On the country road and Sömer Route - Hotel "Madrisa" in Gargellen
Bronze age spearheads and axe type implements, objects that were also used as weapons, such as the “Palstaves” that were found on Vergalda and Schlappiner Joch, enlighten us to the secretive darkness of prehistoric times from thousands of years ago and narrate the pass’s former history as a transportation route and also as a stage of warfare between the Montafon and Graubünd areas.
For hundreds of years the pass, which even then was designated by a court’s ruling in the year 1779 as a main highway, was a much used connection between Vorarlberg and upper Italy, being the shortest distance from Lake Constance to Lake Como and further to Milan.
Countless loads of merchandise and over a thousand cattle were annually on their way from Montafon and into Prättigau. From Veltlin, through the Puschlav and the Engadin, then further on to Klosters in Prättigau and over the Schlappiner Joch, came the heavily loaded pack horses, laden with wine, into the valley and continued beyond to the Lake Constance region. When traveling in the opposite direction, this long-distance hiking trail is known today as the beautiful "Via Valtellina" and follows in the footsteps of the former traders known as the "Säumer".
The starting point is the sunny, snow-blessed and delightfully charming tourist village of Gargellen at 1500 meters, high up in the upper Gargellen valley, bordering to Rätikon and Silvretta and in the municipal territory of St. Gallenkirch. Yet little more than a hundred years ago the erstwhile Maisäß or May field boasted just five year-round residents. The busy traffic route over the centuries had resulted in but two Säumer harborages: the "Harborage in Vergalda" also known as the "Tavern at the White Cross" or "Osteria da Croce Bianca", whose paneled room ceilings are adorned with the old tavern sign dated with the year 1782 and the “Zuggawaldhaus”, whose arches are unequaled anywhere else in the valley. On the building’s well is the engraved date 1602 and also the building’s emblem.
At the turn of the 15th century, there was already reported to be a chapel on the right side of the Suggadin where masses were held. Today’s church in Gargellen goes back to the year 1611. Barely finished, it was plundered by enemies from nearby Prättigau, and destroyed. After its renovation in 1644, it was sanctified by the Bishop from Chur, Johann Vl. Five years later David Bertle from St. Gallenkirch, the forerunner of the famous Montafon artist family, created the popular Sebastian Altar.
And then there was also a small Säumer inn named “Rößli” that was situated directly next to the small church. According to the local researcher Ludwig Vallaster, Johann Josef Bahl was of an old Montafon lineage and was the first traceable wirt or host of this small inn, that in 1885 was purchased by the "France-walker" Franz Xaver Schwarzhans from Thomas Tschofen of Schruns. Instead of building the "Roßli" Schwarzhans built the first real hotel in Gargellen with 50 beds in 1889 . He named the hotel after the resounding Madrisa, the powerful and imposing Gargellen valley landmark.
Then taking a holiday came into fashion. The hotel’s clientele arrived from London, Rotterdam and Naples, from Bohemia and Germany; Mr. N. Orlowsky came from Tbilisi in "Transcaucasus", Mr. Boeglin from Paris and a professor of Zoology with a group of students and their alpine guide from Basel. Later on around 1900, Vorarlberg and Schruns families, such as the "Kronen-Mayers", who also were originally Marisa guests, constructed summer houses in Gargellen and spent their holidays here as well.
The manufacturer Richard Sannwald Sr. of Bregenz, acquired the lovely Walser building (which for those days had a completely unusual room height probably due to the builder being very tall), from Ludwig Schreiber, the publisher from Eßlingen and great friend of Montafon who is also mentioned in the introduction of this volume in "Memories of a Summer Guest".
By means of the entertaining notations in the former hotel guestbook of the long time Madrisa regular Winfried Berning, we encounter Hans Bertle again, the Schruns painter who lived in Munich. Berning writes: "Already in 1901: from May 25 - October 3 there are 384 recorded guests. The guestbook entries…occasionally break through to the heights of guestbook poesy. Professor Bertle of the DÖAV (German-Austrian Alpine Society) in Munich appears with the "lieblichen Mädchenblumen" (lovely flower girl); also amongst these notations is one from the independently wealthy Rosel Adam characterizing her professor shamefacedly in Gabelsberger shorthand as “surely the absolute best in the world”.
Dr Karl Blodig, the well known eye doctor from Bregenz, mountain climber and alpine author, who climbed all "listed alpine mountains" some being the first ever scaled by him, had commented in the guestbook on September 1900 as "coming from Gafiers over the Madrishorn 2803 m after 1611 m, then up Madrisa 2774 m and over to Valzifenz and on towards Gargellen" and was accompanied by his family and the English landscape painter and mountain companion, E. T. Compton.