mountains
mountains

The hotel is located at the highest point in the village of Surlej, just 5 kilometres from St. Moritz. As a result, the hotel offers ski-in ski-out to the slopes

With a spectacular view of the Engadine Valley, and located right by one of the region’s best ski and hiking mountains, Nira Alpina is a hip hotel to inspire the soul – and palate

The Nira Alpina is not actually in St Moritz, and is all the better for it. It’s in a location that is far more dramatically connected with the landscapes of the Engadine valley, ten minutes’ drive away, in the village of Surlej.
The village is by a deep blue lake of the same name, and the hotel itself is connected to the lift station for Corvatsch, the area’s most challenging mountain. You avoid St Moritz town centre, which is not as pretty as it should be, while enjoying easy access to everything.
table

Nira Alpina offers views of untouched natural scenery and is suitable for both summer and winter adventures

We arrived there one sunny summer evening and immediately were whisked to the rooftop bar, at sunset. Sunsets at sea get a lot of love, but this mountain sunset was quite astonishing in a completely different way. The Nira Alpina is high on the valley’s eastern edge, just below the forest that coats the slope as it rises up towards the peaks.
As the sun lowered over the opposite side of the valley we had an astonishing array of colour, from rose snow on the peaks, to green-blues of the valley air, thick with forest resins but devoid of the sunshine that still lit the rocks above. The valley below became green black while the sky above the peaks was a still a brilliant late afternoon blue.
spa

The spa of the hotel offers a relaxation room with coloured mood lighting, a steam room, a sauna, a vast whirlpool, and five large treatment rooms

After a couple of Aperols it was an easy slide along the same long, light and airy floor, past the bar, to the restaurant, similarly filled with light and view. Here at Shanti, the cuisine is brilliantly and refreshingly global, from the Shanti salad, Swiss with a Southeast Asian touch, through tuna sashimi and an excellently presented hummus platter, to a very Swiss carrot and ginger soup, a very Thai (and absolutely vivid) Tom Yam Gang, various absolutely delicious varieties of dim sum, and mains varying from a schnitzel Cordon Bleu to miso cod with glass noodles and a dramatic Thai red curry.
As the Nira Alpina is a place you will likely stay several days in, the excellent execution of the different dishes meant you could eat a different cuisine every night without going out – and you wouldn’t wish to go out as the view is utterly memorable.
,mountains
Our room had doors opening directly out onto the hotel’s lawn, with a vast view in either direction down the Engadine valley. Walk onto the lawn, turn left, and you quickly reach the path that leads up through the forest on the Corvatsch mountain; from our door we could have walked up to the pass at the Fuorcola Surlej hut, high above the treelined, down the glacial Roseg valley on the other side, and then climb up the glaciers to ascend the snow-encrusted 4000 metre giant Piz Bernina, in crampons, without passing another building.
Feeling rather less adventurous, we instead walked down to Lake Silvaplana, the centre of watersports in the area, for a kitesurfing lesson, and around the lake and through the forests.
Then it was back to our room, sitting outside on the grass, and watching another memorable sunset as the mountain moon and stars (you’re that bit closer to them at an altitude of 1800 metres) came out of the aquamarine sky; before another beautiful dinner.
mountains

In the summer the hotel offers multiple outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking, skiing and watersports.

Nira Alpina also has its own patisserie, where we spent the mornings choosing from a variety of buns and pastries, and a yoga class in a suite with a vast mountain view.
The Zen of the yoga class was appropriate: this is a luxury Alpine hotel that feels like a forest retreat on an island, for the sense of sheer balance and calm it creates. We visited in summer; in winter, with its connection to the Corvatsch lift station, the Nira is apparently quite a party spot in the early evening, but the views, cuisine, and uplifting nature of the place would not change. And for summer and winter sports, the connection up the mountain could not be more convenient.
chalet

During the winter guests have a wide selection of winter activities, including ice skating, winter hiking, sledding, bobsledding, horse riding, hang gliding, sky diving and Nordic walking.

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A palace in the hills surrounded by gardens
A palace in the hills surrounded by gardens

The 19th-century building and Foster + Partners extension overlooking the city

Darius Sanai checks in at the Dolder Grand, Zurich, for a palatial blend of the old and the new

The wow factor

There’s no shortage of that at the Grand. Driving along a forested residential hillside above the city, you turn into the grand driveway and hotel plaza that has a view of all Switzerland, it seems, beneath you. The building, too, is all drama. A luxurious 19th-century building with a Norman Foster extension, it has some of the most original art of any hotel.

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People-watching

We bumped into friends attending a birthday lunch here. It’s a hotel where Zurich high society comes to play.

Show me to my room

We stayed twice at the Grand within a week, interspersed by a trip to a wedding in Mallorca. The first visit, we had a room in the Foster + Partners wing – all curves, glass and modernity. Next time, our room was in the old building, cleverly refreshed to the same colour scheme and cosy. Which you prefer depends on your creative makeup. The modern rooms are efficient and striking; the classical wing has more character.

A room with red wooden beams and red leather chairs on white rugs

The Maestro Suite living room at the Dolder Grand, Zurich

Come dine with me (and other things)

The Grand is a city and country hotel simultaneously. It’s a 10-minute taxi ride to pretty much any business location in the city, yet you are living on a forested mountainside with sweeping views and space. The Saltz restaurant has the biggest outdoor dining terrace of any city hotel we can recall. In the summer months, you have the smell of Alpine forests (and the sight of them in one direction; the city and lake on the other). It makes for a memorable dining experience.

Read more: The Woodward Geneva, Review

The menu was a dream for lovers of clean, contemporary food: whole artichoke à la barigoule, white asparagus (in season) with new potatoes and hollandaise sauce. Another killer factor for us was the indoor pool in the new wing – all black tiles and very Norman Foster. There’s also a terrace and garden where you can relax with a green juice, and an extensive spa.

