Where to stay
Grand Resort Bad Ragaz This five-star resort combines a renowned medical health centre with thermal spa, seven restaurants, two golf courses and a host of sport and leisure activities. The large complex is set in a park, there’s a nearby cable car to the hiking and skiing area of Pizol, and Bad Ragaz station has direct trains from Zürich with hotel pick-up. Doubles from £379, including breakfast and access to wellness facilities. CH-7310, Bad Ragaz, 00 41 81 303 3030, resortragaz.ch
Hotel Ducan This enchanting small three-star hotel in a Walser village at an altitude of 1,650m above sea level is rustically furnished and offers a quiet sanctuary with alpine walks on the doorstep. The village is served by a bus covered by the Davos Klosters Card, which is free to guests staying more than one night and allows free use of trains and buses in the area. There is a small sauna and relaxation room, and its restaurant serves regional specialties. Doubles from £133. CH-7278, Davos Monstein, 00 41 81 401 1113, hotel-ducan.ch
Hotel Grischa Close to Davos Platz station, this imaginatively designed modern four-star hotel uses local stone and wood and offers exceptionally well-thought-out rooms. The hotel’s five restaurants include the Golden Dragon, which focuses on Chinese cuisine, the Pulsa Fonduestube, serving fondue and raclette specialties, and the Monta Grill Restaurant, which specialises in charcoal-grilled meat dishes. Doubles from £148. Talstrasse 3, CH-7270, Davos Platz, 00 41 81 414 9797, hotelgrischa.ch
Romantik Hotel Stern Dating from 1677, this four-star Swiss Historic Hotel was a stabling inn for merchants using the mountain passes towards Italy. Located on the edge of the old town, the hotel is eight minutes’ walk from Chur station, with its fast trains from Zürich. Pick-up is available in the hotel’s 1933 Buick Roadmaster. Doubles from £125. Reichgasse 11, CH-7000, Chur, 00 41 81 258 5757, stern-chur.ch
Schlaf-Fass For a really unusual night in the heart of vineyards, bunk down in these converted 8,000-litre barrels, which provide sleeping-and-eating accommodation on an idyllic farm. Aimed at families, the experience includes a röteli aperitif, a bottle of wine, mineral water, ingredients for a fondue dinner and breakfast. From £219 per night for a family of four. Weingut zur Bündte, Bündte 1, CH-7304, Maienfeld, 00 41 79 280 0262, schlaf-fass.ch
Graubünden is best reached by fast train from Zürich to Chur. The train passes several castles and monasteries and skirts the beautiful lake of Walensee. Currency is the Swiss franc (CHF) and the time is one hour ahead of the UK. Average temperatures fluctuate according to altitude.
In Chur, the July average is 20C, while in Davos it’s 25C. Flight time from London to Zürich is 1h 40m, and the train to Chur takes 1.5 hours.
Graubünden Tourism is the official tourist board of the canton and its website is packed with useful information. graubuenden.ch
Switzerland Tourism is the national organisation. myswitzerland.com
The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (Vintage Books, £9.99) is an intense account of obsessive love set in a Swiss sanitorium, thought to be based on one in which the author’s wife was staying in 1912, in Davos.
To offset your carbon emissions when travelling to Graubünden, visitclimatecare.org and make a donation. Return flights from London to Zürich produce 0.26 tonnes of CO2 meaning a cost to offset of £1.95.
