A terrace with a fire pit in the middle surrounded by chairs with cushions and a parasol
 A terrace with a fire pit in the middle surrounded by chairs with cushions and a parasol

Alpine views from a snug Crans Ambassador terrace

In the first installment of our luxury travel views columns, LUX’s Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai checks in at the Hotel Crans Ambassador in Crans-Montana, Switzerland

All holiday locations go through phases of being in and out of fashion. St Tropez, so Bardot-chic in the 1960s, was not a place to boast about in the 1990s, but came back with a bang in the Zeros.

Similarly with ski resorts. St Moritz took a yo-yoing in the cool stakes; Courchevel, always upmarket, was really made by Russian money following French fashion and may have plateaued Klosters peaked with (then) Prince Charles in the 1980s and has faded mildly ever since.

And so to Crans-Montana, a rarity in Switzerland in being a meld of traditional village and newish (late 20th century) resort. All the rage in the 1980s, it faded from the global spotlight (while keeping its loyal clientele, largely drawn from old-school European money) in the ensuing decades as Verbier, opposite and down the valley, grew in stature due to its big off-piste offering.

orange food on a grey plate with sauce

Fresh Peruvian/Asian fusion flavours at La Muña

Now, Crans is coming back. This was evident in our first night at the Ambassador. In the soulful La Muña restaurant, looking out over snowfields to a vista of mountains glowing in the moonlight, the sommelier recommended a Swiss red wine. After sampling it – a delightful balance of spice, delicacy, savoury herbs and black fruits – we asked where was from. “Just here,” was the response, with a smile and a gesture to the snowfields. The vineyards making this magnificent wine were a few hundred metres down the slopes.

Not that have great wine estates (there are a number in the Rhône valley below) is a marker for a hot ski destination, but, as cuisine becomes more local and clients more discerning, the Ambassador is a showcase of how that should work.

Our room – all lavish- cosy Alpine chic, had a breathtaking view over snowfields and the Rhône valley to the high peaks of the Valais, and a broad balcony big enough to play ice on (almost).

The Crans Ambassador is 20th-century class remade for the 21st: a place for wealthy families to visit over time, which has refreshed itself over the years without ever becoming a slave to fashions.

Find out more: cransambassador.ch

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Exterior of an alpine hotel in winter
Exterior of an alpine hotel in winter

Hôtel de l’Etrier is located in the sunny Alpine resort of Crans-Montana

Why should I go now?

While many Swiss resorts suffer from “deep valley” syndrome in midwinter, with the sun hidden by peaks for most of the day, Crans-Montana is both snowy (it sits at 1450m and its top station is at 3000m) and sunny, as it’s on a south-facing shelf high above the deep Rhône valley. Hôtel de l’Etrier is a Crans-Montana institution: take one of its recently refurbished, Alpine-contemporary pine clad, coolly lit south-facing rooms with a big balcony, and you have one of the best views of any Alpine hotel, and one of the sunniest locations.

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What’s the lowdown?

L’Etrier is a three minute walk from the main Crans lift station (you can leave your skis at the lift station rental store, which incidentally does an excellent line in Swiss Stoeckli skis, among our favourites). Step into the hotel and you have a picture-window view from the bar across the Valais Alps; there are few better places to relax with a long cocktail after (or maybe before) a day on the excellent Crans slopes.

Luxurious indoor swimming pool with loungers

The hotel has a spa and indoor pool, which connects to an outside swimming pool in summer

You also have access to two of this foodie village’s most well-known restaurants without even stepping outside, as a passageway leads to the Michelin-starred Pas de l’Ours restaurant and its more casual counterpart, the Bistrot de l’Ours, serving signature dishes such as candied pig shank with curry, beer cabbage, juniper and apple vitelotte.

Alpine lounge area with armchair and fire

The bar offers a cosy atmosphere for casual dining, whilst le Fer à Cheval restaurant (below) serves traditional Swiss alpine cuisine

Detail image of a table with wine and hams

The bar in the hotel itself is supremely relaxed and serves casual food, and this was our favourite hangout of all, in a deep armchair by a picture window looking out at the dramatic view. Many Alpine hotels nestle deep in valleys and views are limited; not so here. There is also an indoor pool (connecting outside in summer) and spa/wet area.

Getting horizontal

Our “superior” room was just that. It wasn’t the last word in high luxury, and l’Etrier is not priced as such, being a four-star hotel. But we preferred it to rooms we have had in some of Europe’s (and Switzerland’s) grandest institutions. The light pine and modern lighting decor were just right; the furnishings were light and contemporary without being irritatingly over-designed and the emphasis was on comfort.

Read more: Andermatt’s new high-altitude restaurants

Spacious bedroom with pine fittings

One of the hotel’s spacious suites

The balcony had such magnificent views across the resort, below, the woods around it and across the Rhône valley to the giant peaks of the Pennine Alps surrounding the distant resorts of Zermatt and Zinal, that we spent an evening sitting and admiring the rose-coloured sunset, despite the increasing Alpine winter cold. Some rooms are just right in terms of general vibe: this was a room you didn’t want to leave, in the evenings, as the canopy of stars emerged above the mountains and valley.

