Graubünden is Switzerland’s most mountainous, least densely populated canton. The geographic landscape here has staggering stats: 615 lakes, 150 valleys, 937 peaks. But this athlete’s paradise is also home to more culture than you’d expect: The Engadine valley in particular, with its traditional Romansh farmhouses and offbeat art scene, has far more to offer vacationers than the base delights of money-magnet ski resort St. Moritz.
Bordering Graubünden is the Italophone canton of Ticino, whose sunny Mediterranean disposition belies a history of poverty and emigration. Most visitors stick to the palm-lined lakes around Locarno and Lugano, but the northern valleys, with their slate-roofed houses and rushing rivers, are well worth going out of the way for.
With curvy roads and reckless drivers (respectively), neither canton is particularly fun to drive around. Instead of renting a car, try relying on the excellent Rhaetian Railway and Ticino’s public transit system, which is free for overnight visitors.
Day 1: Klosters: Prince Charles & Movie People
Reachable from Zurich by train in just over 2 hours, Davos is best known as a ski paradise and meeting point for corporate fat cats—but back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, everyone from Robert Louis Stevenson to Thomas Mann came here for the clean, dry air. The best place to take it in is Schatzalp, the former sanatorium that could also be your hotel for tonight. After taking the funicular train up and checking in, have a wander around the enchanting grounds—then, if your legs are up for it, undertake the 4-hour mountain hike to Klosters’ Gotschnagrat station. Descend into town and have dinner at Chesa Grischuna. Beloved by Gene Kelly and Audrey Hepburn during Klosters’ “Hollywood on the Rocks” days, it’s the perfect place to revel in the village’s nostalgic charm. A half-hour train ride will get you back to Davos in time for a nightcap.
Days 2 & 3: St. Moritz: Welcome to the Engadine
From Davos, an hour-long ride through the pitch-black Vereina Tunnel gets you to Susch, a junction town between the Upper and Lower Engadine Valleys. Don’t just change trains here—take an hour or two to visit Muzeum Susch, the female-focused modern art institute that rejuvenated this tiny village. Grab a bite at the cafe.
Your stop for the next 2 nights is St. Moritz. That ne plus ultra of ski resorts is at its ritzy best in winter, but in summer, it attracts a more practical, less froufrou batch of summer visitors for hiking, mountain biking and lake sports. Summer also offers (sort-of) bargains on luxury palaces like the Kulm. Check in here, if you can afford it!
By now it’s late afternoon and you can go for a stroll around St. Mo, first down to the lake, then up to Via Serlas for a peek into the Grand Hall of Badrutt’s Palace, then along Via Maistra for window-shopping. In the evening, splurge on dinner at Dal Mulin (or, if Chesa Grischuna didn’t satisfy your vintage restaurant itch, Chesa Veglia).
On the morning of Day 3, take the bus down to the Maloja Pass at the mouth of the Engadine valley. From here, you can hike the dreamy Via Engiadina, a 14km (8.5-mile) alpine trek past lakes and forests to the lakeside village of Silvaplana. (If you’re a Nietzsche reader, stop at his former summer home in the romantic hamlet of Sils along the way.) Once you’ve had your fill of watching the kitesurfers and stand-up paddlers, take the bus back to your hotel for a breather, then head out in the early evening to the Muottas Muragl funicular. At the top, watch the sun set over a breathtaking panorama of the Upper Engadine.
Days 4 & 5: Bellinzona & Locarno
In the morning, leave St. Moritz on the Rhaetian Railway’s Albula Line—the 1 1/2 hr. descent to Thusis is so scenic it’s practically a destination in itself. A bus goes from there over the San Bernadino Pass to Bellinzona, the capital of Ticino. Here, have a late lunch and a jaunt up to Castelgrande, the largest of Bellinzona’s trio of medieval castles.
Press on to Locarno, the lakeside resort town some 22km (14 miles) from Bellinzona. After checking into a hotel (our favorite is Remorino) you’ll have just enough time to wander the winding streets around main square Piazza Grande and promenade along Lago Maggiore at sunset. Nightlife here isn’t much to write home about, so go to bed early in preparation for tomorrow’s long day.
On the morning of Day 5, walk or take the funicular up to the Santuario della Madonna del Sasso lying on a wooden crag above the resort in Orselina, where you’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view. The rest of the day should be devoted to exploring the gorgeous Valle Verzasca with its stone villages, Roman-style bridge and rushing emerald river (take a dip if it’s hot out). In the evening, sojourn by bike or bus over to Ascona, where you can stroll around the waterfront before dining at the incomparable Grotto Baldoria. Return to Locarno for the night.
Days 6 & 7: Lugano & Morcote
On the morning of Day 6, head southeast to the lake resort of Lugano, the biggest town you’ll visit on this trip. Check in to a hotel for 2 nights—Pestalozzi if you’re on a budget, Splendide Royale if you’re not. Then make a beeline for Parco Ciani, the big green space that opens up onto Lake Lugano. Stroll around for a bit, then walk along the scenic “path of olives” to the picturesque fishing village of Gandria. Have lunch here, or better yet, hop on the ferry across the lake to Grotto dei Pescatori for a leisurely repast amid plentiful shade. Another ferry takes you from here to the suburb of Paradiso, and the funicular train that leads up to the spectacular summit of Monte San Salvatore. After that, rest up in your hotel and grab a quick pizza or plate of pasta before hitting one of Lugano’s many bars, clubs, or live music venues.
On the morning of Day 7, take the ferry or bus to the town of Morcote, 11km (7 miles) south of Lugano. Spend at least 2 hours exploring this idyllic village and plan on an early lunch at one of its restaurants. In the afternoon, head back to Lugano, where you can go shopping on the chichi Via Nassa, see what’s on at the LAC museum, or rent a vintage-looking red paddleboat and head out onto the water. From Lugano, you can make connections for a long trip back home or to your next destination.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.