Grand Tour of Switzerland: The Stelvio Line
As if the Swiss transport network were not already extensive enough, there is a new and very beautiful bus route that connects one of the most isolated villages in Switzerland with the conviviality of a city across the border in Italy. The Stelvio Line, named for the peak that is the summit of this three-hour excursion through scenic mountain and valley landscapes of the Swiss National Park, is a four-wheeled version of the special trains such as the Glacier Express and Bernina Express which run through the picturesque canton of Graubünden. Like those trains meant for visitors to enjoy the best of Switzerland’s exceptional scenery, the Stelvio Line allows travellers to see an isolated area of the country in total comfort.
The small village of Müstair is one of Switzerland’s easternmost, set in a pretty valley near the border with both Austria and Italy. Müstair is home to one of Switzerland’s eleven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Clostra Son Jon (St John Monastery). The original Clostra was constructed in the 8th century and there has been a religious order in residence on the grounds ever since. That makes twelve centuries of history found within the walls of the church, the chapel, the convent, and the museum, the last of which offers superb displays in the Planta Tower, a building over 1000 years old.
At the other end of the Stelvio Line is…Italia! Not many countries have their national transport networks extend beyond their borders, but Switzerland’s unique geography and cultural heritage lend themselves to facilitating travel for the locals, much to the benefit of visitors who can use their Swiss Travel Passes to visit the Italian city of Tirano. Known for its sunny Alpine climate, Tirano is home to a gem of a museum called Palazzo Salis which provides glimpses into the past when the Salis family controlled all the mountain passes through which the merchandise of northern and southern Europe had to pass in order to reach their destined markets. The family became very rich from the tolls charged and built a succession of palaces in the towns where they controlled the crossings. The one in Tirano is the most spectacular, with room after room of painted ceilings inside and a splendid private garden outside that belies its location in the centre of town. The Salis family still retains a residence in the palace and the extraordinarily friendly Countess Paola may sometimes be seen by visitors on tours offered of the house and the grounds.
Appealing though the manmade attractions may be, the clean mountain air is one of the main reasons to visit this special part of Switzerland reached by only a handful of visitors compared to the more frequented destinations within the country. Müstair sits at an elevation over 1200 metres above sea level and the dry climate makes it a preferred destination for hikers and cyclists who exploring the region on two wheels or no wheels at all.
Chasa Chalavaina makes a fine base for relaxing after a day’s outing. Stylish interiors and tasty local cuisine are supplemented by the kind manner of the friendly owner who ensures every guest is happy.
The websites of the tourism offices of Switzerland and the Graubünden region offer helpful information for planning a visit, as do those of the Swiss Travel System, the Clostra Son Jon, and Palazzo Salis.