Find out more: thedoldergrand.com

This article first appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2023/24 issue of LUX

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A sunny, snowy mountain top on the Alps with a Hotel view.
A sunny, snowy mountain top on the Alps with a Hotel view.

The hotel has dramatic views all around of one of the world’s most spectacular winter sports areas, the Dolomites in northeastern Italy

Our recommendation this ski season is for a place that blends the best of the Alps: Italian and Austrian culture and gastronomy, matchless views, astonishing skiing, and an ambience all of its own

How do you like your wintersports holiday? There’s the social whirl of St Moritz, Gstaad and Courchevel, the competitivity of Verbier and Val d’Isere…and then there are the Dolomites in Italy. Here, the vibe is so different you could be on another continent. It starts with the mountains themselves, sheer caramel coloured walls and stacks of rock, rising vertically above the curiously open and gentle slopes below.

A grey and white bedroom in a wooden chalet style room

The elegantly designed Superior Room

Then there is the culture, a blend of Austrian and Italian, but not really either – suffusing into the villages, food and people. The Dolomites are also home to the Superski area, a circuit of 1200 km of some of the most spectacular runs in the world, formed so you never have to ski the same slope twice as you tour the whole region.

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Our recommended base for exploring the area this winter is the effortlessly chic Gardena Grödnerhof, in Ortisei, at the heart of the area. (The German-Italian place names all point to the region’s mixed heritage.)

A chalet style hotel in the mountains covered in trees

The hotel is also an ideal summer destination for golfers, hikers and mountain bike enthusiasts

The family-run Grödnerhof may not be a palace like some of the most celebrated hotels in the Alps, but it’s every bit as stylish, and rather more understated, as any of its peers. Its design owes as much to Milan as it does to traditional Alpine themes; you are whisked into an effortless world of contemporary Italianate hospitality, but with a view to die for. There are two restaurants, the Gardena, in light Alpine style with Mediterranean dishes, and the Michelin-starred Anna Stuben, with a wine list to match the world’s best – and most eclectic.

Rooms are spacious and elegant and have sweeping views over the matchless Dolomites with light wood panels and cool grey tones; a blend of Austrian cosiness and Italian Bella Figura.

A wooden restaurant with white tablecloths

Anna Stuben’s Gourmet Restaurant, known as one of the best in South Tyrol, lies within the hotel

And then dash to the cable car around the corner as you are in the middle of one of the world’s most spectacular and distinctive ski areas. If you have not skied the Dolomites before, we recommend deliberately not looking out of the window of the lift as you go up and then taking a proper look at the top as the sheer scale and breadth of the view is like nowhere else. You may feel as if you are on a different planet. It’s one of the sunniest ski areas in Europe and also has among the best snowmaking facilities, so you can embark on your circuit which links to the ski areas of numerous nearby villages amid the likelihood both of fine Italian weather and crisp Alpine snow.

Read more: Hotel Crans Ambassador, Crans-Montana, Switzerland Review

A couple of perks the hotel offers are private ski tours at sunrise, with a guide, before all those other people get to the slopes, or just before sundown, when others have left (we recommend the latter, particularly after experiencing the hotel’s wine cellar the night before). And then you may have time to swim, luxuriate in the outdoor thermal baths, and admire the starlight, before dinner awaits.

Find out more: www.gardena.it

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The woodward, Geneva exterior

The Woodward, Geneva, a discreet all-suite lakefront hotel in a classical building

Darius Sanai checks in at The Woodward, Geneva, where luxury meets discreet elegance

The wow factor

The Woodward is situated in a lakefront building facing the Alps, like a few other luxury Geneva hotels, but there the similarity ends. You enter via a discreet door and are shown up in a lift to a mezzanine floor, where the receptionist sits behind a small table. It is all marble, light furnishings, art and views, like arriving at a beautiful home.

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People-watching

It was as if we were at a friend’s cosmopolitan party, with expensive-looking international couples on the mezzanine floor, but the main feeling was of space and privacy.

L'Atelier Robuchon

The hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, L’Atelier Robuchon

Show me to my room

The Woodward is an all-suite hotel and ours, one of 26, was like a private apartment. The design is by Pierre-Yves Rochon, a king of contemporary hotel and residence design. Furnishings are light, off-white and taupe; coffee-table books are artfully chosen; art is thoughtfully hung.

Read more: Hotel Metropole Monte Carlo, Review

Come dine with me (and other things)

At street level, the L’Atelier Robuchon is all dark lacquer and red leather. We sat at long bar, where we saw the chefs at work and our cocktails being mixed. The atmosphere was buzzing; a contrast to the tranquillity of the hotel above. The food was superb in the Atelier group’s weekend-gourmet style: line-caught turbot fillet poached with verbena, sea lettuce, cockles and clams had a fresh umami taste; farro wheat with mushrooms, black garlic, trompette consommé and Barolo vinegar was an all-time, all-star vegan dish. Then, a sliding door, and you disappear into your apartment and that view.

Find out more: oetkercollection.com/hotels/the-woodward

This article first appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2023/24 issue of LUX

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A lit up hotel at night in front of mountains covered in snow
A lit up hotel at night in front of mountains covered in snow

Badrutt’s Palace Hotel was first opened in St Moritz in 1896 by Caspar Badrutt

There’s a fairytale palace high in the Alps where everyone is a Royal – or feels like one

Hotel trends come and go. Some may remember the white cube rooms of the 1990s, the lobby-bar obsessions of the 2000s, the hotel-as-club revival of the 2010s, and the genericization of hotel bars into David Collins Blue Bar clones at some stage in between.

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Yet the greatest hotels, like the greatest luxury brands, remain effortlessly eternal while never seeming old fashioned, or not to anyone except the most craven and uninformed observer, in any case.

Two grey chairs and a table facing a window overlooking mountains and trees

Views from the Tower Penthouse Apartment

We were collected from St Moritz station by Badrutt’s Palace in a 1960s Rolls Royce Silver Cloud. The two minute ride to the hotel was effortlessly majestic. It suited a palace hotel so entwined with royalty that the Shah of Iran, in his famously vainglorious attempt to recreate Darius the Great’s Persian empire at Persepolis in 1973, flew the Badrutt’s staff out to run the occasion. Nobody else would suffice for the King of Kings.

