If you need a blast of the great outdoors, head to Switzerland says Adam Jacot de Boinod, but just make sure you pack your head for heights.
insists the lengthy poster on the red pristine airport bus ‘Switzerland Gets Nature’. And it’s true the hills are as alive as ever. Reaching Zermatt by train from Geneva airport, I slipped into neutral as the delights of the countryside passed me by.
Less flashy than Gstaad, St Moritz or Klosters and more extreme, Zermatt is the last stop before the Alps create their impasse. It first came of age when the Englishman Edward Whymper set out to climb the Matterhorn in 1865, the predominant feature that bears down upon the town. This beautiful mountain of Caran d’Ache fame has a majestic presence and mesmeric change of appearance across the day as the clouds descend or lift or fix themselves on its gnome-like snowcap. It’s an impressive 14,500ft high and nearby is the highest cable car in Europe, the ‘glacier paradise’ offering all-year-round skiing.
I stayed at Chalet Les Anges, courtesy of Villas and Apartments Abroad (www.vaanyc.com). Here you don’t see past the slick panels of the gracefully-sliding kitchen doors but somewhere out from which comes the magic. Every dish feels like a little gift with its original presentation. The courses are small, light and delicious.
One morning I decided to conquer the mountain a second way by overcoming my phobia for cable cars. It felt very liberating as my fear melted at the sight of the snowy peaks. I took one to Furi and then onto Schwarzee to feel what it was like to be up amongst the Gods. There were lovely panoramas of snow-capped mountains and precipices. And the freshest of air. I returned to Furi for a lovely walk through the forest to Zum See, a charming hamlet on the Matterhorn Paradise side.
On to Nendaz I stayed at the Chalet Etoile. It’s part of the Hideaways Club (thehideawaysclub.com), membership to which allows access to a portfolio of properties all over the world. It’s in the picturesque hamlet of Les Cleves right up in Haute Nendaz. There’s the freshest of air, the clearest of temperatures and the most stunning of views, across the valley, of a long mountain range and, down below, of the town Sion. At night I felt I could touch the stars and in the morning what an amazing verandah for my breakfast outdoors. David Cameron comes en famille as do others looking to escape the nightclub crowd. Sion airport is soon to be the base of the small skiing-oriented airline PowdAir and the city is a frontrunner for the 2026 Winter Olympics.
For a true dining out treat I highly recommend the passionate creations of chef Loris Lathion and sommelier Romain Arnaud at Le Mont-Rouge. Loris is known also for his variety. ‘If I have to do the same thing for too long, I go crazy” he says. “That is why I change my menu at least six times a year”. Passionate indeed.
With my new-found confidence of getting up mountains by whatever means, I took a cable car up to Tracouet, a spot where the meadows have lovely wild flowers and butterflies flitter. It offers a variety of walks and bike rides. What a great day I spent up in the mountains. Calming, healthy, restorative, invigorating, perfect for kids with expanse and activities. For me it offered the complete unplug and a proper chance for real relaxation.
And watching these mountain dwellers is very infectious. They are unbelievably fit and healthy. I met two people who as a matter of course would be awake at 5am to climb 6,500ft to the top of a peak before roller skiing back down for a day’s work.
I took the romantic walk from my chalet down the piste (before a challenging walk back up) to Restaurant Les Etagnes (lesetagnes.com/en). It’s well-positioned at the bottom of the slopes for all the après-ski crowd and it’s where I had a wonderfully healthy and hearty dinner.
Next to Interlaken and back to German tongues. Set between two of the great mountains, the Eiger and the Jungfrau, and two of the larger Swiss lakes, the Brienzersee and Thunersee, Interlaken’s real delight is its ‘glacier milk’.
My final resting spot was at the town’s foremost hotel the Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa (victoria-jungfrau.ch/en) which has a wide range of international guests who keep coming back. Rather like the town itself the hotel is a convincing blend of old style and the new. Pianos resound beside the library and the pool table. And the hotel’s state-of-the-art Nescens Spa is the perfect way to finish a day up the mountains. I have developed a taste for the ‘white dressing gown’ routine but here they take it to another level. There’s a special route from the lift to the spa.
And finally I took another train en route for my homeward journey. The trains are typical of Swiss excellence. Highly efficient, clean and slick with a very civilised service as the ticket collector reassured me of the time and route which snaked at a enjoyable pace along the picturesque valleys. So stress-free and so much better than hiring a car.
It seems increasingly strange that people are prepared to arrive in hordes to the Mediterranean to search for their overcrowded beach holiday when for children as well as adults there is so much ore variety and opportunities to relax in the sun, take in the fresh air and come back fully restored from a summer holiday in the Swiss Alps. After all Switzerland Gets Nature.
Classic Collection Holidays (0800 047 1064, classic-collection.co.uk) offers three nights at Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa from £1,049 per person. Prices based on two adults sharing a superior double room on a bed & breakfast basis and includes return flights from London Gatwick to Zurich and first class rail transfers.
Seven nights at Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa from £2,416 per person. Prices based on two adults sharing a superior double room on a bed & breakfast basis and includes return flights from London Gatwick to Zurich and first class rail transfers