Monday 10 June 2013

smugglers' roost

We ended our vacation with a detour to the isolated village of Samnaun, which was like a little Las Vegas nestled in the Alps or a giant duty-free shop. Due to its remoteness, until 1905 only accessible by road from Austria, it was granted a tax-free status, which it still enjoys though there is a direct route up a steep mountain route with a series of tight and intimidating tunnels that can only be passed one vehicle at a time.
Tankers haul petrol, luxury goods and booze up to the top of the mountains and people flock there to save some fifty Rappen per liter on fuel and realize steep discounts once the VAT is taken away. There are arguments that this sort of break is no longer necessary, since the villagers are not quite so inaccessible and see immense profits from all their visitors but it certainly does create for unique environment, a sort of a land that the law forgot. I did not realize it at the time but when we were lounging about the shores of Lake Lugano, a similar Italian enclave (enjoying the same tax exclusions but for reasons of historical intrigues and not just owing to its isolation) was just to our south—Campione d'Italia, cut off from the rest of Italy only by a few hundred impassable meters and with access exclusively through the Confederation.