Where to eat
Prices are for two courses, per person, excluding wine, unless stated
Hotel Alpenhof, Davos Platz In this modestly priced hotel, the star attraction is the food. Chef Roberto Piselli serves up regional staples such as Bündner barley soup and capuns in a creamy porcini sauce with dried beef strips, along with Italian dishes such as saltimbocca veal on saffron risotto or half a lobster with spaghetti. From £40. Hofstrasse 22, CH-7270, Davos Platz, 00 41 81 415 2060, alpenhof-davos.ch
Restaurant Basilic With 14 Gault&Millau points, this restaurant offers such delights as Patagonian mussels with herbs and pickled lemon on saffron risotto, Swiss beef medallion with two types of bean, roasted rosemary potatoes and hollandaise, and an indulgent vanilla éclair with fresh strawberries and passion fruit. From £44. Susenbühlstrasse 43, CH-7000, Chur, 00 41 81 253 0022, basilic.ch
Romantik Hotel Stern Lunch and dinner are served on the first floor of this historic hotel. Typical dishes include maluns (fried potatoes with apple sauce and cheese), pizzoccheri neri (noodles with vegetables and cheese)and asparagus from the hotel’s own beds. From £40.Reichgasse 11, CH-7000, Chur, 00 41 81 258 5757, stern-chur.ch
Schauenstein Schloss Restaurant Hotel Andreas Caminada’s small hotel and restaurant is the ultimate in fine dining in Graubünden, with three Michelin stars and 19 Gault&Millau points. The six-course tasting menu
(at lunch and dinner) isn’t cheap, but is worth a splurge for a special meal. Paired regional wines are also on offer, so we’d recommend staying the night. A first course might be mackerel prepared three ways – grilled, marinated and tartare – with pickled kohlrabi and kohlrabi roll, wasabi mayonnaise and wasabi meringue. You can also try Caminada’s food at Igniv restaurant, Grand Resort Bad Ragaz and Igniv at Badrutt’s Palace Hotel in St Moritz. Six-course tasting menu from £204. Schlossgass 77, CH-7414, Fürstenau, 00 41 81 632 1080, schauenstein.ch
Weiss Kreuz This enchanting historic house, with its false machicolations and chevron-painted shutters, houses a delightful small hotel and restaurant. Apulian burrata with tomato tartare, basil and Taggiasca olives might be followed by grilled Scottish Highland fillet of beef with cocoa beans, shallot confit and Amalfi lemon risotto, and rounded off with a rich caramelised cheesecake drizzled with berry coulis. From £65. Dorfplatz 1, CH-7208, Malans, 00 41 81 735 2500, weisskreuzmalans.ch
- Literally translated as ‘Graubünden meat’, this dried beef is a protected designation of origin. Cuts including the upperthigh or shoulder are marinated and pressed into a rectangular shape to undergo a natural preservation process of drying in the crisp, dry alpine air. The dark red meat is served thinly sliced with bread and wine
- A traditional Roman dish containing onion, parsley, herbs and salted spätzle dough flavoured with salsiz (air-dried raw sausage) or bündnerfleisch. These herb dumplings are wrapped in Swiss chard leaves, poached in bouillon, milk and water and served covered in grated cheese. It’s very labour-intensive, so often sold ready-made
- A cold-water fish native to alpine lakes
- This rich and filling hotpot contains barley that has been soaked overnight, vegetables and smoked meat, and is themost famous soup in the region
- This traditional hearty farmer’s dish contains grated, pre-boiled potatoes mixed with flour and fried in herb butter to form balls or crumbs. Requiring substantial amounts of butter, maluns are also served with cheese wedges and/or apple purée
- Brought to the region by southern pastry chefs, this traditional shortcrust pastry tart is stuffed with caramelised sugar, walnuts, honey and cream
- These dumplings, made with potatoes, flour, eggs and milk, are poached and then served with herbed butter, grated cheese and a range of other ingredients, including the likes of fried bacon, onions, cabbage, spinach or Swiss chard
- A cherry liqueur infused with various spices, commonly cinnamon, cloves and vanilla
- A spicy sausage made with pork, beef and various seasonings, including garlic and coriander, and wine. It’s often air-dried for fiveto seven weeks but can also be cold-smoked
Food and Travel Review
There are some places on Earth where Mother Nature couldn’t have done any better in moulding landscapes that delight the eye. Like Graubünden, Switzerland’s south-easterly canton. Besides the exceptional beauty of its innumerable valleys, it can be distinguished by the unique use of Romansh, the country’s fourth national language, which also provides names for many local dishes. The region’s dialects are often distinctive enough to denote the valley you come from, if you didn’t already recognise them from their ingredients.
