Arosa is the end of the line and is quite happy about it. When the train arrives at the Swiss station, visitors disembark for their holiday or day’s work and swap places with departing passengers. The Rhaetian Railway takes visitors up the 26km line from Chur to Arosa in an hour, the distinctive red train making light work of the 1,000-metre climb, hugging the mountainside as it disappears into tunnels (19 of them) to reappear on bridges spanning gorges (there are 52 bridges).
If you are driving to the resort, the Schanfigg road from Chur to Arosa, which was completed in 1890, has, perhaps apocryphally, 365 turns on its way to the top. The fact that there is nowhere beyond Arosa means that for both the railway and the road, there is no through traffic and, once there, the compact town, with its hotels, shops and attractions gathered around two lakes, doesn’t require further car use. Buses around the town are free.
The population is only about 2,000 in summer, doubling in winter, so Arosa has a reputation for being quieter and more family-orientated than other resorts. Nightlife isn’t the attraction here. What you get, instead, is that peaceful feeling every evening, particularly since most vehicles are forbidden from being driven between midnight and 6am, and during the day you’re as likely to hear the bells on the horse-drawn carriages taking tourists around the town as you are a vehicle (it helps that the buses are electric or hybrid).
So what’s special about Arosa? Well, its setting, to begin with. It sits at about 1,800 metres above sea level, yet its location at the bottom of a wide valley means it is both sunny and sheltered from the strongest winds. By the end of the 19th century, it had become a popular spa resort – hence the building of the railway, which opened in 1914 – and as winter sports increased in popularity in the decades afterwards, it added a winter season to the summer.
In contrast to its better-known Swiss ski resort competitors, Arosa still attracts mostly Swiss and German visitors, and there’s a sense that the town enjoys comparisons with its neighbours while feeling quietly superior. All Alpine resorts mention nature somewhere in their marketing, but Arosa is blessed with its own microclimate. The weekend we visited, it was dropping to a comfortable three degrees below zero at night in the resort, whereas just over 30km away in St Moritz it was a biting 15 below. Once a year, it also has the added advantage of being only 13km (as the crow flies) from Davos, where the World Economic Forum takes place each January.
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