Produced by SilverKris for Switzerland Tourism
Luxury and adventure beckon in the Swiss Alps, especially during wintertime. The landscape is a picture of half-timbered wooden chalets, snow-laden evergreens and a virtually uninterrupted horizon of icing-sugar-coated summits.
It’s little wonder that Switzerland first invented winter tourism, back in the 1860s with the opening of world-first ski lifts and grand dame hotels. Ever since, the Swiss have made mountains accessible in a way no one else has. This has given rise to envy-inducing hotels, mighty sightseeing trains, lifestyle spas and all manner of outdoor pursuits.
So whether you’re a seasoned skier, a first-time snowboarder, a meditative snowshoer or just someone looking to luxuriate in stunning surrounds, there’s unparalleled beauty and options to explore. Here are some of the highlights the Swiss Alps have to offer.
The Bernese Oberland, encircled by seismogram-ragged peaks in the near-centre of Switzerland, has legends to match its scores of ski runs. This is the home of world-famous mountains the Jungfrau, Mönch and the Eiger, as well as the lakeside drama of Interlaken and the cliff-edge thrills of mountain villages Mürren, Wengen and Grindelwald. On top of all that, the Jungfrau Region is home to the highest-altitude railway station in Europe (the Jungfraujoch) and the new Eiger Express tri-cable gondola.
Despite such a grand introduction, the Jungfrau Region remains a low-key ski area, even if the numbers – two valleys, three mountain ranges, 200-plus kilometres of pistes – suggest otherwise. Unlike St Moritz or nearby Gstaad, this is a destination for discovery more than shopping or sitting idly by in the sun (though, you can do that too). The mountains demand you take part, and that means ski touring, winter hiking, sledging, curling, cross-country skiing and even winter trail running.
With the onset of evening, Grindelwald is ground zero for chilled-out restaurants and bars. This laidback vibe is the result of the many dreamers planning to get up at dawn the next morning, so – in a nutshell – it’s really what you make of it. Try the Bus Stop Bar, a toned-down pub run out of a school bus, or Avocado Bar for beers and live music sessions, not green fruit.
If feels as if all roads in the canton of Valais lead to Zermatt – and for good reason. The car-free resort is anchored to the southwest by the country’s most famous peak, the unsurpassable Matterhorn. That alone brings in trainloads of sightseers and skiers into this high Alpine plateau to snowshoe, snowboard and careen through an acutely Swiss landscape. Indeed, the entire resort is laid out to maximise the Alpine views, and the ski area – connected to Cervinia over the Italian border – has exquisitely framed slopes, world-class gondolas, a silvery glacier and epic off-piste for thrill-seekers.
But it’s not all about the winter sports. When the snow clouds gather, there are luxury spas to indulge in and the historic Gornergrat Railway, which snakes through firs and along mountain contours to an insanely beautiful view of the Gorner Glacier and observatory-like Kulmhotel. Even if you aren’t a skier, a trip to Matterhorn Glacier Paradise at 3,883m – Europe’s highest mountain station with an ice cave and restaurant – is intoxicating.
Every hotel in Zermatt is essentially a restaurant, and that makes the resort the ultimate choice for foodies. Two words sum it up: Michelin star. For creative dishes, After Seven at The Backstage Hotel is laudable for both its here-and-now Swiss cuisine and its commitment to local producers and sustainability. Alpine Gourmet Prato Borni at the Grand Hotel Zermatterhof is more a splashy white-gloved affair. Here, dishes include extravagant rabbit tartare, roe deer with foraged chanterelles and – that rare thing – Swiss salmon.
Crans-Montana is the realm of sunshine, with its south-facing slopes, and a honey-pot for those who love a goggle tan. Only two hours east from Geneva in the northeastern corner of Valais, the mountain area is ideal in the early winter when many other resorts are still in the shade from the low-rising sun. More importantly, it offers some of the most invigorating downhill slopes in the Alps, arresting the eyes with views of both distant Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn.
But that’s only part of the picture. Crans-Montana is also a stronghold for families, foodies and those keen to try something new. Try the 15 trails in the largest marked ski touring park in the Alps, or test your mettle skiing the Women’s World Cup downhill run, now considered to be the toughest race on the circuit. For guiltier pleasures, the resort’s famed après ski means sampling local delicacies from some of the 90 restaurants is also compulsory. Many have expansive sun terraces from which to enjoy Crans-Montana’s most abundant natural resource.
This winter season sees the debut of the new Alaia Lodge, a lifestyle hotel and sister to action sports park Alaia Bay in nearby Sion. Come in spring, and you’ll be able to ski, then surf afterwards until 10pm. Another newcomer is Six Senses Crans-Montana, a see-or-be-seen place with the newest restaurants, bar and – you guessed it – sun terrace in the resort. This season, wine tasting here will be de rigueur.
For more on Switzerland’s many stunning ski resorts, and other travel ideas in the country, visit the Switzerland Tourism website.