Switzerland’s quaint image is more than just a sales pitch: for every one modern self-service cafeteria in Swiss ski resorts there seem to be ten ancient mountain refuges or high-class restaurants offering a full table service. The villages tend to have traditional old buildings, and are often pretty and sometimes car-free. Thanks to innate Swiss conservatism and high environmental awareness, the country’s mountains, woods and lakes have been carefully preserved and are relatively unscarred by development. And they are worth protecting too. There are fifty-seven Swiss 4,000m peaks including the Matterhorn, Eiger and Monte Rosa; and Europe’s biggest glacier – the Aletsch – is also in Switzerland. And where man has made an impact, it’s often to create something that’s worth seeing, whether it’s the huge cable car soaring over the Klein Matterhorn above Zermatt; or Europe’s highest railway station – the Jungfraujoch – above Wengen at 3,454m above sea level; or the Piz Gloria revolving restaurant at Schilthorn above Murren.
Staying in the Swiss Alps
Your hosts, the Swiss, do live up to a few stereotypes. Their worldwide reputation as the ultimate hoteliers is matched only by their famously serious approach to life (they even have a very small book book entitled ‘Tell me a Swiss joke’). But looking after foreign guests has been a way of life here for over a century and they do it very well. Almost everyone you meet speaks English fluently, as well as at least three other languages.
Visitors also benefit from a country that runs like clockwork: public transport is heavily subsidised and organised on the basis that you and your luggage (including skis), can get from pretty much from anywhere to anywhere in comfort regardless of the weather and at times that are likely to be useful, with stress-free connections.
Fortunately the most infamous restrictions imposed on Swiss city-dwellers (never mind not washing your car on a Sunday, how about not flushing the toilet in your apartment after 10pm?) don’t apply to Swiss ski resorts. But the spirit behind them is there and it means that whilst you can find lively apres-ski bars and nightclubs in most Swiss ski resorts if you want them, if you are in your hotel room and trying to get to sleep you are unlikely to be troubled by a thumping disco keeping you awake into the small hours. It just would not be allowed.
Skiing in Switzerland
Below are our guides to the best Swiss ski resorts. Some like Verbier, St Moritz and Zermatt are world famous resorts that need no introduction. Other like Davos-Klosters, Saas-Fee, Villars, Engelberg and the Jungfrau resorts of Grindelwald, Wengen and Murren are equally renowned but only to distinct groups of skiers, and have no wish to compete in the mass market. Then there are the ‘comeback kids’, resorts like Andermatt and Arosa, which were once seen as fallen stars but which have recently invested huge sums of money to expand their ski areas and regain their place in the top league. Visit them quickly before word gets out about their renaissance. There are also all-rounders that are hard to pigeonhole like Crans-Montana and Laax, which often get overlooked. Then there are small resorts in big ski areas that slightly overshadow them ,like Nendaz (lift-linked to Verbier and the rest of the 4 Valleys), and beautiful Champery (part of the vast Franco-Swiss Portes du Soleil). And lastly there are the little-known gems: Leukerbad, Adelboden Meiringen and Val d’Anniviers. They are all in our guide for a reason and offer a welcome escape from factory skiing on crowded slopes above resorts without character.