Samnaun-Dorf, Herbst 2020. Photo/Foto: TES.

Samnaun, its customs and Vallader free zone and Wintersport

The border town of Samnaun (canton of Graubünden) has a special status. This history dates back to the eleventh century.

The village was first mentioned in a charter of the Lord of Tarasp in 1089. Farmers from the villages of Ramosch and Vna in the Lower Engadin (Unterengadin) populated the valley of Saumnaun.

The fertile climate made farming possible at an altitude of over 1,800 metres (see also the centuries-old agricultural terraces in this region).

They founded Compatsch, Laret, Plan, Ravaisch, and Samnaun-Dorf villages. The villages have baroque or modern catholic churches because the valley remained catholic in 1530 (like Tarasp and Rhäzuns).

Samnaun (and Lower Engadin) belonged to the county of Tyrol until the acquisition by Habsburg in 1363. The villages, including Samnaun, bought themselves free in 1652. They already belonged to the Free State (Freistaat) of the Three Leagues (Drei Bünde) as part of the League of God’s House (Gotteshausbund) led by Chur.

The other two leagues were the Gray League (Graue Bund) and the League of the Ten Jurisdictions (Zehngerichte Bund). In 1803, Lower Engadin became a region of the new canton of Graubünden.


Samnaun had been a customs town for centuries. From 1848 onwards, however, the customs post moved to Vinadi and later to Martina.

Samnaun was only connected with Unterengadin by the alpine passes. Henceforth, the contacts were limited to Tyrol in the winter period. For this reason, the Swiss Confederation granted the town the status of a customs-free zone.

The construction of the road from Samnaun to Martina and Lower Engadin in 1912 did not change this situation for practical reasons.

Saumnaun is still a ‘hochalpinen Shopping-Paradies’, as it presents itself. Indeed, many border visitors from Austria also visit the ‘zollfreie Paradies’ at an altitude of 1,800 metres. The popular winter sports resort of Ischgl in Austria is nearby. At peak times, around 20,000 tourists stay in and around Ischgl and often shop in Samnaun.

However, the village has another trump card. While in other regions of Switzerland, ski resorts open for shorter periods or even close for lack of snow, the village actually expands its ski facilities.

Most of the slopes are at a (relatively) snow-sure altitude between 1 800 and 2 900 metres and, in addition, the area is connected to Ischgl. The region has more than 240 kilometres of slopes, making it one of the largest ski areas in the Alps.

Samnaun is still a duty-free enclave nowadays but is also known for its winter sports facilities and magnifique nature.

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