Vals: valley deep, mountain high.

AuteurMawson, Emily
Fonction Travel: off the beaten track

Cradled in the Alps at the end of the Valser Valley in the Bundner Oberland of Canton Graubunden lies a hamlet-like village, with a handful of shops, cafes and restaurants. Despite its sleepy character, several successful industries thrive in Vals. Awarded the Europaischer Dorferneuerungspreis 2012 (European Prize of Village Innovation), the village is home to one of Switzerland's most renowned mineral baths, Therme Vals. Nevertheless, Vals has retained a transcendent quality that charms all those who venture off the beaten track to find it.

An ancient landscape

In Vals dialect, es Giifelti translates as 'a light sprinkling of snow'--meanwhile, en uu Chlapf means 'a very large amount'. To me the snow underfoot is deep, crunchy, and looks perfect for making snow angels. Instead, I continue along between the pine trees in the direction of Lake Zervreila, a dammed reservoir surrounded by 3,000-metre summits. The dam protects the world below from floods and avalanches.

I catch glimpses between the frosty branches of skiers at the small Dachberg resort and the cluster of buildings below at 1,252 metres above sea level. Vals is 30 minutes from the nearest town, Ilanz, and makes for a fairytale scene. Its stone-flagged rooftops form a patchwork blanket of snow, divided only by the Valser Rhine, a tributary of the River Rhine. The scene is a wash of white with occasional whiskers of ochre or chocolate brown in the larch buildings.

Cowbells jingle--at this time of year from barns in the village rather than mountain pastures. On the valley slopes--the ancient landscape of the Adula mountain range -19th-century log stables are hewn into wintry fields. They are peaceful flecks beneath the summit of Piz Aul (3,121 metres above sea level) and Hora (2,409 metres above sea level). "That is my favourite mountain," says local Pia Truffer, of the latter. "Vals people call it 'Horeli', but I remember when we took an American group of architects up there for a hike. They called the mountain chain that it is part of the 'Four Crowns'. Since then, that is also how we have referred to them."

Unique stone

Working with architects is part of Truffer's daily life. Truffer AG, the quarry she and her husband founded about thirty years ago, was the first in the valley to extract Valser Quartzite commercially. "Beforehand, whenever there was a building project, the clients would have to go and look for stones themselves. People in Vals referred to this practice as...

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