Justine Tyerman finds a lesser-known alpine spa town in the Lower Engadine Valley with the Swiss National Park on the doorstep - a world away from the glitz and glamour of Switzerland's famous five-star resorts.
Autumn may be a quiet season in other parts of Switzerland but the Lower Engadine Valley in the Grisons, the most easterly canton of Switzerland, was buzzing with visitors when I was there recently. The Belvedere Hotel in Scuol where I stayed had a full house of mainly Swiss guests enjoying the extensive spa facilities, hiking, biking, rafting and kayaking, and magnificent autumn weather and colours.
I've never seen so many fit, energetic, happy family groups and couples of all ages. They're out and about early in the day, doing impressive pre-exercise stretching exercises at bus stops, heading off on mountain bikes, piling into gondolas with their back packs, walking sticks and down vests. Later in the day, I find them padding down the Belvedere corridor in white robes and slippers to the splendid spa facilities at Engadin Bad Scuol. It's my kind of place.
With the Swiss National Park on the doorstep and 1500kms of marked trails in the high alpine valleys of the Grisons, the region is a hikers' paradise. A tramper from way back, one day I'd love to tackle the multi-day Via Engiadina through the ancient villages of Guarda, Ardez, Sent and Tschlin with awesome, uninterrupted views of the Dolomites. And the National Park Trail, a seven-day hike from Zernez and the Mustair Valley to Scuol and Samnaun, through a protected, unspoilt eco-system.
Luggage is no problem. Your belongings are transported between villages so you need only carry a day pack. What bliss! It's all part of the region's smart approach to tourism, pioneering 'barrier-free' holidays where obstacles to the full enjoyment of the experience are removed.
The Lischana Trail is a more challenging three-day hike to the historic alpine hut Chamanna Lischana, at 2500m. Hikers carry a full back-pack so maybe I'd need a Sherpa for that one.
There are also nature, sculpture, photography, historical, wildlife, hanging bridges and mineral water-themed trails and a myriad of short hikes with lunch at lovely alpine restaurants along the way. There's even a castle trail with a visit to the 1000-year-old Chastè da Tarasp.
Marathon runners train in the mountains around there, taking advantage of the high altitude and easy access.
Mountain bikers are spoiled for choice too. An extensive 800km network of bike trails takes riders through spectacular gorges and over high mountain passes in the National Park. Seven passes lead to and from the Engadine Valley. The National Park Bike Marathon is regarded as 'the most picturesque in Europe'.
The standardised signage system makes hiking and biking in Switzerland so easy and stress-free. There's no risk of getting lost, an activity I specialise in.
Other summer activities include golf, tennis, fishing, horse-riding, climbing, rafting and kayaking. The gorges of the Inn River are home to some of the best white water in Europe making the region a mecca for white-water rafting and kayaking.
In the winter, there's 350km of ski and snowboard pistes spread out over three valleys, and 77km of cross-country skiing trails. Snowshoeing, sledding, ice skating, curling and horse-drawn sleigh rides are on the winter menu too. As a keen skier, I'll be back when the snow flies.
Engadine Scuol is a world away from the glitz and glamour of Switzerland's world-famous five-star spa resorts, but despite the delightful feeling of remoteness and tranquillity, it's easy to access and get from place to place, thanks to the excellent Rhaetian Rail services, Post Auto buses and cable-cars. From Zurich, it takes just over two and a half hours by train. Everything is perfectly synched in Switzerland – and it all runs like ... clockwork.
Justine Tyerman travelled courtesy of Switzerland Tourism.