Breakfast at Badrutt’s is in some ways the encapsulation of the place. In many luxury Alpine hotels, you have a homely, nutty buffet. Here, you sweep down the stairs, past a harpist, into a vast grand dining room. The buffet stretches the length of the room on one side, with picture windows facing the lake and mountains on the other. People dress up for breakfast here, even though it’s not a requirement. The buffet itself starts with an intricacy of cut fruits, segues through a vast array of hot European foods, a forest’s worth of different seeds and berries, and finishes at the far end with “hausgemacht” miso soup, bao, and dim sum. Among all the other guests, it’s quite easy to spot the regulars and long-termers, looking like a Hollywood portrayal of European aristocracy.

A terrace with chairs covered in fur blankets looking over snow covered mountains

The terrace from the Tower Penthouse Apartment looking over St Moritz’s mountains

Our rooms at Badrutt’s were outliers: the Tower Penthouse occupies the whole of the iconic top part of the hotel, and is effectively a three floor private residence, with a huge living area, private terraces, kitchen and dining room, and more bathrooms and bedrooms than we could count. The master bedroom was by itself at the top of a spiral staircase, with views across St Moritz and the lake and mountains.

St Moritz has an appeal as broad as the Palace: in winter you can ski, cross country ski, walk or simply socialise (assuming you know the right people, darling); in summer you have some of Europe’s best hiking to hand, as well as a variety of mountain sports.

A lounge overlooking a large window with mountains covered in snow outside it

Le Grand Hall

Generations of European aristos, meanwhile, have learned how to dive, belly flop or jump from the top of the rock garden that has been built into one end of the huge indoor pool; swimming lengths in the pool involves a constant view of the next gen wealthy adapting their jumping techniques; meanwhile the outdoor spa pool has full drinks and food service, so you can sip your aperol while gazing at the mountains and having a water massage.

A living room with a long dining room table and chairs and cream couches with a black coffee table in the middle

The Tower Penthouse Apartment drawing and dining room

But while the hardware of the hotel has an eternal class, the software – the people hosting you – are even classier. This is where luxury hoteliers go to learn how to be luxury hoteliers. One efficient young chap serving at breakfast, who we vaguely recognised from our last stay four years previously, effortlessly remembered our coffee orders from last time and brought Tabasco sauce to the table unheeded, again a memory of the last stay.

Read more: Francis Sultana: The life of a leader in design

Does he have an astonishing memory or was he just very well briefed? It doesn’t really matter – and what is remarkable in this era of high staff turnover is that the staff at Badrutt’s are always there and always remember.

A terrace overlooking a lake and green mountains

Views of the lake in summer time from the Tower Penthouse Apartment

In that, they feel like they are your personal staff; unlike many hotels, it’s a place you feel like you could move into and live in, because, despite its grandeur and array of offerings – as well as the restaurants inside the hotel, Badrutt’s also owns the wonderful and iconic Chesa Veglia pizzeria across the road – each guest somehow feels like the staff are just there for them. Quite a remarkable achievement.

Rates: From £1500 per night (approx. €1725/$1850) for double room.

During the winter months, the Tower Penthouse Suite starts at £13,580 per night (approx. €15,550/$16,625) 

Book your stay: badruttspalace.com/reservations

Darius Sanai

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Person running down a road towards snowy mountains
Person running down a road towards snowy mountains

Photo by Andrea Leopardi

Can creating new products be sustainable? Franco Fogliato speaks to LUX about Salomon’s sustainability efforts and how he believes consuming differently can be more important than consuming less

LUX: When did Salomon start focusing on environmental responsibility?
Franco Fogliato: Nature is our backyard. We live in the mountains, we are mountain people. Every time we do something we are trying to be less impactful on nature. Fifteen years ago, we began looking for new technologies, new developments and ways to create positive impact in the way we do things. It has gone from creating shoes that are 100% recyclable, to being the first company in France to make its shoes in our home country, minimising the carbon footprint associated with shipping from factories overseas. These are all initiatives that started ten or fifteen years ago, which have been accelerating ever since.

LUX: How is sustainability at Salomon influenced by its athletes and employees?
FF: We are a company that is led by our athletes. Our athletes are at the forefront of our industry. They push the boundaries of what we do every day to ensure not only that we are the highest performers, but also the most sustainable.

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We also have a generation of employees that are younger, who are in their late twenties and early thirties, and have grown up with sustainability as a daily topic. Sustainability is part of what our teammates want and what they love. Every time they think about a new product, they first think about how they are going to create it without impacting the world and the planet.

Mountain scene with run rising against the rocks

Photo by Kaidi Guo

LUX: How do you approach innovation and sustainability together, ensuring that product development aligns with the brand’s commitment to minimising environmental impact?
FF: It’s a tough conversation. Do you choose the most performant product, which is not sustainable, or do you choose the product which is sustainable but less performant? There are examples every day: we had great shoes which had a great insole, but the insole was unsustainable. We changed the insole with a sustainable insole but which was less resistant, and consumers were not happy. The constant push that comes from athletes and the consumer comes back to our factories and our teams to come out with new technology, that pushes us to the next level.

LUX: Because of your company’s heritage and long-standing reputation in the outdoor industry, do you feel like you have more responsibility than others to be initiating this fight against climate change?
FF: We have to be leaders, it’s not a choice. It’s also what we like to do. It’s pushing the boundaries, in sport and building new products which are more sustainable. Sometimes people use the challenges we face just to make noise, rather than focusing on the actions that are needed. Sometimes my teammates ask me, how we’re going to build the company; people will need to consume less, they say. I say, if you think people will consume less, you are mistaken. There will be new technologies which are a lot less impactful than the way they are today.

