Prettier than the French Alps, closer than the States, credited with being the home of modern slalom skiing, and with some of the best powder and off-piste skiing you can find, it’s easy to see why the Swiss Alps are popular with Brits seeking their annual fix of snow and fondue. I’ve done my fair share of skiing. Having a Norwegian mother, not learning to ski was never an option — it’s often said that Norwegians are born with skis on their feet. My mother can confirm that is not true, but what is true is that some of the best downhill skiing I’ve ever experienced has been in the Swiss Alps.
These days, it’s not just about the skiing. Resorts like St Moritz offer everything from ice cricket and skeleton bobsleighs to shopping worthy of Bond Street. Each of the many resorts has its own identity, so it’s worth working out exactly what you want from your holiday before you book.
For those of you who want more than just skiing, or are holidaying with non-skiers, St Moritz will be right up your street. The original Alpine resort, which first hosted British visitors in winter in 1864, St Moritz has developed into the winter sports capital of Switzerland. It’s the home of the Cresta Run, and makes the most of its fabulous location on Lake St Moritz by putting the frozen water to unusual use over the winter. In January, it hosts the annual St Moritz Polo World Cup on Snow. The lake also plays host to greyhound racing and cricket, so check to see what’s on when you’re going.
St Moritz might have gained a reputation for being pricey, glitzy and full of Russians, but don’t let that put you off. There’s fantastic skiing to be had, particularly if you can drag yourself away from the Corviglia slopes closest to town, and explore Corvatsch or Diavolezza-Lagalb, which are often quieter and have better snow.
If you’ve managed to make it through the recession with your wallet unharmed, La Marmite is the restaurant of choice on the slopes — the ‘highest European gourmet restaurant’, with caviar and truffles on everything from pizza to mashed potato. Post-ski, Café Hanselmann is the place to rest your weary bones and prepare for another round of champagne and caviar.
The most famous hotel is Badrutt’s Palace Hotel — known in the resort simply as ‘The Palace’. It is pricey, but has its own ski school and seven in-house restaurants, including a Nobu. It also owns the popular Chesa Veglia restaurant, whose pizzas are said to be second to none in town. If you have the energy, Dracula Club is the most exclusive place in town, a members-only establishment founded by Brigitte Bardot’s playboy ex-husband, Gunter Sachs. Alternatively, if you’re a whisky aficionado, try The Devil’s Place, which claims to have the world’s largest collection: more than 2,500 choices.
If you’re after something quieter and less flashy, and the words ‘Swiss Alps’ conjure up images of yodelling goatherds, Klosters is sure to be your cup of glühwein. Despite its visits from Wills and Harry, this laidback alpine village has remained true to its farming roots. Smaller and cosier than neighbouring Davos, Klosters isn’t about five-star hotels — it’s more of a jeans and a jumper place. In terms of skiing, the village is perfectly located at the base of the Parsenn mountain, which offers some of the best slopes in the area. On the other hand, the Madrisa mountain in the Klosters valley boasts great slopes for beginners and children. Klosters also offers plenty of options for eating out on the mountain: Schwendi Ski und Berghaus is just one example, serving delicious traditional Swiss food.
If you’re after après-ski, however, be warned — Klosters isn’t a big party town. Gaudy’s Graströchni by the base of the Gotschna cable car is always good for a post-ski beer, while the Casa Antica club is a favourite of the likes of Prince Harry and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson. Popular dinner spots include the Chesa Grischuna or the Steinbock, while the Pizzeria Al Berto is always a favourite, especially with families. For fine dining, your best bet is the Hotel Walserhof, a favourite of Prince Charles, which has just undergone a renovation and is due to reopen in December. It gets booked up early, especially in high season.
Klosters offers numerous options for hotel accommodation, but Hotel Chesa Grischuna offers some of the most traditional Swiss décor — it was built by local craftsmen. If you’re after massages and saunas, the smartest hotel is the Hotel Vereina.
For young ’uns who want to party hard by night and ski even harder by day, Verbier is the place. It has retained its reputation for great skiing while developing a vibrant après-ski culture. If you want to stick to the pistes, Verbier probably isn’t for you, but boarders and more experienced skiers will love the challenging couloirs and moguls. On the other hand, if you fancy the challenge of heading off the beaten track for the first time, it’s a great place to start, with helpful classes from several independent ski schools. Try the Warren Smith Ski Academy for your first off-piste experience, or Powder Extreme to step things up a notch.
After a hard day on the slopes, head to Pub Mont Fort for the biggest and best après-ski, which serves (relatively) well-priced beer, and hosts all the big parties. The Hotel Farinet bar is another option, guaranteed to be packed and messy any night of the week. When you’ve had enough, check out Verbier’s first pop-up restaurant, the Pot Luck Club, which will be open from December until next April. After that, if you’ve still got the energy, head either to the Casbah, where most après-skiers tend to end up, or the Farm Club, which, despite its prices, has queues around the block on Friday and Saturday nights. A new addition to the scene, opened last season, is an outpost of Chelsea’s infamous club Public. The London version has closed, but the Swiss one is still going strong.
Although accommodation is mostly catered chalets, if you’re after a hotel, you can’t do better than the Hotel Nevai. With its modern, fresh interiors and sushi restaurant, it’s a world away from chalet-style kitsch. This year, the Nevai will be opening a sister hotel, the Hotel Cordée des Alpes, which promises a state-of-the-art spa and a ‘boot-room concierge’ who will ensure that you get the perfect fit before hitting the slopes.
The latest addition to the Swiss ski scene is Andermatt, nestled in the heart of the Alps and easily accessible from Lucerne and Zurich. A buzzing resort in the Forties and Fifties, it seemed to lose out to larger resorts in the decades that followed, but has retained a number of loyal fans — many of them Swiss city-dwellers up for a weekend on the slopes — who think of Andermatt as something of a hidden gem. Change is afoot in this quiet resort, because an ambitious development is in the works. Six new four and five-star hotel and apartment properties are being built, the first of which will be the Chedi Andermatt, which opens in December next year.
Andermatt has the goods to be the next major resort — the Gemsstock mountain offers fantastic off-piste skiing, large snowfalls and some of the best views in the Alps, making it a resort to keep an eye on.