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Ischgl and its smugglers

A tradition with ties to the present

Have you ever asked yourself why there’s a “smuggler’s trail” in Ischgl? Or why the
Zollhaussauna” at Silvretta spa is modelled after a traditional toll booth? 

The answer goes back to an ancient tradition that has left a distinctive mark on Ischgl: the smuggling trade. How did local smugglers move their contraband across the border? And what does the construction of Ischgl’s first ever ski lift have to do with it? Read on to find out … 

An arduous journey

Under Maximilian I, the people of Ischgl were exempt from duties. When these rights were taken from them in 1768, it signified the beginning of the age of smuggling. When times were tough, people from the Paznaun embarked on an arduous journey across summits and mountain ridges to smuggle goods to the Engadin and Samnaun.

Butter, cheese, hides and other local products were transported from the Paznaun across the border to Samnaun, where they were traded for coffee, rice, flour, tobacco and spices. Saccharin, an artificial sweetener, was another popular contraband because it was less heavy than sugar. And considering that a backpack full of contraband weighed up to 50 kilograms, this was quite a convincing argument.

Smugglers and toll keepers

best frenemies

Of course, when there are smugglers, you also need toll keepers. Back then, there were eight toll keepers in the Paznaun, all of them foreigners. The smugglers fondly called them “grass sliders” as their all-terrain capabilities were somewhat poorer that those of the smugglers, who already had wooden skis back then.

For this reason – and probably also because the clever smugglers knew all about the toll keepers’ shift changing times – the smugglers were not often caught. Even if they were caught from time to time, it wasn’t a big deal. After all, a smuggler caught in the act only had to hand over his contraband.

Consequently, the relationship between toll keepers and smugglers was almost friendly. Many of them were seen sitting at the same table at the local inn. And rumour has it that some of the toll keepers even asked their “frenemies” for smuggled nylon stockings for their wives.

From smuggling to tourism

Despite their friendly relationship, the smugglers were always wary of the toll keepers. That’s why they only smuggled their goods in bad weather and poor visibility. Back then, a smuggler’s tour from Ischgl to Samnaun and back took about ten hours.

The smugglers from Galtür had it even worse than that. For fear of the toll keepers, they chose a route across Zeblasjoch, Piz Val Gronda, the Larein Alp and Jamtal valley and back to Galtür. Total duration: almost 24 hours.

Maybe it was also due to this fact that the smuggling trade slowly decreased over the years. Following the growth of tourism in the late 1950ies, many locals got a job and no longer felt the need to smuggle goods to Samnaun.

The smugglers of Ischgl had even more to do with tourism than you might think. After all, Ischgl’s very first ski lift, which was built in 1952 in Brand, was financed with money from smuggling!

The toll booth sauna is calling …

Maybe your next visit to our toll booth sauna will make you think of the arduous journey of Ischgl’s smugglers. And you’ll be glad that your journey to get a cup of coffee at Silvretta spa is significantly less exhausting!

Have a look at the restaurants of Silvretta spa! 

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