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Burning "L'Hom Strom" to chase away the winter

Every year the small community of Scuol in canton Graubünden holds a celebration rooted in the region's history. The "L'Hom Strom" festival, one of several with a pagan feel, takes place on the first Saturday in February, and draws locals and tourists alike.

"L'Hom Strom" - or straw man - is a large dummy. The youths of Scuol, which is close to the borders of both Austria and Italy, go from farm to farm collecting straw, which they transform into an enormous effigy. As night falls on the day of the festival the dummy is burned, accompanied by songs to drive away the winter.

Canton Graubünden is a region where culture and tradition survive. It is home to Switzerland's 50,000 Romansh speakers, who speak a language derived from Latin recalling the area's past as the Roman province of Rhaetia.

The language is divided into five very different dialects. But, like many small communities, the Romansh people are able to speak other languages, and most are fluent in German, while many can speak Italian, French or English.

The region is well known for its distinctive architecture. Traditionally, houses are built around the village fountain, and boast a highly individual "sgraffito" decorative style passed down from through the generations.

Such houses were home to several generations of the same family, but many have been converted into holiday apartments for visitors to the region.

Tourism began in earnest in the 1850s, after a road was built through the region. The villages of Scuol and Tarasp developed into spas, famous for their healthy environment and mineral springs.

After a period of decline between the two world wars, the area began to boom as winter sports were developed and the thermal baths experienced a revival as an ideal après ski activity.

In the winter season a ski bus link from Scuol takes skiers into the heart of the Motta Naluns area, which has more than 80 kilometres of pistes; there is also a toboggan run of almost three kilometres that runs from Tarasp back to Scuol.

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