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RESORTS THEN AND NOW

Just a few miles from glitzy St. Moritz, the cultural heart of this Swiss ski region beats quietly in Pontresina. 

The history of the Swiss resort town of Pontresina is inextricably linked to its glamorous neighbor, St. Moritz, which lies five miles away. Pontresina has always played second fiddle to St. Moritz, which was the cradle of winter sports in Switzerland and hosted the Winter Olympics in 1928 and 1948. 

Today, St. Moritz is closer in spirit to Monaco, an outpost of the uber rich. But take a 10-minute drive along the Val Bernina, the high-altitude valley that branches off the Upper Engadin Valley, and you’ll discover the cultural heart of the region in Pontresina. Much smaller than its glamorous sibling, the town lies at 5,822 feet elevation and is laid out on a long ridge on the south-facing shelf of Alp Languard mountain. It is subtly elegant, and redolent of the Belle Epoque with its cobblestone streets and pastel-colored stucco houses. 

Many of these quaint buildings, which date back to the 17th century, are decked out in s’graffito, the stenciled plaster designs that are hallmarks of the region. The word itself is the origin of the term “graffiti” and the designs are of striking geometric patterns, fish, stars and whimsical beasts, along with sundials etched onto the sides of the homes. 

The locals greet each other not with “Gruezi,” the Swiss German greeting, but “Allegra,” which is how one says hello in Romansch, the Latin-based mountain language. Less than 70,000 people still speak Switzerland’s fourth language (after German, French and Italian) and Pontresina is a bastion of Romansch. If you paid attention in 10th grade Latin class, you will be amazed at how much you can decipher.

Pontresina offers astonishing panoramic views of nearby mountains, the Roseg Glacier and the pistes of Corviglia and Corvatsch that rise up behind St. Moritz. Surrounding this genteel, well-heeled town are pine and larch forests. It’s an alpine landscape that was be

loved by Italian-Swiss artist Giovanni Segantini, who spent much of his life painting it.

 The main ski areas of Pontresina are Lagalb and Diavolezza, the latter resembling a giant, undulating meringue and offering glacier skiing as early as October and running as late as May. Closer to Pontresina is the Morterasch Glacier, the largest glacier by area in the Bernina Range of the Bündner Alps. There’s a 10km route along the glacier from Diavolezza, the longest glacier ski in Switzerland. So famed was the glacier that it was painted in the 19th century by Albert Bierstadt and drawn by John Singer Sargent. But what once was an attraction for Victorian visitors is now a poster child for vanishing glaciers. It has retreated nearly two miles since the late 19th century and in the past few years, the Swiss have enlisted snow guns to try and save the glacier from melting further...

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