A publicity stunt by a village mayor in Switzerland this week revealed a personal travel secret that I’ve been keeping for more than three decades. You may have seen the clever PR campaign that was launched a few days ago by the town council of Bergün in the Graübunden region, which instituted a “photography ban” throughout the village. Violators were threatened with a 5 CHF fine. The so-called ban on selfies, Instagram, and tourist photos was lifted within two days (see video below), but the media stunt was immensely successful.
If like millions of other folks you were tempted to research Bergün to discover what the fuss was all about, you now know about this little gem of a town nestled in the Alps along the UNESCO recognized Rhätiche Bahn line. There’s not much to the town except for a handful of shops, a few small hotels, and dozens of ancient houses beautifully decorated with traditional sgraffito plaster work. It’s the kind of place that stirs up all of the stereotypical notions about Switzerland. In fact a version of the classic tale Heidi was even filmed there.
I first discovered Bergün during a hiking and camping trip one summer. Someone told me about an amazing campsite just outside of the village that was situated on a mountainside along a swiftly flowing alpine tributary. At the time, the semi-official campground cost about 2 francs per night for a tent spot, with access to the outhouse and a cold water shower pumped right from the river. I spent that entire summer camping in Scandinavia, Austria, and Switzerland. Many of the campsites were memorable, even spectacular, but that forest camp near Bergün became my go to happy place. It was so special that I selfishly never shared its location.
Now that the secret is out, I wholeheartedly recommend a visit any time of the year; it’s stunning in any season. The village is a popular spot for sledding and skiing during the winter. The fall foliage is gorgeous and the town is blissfully quiet. But my favorite time to visit is in the summer, especially around August 1st. The entire town turns out for a national day festival and at night there’s a torchlight trek up into the mountains. If you do visit, be sure to get up early and head to fabulous Bäckerei Preisig on the village square. Order a pastry and coffee, and grab a table on the little balcony to watch the town come to life.