Less than two centuries ago it was a relatively poor area, heavily reliant on agriculture, but 19th-century tourism, especially from Britain, gradually brought prosperity. Many visitors came for winter sports in St Moritz or Davos but the clean mountain air and mineral waters also attracted health tourists.
Fast-forward to today, and few guests luxuriating in the thermal waters at Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, one of Switzerland’s largest and most luxurious spa complexes, realise their predecessors would have been lowered in baskets to rock pools where the spa waters originate in the narrow Tamina Gorge, with its 70m-high rock faces.
Spas are often combined with gourmet cuisine in Switzerland, and Grand Resort Bad Ragaz is no exception. The resort is home to fine-dining restaurants Namun and Gladys, both listed in the influential French restaurant guide Gault&Millau, as well as to the one-Michelin-starred Igniv by Andreas Caminada, whose Schauenstein Schloss Restaurant Hotel has three Michelin stars and 19 out of a possible 20 Gault&Millau points.
At Igniv, head chef Silvio Germann’s three-course wine-matched Sharing Experience menu features eight small starter plates, five dishes for the main course and seven or eight for dessert. He believes in letting the ingredients sing, pairing the likes of char with peas and avocado, or artichokes with tomato and broad beans. Suppliers are far from corporate scale: truffles, for instance, come from a woman who uses a dog to sniff them out, and the following day, Germann was sourcing trout by going fishing with a friend on nearby Walensee lake, setting off at 4.30am.
That preference for small and local seems to be a signature of the region, and was most eloquently expressed by winemaker Roman Hermann, whose family has owned Weingut Hermann vineyard in the village of Fläsch for generations.
Up until the mid-1980s, they sold their grapes to Zürich but a change in the law, which allowed more imported wines, made it difficult to sell the harvest so Roman’s father, Peter, started to make wine. Other families in the area, known as the Bündner Herrschaft, did the same. Today there are around 60 small wine producers covering 400ha of vines in the four villages of Malans, Jenins, Maienfeld and Fläsch. Around 80 per cent of the vines are planted with pinot noir.
Hermann is unusual, having just 45 per cent pinot noir, after increasing the area devoted to chardonnay and completer, a grape variety primarily found in Graubünden.
Believed to have been introduced by the Romans but first documented in 1321, completer was common until usurped by the arrival of pinot noir in around 1630. Production shrank to just two small church-owned vineyards in Malans because winemakers preferred the lower natural acidity of pinot noir. It might have disappeared entirely had it not been for Plantahof Agricultural School in Landquart keeping a few archive plants.
After working in wineries in New Zealand and the US and studying at Germany’s oldest winemaking school in Weinsberg, Hermann has concluded that you cannot buy quality. Good wines, he says, are not a function of how much money you put into land or equipment. ‘Small cellars can make good wine,’ he tells me. ‘Switzerland is not made for mass production. It’s more expensive than neighbouring countries so the wine has to be good.’ And it is, as can be attested by the quality of the restaurants, including Andreas Caminada’s, which offer Hermann’s wines.
But as we try various wines in the tree-shaded garden of his home, it’s the contentment with his modest family-run business that infuses the winemaker’s words. All the work is done by members of the family, except at harvest time, when locals come to help, often happy to be paid with the fruits of their labour.
Weingut Hermann is one of 12 wineries in Vinotiv, a marketing alliance which produces just 144 cases a year, containing one bottle from each of the vineyards. Another member of Vinotiv is Domaine Donatsch, a name that gained international recognition when Martin Donatsch became World Champion Pinot Noir Producer in 2010 and 2011. With just 4.5ha of vineyards, it is not surprising that every bottle he sells has been through his hands at least once. ‘I am happy to do everything,’ he says. ‘Why make it bigger? This is the way we like to live.’
