The hills are most certainly alive in Switzerland, one of Europe’s supreme skiing destinations. Visit this picturesque Alpine country and you may well have problems tearing yourself away. Switzerland, home to some of the world’s most delectable chocolate, fluffiest St Bernards and some of the most striking landscapes on earth is not just beautiful …it is utterly breathtaking. Yes, it’s true, the high altitudes may have something to do with your gasping for breath at times, yet it is the purely unspoilt environment which leaves most visitors simply dead in their tracks. Unlike skiing centres in North America, European ones have prioritised that Mother Nature take centre stage: you’ll see no modern looking buildings here, and most skiing hubs are completely car-free (in order to maintain air purity), making them some of the most unique and alluring havens one could visit.
Want to play in the snow on your next vacation? Then what are you waiting for!? Head to Switzerland in the height of the European winter and you could be privy to some of the most pristine skiing fields in the whole continent.
Following is a guide to some of the most prestigious, and almost ridiculously beautiful, destinations in the country.
The southernmost skiing hub in Switzerland, and by far the most popular, is Zermatt. Nestled in a deep gorge and flanked by some of the most striking peaks in the country, Zermatt is a picture-perfect gem. Home to the Matterhorn, often considered the most photographed mountain in the world, Zermatt enjoys a healthy tourism industry all year round. Hikers, mountaineers and mountain bikers converge here in the summer and spring, while the terrain gives way to advanced skiers in the chilly wintertime. The strict environmental and protection code of Zermatt means the minute village seems stuck in a time warp! The lack of fuel-motorised traffic and the myriad of characteristic wooden chalets do a great job in keeping Zermatt on top of ‘the most charming resort town’ list.
Skiing in Zermatt can be a logistical challenge, with the complex system of chairlifts and gondolas transporting you to over a dozen slopes, including Stockhorn, Riffleberg and Testa Grigia. Keeping yourself close to the action, near the Matterhorn Express Lift, is a great way to maximise your time and minimise your hassles.
One of the most charming hotels in Zermatt would have to be the small, family-run Hotel Antares, located right next to the lifts. The four-star treasure carries the distinguished Alpine look impeccably, and offers guests delightful service and amenities among glorious surroundings. We particularly love this hotel because it is a little away from the sometimes raucous nigh-time celebrations of the city centre, yet close enough that a walk into town for some daytime shopping or sightseeing is easy and convenient.
The hotel’s spa, which includes a sauna, steam room and Jacuzzis does a marvellous job of relaxing your tired muscles after a hard day’s fun, and you can also enjoy an invigorating massage or chill out on one of the relaxation beds with a hot tea and a good book. Please do be aware that Swiss, German and Austrian visitors are somewhat uninhibited when using the spa, and will do so completely naked. Feel free to request the personal use of one of the steam rooms for you and your family, and the hotel manager will be more than happy to oblige, albeit at an extra cost.
Offering supreme food (special dietary needs met upon request), a wonderfully quiet yet convenient location and a thoroughly splendid service, the Hotel Antares is ideal if travelling to Zermatt as a couple or small family.
Base of the highest peaks in Switzerland, and the utterly impressive Mt Titlis, Engelberg sits in the bosom of the Urner Alps, and is yet another captivating resort town worthy of its incredible popularity. Close to Zurich and Lucerne, Engelberg’s prime position make it an effortless destination to reach, and a wonderful base should you want to do more on your Swiss vacation than just ski.
Not suitable for beginners, the Mt Titlis fields reign supreme with advanced skiing aficionados, and include over 82km of slopes. Its longest run is an adrenalin pumping 12km, and boasts a vertical drop of over 2000 metres! Having said that, Engelberg is also the centre for varied winter fun, and you can take a sleigh ride, rent a snow scooter or take various hikes around the superb peaks. The nearby Glacier Park also provides plenty of entertainment and activities for those who do not wish to see their lives flash before their eyes at dizzying speeds, and prefer to enjoy life at a much slower pace.
One of our favourite hotels in Engelberg would have to be the Sporthotel Eienwäldli. This most unassuming hotel, with a most unremarkable name, gives most 5 star joints a real run for their money. Yet again, this treasure is not right in the centre of town, so gifts visitors supreme tranquillity, and a chance to enjoy the mindboggling views in peace and quiet.
Long renowned in Engelberg for offering the best amenities in town, the hotel boasts a heavenly spa, superb Swiss specialties in their intimate restaurant, an adjacent golf course and a tremendous service. Whatever it is you want to do, see, experience, savour or organise on your Swiss vacation, the Bünter family will go to great lengths to arrange.
The family-run Eienwäldli is currently closed for reservations, yet it will re-open its doors in the first week of December 2012, and you’d be well advised to be among the first to experience the hospitality and amenities of this great Swiss institution.
If you really can’t wait that long to visit (and who would blame you?) then head to the Spannort Hotel, an equally superb choice for your Engelberg vacation. Steffan and his family will welcome you with open arms, and you’ll be treated to some authentic Swiss hospitality. The Spannort is delightfully decorated, boasts a relaxing spa, and packed breakfasts or lunches can be organized by the kitchen staff.
The half-board option includes varied and delicious dining experiences, and the staff’s attentiveness will ensure all your wishes are graciously accommodated.