LUX: Does creating new products contradict your aim to be environmentally friendly?
FF: I think there is a challenge still on the consumer side where there is a little bit of confusion around what is and is not sustainable. I think people see consuming less as the major driver behind minimising climate change, but in fact the driver is not consuming less but consuming differently.

Sunny mountain scene

Photo by Kalen Emsley

The carbon footprint impact of producing a pair of shoes is equal to driving a car for thirty miles. I have a theory that people should stop using cars and just run. I tell my people that they should stop using their cars to come to work and just run here. Why do you need a car? The human being was built on running. I think really activating a different consumption and pushing people outside is really what we want to do. We have a challenge with sustainability, but we also have a challenge in the evolution of the population globally with the digital. We have to take care of how people will evolve.

Read more: Rapha CEO Francois Convercey on diversity and sustainability in cycling

LUX: What are some of the initiatives at Salomon which have made the biggest difference towards sustainability?
FF: The biggest impact on producing a product is transportation, so there is an opportunity going forward in the evolution of the sourcing base, to source closer to the consumer. Many brands have tried that in the past and failed. Lately we had the French President, who had recognised our efforts, visiting our shoe factory in France. That factory would never have been born without us sharing our talents and skills with the local entrepreneurs. No one knows how to build shoes in France any more, as the entire production of shoes has shifted to Asia or Eastern Europe. These are the efforts which have made us recognised by the press and by the media.

LUX: What set Salomon apart from other outdoor gear brands which are also focusing on the sustainability mission?
FF: We like to think this is not a battle for who does the most. The battle is not between companies, it’s much bigger. We have to be ourselves. We have the first fully recyclable shoes; we were the first to do that in the marketplace a couple of years ago. But if someone comes in and is better than us, great! We’ve got to learn to do better, to improve. This is a battle we all fight together. I don’t have a problem with sharing technologies or doing anything which will help make the world into a better place. For once, it’s a competitive environment where there is a team. We are competing all together to make the planet into a better place.

Find out more: salomon.com

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a hotel amongst trees and a lake and mountains in the background
a hotel amongst trees and a lake and mountains in the background

An aerial view of Waldhaus Sils with Lake Sils behind

It has long been a source of inspiration to poets, artists and philosophers – and Sils, in the high-altitude valley of Engadine in the Swiss Alps, still proves a haven of luxury and creativity

Arrival
Waldhaus – house in the woods. To an English speaker, it sounds pretty; to a German speaker, there are centuries of myth behind the forest legend. Sitting on a bench, in the larch forest in the grounds of Waldhaus Sils, we pondered this. To one side, the hotel’s terrace restaurant – a terrace dissolved in forest – was finishing up lunch service. Immediately below us, two clay tennis courts lay empty after a family session had finished – a daughter narrowly beating a father, awash with glee; a family that looked as if they had been playing tennis in the woods for generations.

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Beyond, the mountainside dropped down and you could glimpse the valley floor through the trees: a flat glacial meadow and a blue-black lake containing a couple of islands, thick with pines. Beyond, a steep, largely treeless mountainside, grass, rocks, scree, peaks.

Waldhaus Sils is at the highest point of the Engadine, the wide, high-altitude valley that carves through the east of Switzerland like a scratch in the Alps. St Moritz is 10 minutes down the road, but the village of Sils has its own character and history. Nietzsche and Hermann Hesse lived and visited here; generations of artists came here for inspiration, and some, such as Gerhard Richter, 90 years old and widely considered the greatest living artist, still do come to stay at the Waldhaus.

red and beige chairs in a room with windows

The Waldhaus interior is a triumph of 20th-century modern design

The Experience
The hotel is on a rock just above the village, and what seems at first to be another in the mould of excellent palace buildings in the mountains, turns out to be rather more special.

To walk through the Waldhaus is like walking through a living museum of 20th-century design – when we say living, we mean it’s like a home, rather than curated for the benefit of others. There is a window in one of the drawing rooms that looks directly out at a rock face a couple of metres behind: the rock looks like an artwork in the frame of the window. Everything, from the wood panelling to the chess tables to the signage and the way the keys are arranged behind the reception desk, speaks of indulgent artistry.

Take a room with a balcony and it is as if you are in a tree house, only the balcony also as dramatic views across and along the Engadine and Lake Sils. The rooms themselves continue the theme of being in a home: no nouveau-riche over design here. If you crave three tons of marble in your bathroom, a Toto automatic toilet and Jacuzzi, you would be better to look elsewhere- but as a coherent and relaxing take on classical luxury, it feels wonderful to be in.

A river in a valley between green covered mountatins

Val Fex, high above the Waldhaus, photographed by Isabella Sheherazade Sanai

Eating and Drinking
Most of the residents of the Waldhaus (and it feels like a community of residents, rather than hotel guests) dine at the hotel in the evenings. The dining rooms, high-ceilinged and table-clothed, have huge windows directly into the forest, as if you are in a nest. Each evening brought us a different variation on consommé, a broth made with the stock-variously-of forest mushrooms, local vegetables, corn-fed chicken or Swiss beef; one was made with hay stock, and was sublime.

Otherwise, expect Swiss mountain cuisine, precisely prepared, and a treasury of a wine list that virtually compels you to try the wines of the Büdner Herrschaft – the warm, sunny, bijou wine-growing region in the Rhine valley of eastern Switzerland, over the mountains. There is also the terrace restaurant, overlooking the tennis courts, serving salads and grills for lunch.

A red chair on a red carpet with a painting above it and a table with flowers next to it

Activities
Woodland-walks, lakeside-walks around Lake Sils – inspiration to poets and philosophers – rock climbing, mountain hikes to the hidden Val Fex above the hotel…And that’s just the hiking and climbing, most of which begins on a path directly from the hotel’s back door.