Martin Donatsch is the fifth generation of his family to make wine in Malans but it was his father, Thomas, who made a name for himself by revolutionising Swiss winemaking in the Seventies. He adopted a Burgundian production method in collaboration with French winemaker André Noblet from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, taking grapes from Malans to Burgundy and returning with the first French barrels in the Bündner Herrschaft. However, it was Martin who revived the use of completer, which benefits from the dry autumns that allow picking as late as November to produce the full-bodied wine.
Fine wine is not the region’s only drink rooted in tradition, as I discovered walking around Chur, Switzerland’s oldest town and the canton’s capital. In a chemist I unexpectedly found bottles of röteli, made by soaking dried cherries in schnapps with some water and seasoned with spices such as cinnamon, cloves, vanilla and cardamon, though it is said there are as many recipes as mothers-in-law. Fermentation of the cherries can take five months.
The largely pedestrianised streets and alleyways of Chur’s old town wind between houses made taller than other Swiss cities of the time because of the number of people who wanted to live within the safety of the city walls. In some of the older 16th-century houses there are even a few ‘soul windows’ left – tiny glazed apertures designed to allow the spirit of a dead person to slip unhindered towards heaven during the three days in which the body remained in the house.
Chur was the birthplace of the portrait painter Angelica Kauffmann, who helped found London’s Royal Academy, and next door to the house where she was born I was lured into Zuzu’s Cupcakes. It is hardly the essence of Swissness but Czech-born Zuzana Vinzens at least decorates some of her 150 varieties with an ibex, the extravagantly horned wild goat that adorns the canton’s coat of arms.
More traditional are the breads and pastries filling the shelves of Bäckerei Gwerder on Obere Gasse, including the substantial Churer fleischtorte, the Chur meat pie in which chopped bacon, and minced pork and beef are cooked in red wine and beef stock flavoured with marjoram and paprika and baked in shortcrust pastry. But perhaps best known is the Bündner nusstorte, which consists of thick shortcrust pastry filled with caramelised walnuts and honey, though made to varying ferociously guarded recipes.
Graubünden’s traditional dishes are derived from its peasant past, when most of its inhabitants worked in the fields and needed hearty dishes to fuel their labours. The restaurant in Chur’s Romantik Hotel Stern has 14 Gault&Millau points for its traditional fare. Swiss chard has recently become well known outside its country of origin, and it is the envelope of capuns, perhaps the canton’s signature dish. Vegetables, meat and seasoning are wrapped in salted spätzle (egg noodle) dough and chard leaves and boiled in milk, water and bouillon before being covered in grated cheese.
I escaped the city by taking the cable car up to Brambrüesch at 1,594m, feeling the drop in temperature as we rose into the mountain air. This same substance is crucial to the flavour of Bündnerfleisch, a paper-thin, almost translucent air-dried premium beef. The meat is cured for several weeks with white wine, herbs and salt before being air-dried for 10-15 weeks and then pressed to squeeze out any residual moisture. Its unmistakable flavour comes from the pure mountain air.
Be sure to take the bright red trains of the narrow-gauge Rhaetian Railway to Davos and the bus on to the tiny village of Monstein, the home of BierVision, Switzerland’s highest brewery, whose slogan is ‘last beer stop before heaven’.
Brewing with mountain water began in 2001. The local founders wanted to do something for the village and sensed a brewery in such a beautiful location would be an attraction in its own right. And so it is, attracting around 5,000 people a year for special visits or the Friday-evening open house, when you can pay £15 to try various brews with a plate of dried meat and cheese and get a brewery tour. Shareholder dividends are paid in beer. A third of the barley is grown in Graubünden but it has to be malted in southern Germany because there is no maltster left in Switzerland.
The brewery’s products are used in some of the dishes in the restaurant at Hotel Ducan, a 20-bedroom chalet dating back to 1896. Walkers and cyclists pass by and enjoy a Monsteiner Schwarzbär before a lunch that may consist of delicious hay soup, made with potatoes, onions, broth, white wine, cream and hay, followed by a goulash made with local venison and a dark beer.
Surrounded by mountains and meadows, the hotel epitomises Graubünden, a place where producers and enterprises value the quality not only of what they do but also the way of life it affords.
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