As if Switzerland isn’t peculiar enough, it has a corner – or rather several scattered ones – where Romansch, its fourth official language is spoken. These corners tend to be where Italian meets German meets Frenchand that’s what the language looks like: a mixture between the three with a Latin-based vocabulary but with a German pronunciation.
You will find Romansch in the Engandine valley in the canton of Graubünden; the celebrated St Moritz is Romansch-speaking – or should be had it not been invading by non-native beach bums – whose the name stands for St Maurice. And the transition is sometimes stark: I was on the quaint mountain train last night from Landquart to Scuol – yes, there were English speakers in my rail compartment, they were posh and did get off at Klosters. The little train is a local one where you have to press a button at smaller stations; “Stop upon Request” as the taped voiceover reminds you in German and English. Except that, after the long Vereina tunnel after Klosters, the reminder becomes “Fermata sur domanda” in Romansch. And if you start reading signs where a peak is Piz this and Piz that, you are in Romansch territory.
Apart from the beauty and the sunny microclimate of the Engandine (St Moritz promises over 320 sunny days a year, most of them in winter), the language itself is part of its attraction, at least for me. It is an old language with a Bible translation as early as 1560, which is earlier than the King James’ Bible. I find it fascinating to try and figure out what the signs mean. What does that sign “No far fö” in the forest mean? (A: “Don’t make fire”). What does that spa slogan “San Tras Aua” want to say? (A: “Health Through Water”). Ok, “Chasa Nova” is New House, but inside, what’s that “Ala Nova”? (A: “New Wing”).
Apart from its peculiar language, the Engandine is a photographer’s dream. Never mind if you are professional or amateur: the sight of Rapunzel-esque castles against snow-clad winter peaks in winter and grisaille-painted houses set in Mediterranean-like sun in the summer is sufficient to make you smack your lips loudly enough to gee up every horse in the vicinity.
All this plus some very interesting cuisine, a Unesco site in Val Mustair, Switzerland’s only National Park with some great Alpine wildlife-watching opportunities, the world’s only Roman-Irish baths and wellness spas that won’t break the budget – and you are wondering why I have returned twice in two years? Frankly if you want to ski in Klosters next to the Royal family and don’t want to mortgage you children’s and their children’s future, why not stay in Scuol and pop over with the train which takes only half an hour?
Oops, there goes a secret tip.