Read more: Bittescombe Lodge and Deer Park, Somerset, Review

You can kite-surf and paraglide nearby, or stroll down to the village of Sils and see Nietzche’s house; or stay in the hotel grounds and swim (indoors), play tennis (indoors or outside in the woods), sunbathe amid the trees – or get a cavas and paint.

waldhaus-sils.ch

This article first appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2022/23 issue of LUX
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On the border of California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe offers spectacular views, world-class skiing courtesy of the Heavenly region and divine lodging at Edgewood Tahoe Resort. And right now, the snow is better than it has been for years, due to a succession of Pacific fronts

California is not a place you immediately associate with skiing. Coastline, beaches, social-media giants, wine and the Beverly Hills Chihuahua, check; shooting through deep powder, maybe not. But skiing is exactly what is on offer at Lake Tahoe, in the Sierra Nevada mountains in the east of the state.

The lake was formed from volcanic and faulting activity, is bigger than Lake Como and so wide you can’t always see from shore to shore, although you are always aware of the mountain ring around. It is located at an altitude of 1,900m, more than enough to make up for its relatively southerly location, while the influence of North America’s vast and icy interior means winters here are usually colder than in the Alps. The lake straddles California and Nevada and there are a few significant ski areas in its mountains. The most famous, and the one we chose, is Heavenly, one of the premium mountain destinations owned and operated by Vail Resorts Hospitality, the luxury-travel company for the great outdoors.

A wooden room with tables and chairs large windows

Luxurious mountain-cabin design in the North Room

Rising up across steep forested mountains at the southeast of Lake Tahoe, Heavenly’s ski area is split between California and Nevada. At its base on the lake’s edge is the resort town of Stateline, Nevada. This being the US, Stateline is a high-altitude mix of wonderful, wacky and tacky. While the natural location is among the most spectacular of any winter-sports resorts in the world, drive down the main street and you find a panoply of strip mall-type boutiques and a casino complex that could have been airlifted out of the suburbs of nearby Las Vegas.

But the area was a resort for the well-to-do from the outset and, just beyond the border in a Nevada forest glade, the buildings disappear as you cruise along the driveway of Edgewood Tahoe Resort. With giant Jeffrey pines beside the lake near the tasteful low-rise hotel complex, you are suddenly in a ski location of dreams. The welcome from the valets is amenable and efficient. The resort has significant eco-credentials: the main Lodge is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver Certified, and it has received plaudits for its water and land management. Walking into the high atrium, you have the feeling of being in a giant mountain cabin.

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Turn right and you enter the open bar and restaurant area, which looks out over a stone terrace into which is built a huge outdoor pool, steaming in the subzero temperatures of winter with vitality pools all around. Beyond the pool are a few more giant trees before the gardens drop into the lake.

Arriving after a drive from San Francisco, we switched between the pool, very hot Jacuzzi and sun loungers. Warmed by the Jacuzzi, it was remarkably pleasant to lie on the terrace as the sun descended towards the mountains to the west, in a temperature of -3°C. It is a hotel ritual to grab a cocktail from the bar and watch the sun disappear behind the mountain ridge beyond the lake, which separates the resort from the low central valley and population centres of California. It is an astounding welcome by nature and one that no European resort can replicate.

a pool surrounded by snow and trees

The west-facing terrace, complete with Jacuzzi and heated pool

Sunset over and empowered by our margaritas, we wandered to another part of the atrium, which features a bookstore and an exhibition on the hotel’s history. It was founded in the late 19th century as a mail stop for traffic drawn by horses between New York and San Francisco and the gold-rush lands. Just beyond is the hotel sports shop, where we were measured for rental skis and boots by a young and very friendly team. The equipment would be ready and waiting for us at the hotel entrance, from where we would be shuttled to the slopes in the morning.

Heavenly’s ski area is accessed by a long, panoramic and rapid gondola ride, rising from the town a five-minute drive from the hotel. The view from the gondola as it scythes between the trees, while the bowl of Lake Tahoe opens out in its full glory, are worth the journey in itself. The ski area is a delight, with a mix of undulating red and blue runs and eye-popping views of the lake and California on one side, and the Nevada desert on the other. The snow is granular and dry, making turns a treat, with the most exciting routes through the trees. The forest glades are spaced apart, so you can pick your own route through the snow between runs. Wonderful.

A mountain and hotel on a lake covered in snow

Heavenly’s mountains rise behind the eco-friendly complex

The many lifts are efficient and quick, our only bugbear being the mountain food, which is generic (chilli, burgers, chicken). But we had Edgewood to return to at the end of the day, for excellent tapas-style platters in the bar, and vibrant California cuisine in the bistro and restaurant: our favourite dish of seared ahi tuna with togarishi rub, avocado crema, ponzu vinaigrette and Asian greens sums up the style.

Read more: Switzerland, our top pick for summer

Our room was large with some lovely woodland details in the décor and furnishings made of found forest materials. Our balcony overlooked the pool and lake; others overlook the forest, which is equally peaceful. You would, I suspect, have a very tranquil and resetting break if you went to Edgewood and never set foot outside. But combined with the skiing above at Heavenly, it’s a match made in, well, paradise.

Find out more:

vailresorts.com
edgewoodtahoe.com

This article first appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2022/23 issue of LUX
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A palace surrounded by green grass, a river and mountains
A palace surrounded by green grass, a river and mountains

Exterior view of the 19th-century Grand Hotel Kronenhof in the Swiss Alps

In a high valley near St Moritz, the Kronenhof in Pontresina combines Swiss culture with a Mediterranean mountain vibe. Who needs Portofino?

One of the drawbacks of being in the mountains is that you are at the bottom of a valley, in the shade, when all around you is bathed in sun. This is not a problem that the Kronenhof, in Pontresina, will ever have. The village of Pontresina is located on a south- facing shelf, above the bottom of the valley that connects St Moritz, in Switzerland, with the Bernina Pass over to Italy.

The entrance of the Grand Hotel Kronenhof

The Kronenhof, in prime position on this shelf, feels like it is floating above the forest coating the valley floor (and dropping into a precipitous gorge, if you look closely enough). And from the lawns outside its swimming pool area in summer, you can see the Alps lined up, facing you, glowing gold-green in the sun.

