Graubünden has come into the international mountain bike spotlight in the past year, being touted as the ‘Home of Trails’ and promoted to mountain bikers around the world. The eastern canton of Switzerland has long been on the radar of our contributors and race team – for all the reasons you might imagine. There are long trails in high valleys, trails that twist and turn near the rivers, and technical trails that climb high and through cut out shelves in the passes.
The food is high quality, the nusstorte is amazing and the range of accommodation is really good – even for Switzerland there is something for almost every budget. Add in the bonus of a culture that appreciates wellness, a natural abundance of spring water and a few very good mountain bike races – and it’s a top place to visit.
Over the years, members of our MarathonMTB.com Team have attended the Swiss National Park Bike Marathon a few times – and sitting three weeks before the 2018 UCI XCM World Championships in Auronzo Di Cadore, Italy, made it good timing for a long and hard race for team member Imogen Smith. Accommodation was booked, entries secured, and plans were made.
In the end, the race was shortened for the 2018 edition due to extreme weather forecasts. But that didn’t really impact on the quality of our stay.
The race and the route
The National Park Bike Marathon route is one of the longest one day races in Europe at 137km for the full route. It circumnavigates the Swiss National Park, taking in about 4000m of climbing in the process. Much of the climbing is in the first 75 kilometres, or done by the time you are atop the Chaschauna – a beast of a climb that tops out at 2740m.
Fear not, as the organisation has three shorter routes as well, starting in Fuldera, Livigno and Zernez. So you can choose a route that suits your fitness and preferences.
There is nothing technical in the race, but there are some steep descents, and some fast descents. The first climb is long – about 22km. This is typically where the main selection is made at the front of the race, as the field splits on the steeper ramps on the lower road, and then stretches on the short descent early in the climb. The climb moves onto dirt road, then a gravel path, and finally onto singletrack when passing through a farm when close to the top.
The descent off the Pass de Costainas has a steep section at the start, and is very fast on the way to Lü. But the race is still super fast and open, passing Fuldera and towards the climb to the Doss Radond. It’s a steep climb with a consistent and sustained gradient.
This brings you into the Val Mora and a very pedally descent, until you enter singletrack, and rise up and down over avalanches fans as the trail runs below a steep slope. It’s a great section, and still really fast. After some false flat you head to the Lakes of Cancano, before heading up past a fascist insignia and the climb to Alpisella. It starts a bit steep, and carries on a little longer than you might expect. But the descent is still gravel, but narrow and fast. It’s a lot of fun.
In to and out of Livigno, it’s time to head up the Chaschauna. It starts steep, then gets a bit steeper. Over the top you might need to walk, and the descent should be fun down the other side – but that really depends on conditions. The descent takes you all the way back to the Engadin Valley – and actually where we started the race in 2018. The final 50km has about 800m of climbing, and has lost some of the cycle trails, now being replaced by gravel roads. It’s not a huge difference, but this final stretch did used to be a little more interesting. You do ride through villages, over covered bridges, and up the climb to Guarda, before a descent down the Trotti Track to Scuol, and back to the sports centre.
The town of Scuol
Scuol sits way in the east of Switzerland, in the lower Engadin Valley. The official language is Romansch, and the town has been referenced as far back as 1095. The town is known for spa treatments, mineral water, winter sports – and mountain biking. It’s not a big town, with less than 5000 residents, but it is littered with heritage sites, like the imposing Schloss Tarasp just across the river.
There are plenty of hotels, restaurants and the normal assortment of things you need like supermarkets and a bike shop. You can get to Scuol easily by car, but arriving by train should also be looked at. The station is right above town. You can check travel times via the Swiss trains website.
Trails in the Engadin Valley
The other end of the Engadin is probably best known for trails, and St Moritz should be on your list of places to ride. But the trails in and around Scuol have their own surprises and entertainment – even if the National Park Bike Marathon route would have you expecting otherwise, it sure does head straight out of town!
However, there are 500km of routes open to mountain bikers in the Lower Engadin, and while some of that is bike paths, there’s plenty of singletrack and challenging trails as well. It’s worth taking a look at a map to really appreciate where your mountain bike can take you in the surrounding area.
We have a few favourites, and the opening climb up the Pass de Costainas is a classic, taking you out of Scuol and through the forest to the summer village of S-chanf, onwards through a farm and over the pass – where you might descent to Lü, or head around to the Offenpass and beyond.
Of course, you could tackle one of the other marked national routes, or tackle the Uinaschlucht and drop over to Italy and the Reschen Pass. There is so much you can do!
Eating in and around Scuol
Most hotels have their own restaurants that will serve a range of Swiss cuisine. It will be good, maybe a bit rich ahead of race day, and maybe pricey. It depends where you stay. But there are a few good supermarkets if you stay somewhere that is self-catering, and the pizzeria on the main street has a great view and good pizzas.
Oh, and did I mention the nusstorte?
You’re not visiting Switzerland until you do wellness. Mineral water treatments, saunas, steam rooms, ice baths, cold showers, warm showers, scented showers, foot spas, hot rocks, massage, kids, adults, nudity. It’s a lot to take in.
Scuol has the excellent Bogn Engadina with a range of mineral waters and treatment rooms. Now, if you’re not from a European background, it may seem a bit weird. While the outdoor pool looking up to the Alps is clothing friendly – the good parts aren’t. It’s just not hygienic. But once you let any anglo-prudishness go, you end up having a very relaxing experience. It’s a great way to relax after a ride, or warm up after being caught out in the weather.
Are you drinking the water?
Scuol has about four fountains with specific mineral water. And they’re all piped to the Bogn Engadina, laid out in the order you’re meant to drink them. It harks back to the late 19th century of spa retreats, breathing the mountain air and taking the waters – but it’s pretty amazing.
There’s a lot of charm in following the trail around town and the valley linking the sources. But if you’re only around for a few days you might just end up riding your bike on the trails and exploring the nearby valleys instead.
I have visited Scuol about 8 times, and each time I find out something new, or discover new trails. This time I picked up a book with routes laid out between Scuol, Bormio and Livigno – filling in gaps in my knowledge for what is probably my favourite area in the world to get out and ride.
So, I’ll be going back. And a really suggest you look at a stay in or around Scuol as well.