The Engadine Valley lies in the south-eastern corner of Switzerland, around the deep glacial trench of the River Inn, which drains eastwards on its long journey to the Danube and the Black Sea. Surrounded by 3,000-metre peaks, the area has long been known for its concentration of winter resorts, centred on the opulent spa town of St. Moritz. To the south lies the intricate mountain frontier with Italy, dominated by the awe-inspiring Bernina group, a jagged panorama of ice-clad peaks, culminating in the 4,049-metre Piz Bernina, from which glacial tongues descend to the valleys. The rocks are typically crystalline, but the Livigno group, to the east of the Bernina Pass, and the Albula group, to the north, contain notable areas of limestone. Most of the plants typical of the central Alps are found here, with the addition of species more characteristic of the eastern Alps. To enjoy the best of the flora, this tour is later than most of our other botanical departures in Europe, since the continental climate combined with the high altitude of this region means that spring arrives late.
Our base for the week is the quiet and charming town of Pontresina. Lying at 1,800 metres, among forests of Arolla Pine and Larch, on a south-west-facing terrace at the foot of the Val Bernina, this is an ideal base from which to explore the area. As elsewhere in Switzerland, the transport network is well developed and efficient, allowing us to make full use of the local railways, buses and cable cars to reach the best sites with a minimum of effort. The extensive footpaths further provide excellent access to the region and our programme of daily walks (broken by delicious picnics!) will include flexibility to cater for all levels of walking ability.
Our holiday begins with a flight to Zürich, followed by a train journey — on the UNESCO World heritage Albula/Bernina railway, one of the most spectacular narrow-gauge railways in the world — through the beautiful Swiss countryside to Pontresina. We will make daily use of the railway and bus service, which interconnect with cable cars and funiculars, giving us easy access to all parts of the region. Here, the valley floors are filled with colourful hay meadows, and the forests of Arolla Pine and Larch which cover the lower slopes are home to the rare Twinflower, such avian residents as Spotted Nutcracker, Firecrest, Crested Tit and Red Crossbill, and that charming mammalian denizen of the forest, the Red Squirrel. Above these, in the mountain pastures, rocks and screes, there is an astonishing diversity of flowers, including Primulas, Gentians, Pulsatillas, orchids and many regional specialities.
Towards the Bernina Pass, the valleys on either side of the limestone pyramid of Piz Alv are famous for their rich flora. In a jumble of limestone boulders and screes, at the foot of Val da Fain, a profusion of flowers includes Martagon Lily, Greater Yellow Gentian, Alpine Aquilegia, Alpine Clematis and Mountain Avens. Val Minor offers a circular route around Piz Lagalb, with colourful displays of Alpine Gypsophila, Large-flowered Rock-rose and Dragon-mouth in its lower part. Higher up, where snow lingers late into the season, we find drifts of yellow Alpine Pasque Flower and myriad Dwarf Snowbell and Entire-leaved Primrose in the sodden turf. Alpine Marmots are common in these valleys and herds of Alpine Ibex roam freely over the summits. On other days we follow easy trails alongside Lago Bianco, which straddles the watershed, and descend through the forests that extend beyond Alp Grum into the beautiful Poschiavo Valley, where a different range of flora reflects the milder climate of these south-facing slopes.
Throughout the region there are many classic landscape features associated with glaciation. From the Diavolezza, we will have breathtaking views of the mountains and glaciers of the Bernina group, while, on a walk up to the Morteratsch Glacier, we witness the processes of plant colonisation during its rapid retreat. The cable cars that serve the ski resorts on either side of the Inn Valley also offer exciting summer possibilities. From Surlej, we ride above the treetops to Murtel, where the wet rocks and moraines below the Corvatsch Glacier are covered in Glacier Crowfoot and stunning displays of Snowbells, Primulas and Saxifrages. From Fuorcla Surlej, the flora changes dramatically as we make the long descent into Val Roseg and we return to our hotel through the forested valley floor. On another day, usually our last, we ascend to the dizzy heights of Piz Nair (3,057 metres), high above St Moritz, where the airy summit ridge and screes beneath it hold stunning displays of Glacier Crowfoot, the beautiful blue King-of-the-Alps, pink Alpine Rock-jasmine and other alpine gems. We descend through the limestones of Alp Nova, where an astonishing display of flowers includes Edelweiss and abundant orchids, before marking the end of our botanical explorations with a little time to relax in St. Moritz.
Mr & Mrs D
David was extremely knowledgeable and interacted well with the group members. All in all an excellent introduction to the flora of Engadine. An impressive area!
The hotel was the best I have ever stayed in. The leadership of David Tattersfield was outstanding. Indeed, not only were the tour members photographing the flowers, but they were photographing David photographing the plants which is a tribute to the man and his leadership and stature in itself. The fact that he had a number of people who had previously travelled with him speaks for itself too. I regard him as a friend, not just a leader.
David was a very competent and organised leader. His knowledge of botany was incredible and I learnt such a lot. He is a great asset to your company. His enthusiasm is unending.
I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this trip; the best I have been on with Naturetrek.
An excellent trip, David (Tattersfield) is a super leader, doing all he could to make sure everyone got the most out of the week despite very different interets.
The highlights of the trip were the carefully chosen walks with glorious alpine views in every direction. As well as the beautiful alpine flora, we had butterflies, birds and the company of marmots. The flexibility of the trip with the use of trains and cable cars meant that the walks were accessible to all.
David Tattersfield is a real credit to Naturetrek - he is a remarkable person, a walking encyclopaedia!
My first holiday with a wildlife slant. I’m very pleased with my choice of venue and leader. David Tattersfield is inspirational! Having climbed mountains in Scotland in the recent past, I found the expeditions pleasantly exercising, but not challenging - which was what I wanted. I hope to try Wengen or the Pyrenees next year!
David Tattersfield is an outstanding tour leader -knowledgeable, enthusiastic, patient and caring. He adapted the itinerary to accommodate ability/ interest levels, and was very attentive to the party’s needs throughout. A hugely enjoyable week.
Once again an excellent holiday with charming fellow travellers - led by David, the gentleman botanist with contagious enthusiasm.
The combination of excellent botanical content, superb scenery, easily accessed transport and difficult paths made this a most memorable week.
The trip leader [David Tattersfield] is a man of extraordinary energy and very great interest (and ability) in botany.
The trip leader is a man of extraordinary energy and very great interest (and ability) in botany...taking into account other peoples wishes and abilities.
I would strongly suggest that this trip deserves a permanent place in your brochure. The combination of excellent botanical content, superb scenery, easily accessed transport and not-too-difficult paths, made this a most memorable week. The hotel was the best I have experience with Naturetrek.