Glaciers, gelato and pistes for night owls in Switzerland
By Bernhard Krieger Feb 21, 2012, 3:06 GMT
St. Moritz/Poschiavo, Switzerland - Piz Bernina in Switzerland glints majestically in the moonlight. Like a sleeping giant, the 4,049-metre peak - the highest in the eastern Alps - stands out against the backdrop of a jet black sky.
The lunar light and the stillness of the night create an almost mystical atmosphere at the Diavolezza Berghaus hut which lies 3,000 metres above sea level. Five times a year skiers can sample these slopes on the border between the Engadin valley and the Italian-flavoured valley, Val Poschiavo. The impressive experience is known as 'Gluena Plaina' or Romansh for 'full moon.'
These days any mention of 'Gluena Plaina' around St. Moritz and Poschiavo is bound to refer to the nocturnal ski events which take place on the trendy snow slopes and downhill runs of the Engadin. When the busy daytime activity on St. Moritz's local Corviglia and Corvatsch peaks fades away towards evening, the night owls come out to enjoy the glistening magic of descending the Diavolezza slopes to the valley by the bright light of the moon.
'Skiing when there is a full moon and without any artificial light at all has a fairytale quality to it,' says mountain guide Angelo Baggenstos, recounting the tale of 'the beautiful she-devil' after whom Diavolezza is named. Legend has it that she lived in a mountain stronghold. She liked to bathe in a mountain lake but when hunters and climbers saw her they became besotted with the fairy queen and were often lured to their deaths.
Fortunately, skiing down Diavolezza when the full moon is out is not such a hazardous activity. Once those taking part have got used to pale light and the remarkably loud sound of skis blades scraping on crisp snow, the moderately challenging course is a joy to negotiate.
On cold nights skiers might like to warm themselves up behind the Berghaus in the loftiest outside whirlpool in the alps. The hut also offers comfortable accommodation. After a good night's sleep, skiers can get up at sunrise before whizzing down the glacier to the valley and catching the Rhaetian Railway for a trip to the Italian-speaking, Swiss region of Val Poschiavo.
In springtime the contrast between the two areas could hardly be more pronounced. Sweeping down from the fields of eternal ice on the Diavolezza the visitor is whisked within the space of an hour into a little town with almost Mediterranean flair.
Poschiavo nestles among the snow-capped peaks and visitors tuck into generous portions of locally made ice cream at the numerous street cafes which line stone-paved squares. These are surrounded by handsome, shuttered mansions painted in various pastel hues. In the evenings the local speciality Pizzocheri, a flat-ribbon pasta, is a must for gourmets.