Although the highway is the fastest way to get from Milan to South Tyrol, there’s another route we can take, longer but definitely more spectacular, through Swiss lakes, valleys and woods. Most of the times, the best way to reach a place is not the easiest one. Taking a longer road often allows us to discover new places, and even thought it might seem a waste of time, we soon realize it’s the best way to live an adventure.
From Milan to Switzerland
Initially it’s a lakeside route leading to Chiavenna, a small mountain town with a nice historical center, with old stone houses, shops, a bridge over a stream and a renowned pastry shop, Mastai (viale Consoli Chiavennaschi, 3). Then, after crossing the Swiss border, the road climbs up the mountain: above us, the snowy peaks; below, the green valley. The air is cold and smells of pinewood.
As we drive to the famous mountain town of Sankt Moritz, we pass by some of the most beautiful lakes I’ve ever seen, Silsersee and Silvaplana. This landscape always make me think of Canada, even though I’ve never been there. But that’s how I imagine the great North, emerald green water mirrors, the voice of the wind, the vastness of the sky. We get off the car to breath in beauty. The yellow leaves float on the lake surface, rippled by the breeze. A man rows in his small boat; another one walks along the lake. The Bernina Range with its majestic views lies in front of us, beyond the lake and woods.
We never leave water as we drive on to Celerina, entering Engadina and following the Inn river. Meadows and bushes climbing up the mountainside till rocks take their place, villages with sloping roofs and pointed bell towers; everything here in the Swiss National Park looks like a painting, or rather one of those illustrations you may find in children’s books, with pistachio grass and chocolate-coloured cows pacifically grazing.
We stop in the Swiss village of Müstair, in the Canton of Graubünden to visit the Abby of Saint John, a UNESCO Heritage Site renowned for the great series of figurative murals, painted in the 9th century AD. The ancient Benedictine monastery is still pervaded by a mystic atmosphere, and it’s not hard to understand why the monks decided to live here, in this secluded and idyllic place.
In South Tyrol
Next to Müstair is the Italian boarder, which we cross to continue our journey to Glurn. This walled town is a lovely place to stop for lunch or an afternoon break; after leaving the car in the parking lot outside the walls, we pass through the town gate and walk in Florastrasse, a street of typical stone houses and porticos, some white, others pastel blue, green or pink, until you get to the main square and Glurn church.
In a narrow lane which leads to another church, numerous stalls celebrate the fall season displaying orange pumpkins, red and golden apples, fresh mushrooms but also seed bread, peer and nut bread, buckwheat and blueberry cake, and strudel (a traditional type of apple cake).
There’s not just one strudel in South Tyrol, since everyone has their own personal recipe. Some make it with shortcrust, others with a thin crust. Some use apples and nuts or dried fruit, others peers and chocolate. At the Riedl patisserie in Floralstrasse you’ll find the thin crust version, with apples and icing sugar. But their ricotta cake and Linzer torte are also worth a visit.
There’s a beautiful road connecting Glurn and the small town of Malles, a trail running through apple fields and farms. I’m always taken aback by the silence, broken only by the ring of the church bells and the monotonous jingle of a calf’s bell. In the village of Clusio, time seems to be going slower, without rush, without stress, as the seasons follow one another with their changing colours.
There’s a small family hotel, Zum Goldnen Adler, where the rooms have a view on an old barn and breakfast is served in a charming stube, which once was the warmest room of the house. Homemade jams and cakes, fresh yogurt, mountain honey are for those with a sweet tooth, while guests who prefer a salty breakfast will enjoy speck, vegetables, seed bread and local cheese.
The legend of Lake Reschen
I hear the story of Lake Reschen, not far from here, a dam surrounded by the mountains that was artificially created to produce hydroelectric energy. The old village of Curon, which stood in the way, was emptied and relocated, but the ancient church bell still stands and emerges from the water. Someone says that in winter nights, when the lake is covered by an iced sheet, the sound of the bells can be heard from afar. I like thinking that the spirit of the past survives somehow, and protects these places as they are, like a beneficial spell.