The Via Engiadina leads through forests, across rivers and over alpine pastures – and from one welcoming wood-panelled stüva to the next.
The Fedecla river tumbles past the Hotel Maria in Sils on its way to Lake Silvaplana. By now, hikers have completed half of the first stage of the Via Engiadina. They have already passed through the idyllic hamlet of Grevasalvas, where “Heidi” was once filmed; soon, they will continue along the Engadin’s chain of sparkling lakes. A stop in Sils requires leaving the route at Sils Föglias to drop down into the village. As soon as walkers cross the doorstep of the Hotel Maria, they feel the warm cosiness of Swiss stone pine. The Stüva Marmoré was a grocery shop in the 1930s; later, the Sils Curling Club was founded here. Today, the black soapstone stove serves only as decoration, but it is easy to imagine the scent of burning wood, which once heated many such stüvas. The house speciality here is Cordon bleu: a delicious and hearty dish, perfect for a long walk, with the advantage that calories are quickly burnt off along the way.
At the end of the first stage, tired legs will appreciate a little relaxation – and they are sure to find it at Conrad’s Mountain Lodge in Silvaplana. When the Conrad family bought the building in 1952, it was just an annex to another hotel. But even the Hotel Conrad that they created cannot be compared to today’s venue. In summer 2018, the lodge was completely refurbished, and reopened with Cindy Conrad at the helm. Since then, wood and stone have dominated the interiors, linking the wild mountain scenery with modern design. Local larch, for example, has found a new home in the form of panelling on the walls, sauna fittings and bed frames.
Although the Trutz mountain restaurant by the top station of the Suvretta–Randolins chairlift is no typical stüva, it provides an unmissable stop along the Via Engiadina. The views over the lakestrewn Engadin valley could not be better, from sun terrace and dining room alike. The restaurant belongs to Suvretta House, a venerable hotel with a history dating back more than 100 years. Highlights here include the nourishing barley soup, tasty Polenta and sweet Kaiserschmarren pancakes; add the glorious views, and any hiker will be tempted to linger. But there is still some way to go until the end of the second stage in Celerina, with a couple of hundred vertical metres to climb en route: no problem after the relaxing and energising lunch. In the theatrical setting of the Hotel Arturo in Celerina, it is wood that plays the starring role. At the end of a day’s hike, guests happily take a seat in the panelled “Stüva da Dschember” to savour gastronomic delights in a uniquely cosy atmosphere. Those who enjoy an after-dinner cigar or digestif can relax in “La stüva per fümer” before a peaceful night’s sleep in one of the bedrooms full of rustic charm. The following day starts early: the next stage is long. In the breakfast room, a generous buffet offers a variety of tempting treats, while guests enjoy the soothing aroma of Swiss stone pine one last time before setting off on the day’s hike.
The Chesa Salis acquired its name and current appearance from the von Salis family, long regarded as one of the most important in the Engadin and the Val Bregaglia. Originally built in 1590 as a farmhouse, the structure was converted into a magnificent aristocratic residence 290 years later. The three-storey wooden veranda on the southern side of the house and the ornate decorations on the facade give the Chesa Salis the aura of a palazzo. In 1981 it opened its doors to guests as a hotel, offering 18 delightful rooms with stucco decoration and traditional wood panelling. This is a home-from-home unlike any other: a place to charm the soul.
The Via Engiadina does not actually pass through La Punt, but the village is well worth a detour – even an over-night stop. At the Hotel Krone, Sonja and Andreas Martin having been working their magic for more than 18 years. While Sonja takes care of guests, Andreas conjures exquisite fare in the kitchen – including dishes featuring Swiss stone pine. He stumbled on the idea about seven years ago during a walk, when he picked up a couple of pine cones and took them back to the hotel. He now uses nearly all parts of the tree. He steeps the cones in alcohol to make flavoured spirits; ferments the bark with vegetables; smokes fish and lamb fillets with wood shavings; and uses pine needle tips in fritters. The challenge is finding balance: the tree is full of essential oils, and the flavour intense. Each dish is also a feast for the eyes – as are the hotel’s interiors. The job of ex-tending and refurbishing the hotel went to the architects Ruch & Partners, who used different kinds of solid local timber – such as Swiss stone pine, larch and maple – to create an architectural work of art.
The fourth stage ends in Zuoz, a village that could easily have met its own end long ago: in 1499 the entire settlement went up in flames. Zuoz was completely rebuilt, however, including the Dorta. After Gian Rico Blumenthal bought the venue nearly 30 years ago, he breathed new life into it. The former pizzeria became a restaurant known for dishes inspired by cuisine from Graubünden and the Valtellina, while the barn made a wonderfully cosy dining room, imaginatively decorated with Rico’s hunting accessories and agricultural implements. Every corner has a story to tell. Brave guests can climb a ladder to reach the stüva with the lowest ceiling of all; happily, diners have to duck only when standing up.
The Veduta hotel and restaurant in Cinuos-chel is not quite on the route of the fifth stage, but is also worth a detour. In Gudench and Sabrina Campell’s stüva, the scent of local wood blends with the aroma of delicacies such as Capuns (dumplings wrapped in chard) and Graubünden barley soup. Gudench, a keen hunter, serves game in autumn, and enjoys telling diners the inside story of their meal. Hikers not only stock up on energy for the final few kilometres, they also pick up conversation material and know-how that could help them spot deer near the Swiss National Park – or at least, in autumn, hear the stags’ dramatic belling echo through the valleys.