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For 60 years, the Türalihus, in the tiny alpine village of Valendas, Switzerland, was abandoned. Its lime façade had crumbled; its wooden floorboards warped and rotted away. Teenagers would sneak into its five-story tower—the Tür that gives the house its name—and scratch their names into the bricks. It seemed like an ignominious ending for a building that was built in 1485 and had been, over the centuries, a farmhouse, an inn, a mule station, and a grand estate. Now a new chapter in the history of the Türalihus is being written. In 2007, the Holiday in Landmarks Foundation took over the building as part of a project to restore historic properties as vacation rentals. The foundation offers 33 such rentals around Switzerland, from a 14th-century log cabin in the Germanspeaking canton of Schwyz to a 16th-century château in the French-speaking canton of Réchy. The Türalihus was a jewel of Graubünden, a canton famous for its alpine landscape and ski resorts. “You can read more than 500 years of Bündner building culture in the Türalihus,” says Nancy Wolf, who works for the foundation. After ten years of renovation, the Türalihus opened to guests in 2017.
I recently spent a night at the Türalihus, having traveled through snowcapped mountains to Valendas from Zurich by train. From my window seat in a rear car, I could watch the front cars hug the bends of a clear blue river: the headwaters of the Rhine. I got off at the nearest station, a wooden cabin with red shutters, and walked 20 minutes through wildflowers and cow pastures into town.
Valendas is a tiny place, with a hilltop church skirted by little streets with white and timber homes. Its market had closed that day at 11:30 a.m.; the only other two shops were self-service, where you simply took whatever eggs or cheese or bread you wanted and left the cash you owed behind. It was that kind of village. “You can leave the door unlocked,” the housekeeper of the Türalihus told me as I followed him through the tower door.
He led me into the first of the Türalihus’s two apartments. One living room was clad in panels from the 18th century, including painted floral embellishments on the ceiling. A modern sofa and table cozied up the room without drawing attention away from the centerpiece: a wood-burning stove the size of a sedan. The kitchen had cold stone floors and its walls were blackened from centuries of ash. Despite its darkness, the cooking space was roomy, with a full suite of modern appliances to go alongside the originals, like a stone basin recessed in the wall.
The foundation worked with the Swiss architects Ramun Capaul and Gordian Blumenthal. The duo used traditional materials—lime instead of concrete, for example—but they did not seek to restore the Türalihus to a specific style from its past. Rather, they preserved those details that had survived the centuries and gave a real sense of the building’s age: the low doorways, the flaking paint, the creaking floorboards. “Erosion had laid bare the different layers,” Capaul says. “We wanted to keep the traces of erosion as part of the design. We wanted to keep this aura and show fragments from different times.” The result is a recreation of a historic home that doesn’t merely look old; it feels lived in, for hundreds and hundreds of years.
The Türalihus is not the only reclamation project in Valendas. Across the street, a 16th-century farmhouse has been converted into a restaurant called Gasthaus am Brunnen. It is, in fact, the only place to eat in town. I enjoyed a dinner there of white asparagus and strawberry risotto and finished with a glass of plum brandy from a local distillery. It was everything I needed for a perfect getaway: a mountain village, a perfect meal, and a 534-year-old tower to call my own.
From $1,625 per week; magnificasa.ch