The Engadine region of Switzerland is well worth a visit, and this Pontresina travel guide gives you opinions, tips, and details for planning your trip to one of the best villages to base yourself from in the Engadine.
Just a few miles from St. Moritz, and set off the main highway so its main street remains calm and peaceful, Pontresina is a modest village – lively and stylish without being overwhelming. The name Pontresina is derived from “Ponte sarasinae“, meaning a bridge built by a man named Saraschin. Many of the hotels in Pontresina are fantastic, and there are walks, cable cars, horse-drawn carriage rides, shops, lakes and nearby villages to keep you busy for days. The Bernina mountains are visible from town, and although they’re perhaps not quite as stunning as the mountains of Zermatt or the Bernese Oberland (few places are), they’re still awe-inspiring. Plus, the soft larch forests, the lakes large and small, and the special mix of cultures add a unique element to the area. St. Moritz offers beautiful lakes, world-famous ski slopes, and high-end hotels and shops, and is more convenient for a quick trip. Pontresina, I think, has a bit more charm, and is better situated for a variety of hikes and mountain excursions on a longer stay.
Visit the Pontresina tourist office site. Pontresina also has a large climbing school with many glacier daytrips for beginners. There is a small ski area above town, plus quick and easy access to the slopes above St. Moritz.
Our Pontresina Travel Guide top activities and attractions:
Pontresina is third on my list of mountain destinations to visit, after Murren and Zermatt. It’s a little out of the way, so for a first trip to Switzerland of a week or less, I would skip it. The same isolation that kept the local culture so intact also means you’re going to be traveling for a long time if you want to travel between the Engadine and other Swiss destinations. If you’re coming back for a second trip to Switzerland, or have 10-14 days on a first trip, then 2-4 days would be good here, and in fact you could easily spend a week making new discoveries on a trip devoted to eastern Switzerland. Here are some of my suggestions for your travels to Pontresina.
Touch a Glacier
A quick train ride, or easy 1 1/2 hour walk, brings you to the Morteratsch station where there is a good restaurant with a lively outdoor terrace. Many people get no farther than this, prefering to sit at the terrace and take in the views, which are very nice. An easy walk (40 minutes each way) will take you into the valley, with signs pointing out the dramatic retreat of the Morteratsch, until you reach the snout itself. For a more vigorous outing, the Boval hut is a 2-hour hike from Morteratsch, is well signposted, and offers dramatic views of the glacier and surrounding mountains from their restaurant terrace. MySwitzerland – Morteratsch Glacier Trail.
Visit a Traditional Village
The Engadine has many beautifully preserved villages that are a wonder to wander, with narrow, cobblestoned streets and elegantly designed houses. Intricate sgraffito designs are carefully etched on the plaster walls of houses, using a technique that originated in 15th century Florence. Zuoz is one beautiful example that is very close to St Moritz and Pontresina (20 minutes by train). The tiny village of Guarda, 1 hour away by train, is another great daytrip. In the opposite direction, sunny Val Bregaglia brims with Italian flavor, and tiny cobblestoned Soglio is a gem. It’s a fairly long trip (2 hours each way on 3 busses), but is a gorgeous trip the whole way. If you have a car, visiting Val Bregaglia and Soglio is easy, with numerous tempting detours. Staying in Guarda or Soglio is also very tempting. Each has just 2 hotels and many families who rent rooms out in memorable old houses.
Enjoy the View
Muottas Muragl is an old funicular train just outside of Pontresina that offers some of the most incredible views of the region. From the outdoor terrace at the Muragl restaurant, you can look down on St. Moritz and the impressive Upper Engadine lakes, and gaze across the entire glacier-covered Bernina group for truly breathtaking views. Hikers might want to make the trek to Segantini hut above Pontresina on a clear day, or take the mellow, wooded path down to Pontresina on a cloudy day, a trip that takes about 2 hours. The best known excursion from Pontresina is probably the cable car to Diavolezza… it’s pretty, and closer to the mountains, but I definitely like the overall views from Muottas Muragl better.
If you go to Soglio and Val Bregaglia, you’ll pass the 4 large “paternoster” lakes strung out like pearls from St. Moritz to Maloja. They’re impressive, and this relatively flat area offers a lot of possibilities that you don’t find in other places. You can cross-country ski here in winter, or rent a mountain bike in summer and ride the miles of almost completely flat trails linking small villages along the lakes. There are pretty larch forests and abundant walking and biking paths linking the lakes and small lakeside resorts such as Silvaplana and Sils Maria.
Horse-Drawn Sleigh or Carriage Rides
Pulling sleighs in the winter and carriages in the summer, they leave from near the Pontresina train station and will pull you effortlessly and unforgettably into the Roseg valley (another of Pontresina’s charms) to a small hotel and restaurant near the back of the valley where you can relax and enjoy the scenery.
You’re close, and you might not get another chance. Trains connect you from Pontresina to the small town of Poschiavo in Italy in less than an hour and a half. This is part of the Bernina Express route, a very scenic route linking Pontresina and Lugano.
Ride the Glacier Express
If you’ve read about Swizerland, you’ve probably already heard about the Glacier Express train. The Glacier Express is Switzerland’s signature scenic train ride that travels over 291 bridges and through 91 tunnels, linking Zermatt with St. Moritz and nearby Pontresina. I’m fairly neutral on the Glacier Express, and don’t feel like it’s a must-see attraction for a trip, but honestly, it makes a lot of sense if you are planning a visit to Pontresina already. The Glacier Express is a very convenient way to link Zermatt to Pontresina. The newer trains are roomy with big windows, and it’s a beautiful journey. I think the many loops and bridges on the eastern half of the trip are especially fun. Even if you’re not combining Pontresina with Zermatt, the Glacier Express route between Chur and Samedan (on the route from Zürich to Pontresina), is superb. This can be done on the dedicated Glacier Express trains, which require a seat reservation in addition to your ticket or rail pass, or on regular trains that cover the same route.
Bella Vita Adventure Bath and Spa
The Adventure Bath and Spa in its Alpine setting, features the latest indoor and outdoor bathing techniques, pure relaxation, and pleasures for the wee ones. Bellavita Adventure Bath and Spa.
TOURS IN THIS REGION
Guided Engadine Traverse this tour explores the rustic, preserved beauty of Switzerland’s Engadine region, on the eastern edge of Switzerland near Austria. On this tour, we’ll hike inn-to-inn combining stops in our favorite villages.
Guided Grand Tour: Mürren, Zermatt, Pontresina enjoy luxurious inns, classic train rides, and hike three of the grandest mountain destinations in world on this guided tour…