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Captivating Chur: A Day in Switzerland's Oldest Town

The picturesque city is surrounded by tall snow-capped mountains, charming streets and hidden corners waiting to be explored.


Captivating Chur: A Day in Switzerland's Oldest Town

Some trips plan themselves and everything comes together so easily. But often that doesn't happen and what we initially thought we'd plan, changes. Sometimes more than once. My trip to Switzerland in February 2024 was changed multiple times before everything finally fell into place.

I knew I had to get from Rome to France and that I wanted to take a scenic route. After initially planning on making my way to Montreux, I spoke to a local who said it might not be worth it so I went back to the drawing board. I started looking into taking a scenic rail journey and the Glacier Express stood out. Before landing on Chur, I'd looked up a few of the towns along the Glacier Express' route. A few options presented themselves including ending at Andermatt where it'd be easier to catch the train to Geneva and from there, enter France. But Chur stood out and the more I learnt about Switzerland's oldest city, the more I wanted to see it.

The picturesque city is surrounded by tall snow-capped mountains, it offers plenty of options in terms of accommodation and restaurants, and it even has a few old town audio guides - something that greatly interested me considering my line of work. The old town is pedestrianised so I knew I could spend plenty of time walking around and exploring its charming streets and hidden corners.

Where to stay in Chur

The city has plenty of accommodation options from cheap and cheerful budget hotels and hostels to more luxury accommodation. Travelling on a budget and solo, I opted for a single room at the historical Hotel Stern Chur. The 300 year old hotel offers cozy living, and a simple and tasty breakfast buffet. The rooms are decorated with wooden accents, giving it a distinctive Swiss-alpine feel.

The room was small, as I expected it would be but generally, it was comfortable. Despite the cold outside, I felt perfectly warm. The bed could have been better. I ended up sleeping on the opposite end to the way it was made as I felt the bed dipped a little. The internet connection was strong throughout the hotel and the breakfast buffet was enjoyable with a selection of meats, cheese, spreads and bread amongst the options available.

Would I stay there again? Yes, without a doubt but I'm always open to staying somewhere new and experiencing something different.

Exploring Chur's Old Town

While simply walking the streets on your own is a perfectly enjoyable way to spend an afternoon or morning, you'll miss out on a lot of the stories that the historical Old Town has to tell. You can book an in person tour guide, study up on the history and go exploring on your own, or you can take the Chur City E-Guide. I chose the latter and have rather mixed feelings about it in the end.

I love the freedom of exploring on my own and working for a company that helps individuals create and distribute audio tours, I have a good sense of what works. The Chur E-Guide leaves a lot to be desired in terms of its useability. The app downloaded quickly enough but then signing in, it wouldn't load, taking multiple tries and over 30 minutes to download the media files included in the app. I made sure to download it while still in Cape Town with a good internet connection. Once in Chur, I headed to the starting point, which wasn't obvious, and then started the Best of Chur tour.

The content was wonderful and I got a sense of the Old Town and all its charming corners as I explored its side streets where history unfolded. The functionality of the tour wasn't great. Directions from one place to the next weren't provided so when two streets were close together, it wasn't always clear where to go by looking at the map. I also had to reload the tour repeatedly because after listening to each audio file, I couldn't get back to the map.

The Best of Chur is a 90 minute, 1.6km walk that takes you from the centre of the Old Town to the start of the mountainside. On the walk, you get to see and learn about the Town Hall, the Church of St Martin, Arcas square and the cathedral. It gave me plenty of opportunities to photograph the Old Town and after the tour, I felt confident enough to walk around on my own, without worrying about getting lost.

Chur Carnival

The Swiss Fasnacht or carnival takes place every year, usually in February, and celebrates the ending of winter and the onset of summer. The carnival runs over a few days and can be enjoyed in cities across the country. I was lucky enough to be in Chur for one of their carnival days.

I'd spent the morning exploring the city on an audio tour and wondered 1) why it seemed so quiet and 2) if the occasional outdoor band practice that I could see and hear was common place. I later learned that the buzz in the air, that grew with each passing hour, was the city gearing up for the carnival parade that would start at 2pm.

With this newfound knowledge, I had two options. I could stay in Chur's Old Town and see what all this festive fuss was about and join the gathering crowds lining the streets. Or I could take the opportunity and take the cable car up to the Brambrüesch plateau and enjoy the scenic mountain top all to myself.

Feeling cheap, I let my curiosity around the carnival get the better of me and joined the lively locals lining the Old Town's main street. I watched as more and more people arrived, dressed up in various costumes from the Joker and Harley Quinn to Vikings and Super Mario. I didn't know what to expect but a procession of decorated floats and musicians dressed in elaborate costumes handing out sweets wasn't on my list. The atmosphere was electric as the three hour parade took place. Watching the crowd - whole families, packs of friends, and loved-up couples - shouting and chanting as they threw confetti over the procession, I couldn't help but smile and think of the pre-Tour de France parade.

All in all, I was glad I participated in the fun and managed to nab a few of the sweets being thrown into the crowds.