A whirlpool by a window with a forest outside

The whirlpool inside the hotel’s spa

It’s a strange and wonderful feeling, being here in summer. On the one hand, you are 1,800m (about 6,000ft) up in the mountains; the air is very precise, very pure, and will leave normal people puffing if they try to run.

A whirlpool by a window with a forest outside

The whirlpool inside the hotel’s spa

But on the other hand, this is the southern side of the Alps, contiguous with northern Italy and the South of France.

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The mountains to the north hold back the wet northern European weather and this is one of the sunniest parts of the continent, meaning you can sunbathe most days during the summer, while gazing up the valley, opposite, at the glaciers of the Bernina mountain range.

a bedroom

The luxury Bellaval suite, offering the most spectacular views in the hotel

If it does rain, just step inside. The pool, possibly the best in Switzerland, has a glasshouse view of the scenery, as well as a very therapeutic series of vitality pools and spa, above.

A bar with wooden walls and ceilings and red velvet chairs

The Kronenhof Bar

Upstairs, the newly refurbished bar has brought a little urban chic to this mountain outpost, but, above all, this is a classic Alpine luxury retreat. The bars and clubs of St Moritz might be just a 10-minute drive away, round the forest, but you come to the Kronenhof, with its contemporary-chic bedrooms and light and views, to be in the centre of the high Alps, and also away from everywhere.

Read more: See The Light: Cascais, Portugal

Hike up the mountain and to the Segantini Hut with its views across half of Switzerland, visit the Alp Languard panoramic restaurant for a lunch of local roesti and meats, and be back for an apero in the bar. And then there’s the 200-year- old Kronenstübli restaurant with 16 Gault Millau points…

Find out more: kronenhof.com

This article appears in the Summer 2022 issue of LUX

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Two deck chairs on a terrace with a view of the Matterhorn in the sun
Two deck chairs on a terrace with a view of the Matterhorn in the sun

The terrace at Cervo Mountain Resort

The arrival

To get to the Cervo, you have first to arrive in Zermatt, an adventure in itself. The train (the resort is only accessible by train) winds through the highest part of a narrow Alpine valley, which opens out into a bowl, lined by steep forested sides, in which Zermatt, one of Switzerland’s most famous mountain villages, spreads itself.

Chalets covered in snow with red flowers

Cervo Mountain Resort during the winter

The Cervo sent an electric cart, of the type that have to be used in Zermatt, to pick us up: we sent our luggage on the cart and decided to walk, to take in the place. As we crossed the blue-green torrent of a river, the Matterhorn, a pyramid of rock and snow, appeared from behind the clouds at the end of the valley to the right.

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The Cervo is built on the steep mountainside on the east side of the valley, edged by forest. One of the most environmentally-acclaimed hotels in Switzerland, it draws all its interior and exterior furniture and accessorise from recycled or second hand materials. The last few metres were steep, but satisfying (we later learned there is a lift from the valley floor).

A terrace in winter with the sun and flowers and a mountain covered in snow

Madre Nostra restaurant terrace in Winter

Reception is tucked amid a smorgasbord of vintage items (some for sale, most not), reclaimed woods, and decorative features, many of them sourced from markets around the world, suggesting a 60s hippie trail adventure: Morocco, Iran, the Silk Road. It’s Alpine luxury remade for a new generation.

A bath with a view of the Matterhorn outside the window

A bathroom at Cervo Mountain Resort

The in-room experience

The Cervo is an agglomeration of wooden buildings spread along the mountainside. Our bedroom faced the Matterhorn, with Zermatt spread below us; a little terrace and private garden provided excellent sunbathing opportunities, and we could feel and smell the forest all around.

Read more: Switzerland, our top pick for summer

The sustainability ethos was carried through to the rooms: slippers were made of recycled materials, there were no plastic bottles either in the bathrooms or the in-room bar, which, in its aesthetics and choice, could have made a passable destination bar: in a purpose-built cabinet, it featured specialist local spirits and mixers, country-style cups and mugs, and vintage-style glasses.

A bed with a throw and yellow and brown cushions on a white bed

A bedroom at Cervo Mounatin Resort

The out-of-room experience

Comprising a cluster of buildings along the mountainside, the Cervo requires a bit of concentration for navigation. We had a light dinner in Bazaar, the north-African style restaurant by Reception, with its stunning decor made largely of found materials.

lounge chairs and deck chairs in a room with cushions and snow covered mountains outside the big windows

Bazaar Restaurant

Our most memorable meal was at Madre Nostra, an indoor-outdoor restaurant which stretches across the bar terrace, and in summer has a Mykonos-type feel. Cocktails and Italian wines were rushed about the terrace by young, keen, friendly staff (no old-school condescension here) and as for the food: focussed on ingredients within a short radius of the resort (quite a challenge high in the Alps), the home-made pasta and simple grilled chicken and beef with local herbs were such a hit, we cancelled our meal out the next night just to experience it again.

A table set with beige and green walls

Inside Madre Nostra restaurant

Beyond the hotel

The Cervo is literally a stepping off point for Zermatt, the most celebrated summer mountain resort in the Alps. If you’re an expert climber, you can scale the Matterhorn, or Switzerland’s highest mountain Monte Rosa, or its second highest, Dom, all of which tower over various parts of the valley. Or you can take long hikes above and below the tree line and admire the mountains from the terrace of a gastronomic mountain hut. The Cervo also has its own paragliding school, and outdoor activity options are almost infinite.

A hotel made of stone and wood in a forest

Cervo Mountain Resort hotel opens on June 24 for the summer season

Drawbacks

It’s a ten minute walk, or five minute electric taxi ride, to the centre of the resort and the busy high street: the price you pay for those views from the valley sides, and we loved the exhilaration of the walk back.

Rates: From £230 average per night (approx. €270/$290)

Book your stay: cervo.swiss/en

Darius Sanai

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swiss palace hotel
swiss palace hotel

Suvretta House overlooks the Upper Engadine valley. Image courtesy of Suvretta House. 

