Chur, situated in the Eastern Alps, is deemed to be the oldest city in Switzerland with an eventful history going back thousands of years. Archaeologists have found evidence of settlements on this site first dating back to 3900-3500BC. Following this ancient settlement period, archaeologists have also found artifacts and remains dating from both the Iron and Bronze Ages. The next big culture change was the settlement of the Romans who then built this settlement into a fortified camp named Curia Raetorum.
In the 4th century Chur became the seat of the first Christian bishopric north of the Alps with St Lucius being its first known bishop. The bishopric eventually had total control over the trade route between Chur and Chiavenna however, following the Reformation the bishops started to lose power and finally left the town in 1524. From that period the German language began to take over from Romansh. Despite two great fires, the Thirty Years’ War and plagues over the centuries, the city grew economically until Chur was chosen as the capital when Graubünden became a canton in 1803. Today, Chur is an extremely important city in Switzerland. Graubünden is also known as the Grisons by the French and English.
Chur is situated in the Schanfigg valley and its altitudes range between 2,000 to 5,900 feet above sea level and is virtually surrounded by the Alps, giving the scene its glorious mountain beauty.
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Best time to go
The climate is moderate and has no excessive cold, heat or humidity so visitors can pretty much choose any time of year to go. Summer temperatures range from 18°C (64°F) up to a balmy 28°C (82°F) and winter temperatures range from -2°C (28°F) to 7°C (45°F) depending on the altitude.
Chur has quite a wet climate throughout the year and the driest month of the year to visit the city is March.
Whatever time of the year, it is always recommended that visitors pack a range of clothing such as good walking shoes, sunscreen, sunglasses, sweater and a light raincoat.
Getting around in Chur
Chur is quite a small city and is therefore very easy to walk around especially as much of the old town centre is a pedestrian zone.
The bus station serving the city is situated above the main railway station and travels regularly throughout the city.
Switzerland has a very efficient railway system right throughout the country. From the altitude of Chur, any alpine rail journey will certainly be one of the guaranteed highlights of your holiday here. The main railway station of Chur is served by the Rhaetian State Railways (RhB). The RSR controls the Albula and Bernina railway lines which have been added to the UNESCO world heritage list as superb examples of high altitude engineering construction. The quaint, red trains gently roll their way along the narrow gauge lines through some of the most breathtaking scenery around, as well as gracing many covers of tourist brochures.
Major attractions and sights
Chur has a rich cultural history and the Old Town is packed with lovely architecture which makes a great day out for wandering around this interesting city. All the historical buildings and sites are listed as heritage sites and are of national significance.
St Maria Himmelfahrt Cathedral – The construction of this Romanesque-Gothic building began in the mid-12th century but was only completed over 120 years later. It is Switzerland’s only early medieval Episcopal church. Its altars and the crypt which contains magnificent paintings by Durer and Holbein are of significant interest. Opposite the Bishop’s Palace is the Episcopal Seminary which was built on the foundations of a 6th century monastery. The cathedral was recently renovated in 2007 and is sure to charm anyone who loves architecture.
Raetian Museum – Located in the Old Town, the museum is housed in a building of note. It contains interesting artifacts from the Grisons region which was once part of the Roman province of Raetia dating back to 15 BC. Many of the finds are largely from the Stone and Bronze Age settlements including a bronze beaker jug dating from 500-400 BC which was found in Castaneda and has the oldest engraving from this region. Also on display are coins, pottery, spinning wheels, metalwork as well as fishing and hunting equipment from Grisons history.
Another building of architectural significance is the Cantonal government building situated on Reichsgasse.
Nearby to the government building is the birth place of the Swiss-Austrian artist, Angelica Kauffman who became famous for her neoclassical paintings. She was born in 1741 and was taught to paint by her father. She also picked up several languages from her mother, became extremely well read and excelled as a musician. However, this extraordinarily talented person found painting to be her passion and by the age of twelve she had many prominent people sitting for her.
For art lovers, a visit to the Grisons Museum of Fine Arts will be enjoyable. It houses well over 6,000 pieces of work covering the period from mid-1700 to the present time. Many of the Swiss artists such as Angelica Kauffman and Ferdinand Hodler have their paintings on display as well as artists from the Grisons such as Matias Spescha, Not Vital and Elisabeth Arpagaus.
Away from the museums of Chur, there are many lovely parks for a relaxing stroll or just sitting and watching the world go by. A few of the local parks which won’t disappoint are the Cadonau Pärkli, a small and rather quiet park so not visited by hordes of visitors. This is an ideal place for a bit of ‘me’ time space to relax and read a book. Fontana Park is probably the nicest park but the most popular and largest one in Chur is Quaderwiese Park.
