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I once read a Swiss blog where the author commented on Switzerland being the largest country in the world. Coming from a relatively small island in Canada that’s actually the same geographical area as the entire Swiss nation, I balked slightly at that and wondered which school the author attended. Surely I’d be avoiding registering my children there!

But the author went on to say that many Swiss citizens believe they have the largest country in the world because although they are geographically small, they are culturally massive. Where else do you condense four national languages, three distinct cultures and a splash of excellent English into just over 40,000 km²?

He has a point.

With my sister visiting this past January, we took Timothy’s most generous offer and escaped sans enfants for a weekend away. Zena had studied Italian for a few years and her heart was set on stealing away to Italy for a week but unfortunately, days after booking the flight, she lost her job in the American economy debacle and was forced to turn her European Escapade into a more centralized Swiss Scamper. Knowing her heart’s desire was to be immersed in Italian, I started researching Italian-speaking cities within Switzerland for our weekend away. Tocino was obviously the first thought but we eventually settled on a journey through the Alps and a night in Poschiavo.

Poschi…what?

Yeah, that’s what we thought. And I think that’s what went through the SBB Travel Consultant’s mind when I asked him to help us get there. Poschiavo (pronounced poss-KYA-vo) is probably the furthest point one could travel from Basel while remaining in Switzerland. Over 325 km away, it took us six hours to train from Basel to Chur to Samedan to Pontresina before finally ending up in Poschiavo. Just as expected, the world as we knew it transformed into Italian somewhere around Pontresina and my sister was in paradiso.

A typical European snack: bread, cheese and wine...while standing. The non-European thing would be the coffee in a to-go cup (so North American of us!).

Although the trip through the Alps aboard the Bernina Express, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was spectacular, this trip would have been downright excruciating had we brought the kids along. Scenery is just another boring slideshow for most four-year-olds (or even some forty-year-olds, for that matter) and the relief of not having the kids with me crossed my mind more than once.

But with just us to gab and enjoy a bottle of wine, we sat back and took in the ride as the train winded back and forth through 145 km of breathtaking views. We traveled over cavernous viaducts, elegant glaciers, crossed 196 bridges and passed through 55 tunnels. Navigating inclines of up to 70%, the train climbs 2253 meters without the use of rack rails or other engineering tricks and at various spots along the journey, one can look out the window to stare straight down the face of an incredible alp.

Once arrived in Poschiavo, we were greeted by…well, nothing. The quaint village lays between two mountains in the Poschiavo Valley and one can walk the entire distance in less than 20 minutes (yeah, we did that). The stated population is around 3,500 but one local told us only 1,600 people live in the actual town centre. After checking into our hotel (a six-minute walk from the train station, of course), we asked where a local would go for a drink. We were directed to walk out the hotel door, take 10 steps to the left and find ourselves at the local pub, Bar Flora.

I’m positive that in the spring and summer months, this photogenic town would be teeming with sun-filled terrace cafés and charming stone-paved piazzas. Unlike some of the big cities I’ve been to, the locals here seem to take a genuine interest in you and were glad you came. One visit to the town’s watering hole and we were fast friends with the locals; practicing our Italian (or lack thereof), observing the stark differences between our culture and theirs, and learning what it means to be a Swiss Italian verses a German-speaking Swiss (a distinction they were quick to make).

By the time we made our way back to the hotel, it was four in the morning and the entire building was dark. In big-city-girl fashion, I started to panic thinking that we were going to be stuck in the cold while our warm hotel beds awaited our return just inside. But of course, our room key acted as a master and opened up the main doors. Something about that made me smile as I thought of all the busy 24-hour Front Desk’s I’ve encountered. Imagine my delight when the Hotel Chef himself checked us out the next morning, graciously speaking to us in slow, simple Italian — even though he spoke perfect English. The entire experience was more like staying with a family friend, rather than just some hotel in a strange place.

So although there is a time for major sights and world-renowned locales, our little trip to the middle-of-nowhere Poschiavo reminded us that sometimes the best travel experiences are within the hidden pockets of daily life found in small towns, quaint villages and the heart of the locals.

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