Walk every mountain...

Forget the skiing, Nick Westby finds there is much more to do than hit the slopes in the resort of Graubunden – not least the gentle art of snow-shoeing.

Nick and Amy snow-shoeing on the trail to the Val Roseg glacier

Here’s a travel tip for you, if you ever plan to go to Switzerland in the winter, don’t tell people you have no intention of skiing.

It’s like going to Venice and not taking a ride on a gondola. Skiing in Switzerland in the winter is the quintessential travel experience.

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Yet as much as I’d love to be able to ski, I fear that approaching my mid-30s, I may have missed the window of opportunity. And every now and again I like to buck conventional trends. Surely there has to be more to do in a breathtaking Alpine region than just attach two blades to your feet and away you go?

And I’m delighted to report, there is. For a start there is the apres ski – which I’m reliably informed by younger folk means alcohol consumption after a day on the slopes. The Swiss do not bother themselves with the euro. They also know they have some of the most exclusive slopes in Europe and are determined to keep it that way by charging exorbitant prices.

It all makes for a higher class of partying 20-somethings, but away from the partying, there are many more activities to strain the muscles and test the stamina.

Snow-shoeing for one. You might think of it as tying a tennis racquet to your feet and trudging through deep snow, and you’d be pretty much spot on.

It was the first morning of our trip to the Canton of Graubunden in the east of Switzerland and our mission, in as many layers as we could wrap ourselves in biting -22C temperatures, was a hike to the Val Roseg glacier on the north side of the Bernina range about 2.5km away.

Trudging through the kind of white stuff that would grind Britain’s transport network to a halt, we followed the trail deep into the basin of the mountains in the Engadin region, our walking sticks trusty aids against the energy-sapping terrain.

As exhausting as the pursuit was, it was also extremely rewarding. Having set out before the sun had risen, watching it peak above the snow-covered tops was breathtaking.

The glacier itself is a marvel of nature, a sheer wall of ice rising 50ft and by the time we had to turn back, the valley bathed in morning sunshine, such had been the enjoyment of walking in the sub-zero temperatures – even if it was so cold my eye-lashes were frozen – I was loathe to take the snow shoes off.

Next for my wife and I was the chance to explore the beautiful skiing town of Pontresina, a 10-minute train journey from the higher-profile tourist resort of St Moritz.

Pontresina is the kind of place that does not need to advertise itself to tourists. Built into the foot of the slopes, 1,800m above sea level, it is a haven for Swiss residents who shun the over-populated St Moritz to hide away in this enchanting town with its modest nightlife and lovely scenery.

The Hotel Muller, our upper class bivouac, mixed a mountain lodge theme with modern decor.

Next door to Pontresina is Samedan, home to a five-story natural spa, the top deck of which is an open-air hot water tub, where patrons look out over the rooftops, defiantly treading water in their Speedos and bikinis as the elements strike back by turning to ice the hairs on their heads.

German is the predominant language in the Engadin, though some locals cling to the old Romansh dialect that has been the tongue of the region since the Roman days.

Just a couple of hours by train takes you to Poschiavo in the most south-easterly corner of Switzerland, where Italian is the language of choice.

The train that weaves through the Alps has been in operation for more than a century. The railway is a staggering feat of engineering that makes for awe-inspiring views. Poschiavo is a beautiful old farming town that at the time of our visit was under attack from a rampaging bear who for the past six months had been coming down from the hills and stalking the streets at night. Conservationists had decreed the bear should not be killed, much to the bemusement of residents who were gripped by fear. It was a quirky tale harking back to primitive days, that provided a polar opposite to our next place of visit – St Moritz, back in the heart of the Alps.

The headline act of Graubunden, St Moritz was greeted by the locals in the wine bars of Pontresina as over-rated and over-commercialised. The latter it may be, but it is by no means over-rated, certainly not for a first-time visitor and even if you don’t want to take the cable car up to Piz Nair, the highest peak at 3,500m then ski down or take in the stunning scenery, then there is plenty of mooching to be done around the high-end shops or the frozen lake.

Away from the slopes, Graubunden – which is the largest of the 22 cantons – stretches another two hours west to the capital of the region, Chur. There are winter sports opportunities in Chur, plus a quaint old town to stroll around.

Much like the rest of Graubunden, skiing is only a small part of the story.

Getting there

A Swiss rail transfer ticket for travel from Zurich Airport to St Moritz (return) starts from £57 in first class and £34 in economy. www.swisstravelsystem.ch/en

Return flights with SWISS at www.swiss.com from Manchester to Zurich start from £127 per person including taxes.

Nightly rates for a single room at the Hotel Muller in Pontresina in high season is £109 per night.

For information on the region of Graubünden visit www.graubunden.com