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Mountain lakes in Graubunden, Switzerland. (ThinkStock)

What to do in Graubunden

It has soaring peaks, vast glaciers…and palm trees. It's home to perhaps the most famous ski resort in the world, and many of its towns bask in 300-plus days of sunshine annually. Cradled by Italy, Austria, and tiny Liechtenstein, Graubunden may be best known for the be's and wanna-be's who flock to its über-upscale resorts. But families who venture here are rewarded with fascinating culture and thrilling exploration—and they'll find freebies and deals despite the area's status as an A-list destination.

St. Moritz isn't for the budget conscious, but it has charms—some that won't cost you your firstborn child. There are more sports than a family could tackle in one vacation, among them windsurfing, kite surfing, sailing, tennis, mountain biking, tobogganing, and, of course, skiing. While it won't mitigate astronomical hotel costs, the Holiday Fun Pass (primarily available in July), gets kids ages five to 15 into 200 activities, from baking and circus arts to sleeping in a haystack and learning the ancient craft of sgraffiti. But the reason to visit St. Moritz is the Glacier Express, the train that travels 169 miles over 291 bridges and through 91 tunnels between Zermatt and St. Moritz.

In Chur, canton capital, catch another famous train, the Bernina Express. It makes the highest railway crossing in Europe en route to Tirano, Italy. Families who'd rather drive a stomach-churning route should plot a course to the Via Mala (translation: Bad Road). Winding through Switzerland's deepest gorge, it's considered one of the great drives in Europe (photo ops galore).

While St. Moritz loves the rich and famous, three other resorts are all about families. Popular for more than a century, Arosa has fun themed trails like the 1.4-mile Planet Pathway on which you cross an earthbound solar system, and the Wander Picture Book Pathway with its famously friendly squirrels and ten storyboards. For a mountain bike challenge, the ride is Hörnli to the valley.

Klosters is a favorite of British royalty yet low-key and family friendly. It has over 22 miles of cross-country ski trails, kids' clubs—including one at family oriented Silvretta Park Hotel, and night skiing (a teen favorite). At the town sports center get an introduction to that oddest of Olympic sports, curling.

Lenzerheide isn't just for skiing; it's for swimming, windsurfing, sailing, water bikes, and beach volleyball—all at Lido Lake Heid. On the Globi Hiking Trail families have seven route options, some accommodating strollers, all with activities along the way.

Pontresina, a short hike from St. Moritz but more down to earth, is a walker's paradise. Easy hikes include Pontresina to Samedin, about 3.4 miles; and Ospizio Bernina to Alp Grum, a 2.8-mile trail accessed from a stop on the Bernina Express. There's also Morteratsch Glacier, just three miles roundtrip but thousands of years of glacial history.

Finally, Graubunden is home to Switzerland's only national park. The Swiss National Park offers a cool nature trail for and plenty of hardy hiking, too. Start at the National Park House headquarters in Zernez.

Where are the palm trees? In the Porschiavo Valley, with the vineyards.

Tips: Ask if your resort has a tourist card. The Arosa Card, for example, is free to resort guests in the summer and provides complimentary access to gondolas and cable cars, among other things.

Klosters and other family resorts have baby gear for rent so you don't have to lug yours from home. Reserve strollers, high chairs, baby backpacks, and more—but do it in advance.

Recommended Side Trips: Austria, Liechtenstein, Ticino, Bernese Oberland

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