Route 6: Section 4 ; part 1 – cycling Zernez to Scuol, Switzerland

Highlights:  old Engadin villages (Susch, Guarda, Ardez),  Tarasp Castle (detour)

Route 6: Section 4 , part 1– Zernez 1,472m to Scuol 1,300m :(33km, 626m elev.) and detour Scuol to Tarasp Castle (5km, 250m elev.)

Stats from SwitzerlandMobility.ch for section 6:04 to Martina ( https://www.schweizmobil.ch/en/cycling-in-switzerland/routes/route/etappe-0882.html ): Their site has the full profile. This section shares its path with Route 65:02,03


May 2021

Route 6:04 is a beautiful section full of natural sceneries and picturesque landmarks so we split it into 2 days to allow for some detours. We biked one day from Zernez to Scuol and then took the train back to Zernez. On the second day, we biked Scuol to Martina and further out to Finstermünz Fortress.

So on this first day, we took the trail from Zernez eastwards, entering the Lower Engadin along the banks of the river Inn/En in a natural setting. Incidentally, the Inn is the only Swiss river to flow East, emptying into the Black Sea. 

The 33 km to Scuol are also marked by few very picturesque fairytale villages. 

The first one is the village of Susch in the valley, spreading on both sides of the Inn. An attractive landmark is the Museum, which is housed in a former Benedictine monastery from the 12th century. 

Susch and its Museum


Next is Lavin, also on the riverbank. The village was rebuilt in the late 1800s after being destroyed by fire.  The church is one of the few surviving buildings and one of the most important artistic monuments in Graubunden (https://www.graubuenden.ch/en/attractions/church-of-san-guerg-lavin) . It contains beautiful paintings from the late-Gothic to early-Renaissance period.  Unfortunately we missed it …..not sure how. 

Lavin, with church in the distance

Left Lavin, the road starts climbing to the village of Guarda. 

Guarda (1,653 m) was awarded the Wakker Prize in 1975 in recognition of the preservation of the old town. Aside from the charming villagescape and the many elegant “sgraffiti” façades, the most impressive landmark was for me the Hotel Meisser, a large decorated building overlooking the valley, converted from a 17th century farm ( https://www.hotel-meisser.ch/en/meisser-hotel-suites ). 

Hotel Meisser, in Guarda
Guarda

The surrounding landscape of snow-topped Alps and green rolling hills adds to the bucolic atmosphere of the village. 

The place is today very quiet, enveloped only by the sound of nature. But it was once situated on the commercial route between Austria and Italy until the traffic was diverted to the valley floor.

But Ardez  is in my opinion even more beautiful than Guarda, perched above the valley amidst the impressive Alpine landscape. Again, it has a pristine villagescape,  a larger number of beautifully decorated 16th-17th century dwellings , and a lovely 16th century church. 

ARDEZ

On the hill overlooking Ardez one can still see the ruins of a 12th century Castle (Steinsberg Castle). 

Steinsberg Castle in Ardez

I could not get enough of these incredibly decorated houses and the tidy architectural design of Ardez. I would have liked to just sit on a bench in awe of the surroundings.

The route descending into Scuol is also very scenic and one can spot , on the opposite side of the valley, the imposing castle of Tarasp perched on a hill.

Tarasp Castle in the distance


Scuol is the main town in the Lower Engadine and the commercial and sport hub of the region. As consequence, it is busier than the previous villages. It is also as far east as one can get by train. 

Once reached Scuol, instead of hopping on the train back to Zernez, I decided to find a return bike trail on the opposite side of the valley. 

To start, I crossed the river and climbed the 5km/250m elevation to  Tarasp Castle ( https://www.engadin.com/en/aktivitaeten-erlebnisse/schloss-tarasp ). The fortress was built in the 11th century by the Lords of Tarasp. Like many castles in Switzerland, it then passed to the House of Habsburg-Austria until 1803 when Napoleon gave Tarasp to Switzerland.  

TARASP CASTLE

This is one of the most majestic castles I have seen in Switzerland. I was pleasantly surprised to find the fortress surrounded by a tiny cute medieval village, still inhabited. But the castle was closed and could be visited only at specific times during the week. 

Tarasp

On the south-side of the river the only bike path to return to Zernez is the mountain-bike route 442 from Ardez, about 6km west from Tarasp. The problem is that there is no bike-trail connection of any sort between Tarasp and Ardez, separated by the river. But I was determined to find a way……

The first 3-4 km westwards follow some paved or gravel road up to Hof, but then everything disappears into the woods. I carefully studied the map and I found a 1-km long hiking trail that from Hof would descend 150m down to the river crossing, marked by a bridge, and then it would ascend for another 1-km (150m elevation) up to Ardez. And so I thought it was a short enough compromise to reach the next route 442 to bring me back to Zernez. Besides, I have an eMTB, and so I felt I could win any trail. But this turned put to be very poor judgement on my part……..  In Switzerland, trails marked with narrow bars ( – – – ) are really hiking trails with uneven pavement , and when in the woods they are surrounded by encroaching vegetation. But the idea of retracing 10 km backwards to take the train from Scuol was not appealing. 

 I approached the wood’s entrance with circumspection. The beginning of the trail looked rough but could be biked with caution and so I ventured inside, and yes, alone.

But as I progressed, I soon realized that the recent storms had significantly damaged the trail, even with falling trees blocking the passage.

However now, almost halfway in and down the path, in the middle of the afternoon with rain and possible snow approaching, I did not have the mental strength to go back. I told myself : it would be faster to lift the bike on top of the fallen tree and continue down to the river-crossing than pushing the bike back uphill on this terrain and go back to Scuol…… Oh but was I wrong..…..  And so I continued on, downhill through a trail that was becoming steeper and more impervious by the minute. Half way down, not seeing the river yet, I started panicking that I took the wrong trail and would be lost in the woods…. But I continued on…. carrying, pushing my 25kg bike on the steep, rocky, narrow terrain, almost impassable by bike. And when I finally spotted the river I got another panic attack for not seeing the bridge…….and what if the pedestrian bridge did not exist anymore…….

But at last I reached the bottom and here, what appeared before my exhausted bewildered eyes was this flimsy, 1-person-narrow, rusty hanging bridge on the wild rambling Inn!!

I wanted to cry…… I started crossing but the bike was too large for the bridge rails….. I got stuck and it was getting late under threatening weather forecast…..I pondered to call for emergency help or to lock the bike there hike the 1-km up to Ardez Station…… At the end I slowly braved the bridge, very scared that the wooden unstable plank under my feet would give way and I would fall into the wild waters…… Progressing a meter every few minutes, moving the steering wheel this way and that way so to disentangle the bike from the bridge side cables, all the while with my ominous thoughts, I finally made it to the opposite banks……

And now what?? Massive rocks obstacles and then steeps steps were disrupting the path uphill…… Again, exhausted to the bone, I found myself pumped with the adrenaline of the survival instinct to push my heavy bike along the 1-km  path!

At last, after 2hr battling through the 2-km impassable wood, I made it to Ardez train station. At this point it was too late to bike to the hotel and so I took a welcome train back.

Inn river crossing

What a nightmare! Lesson learned: stay away from mountain hiking trails, especially when they are marked (- – – – )! THESE ARE NOT FOR BIKES!

Links to Introduction and other Sections:

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