Upper Engadine: Paradise on Earth

The Upper Engadine is one of the most beautiful spots on the planet, with the village of Sils as idyllic as ever, set like a pearl between two lakes. The German philosopher Nietzsche, who spent his summers here towards the end of the 19th century, was certainly not the only one to be captivated by this resort. Whatever the season, the Silserhof is an ideal starting point for both disabled and non-disabled people to enjoy this beautiful mountain world, either by engaging in various forms of sport, or in philosophical contemplation.

With 322 sunny days a year the Swiss Upper Engadine valley is one of the most privileged regions in this regard. It gets its weather from nearby Italy. "Allegra"(joy) is how the inhabitants greet in each other in Rhetoromanic, their ancient tongue and fourth national language in Switzerland but these days they speak mostly (Swiss) German. Sils lies at 1800 m above sea level, surrounded on one side by the Alps and on the other by the glaciers of the Bernina Mountains. There are two parts to Sils; Sils Maria and Sils Baselgia, both of which have picturesque landscapes, spreading out across the plain between Lake Sils and Lake Silvaplana.

The Silserhof was built in 1912 and has undergone a number of expansions since then. In 1978 it was largely made barrier-free. It is sponsored by the Evangelische Jugendwerk in Württemberg, which is why many Christian groups traditionally come here for their holidays. But, says Kurt Siegenthaler, who manages the establishment with the help of his wife Christina, we welcome individual travelers too, who subscribe to our motto; 'vacation - leisure - education'. Of the 41 rooms, six double-rooms have 80 cm wide doors and are therefore perfect for wheelchair access. But all the other rooms too are suitable for most disabled guests, as their washbasins allow wheelchairs to pull right up. The three floors are accessible by an elevator and each floor has disabled washroom facilities. "A group of 40 disabled people stays with us every autumn", says Kurt Siegenthaler, "and we have had no complaints." To ensure comfort for all, the Silserhof also has wheelchair parking spaces in its underground garage, a bath with a hoist, anti-allergy bed linen, and a sauna (sadly, the door to the sauna isn't wide enough for a wheelchair).

"We don't distinguish between our disabled and non-disabled guests", says Kurt Siegenthaler. His ideal guests are flexible people with an interest in sports, who believe in an open exchange with others. What he does not want is a ghetto atmosphere. "At the same time it is not our goal, to become a hotel exclusively for the disabled."

Its prices of around US$55 (44 euros) are extremely reasonable for Switzerland. Groups can get even better prices. Since the Silserhof is very popular, it is essential that you book early, particularly if you're hoping to go in a group. Last-minute offers for individuals or families are published on the internet. The Silserhof has an excellent cuisine, taking into account special dietary requirements for diabetics and vegetarians. If you tell them in advance, special meals can be arranged. Travelers who are used to high-class hotels might miss the à-la-carte restaurant or the daily room service, but note that use of the conference rooms with state-of-the-art technical equipment (for 8-80 people) is included in the price!

Author: Gunther Belitz, HANDICAP, Edition 3/2004