High in the Swiss Alps, LUX indulges in a gastronomic tour like no other, all under the auspices of one hotel

It’s summertime, and what we crave is sunshine, blue sky, space, views, freedom and a change in cuisine. All uncontroversial except for the last – why would we want to change the way we eat? Perhaps because for many of us in the fortunate minority in the world, even during the lockdown cycle, a great variety of cuisines has become the norm. Temaki and uromaki delivered tonight; Vietnamese cha cua and mi quang tomorrow; miso Chilean sea bass the next. Freed from choosing restaurants for the experience they offer, we have spent a lot of time choosing them purely for their variety of cuisine.

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We reflected on this last summer, during a release from the first wave, sitting at the Chasellas restaurant above St Moritz. For generations, great European dining has been about being welcomed by a host who recognises you; typically, a besuited maitre d’ of an older generation, as comfortable giving orders to staff as he is joining favoured customers for a cognac after hours. We were welcomed by Livia Sterki, a smiling young woman ostensibly as far removed from the traditional maitre d’ image as can be imagined: her charm and efficiency were so memorable it made us want to go back every night.

fine dining

The hotel’s cuisine focuses on local ingredients. Image courtesy of Suvretta House. 

The Chasellas is decorated in Alpine mountain inn style, lots of pine, bare-backed wooden seats, and a terrace with a view over the rooftops of the village of Champfèr, across forests and lakes to the towering mountains of the Bernina range across the valley. The cuisine of chef Marco Kind is not only fine: it is unlike anything you will ever find in a metropolitan hub.

There’s a combination of mountain purity, local ingredients, and a local Swiss authenticity, and a lightness of touch. Beef entrecôte sous-vide, datterini tomatoes and summer truffle was both satisfying and light; essence of wild mushrooms with shiitake and agnolotti was a kind of ultimate consommé (and vegan); and even the non-vegetarians went for the variation of peas with mountain peach, radish, asparagus and macadamia. Another vibrant main course was spring chicken braised in apple with young vegetables, local potatoes and wild mushrooms.

Beef tartar with oysters, miso and caviar. Image courtesy of Suvretta House. 

The cuisine was like eating the Alps and went delightfully with what is commonly referred to as the “local chardonnay”. In fact, the Engadine valley is too high for growing grapes, but the modest moniker refers to chardonnay from the Bündner Herrschaft, two valleys over at lower altitude, which is in fact emerging as one of Europe’s most brilliant yet unknown fine-wine regions. The wines have the same freshness as the cuisine.

Read more: The beauty and biodiversity of Andermatt’s golf course

The Chasellas is part of the dining offering of a single-hotel resort, Suvretta House, which brings us to the second point of this story: being able to luxuriate in different dining experiences under one resort banner is not confined to swanky brands on tropical islands. Interestingly, Suvretta House’s owners and its managers, the mind-bendingly hard-working Peter and Esther Egli, have decided not to bring in outside brands, but to create all their dining themselves.

terrace

The hotel’s terrace with views over Lake Silvaplana and Lake Sils. Image courtesy of Suvretta House. 

It’s a five-minute walk downhill to Suvretta House from the Chasellas, past a couple of very nice chalets (or a 20-second ski in the winter season, past the hotel’s own lift). Suvretta is one of St Moritz’s original palace hotels, and everything about it suggests old money, aristocracy and a clubbish feel, in the nicest possible way. You’re more likely to see a classic Ferrari parked outside than a new one.

alpine river

horses in woodland

Idyllic paths through the meadow and woodland around the hotel bring unexpected sights. Images by Isabella Sheherazade Sanai (top) and Darius Sanai.

The hotel overlooks a wavy forest, stretching up the valley towards the Italian border; St Moritz itself is out of sight just around the corner of the mountain. Just above the swimming pool and huge lawn overlooking the view is the Stube restaurant, cosy and hearty in design, where you might expect to eat rib-thickening traditional mountain food. But not here; or not quite, anyway. Isaac Briceño Obando, the chef in charge of this culinary hotspot (each of Suvretta House’s restaurants is a destination in itself), blends simplicity (Wild Kelly flat oysters; Iranian beluga caviar) with purity (saddle of lamb smoked in hay; A4 wagyu tenderloin plain grilled) and tradition (sliced Zurich-style veal in cream) with just a touch of the exotic (Maine lobster salad, pumpkin, kalamansi and miso). So relaxing is the Stube experience that the lockdown limitations on seating times (gone soon, we hope) felt almost intrusive.

fine dining dish

Chicken with carrots and a Sauternes jus

Upstairs, the centrepiece of the hotel is the Grand Restaurant, a dining room with a Belle Époque flair whose New Year’s Eve parties are the stuff of legend (and many years of waiting lists). Watching Europe’s grand aristocracy waft back and forth there one evening was an experience in itself (at the time of going to press, the hotel is not sure whether regulations will allow the Grand to reopen for the summer season). High on the mountainside above Suvretta there is also the Trutz restaurant with a kind of rustic-Swiss chic serving air-dried beef, pastas, barley soup and salads with local cheeses – an excellent tonic after hiking up there.

Read more: Umberta Beretta on fund-raising for the arts

alpine valley

The river En (Inn) beneath the hotel

There is far more to the Suvretta House than its cuisine; the rooms, fresh and Swiss-luxurious, have an eternally epic view across forests and mountains; the indoor pool-with-a-view is huge; and the gardens (and utterly charming woodland childrens’ playground) are addictive. But this summer, there is nothing that will stop us indulging in a gastronomic tour of its restaurants and the sublime service and views. Something no home delivery service will ever offer.

Find out more: suvrettahouse.ch

This article was originally published in the Summer 2021 issue.

