and continued the walk back down to the lake. The Lenzerheide walking map did not seem as ‘to scale' as the other maps we had used on the holiday, and so was a bit more difficult to follow, but we could see the lake below us so didn't have any major problems.
We went to watch the Harley Davidson parade leave the rally site. It was quite impressive with over a hundred bikes. We think there were probably another hundred or so bikes that attended the rally but didn't take part in the parade.
Just time for a final ice-cream by the lake before returning to the hotel for our luggage. The Sunstar gave us a lift to the postbus station, which although not far, was a great help with our cases. We caught a bus to Chur going through some interesting valleys and villages on the way. At Chur, we caught a train to Zurich and then one to the airport.
The England v Portugal World Cup Quarter Final was being played that evening, and we watched it in 4 different places at the airport between checking in, going through passport control and down to the gate. Finally, at a bar, we saw England lose on penalties. The flight was slightly delayed, but we were home by 11.00pm.
An excellent holiday!
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