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Alfa Romeo Swiss Grand Tour: St. Moritz and its Chic Valley

Like any charming adventure, there is treasure to be found. Ours is called Engadin, and to find it we climbed two mountain passes, the Julier and the Bernina

Words Alessandro Giudice

Photography Alessandro Barteletti

Video Andrea Ruggeri and Anthony Egas

Swiss Grand Tour is a project to discover itineraries driving classic Alfa Romeo cars, in partnership with Astara, the distributor and importer of the Brand in Switzerland.




from Thusis to Bernina Pass


87 km

Travel time

1h 45min

Driving pleasure




The place to be in the Swiss Alps is called Engadin, a 90-km-long valley south of the Grisons, the largest canton in the Swiss Confederation. To get there, we decided to start from one of the busiest roads in central-eastern Switzerland, the A13 linking Zurich to Bellinzona, passing through Chur. Along the motorway, we came across Thusis, a small town of three thousand inhabitants built on the banks of the raging alpine river Nolla, which flows into the Hinterrhein, the departure point of the Cantonal Road no. 3 that leads towards Engadin crossing the Julier Pass.

[click to watch the video]

(Map by Sansai Zappini)

Before setting out, it is well worth taking a stroll among the narrow streets of Thusis, lined with buildings from different eras and a wealthy past; the beautiful houses in the Neudorf neighbourhood, partly rebuilt after the great fire in 1845, looking over the main road running through the town, bear witness to this. Other points of interest include the late Gothic Church of Our Lady, the Schlössli - a “small castle” in both name and deed, the fountain in honour of the works done on the spectacular Viamala Gorge, which runs along the Hinterrhein with sheer walls up to 300 metres high. In addition to the beautiful landscape and the wealth of foot- and cycle-paths which make it a popular destination for cycling and trekking fans, Thusis’s fame is also due to its fortunate, strategic geographical position, at the foot of some major mountain passes for both goods and humans, including the Spluga, the San Bernardino, the Albula and, of course, the Julier.


The four-wheeled star of this Alpine adventure, the magnificent 1962 Alfa Romeo Giulia Spider that Ronnie Kessel, the enthusiastic young owner of Kessel Group in Lugano, put at our disposal after a thorough refurbishment. The fact of having this car as our travel companion also offers a curious coincidence with the Italian name of the Julier Pass, “Passo del Giulia”. Having said this, we set off early, and the fairly chilly climate made us keep the hood down, at least as we drove towards the Julier. We passed through a long series of tunnels dotted along the Cantonal Road no. 3 from Thusis to Tiefencastle, where there is a turn-off for the Albula Pass. Our route in any case continued along the main road for another 35 kilometres through sweeping, scenic valleys where long, winding roads run up and down hill, interspersed with some wonderful panoramic views. The peaks of Piz Spegnaz and Arblatsch on the right and, after Savognin, the Marmorera Dam and reservoir.


A couple of kilometres after the reservoir we come to Bivio, a small town at the foot of the Julier, whose first steep and narrow bends can clearly be seen from a distance. From an altitude of 1770 metres we climb to the pass at 2200 metres, enjoying both the spectacular views and the pleasure of driving. The perfect scenario for celebrating the features of a car like the Giulia Spider: agile and comfortable, it is ideal for admiring the views with the top down, even though for the time being we still have the hood up. The driving rhythm of the Stelvio Quadrifoglio accompanying us was quite different: it climbed like a tiger, gripping every bend with its four-wheel drive charging along the tarmac with all the 520 HP of the V6 biturbo engine. The road is perfectly tarmacked, and our surroundings run from the peaks to the valleys, still white with snow.


Having reached the pass, the downward journey on the other side is quite smooth, with wide bends and long straight roads. We quickly cover the seven kilometres separating us from Upper Engadie, along a kind of plateau that however becomes steeper towards the end when, on a left-hand bend, the last of the descent and just before a short tunnel, we find ourselves overlooking the spectacular Lake Silvaplana, one of the four in the valley. And here, with the temperature slightly higher, we are tempted by the Giulia’s spider soul and finally take the hood down. Running along the lake fed by the River Inn, we arrive just in time at the “pearl of the Engadin”, St. Moritz, the ideal place for showing off the timeless elegance of the two-seater Biscione. Since the mid-19th century, when the town was an Alpine village inhabited by livestock breeders, today it has become a chic location dotted with elegant luxury boutiques. During the period when the spa waters of the St. Moritz spring began to attract an international clientèle, two major hotels were built and are still a symbol of the town’s exclusivity: the Kulm, the oldest, and Badrutt’s Palace, today standing alongside the spectacular Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains, on the banks of the lake.


St. Moritz is known above all as a place of entertainment and sport. It has been home to two editions of the Winter Olympics, a famous bobsled run, a skeleton racing track, and snow polo tournaments held on the iced-over lake. This lake also hosts a famous classic cars event: ‘The Ice’, the most extraordinary Concours d’Elegance for classic cars on ice. In addition to these attractions, visitors should also stop at the Segantini Museum, dedicated to the famous Italian painter with the monumental Alpine Triptych. And, talking of great works, running through the town, along the stone wall of the railway station, you can admire the huge installation “Welcome” (29x4 metres), by the US graphic artist Barbara Stauffacher Solomon, who died recently at the age of 95. Leaving St. Moritz along the Cantonal Road no. 27, with the River Inn on our right and heading towards Celerina, we reach a roundabout that meets the no. 28, which takes us to the second pass on our itinerary, the Bernina.


To reach the pass we set off from the slopes of Piz Bernina, which at 4,049 metres is one of the highest peaks in the Grisons, passing through the municipality of Pontresina to the Diavolezza area, which is perfect for skiing and trekking, at an altitude of 2000 metres, and where two cable cars take you to almost 3000 metres. Six kilometres separate Diavolezza from the pass, along a route encircled by the charming landscape of the Rhaetian Alps. After the Bernina Pass, we drive down towards Valtellina. The first border crossing to Italy is the La Motta customs post, the perfect place for ending our magical itinerary through Grisons.


(Portrait by Anthony Egas)

THE COLLECTOR: Ronnie Kessel

The "Giulia Spider"

The splendid shape drawn by Pininfarina for the Giulietta, is proposed again in 1962 with the Giulia Spider which distinguishes itself from the previous model for the wide air intake that crosses the engine hood, the adoption of larger rear lights and above all for the more powerful four-cylinder type 00112 of 1.6 liters and 91 HP. The specimen protagonist of our Tour in the Grisons has been completely restored by Kessel Classic division maintaining its fascinating and rare body color, that light blue so fashionable in the 60s.

The Modern Alfas

The history of my family has always been linked to the brand from Arese. It was an Alfa Romeo that brought my father into the world of racing in a career that then reached Formula 1, and it is with one of the six official Autodelta GTA's that I enjoy participating in some races of the Alfa Romeo Classic championship today. A passion and a strong bond that, analyzing the current models of the Biscione, especially the most performing ones, makes me say that Alfa Romeo has succeeded in the task of preserving the DNA and driving style of its cars.


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