"There is no place that I like better than Sils Maria," said legendary German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who retreated for eight summers to this sleepy chocolate-box village. "The nature here is amazingly mild and solemn and mysterious, all at once." Indeed, Sils im Engadin in German or Segl in Romansh, is set against a poetic landscape of glorious lakes and soaring mountains, and is otherworldly beautiful any season.
While international tourists flock to nearby St. Moritz, Swiss in the know head to Sils just away from its famously glitzy neighbor but a world apart in its pristine tranquility. Sils Maria in winter resembles an enchanting snow kingdom with houses peeking out from under white blankets, skiers and walkers disappearing in whirling snowflakes, fresh snow crunching under horse-drawn carriages, frozen lakes adorned with ski trails, thick forests resting under fluffy pillows and majestic snow-clad peaks towering on the background. Sils is a winter paradise dream come true!
Those sublime surroundings have it all for nature enthusiasts, sport buffs, active travelers, romantics or anyone in search of tranquility. Among popular season activities are alpine and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, walking and snowshoeing, ice skating, sledding and horse-drawn sleigh riding.
My personal favorite is Sils' spectacular cross-country skiing. The area offers 180 km of picture-perfect classic and skater cross-country routes extending around neighboring forests and valleys, and stretching across three frozen lakes all the way to St. Moritz and Maloja. There are multiple trail-making machines and local authorities work to keep everything in top-notch condition. The trails leading across the lakes of Sils, Silvaplana and Champfer belong to the famous Engadin Ski Marathon. With almost 13,000 participants annually, it is one of the world's largest cross-country skiing events. Mark your calendars since the next one takes place on 13 March 2016.
Alpine-skiing and snowboarding
The Furtschellas/Corvatsch ski area near Sils has 120 km of scenic ski and snowboard runs for all levels, including one of the largest snow parks in Switzerland with a halfpipe.
Corvatsch, the highest mountain station in the eastern Alps soars at 3303 m above sea level. Moonlight ski aficionados get a special treat on Friday nights when the station boasts Switzerland's longest floodlit run (4.2 km). The Furtschellas' section is more suited for families and intermediate skiers, and provides breathtaking views of the Engadin lakes. The area's ultimate ski piste is the legendary 9 km run from Giand'Alva on the Corvatsch all the way to St. Moritz Bad. Afterwards, a regular shuttle bus brings you back to the Corvatsch cable car station. If you combine both Corvatsch/ Furtschellas and Corviglia (St. Moritz) ski resorts, you could spend the whole day on skis or on a snowboard without repeating a single run.
Hiking and nordic walking
There are well prepared walking trails and clearly marked winter hiking paths stretching as far as your feet will carry you on frozen Lake Sils to Maloja, Lake Silvaplana in the direction of St. Moritz or through the forest up to Fex Valley. And snowshoe trekking begins where the trails end. You can rent or buy snowshoes locally and brave snow-covered landscapes nearly anywhere.
This remote, car-free valley (only the residents are allowed to drive here) is tucked away south of Sils, in the upper Engadin. Reaching Fex Valley either on foot or by horse-driven carriage (under an hour from Sils Maria) is an experience. Nestled between ragged, glacier-capped peaks and forests, its two tiny hamlets of Fex-Platta and Fex-Crasta seem to be lost in time and space. Fex Valley inspired the likes of Nietzsche, Thomas Mann and Marc Chagall, and is not to be missed.
A permanent exhibition of original texts, letters and first editions, a library and various temporary exhibitions of modern art are on display at the house where philosopher and poet Friedrich Nietzsche spent his holidays. The Nietzsche House also lodges creative artists visiting Sils Maria.
If you aren't an artist, don't worry, you can still find a place to stay in one of Sils' numerous hotels, B&Bs or residencies. You can browse through accommodation options in Sils and reserve directly on the Engadin tourist office website (see box below).
Most visitors I met in the area come back regularly. I also hope to return to this magical snow kingdom again. Winter in Sils Maria is the stuff of dreams!
Photos: 1st&2nd: © Marina Moeller; 3rd: © swiss-image.ch/Max Weiss