For a more active holiday then there is no better way than by walking locally or for a longer hike then perhaps take the train to Haldenstein and from there a hike to Tamins – this will take about three days and should be done between June and October. Along the route there are huts to stop at to rest and eat and sleep bases at the Calandahütte and Ringelspitzhütte. For the return journey there are buses departing from Tamins back to Chur
During winter, skiing is obviously the biggest attraction with Chur being so high in the alps. The local mountain is Brambrüesch and is a great place to go skiing and is geared for all levels of skiers. The mountain is easy to reach and the ski lift and chair lift takes you up the 2,200 meter high peak to the snow fields. Here, there are a variety of runs available and caters for the different skiing levels. There are approximately 30 km of slopes – all without any artificial snow. Other snow activities besides skiing are snowboarding, snowshoe hiking and tobogganing.
The mountain offers both winter and summer activities for all the family. In summer, the cable car up Brambrüesch allows hikers and bikers to start their journeys. This is where the Alpine Bike Park is located and where the Swiss Bike Championships were held in 2009.
Shopping in Chur
Being the oldest city in Switzerland, it’s inevitable that many top international brand named shops have made themselves part of the trading scene here. The Old Town of Chur and Bahnhofstrasse are where the majority of shops can be found. These include the two big department stores, Coop City and Manor, both on the Bahnhofstrasse. In fact with over 300 shops all in one tiny area, Chur has become the densest shopping area as well as a shoppers’ paradise between Lugano and Zurich.
Eating out in Chur
For such a small city, Chur has an abundance of restaurants catering for all tastes ranging from Italian, Spanish, French, Greek, Portuguese, Japanese, Thai, Indonesian, Chinese, and of course, traditional Swiss cuisine and specialties such as the fondue.
The Calanda on Postplatz is a popular, sociable and unpretentious bar cum restaurant with lots of tables available. The food served is both tasty and hearty Swiss/German and can be washed down with locally brewed beer. For another local Swiss place there is the Gasthaus Gansplatz restaurant on Goldgasse. This restaurant not only provides traditional cuisine but also good vegetarian fare.
However, for international cuisine there are of course so many to choose from, but one of the nicest in particular, as well as having fantastic views, is the Basilic on Susenbuühlstrasse. This restaurant with its charming hostess provides a variety of gourmet cosmopolitan food and should not be missed especially for a special evening out. Another great venue is the Restaurant va Bene. In good weather, you can relax on the sun terrace with a glass of wine while admiring the views of the Plessur river.
The ever popular Obelisco on Vazerolgasse has seen little change to its restaurant over the years and its regular patrons and visitors continually enjoy the varied Italian dishes prepared by Marta, Maria and Manuela in the kitchens. Another Italian venue is the Rosenhugel Restaurant which has a wide choice of Swiss, Italian and Austrian dishes on offer, and for value for money, this popular restaurant is very hard to beat.
Nightlife in Chur
The nightlife in this small alpine city is not as frenzied as in the larger cities in Switzerland however it is still lively. There are still many bars and restaurants to visit once the sun sets and walking around the city in the evening you will come across lots of them. However there are very few venues such as night clubs which stay open all night.
To start off the evening, a visit to one of Chur’s cocktail bars is a must. And a great one to start with is the SchallUndRau. This lovely venue has a warm and cozy atmosphere where you can while away an intimate hour or more sipping one or two cocktails before heading out into the evening. This place is cocktail heaven and you will certainly be at a loss to choose from the more than 200 cocktails on offer from the bar.
A visit to Tom’s Beer Box will also leave you scratching your head when it comes to deciding which beverage to choose from as beers from all corners of the globe are on offer. A lively Spanish bar called Limon y Menta in the old town centre is especially popular with the Latino locals and visitors and shows Spanish and Portuguese speaking films every Tuesday evening.
After 2.00 am when most of the venues have closed only a handful of vibrant venues come alive. Felsnbar and Seeling are the in places where both the locals and visitors descend to continue their partying and dancing for the night.
For a complete change of evening entertainment,then why not give learning the tango a go. With the rise in popularity of this dance classes are on offer in Chur at Studio R: Tango Practica on Thursday evenings. This form of entertainment will certainly be a success guaranteeing fun and laughter all evening long as you learn the intricate steps of this delightful Latin dance … especially guzzling a glass of wine and tempting chocolates which adds to the atmosphere and helping to make these classes so enjoyable.
Of local interest
The fountains of Chur played an important part in its local history. The twenty fountains in the old town each have their own particular story created by the early users of these fountains, giving them their own unique look. It was here that the locals would fetch their water, wash laundry and bring their animals to water from. They were also a centre for socializing where the locals would meet up to discuss and gossip about the latest news. Nowadays these fountains are more of a tourist attraction and by going on one of the guided tours you will get to learn about each fascinating story that makes up this local piece of history.
It was in Chur where the novelist, Johanna Spyri used to spend her holidays and helped to inspire her with the setting for her most famous book, Heidi.