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Visit to an (almost) forgotten valley

Switzerland has so many exciting valleys that one or the other tends to get forgotten. This is also true of Bergell, which connects the Upper Engadine with Chiavenna in Italy. October is the right month to finally pay a visit to the neglected Bergell with a two-day trip.


  • Lifestyle

Before we start, one thing you need to know: if you’re looking to keep your driving time to a minimum, this road trip’s not ideal. The Bergell is tucked out of the way – you have to get there first. And the trip has you negotiating no fewer than three passes: the Julier, the Maloja and the SplĂĽgen (see boxes). You’ll be spending some four to five hours in the car, so the one you choose needs to have a certain level of comfort. If you opt for an electric car, you’ll find charging points here.

Autumn is chestnut time in the Bergell

Road trip alternative

Travel by train in all comfort then rent a Mobility car near the hotel by the hour or day as required. It’s quick and it’s easy. Ask at your hotel and explore the highlights of this holiday destination at your own pace with Mobility.

Stage 1: Chur – Julier pass – Silvaplana

From Chur, you head south via Churwalden, Lenzerheide-Valbella and Vaz to reach the municipality of Albula/Alvra – created in 2015 through the merger of seven smaller municipalities – in a little over half-an-hour. Tiefencastel is where the ascent to the Julier pass begins.

Don’t miss the Julier Tower: built entirely of wood in 2017, the Origen Theatre Tower at the top of the pass is due to be dismantled in August 2023. The red tower hosts performances throughout the year: click here for the programme.

The fairly long ascent is followed by a short descent to Silvaplana, which takes just ten or so minutes. On arrival, seize the opportunity to watch the windsurfers on Lake Silvaplana over a cup of coffee or tea. The lake has become a surfing Mecca due to the famous Maloja wind. Talking of which, Maloja’s the next destination. Switzerland’s highest navigation company is based in Maloja – just the thing after a long car journey. Its boats operate until 16 October (and again in early summer 2023).

Maloja’s home to several hotels, the one with the longest history being undoubtedly the Maloja Kulm, whose origins date back to 1500. If you want, you could travel a little further on the first day and cross the Maloja pass to spend the night in the Bergell.

The Origen Festival tower on the Julier pass


The Julier pass at alt. 2284 metres was known to the Romans; during the Second World War, it was barricaded against possible tank attack. The Roman columns at the top of the pass bear witness to this history, and the anti tank barrier is also partially preserved. The European watershed runs along the top of the pass: on one side, the water flows into the Atlantic, on the other into the Black Sea.

Stage 2: Silvaplana – Maloja pass – Bregaglia – Chiavenna

The history of the Maloja pass is no less interesting. It’s also a great spot for picnicking.

Thus fortified, we approach the actual destination of the trip, the Bergell. The history of the valley’s closely linked to Augusto and Alberto Giacometti, of Switzerland’s most important painters or sculptors. Their works can be admired in the churches of Borgonovo and Coltura, among other places, and the many other churches in the Bergell are also worth seeing. Anyone visiting the region before 20/23 October respectively can explore his oeuvre in greater depth: either at the Palazzo Castelmur in Coltura, home to the Bergell’s historical archives, or in the special exhibition at the Centro Giacometti, held to mark the 75th anniversary of Albertos death.

The Bergell is known for its nature and its woodland, particularly its chestnut forests. One of the largest such forests in all of Europe can be found between Soglio, Bondo and Castasegna. Here, too, a visit before 23 October is worth the effort, for that’s when the popular Chestnut Festival ends. Another highlight is a detour to Soglio, the sunny terrace in the Bergell: sauntering along the narrow village streets, you catch glimpses of the spectacular view of the Sciora group, Piz Cengalo and Piz Badile.

Soglio also offers accommodation, for example at the Palazzo Salis, where Augusto Giacometti used to stay.

Maloja’s historic Torre Belvedere


One of the key Alpine crossings for the Romans due to its special topography, the Maloja also played an important role from the 17th century onwards. The Maloja pass at alt. 1812 metres has also played host to a number of construction ventures, all of which have come to naught. Among the most (over-)ambitious was the plan put forward by the Habsburgs in 1713 for a canal between the Maloja and the river Inn, which would have enabled boats to reach Lake Como or the Adriatic from Vienna via the Danube, the Inn, the Engadine and finally the Maloja. The Habsburgs never revealed how the canal would have overcome the 1000-plus metres of elevation. Numerous attempts to build a railway line over the Maloja pass also failed, even though a concession had been granted at the end of the 19th century. Thus it is that the road, modernised in 1957, remains the only way to cross the Maloja.

Stage 3: Chiavenna – Splügen pass – Thusis – Chur

It’s said in the valleys that you have to have experienced the landscapes of the Bergell to understand Augusto Giacometti. That’s the plan for the second day. To accomplish this, you have to drive back a few kilometres at most and cross the border. Here, you’re presented with a selection of possible walks.

Alternatively, you could visit the Art Safiental Biennale exhibition (which also closes on 23 October). This two-yearly outdoor exhibition takes place in the Safien valley. The theme of the current edition is “Learning from Earth” and includes 15 artworks dedicated to the various crises caused by mankind on planet Earth. To get to the Safien valley, you first have to take the rather roundabout way to Bonaduz. At least you get to enjoy the third and last pass of this round trip: the SplĂĽgen (see box).

The Rhine Gorge.


The fact that the Romans also mastered this pass should come as no surprise by now. But even after that, the Splügen at alt. 2114 metres played an important role: for 2000 years it was the most important connection between Italy and the Graubünden region. But then plans for a railway line failed due to Ticino’s opposition (instead, road tunnels were bored at the Gotthard and the Bernardino), and a proposal for a Splügen base tunnel also came to naught.


Google Maps

Google Maps(including Art Safiental Biennale)

Borgonovo’s historic bridge in the Bergell

Your guide to GraubĂĽnden

The proposed stopovers are, by their nature, only suggestions. Anyone wishing to put together their own trip should consult the digital travel guide “Alpine Circle”. The online tool from the GraubĂĽnden Ferien organisation lists over 100 sights and attractions in this alpine canton, including descriptions, opening hours and links. The suggestions may be found at www.graubuenden.ch/de/reisebegleiter

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