A Highland Fling in the Engadine

The play of light and shadow is quite dramatic over the village of Ftan. Dale Bechtel

Brigitte Lüssi is not the type of person I expect to show me my room at the small pension. She runs the "Sömmiin" in the village of Ftan in the Lower Engadine. But it might as well be in the Scottish Highlands.

This content was published on August 22, 2000 - 13:30

Pictures of the Outer Hebrides and the Isle of Mull line the walls. The sun sets over a mountain ridge. Lüssi sits at her computer and writes, "Darkness spreads over the land and Loch Nevis...".

She's writing about a fictional character, Duncan McCleod, a person, who she says, is torn between England where he grew up and works, and his roots in Scotland.

Brigitte herself, is torn between Switzerland and Scotland. "It's something in my heart and in my soul. I always say half of my soul and half of my heart is in Switzerland and the other half is in Scotland."

She is 48 years old and has visited Scotland every year since 1970.

"I remember my first trip very well. I took the train from London to Inverness and when I woke up it was about half an hour before Inverness and I opened a window and it was exactly how it was in books. I just fell in love with it."

An old wooden writing table stands proudly against the wall in my room. A guide to Scottish clans and a book of Scottish verse sit on top of it. A decorator for Laura Ashley gave advice on the room's flowered linen and curtains.

Brigitte wanted to hang Tartan fabric from the walls but it would have made the room too dark.

She answers the phone and takes a reservation. "Many of our guests have been to Scotland and of course they ask questions about why I like it so much and why I go there so often. And so I always tell them stories about the land and the people."

Brigitte uses the quiet periods of the day to continue her story: "The Sgor na Ciche, one of the most beautiful mountains on Scotland's west coast rises up in front of him. The sun illuminates its eastern slopes, with their nearly insurmountable cliffs. They look like they've been dusted with sugar...Duncan draws cold air into his lungs and admires the beauty spread out before his eyes."

Brigitte's pension sits above Ftan. From the terrace, I see how the last light of the day reflects off the white stuccoed walls of the village houses.

Ftan itself sits above the lush, mountain-capped valley of the Lower Engadine. It's not the Scottish Highlands, but the setting couldn't be more stunning. Lüssi agrees. She's from central Switzerland and first moved with her husband to the region 10 years ago, attracted by the natural beauty.

But she doesn't want to stay. She's determined to emigrate to Scotland, and spend the rest of her days there. Why?

"I can't explain how I feel. It's the same way I feel every time I go back to Scotland."

Her husband Otto returns from gathering mushrooms in the forest. They'll be part of the salad he's preparing for the four-course meal to be served in the pension's small restaurant. He's a gourmet and connoisseur of fine wines, and has developed an appreciation for Scottish whisky.

He likes Scotland even though he doesn't share his wife's passion. He says, however, that he's happy travelling anywhere as long as she accompanies him.

The other guests arrive and take an aperitif before dinner. Otto mixes a special cocktail for two women and I take a single malt whisky. Brigitte plays the perfect hostess, leading the conversation. We make small talk about local Engadiner customs.

When she returns to her story, she's back in Scotland: "The beauty slowly forces its way into his consciousness. 'I will return'. A sudden thought takes hold of him. He knows that he will return and then he'll be free...free and home."

by Dale Bechtel

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