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A Midland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 10 August 2011 by Diane Clement

Diary Entry No 46 - A week in the Engadine - Part 1

We often travel to the European alps in the third week of July, rather late for the main flush of alpine plants, but we cannot go any earlier due to work.  So we always try to select a resort that is high enough still to have plants remaining, and also with lifts to be able to get as high as possible.  This year, after recommendations from a few people (to whom, thanks!) we visited Pontresina for the first time.  Pontresina is at an altitude of 1800m in the Graubünden or Grisons canton of Switzerland, in the far south east of the country, bordering with Italy.  Pontresina is on the River Flaz, a tributary of the River En.  Romansch is the local language of the area and En is the Romansch word for the river Inn, thus En-gadine translates as “The garden of the Inn”.  The source of the river Inn/En is in the high mountains around the Engadine valley, and it flows east to Innsbruck in Austria (to which it gives its German name) and finally flows into the Danube at Passau in Germany and thence into the Black Sea.

Close by is the larger and more famous resort of St Moritz which nestles in the main En Valley with high mountains each side.  The whole area is very easy to travel around, a good network of trains and buses link the towns and villages in the valleys and there are many cable cars and chair lifts to transport you easily up to the mountains.  We were very pleased to find that our hotel was part of a scheme offering a tourist pass with free access to all the lifts, buses and trains.  This pass was advertised at 200SF, so it was a considerable bonus to be given this free, and it offset the astronomical prices asked for coffee and cakes in the area.

When I research places to visit I have found it helpful to have walks described, and for this holiday I took copies of previously described walks, so for the sake of anyone who might wish to visit the area, I’ve put in the details of how we travelled.  Switzerland (and Austria) are extremely well organised for walkers and routes are well marked, with plenty of refreshment stops en route. 

Day 1 - Alp Languard and the Panoramaweg



Chair Lift from Pontresina at 1805m to Alp Languard at 2330m then walk on the Panoramaweg to Unterer Schafelberg (old style mountain hut with refreshments), then on to Muottas Muragl at 2456m (more refreshments here), then Funicular back down to the Pontresina valley, then bus back to Pontresina




This is a nice style of walk - lift up to a high ridge, walk along the ridge, then get another lift back down, no real steep ascents or descents, walking just above the tree line most of the way.


View from Alp Languard, looking down towards Pontresina, (St Moritz can be seen back left of the picture)

The start of our walk - and yes, it was as cold as it looked!

Onto the plants we saw on the way.

Sempervivum arachnoideum

Pyrola minor

Gymnadenia conopsea

Where the path had been covered by a landslide, a direct passage had been made

I was surprised to see Daphe alpina

Lilium martagon was common in the meadows and edge of woodlands

Saxifraga ? burseriana

Jacobae incana ssp carniolica (previously Senecio incanus ssp carniolicus).  This eastern ssp is less silvery hairy than the type and is an attractive little plant worthy of a place on the rock garden.  The taxonomists have been busy with the Genus Senecio and have separated Senecio sect. Jacobaea into its own genus.



A good day for wildlife, including Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes, a bird often heard and usually only seen as a fleeting glance as it flies away.  This one posed and squawked long enough to get a photo (although still a rather poor distant shot)


We wouldn’t have seen this Ibex without the help of a chap with binoculars who pointed it out to us.  Sorry again for the poor picture, it was a long way down the steep valley, standing on a concrete block



And so to the marmots with their amazingly loud voices.  It's surprising difficult to locate the source of the sound as it echoes around the mountains.  We eventually spotted a family group that allowed me to get close enough to take a few pictures


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