Flipside

Crans-Montana is quite a spread-out resort and none of its top hotels can claim to be quite in the centre of things; L’Etrier is no different, and while it’s very near the main lift, it’s an eight minute walk (or two minute shuttle) to the centre of Crans, one of the two villages.

Rates: From 200 CHF  (approx. £150 /€200/ $200)

Book your stay: hoteletrier.ch

Darius Sanai

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Panoramic image of alpine scene
Panoramic image of alpine scene

Crans-Montana sits on a high shelf above the Rhône valley with panoramic views of the Alpine peaks. Image by Denis Emery

Looking for the perfect early-season ski break? Crans-Montana has it all, from sunny slopes to spectacular views across the Swiss Alps – and an epicure’s delight of a Christmas market as LUX Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai discovers

Matterhorn; Mont Blanc; Weisshorn; Dent Blanche: for Alpinists these are among the superstar peaks of Europe, rising 4500m or higher above sea level. When you go skiing, you are usually tied to a vista of one or two of these celebrity peaks: think Zermatt and the Matterhorn, or Chamonix and Mont Blanc.

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In this Swiss resort of Crans-Montana, though, you are treated to a panorama of all of them, at once. The resort sits on a high, sunny, tree-lined shelf above the deep Rhône valley which runs from Lake Geneva towards central Switzerland. From the top lift station, Plaine Morte, you have in front of you a vista that encompasses the peaks of every ski resort from Saas-Fee, in the east, via Zermatt and Verbier, to Chamonix, in the west. Even the view from the village itself is exceptional, sweeping across the vineyards of the Rhône valley far below and over towards Italy.

Picturesque snowy alpine village

The ski resort is split into two main villages, Crans and Montana.

The view in itself would be a reason to visit this most established of Swiss resorts, but right now there are numerous others. The resort is split into two main villages, Crans and Montana, a kilometre or so apart on the high shelf. We visited last week when Crans had just opened its annual Etoile Bella Lui festival on its high street. Stemming from a local myth, the festival features more than a dozen restaurateurs (some of them Michelin-starred) setting up shop in wooden huts along the high street, selling one food dish each – ranging from venison burgers to foie gras, via the most delicious fillet steak/balsamic glaze/garlic chip and truffle brochettes we have ever had.

Christmas food stalls in Alpine village

Alpine festival with food stalls

The Etoile Bella Lui festival in Crans sees restaurateurs set up shop with wooden huts along the high-street

The stalls each also sell a pair of local wines by the glass. And you can dismiss your memories of gauche Alpine vino right now: the vineyards in the valley below Sion make some of Europe’s most celebrated “small producer” wines, from white grapes such as Petite Arvine and Heida, and rounded Pinot Noir based reds. Our favourite is Cornalin, a Swiss red grape variety; we were served an example suffused with spicy, plummy zinginess at one of the stalls and couldn’t bear to leave. These are wines to match the Michelin-starred food huts.

Read more: Galerie Maria Behnam-Bakhtiar opens in Monte-Carlo

Glowing ferris wheel in Alpine setting

Rides on the Ferris wheel boast 360 degree views of the surrounding landscape

Below the high street is the Lantern walk, an enchanting night-lit path illuminating the story of they local legend, and a Christmas market with a Ferris wheel with a difference: ride to the top, and you have an enhanced 360 degree view of the valley below, mountains beyond, the lakes around Crans, and the ski pistes above.

Skiier on a slope down into the valley

One of the resort’s spectacular red runs: the 4500m high Weisshorn is the razor-edge peak directly under the sun

Ah, and the skiing. The snow fell big last week, with more (hopefully) scheduled for next week. Crans-Montana is one of Switzerland’s most established ski areas, although it is better known among the Swiss and French than the international crowd that visits nearby resorts like Verbier or Gstaad. The runs are mainly a mixture of reds and blacks, and they are a delight: long, winding, interesting, starting at nearly 3000m and dropping down to resort level at 1500m, through a variety of landscapes from glacial rockscapes where mountain goats balance precariously on rock towers above you, to wide, sunny runs through the woods. The whole mountain is south facing, making ideal for now, when any sun is a welcome respite from winter temperatures. And everywhere, you have the views: from the top station you can see the three highest mountains wholly inside Switzerland (Dom, Taschhorn and Weisshorn, since you asked), the highest mountain in Europe (Mont Blanc) and the most famous (Matterhorn), all towering across distant valleys. From the village the view is hardly any worse, and there is a feeling of light and space and panorama everywhere you go.

The perfect resort for an early-season ski trip? We think so, and we are going back.

The Etoile Bella Lui festival runs until January 5. For more information visit: crans-montana.ch

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