Nature in the Engadin, with its enchanting lakes, mighty peaks and deep-blue skies, is renowned for its spectacular beauty. But it has an exotic side, too, for many curious natural phenomena are to be found here.
Silserkugeln: 100 percent natural
Silserkugeln are round, prickly balls of larch needles that can be found on the shores of Lake Sils and are formed by the movement of the waves. According to legend, however, they are not the result of a whim of nature, but were used by the kindly “little people of the forest” to save humans from starvation after a flood. They filled the prickly balls with dried fruit, fish and eggs, and sent them over the lake to Sils.
In autumn, these balls, which are about the size of an ostrich egg, can still be found along the lakeside. The resin in the larch needles holds these natural artworks together, and protects them against the wind and water. They make attractive decorations – and, of course, are genuinely exclusive to Sils.
Pines and larches: the Engadin Forest
Every year, at the beginning of autumn, the larches in the valley turn a resplendent golden colour. Framed by the snow-capped mountain peaks and the deep-blue Engadin sky, they form a magnificent backdrop for glorious walks – such as through the Staz forest, with its dense network of footpaths. The upper part of the forest, God Plazzer, is home not just to larches and mountain pines, but also – at over 1,000 years of age – some of the oldest Swiss stone pines in Graubünden. Equally remarkable are the marshlands, which are among the highest-lying in the Alps.
The most striking inhabitant of the Engadin forests is the nutcracker, a brown bird with white speckles that can frequently be encountered around Swiss stone pine trees. In August and September, each bird collects more than 100,000 pine kernels, which help it survive the harsh winter.
People have also learned to make good use of the power of the “queen of the forest” – for example, in the form of pillows filled with fine shavings of Swiss stone pine wood. These promise a particularly deep and restful sleep – not least because they are said to hinder the tendency to snore.
Weather phenomena: the "Maloja snake" & Co.
Anyone up and about early on an autumn morning in the Engadin has a good chance of encountering the thick, white “Maloja snake” as it winds its way along the mountainsides. This notorious weather phenomenon comes about when warm air rises up the slopes of the Maloja Pass and is transformed into mist or cloud.Another weather phenomenon typical of the Engadin is the Maloja wind, a steady breeze revered by windsurfers, sailors and kite surfers. It also fascinates meteorologists, as it is, so to speak, a “reverse wind” or “night wind during the daytime” – in mountain valleys, during the day, winds normally blow up rather than down the valley.
Water, snow and ice: shaping the landscape
On the Lunghin Pass (2,780m/ 9,121ft) near Maloja lies the only three-way watershed in Europe. A drop of water falling here can make its way into any of three major seas: if it flows northwards, it joins the River Julia and then the Rhine, finally ending up in the North Sea. If it heads eastwards, the drop flows into the Inn and later the Danube, and on into the Black Sea. And if instead it flows south, it eventually ends up in the Adriatic.
The Lunghin watershed is also famous as the source of the Inn. And it is this river that gave the high valley of the Engadin its name: in its original, Romansh form, Engiadina means “garden of the Inn”.
Not far away is the Maloja glacier mill reserve, home to the largest collection of these curious rock formations in Europe. There are 30 glacier mills here – holes in the rock shaped like giant cooking pots, measuring up to 7m (23ft) across and extending up to 11m (36ft) below the surface.
At high altitudes, too, water shapes the landscape – albeit here in its frozen form. The Engadin boasts the mightiest glacier in the Eastern Alps, the Morteratsch Glacier; this vast reserve of fresh water is of great importance for much of eastern Central Europe.