The valley of the Engadine is best known for the glamorous but conventional St. Moritz ski resort in the south. The north, called the 'Lower Engadine' and home to the Swiss national park and numerous mineral springs, has retained more of its natural charm.
Yet in both north and south, city dwellers seeking a quiet refuge are snapping up village farms and turning them into second homes. These 'homes' are then only used a few weeks per year, thus turning Engadine villages into ghost towns during the majority of the year.
It is a splendid autumn morning when I take the train to the Lower Engadine to learn how the village of Vna is protecting itself. The rising sun sets fire to small chapels and barns on the hillsides. As the train enters the Prattigau Valley, stopping at every sleepy village, I leave my urban stress behind.
But it is not until emerging from the Vereina Tunnel, connecting Klosters to the Lower Engadine, that I definitely enter another world. Now the train announcements are made first in Romansh, the Rhaeto-Romanic language that is only spoken by 60,000 Swiss. In most villages, the train only halts on request or fermada sun dumonda. Lavin, Ardez, Guarda: seen from the train, the villages appear as colourful as their names.
In Scuol-Tarasp, capital of the Lower Engadine, the Rhaetian Railway line ends. Travellers who want to go further north must take a bus, rent a bike or continue on foot.
Vna, my final destination, is a tiny village of 70 souls, perched on a sunny mountain terrace some eight kilometres further north, lust like other villages in the isolated valley, Vna is threatened by the continual migration of its original inhabitants. Many of its farmhouses--typical Engadine structures featuring indoor stables that allow humans to benefit from the warmth of their cattle in the extreme cold--are now seldom-used second homes.
It is here, at 1,600 metres above sea level that an old hotel--deserted for 10 years--reopened its doors in May. Called 'Casa Piz Tschutta', the hotel is more than just another successful renovation project: it's an integral part of a rescue plan designed to bring back economic vitality, creating a sustainable future for the village.
Urezza Famos, a 44-year-old cultural entrepreneur whose family originated in Vna, initiated the plan. A focal point of the plan was the revival of the Casa Piz Tschutta as the economic and social centre of Vna. (The...