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alpine resort
alpine village

Looking down onto the Bad Moos Dolomites Spa Resort in the Drei Zinnen Dolomites

The little-known area of Drei Zinnen, in the German-speaking Italian Dolomites, offers a cultural, culinary and slopeside experience like no other, as Darius Sanai discovers

‘Atmosphere’ has become an almost meaningless word when describing a place. A hotel describes its bar as “atmospheric” as a matter of course. But a real atmosphere, in terms of travel, is not about a room, or a building, or even a town. It is about a sense of place that is imparted by the location, the light, the scenery, the buildings, the weather, people, detail… Everything.

Some places simply don’t have an atmosphere, and cannot create it however luxurious the hotels, restaurants and facilities they create. Other places have elements of an atmosphere – spectacular views, fascinating buildings – but they do not add up to a whole.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

And some places have an atmosphere that is more than the sum of its parts, that envelops you as soon as you arrive and increases in intensity the longer you stay.

Drei Zinnen is one of those places. Step out of the car that has whisked you there on a relatively easy drive from Innsbruck airport, and there is the sense of being somewhere quite apart from the rest of the world, yet not secluded, claustrophobic or shut away.

Crunching the few steps in the snow to the door of the hotel Bad Moos, you are in the middle of a wide, high, tree-lined bowl, lined with crannies, streams and villages, and backed by the dramatic fingers of the Dolomites.

gothic dining room

The gothic dining room at Bad Moos. © Hannes Niederkofler

Inside the hotel, the atmosphere is only heightened. This is an exquisitely tasteful, contemporary take on Alpine (or specifically, South Tyrolean) chic. Rooms have lavish wooden floors, fabulous wool throws, beautiful modern fireplaces, glass-walled bathrooms, and finishes and details (the furry slippers!) that puts many more hallowed luxury Alpine hotels to shame.

Read more: Auctioneer & Collector Simon de Pury on curating the Waldorf Astoria’s art collection

A wooden-lined tunnel leads to a spa zone that is split between equally large indoor and outdoor pools, and swimming through the divide that leads outdoors into the moonlit night, surrounded by snow, in winter, there’s that word ‘atmosphere’ again. Lie on the long (everything is done generously here) hydro massage rack at the far end of the pool, look down the broad open valley to the peaks of the Tre Cime mountains in the distance, spot planets and stars overhead above the gently forested slopes, and there is more of a sense of place than in many Alpine resorts.

hotel bedroom

A ‘Tre Cime’ Junior Suite. © Hannes Niederkofler

Wonderful as these facilities are – particularly for a hotel not classified as one of the region’s official palaces, and all the better for it, having none of the pomp and intrusiveness of staff looking down on you – the best part of the Bad Moos experience is in the dining room.

It’s a big area that manages to be spacious (all the best for social distancing this winter) and atmospheric at the same time, split into three broad rooms at slightly different levels. The picture windows have views out over the snow fields and over to the village, a couple of hundred metres away across the bottom of a piste.

The service is a kind of perfect concoction of the best of the Alps. The South Tyrol, where the hotel is located, was part of Austria until the end of the Habsburg Empire at the end of the First World War, just over 100 years ago. It was then taken over by Italy, and has remained in Italy ever since, albeit under an autonomous government. Like everyone else in the area, staff speak both German and Italian. There is an Austrian cosiness, a Germanic efficiency, an Italian sense of style and gastronomy – and generosity of spirit. If delicate Italian fish dishes and perfectly ethereal pasta finished with home-made Austrian strudels and tarts are not your idea of culinary perfection, perhaps a choice of some of the greatest wines of the northern Italian Alps or alternatively an icy Austrian Pilsner beer, is. The cuisine and ambience are simply transported outside onto a generous terrace at lunchtime at the bottom of the piste.

alpine swimming pool

The outdoor pool at the hotel’s spa. © Hannes Niederkofler

Ah, the pistes. It’s easy to forget about the skiing as you enjoy the originality and brilliance of the hotel, but the tree-lined slopes above and around the hotel are deceptively extensive. This is one of the most serious ski areas in the Alps, and the black run descending directly to the hotel terrace via a twist in the mountainside is officially classified as the steepest black run in the Italian Alps. The gondola to send you to the top is located directly outside the terrace; at the top you emerge onto a mountain pass, just above the tree line, with a boggling view of the Dolomites, a range that looks like it has been transported to Europe from another planet.

Read more: Artist Shezad Dawood on the endless potential of virtual reality

From here, you have a choice of entertaining red runs to take you down to a variety of excellent runs on the other side of the huge valley junction; or you can head in the other direction, and set off on the Unesco World Heritage ski trail. This tracks gently across and down the mountainside, through forests and past lakes, with a series of mesmerising views unfolding, seemingly miles from inhabitation or any lifts. You arrive at a small hotel on another mountain pass, with a couple of lifts to take you up, and from where you ski away along the mountain trail again, ending up in a long traverse at the far end of a huge meadow, in a village, Padola, that is not only in a different ski area, but in a different province of Italy, where they speak no German at all. To get back, there is a regular ski bus – although it operates with a more Italian than German concept of regularity, and it would be worth checking this season how it will operate if there are social distancing requirements still in place.

alpine restaurant

The panorama restaurant. © Hannes Niederkofler

If you’re looking for a replica of Courchevel or Verbier with sushi bars and nightclubs, and dancing till dawn, Drei Zinnen is not for you. And if you’re looking for a place to take the family and friends on an easy ski holiday with everything immediately at hand, then it’s probably not for you either – try Meribel. Which may sound strange, but let me explain. On our third day, as the sun was heading towards the crest of the mountains after another day of blue sky and deep snow, I headed, in my moon boots, across the kilometre-wide field separating the hotel from the little village of Moos. (I could have taken the bus, but that would’ve defeated the purpose.) Walking across the field you are surrounded by a 360° amphitheatre of the Dolomites. Such a view in just one of those directions would have been impressive; it was replicated in every direction, and this is at the bottom of the valley, let alone the top.

After 15 minutes, I found myself on the village High Street, and walked past a bakery into what appeared to be a mountain accessory shop but which also had a supermarket sign on it. This was the ‘everything store’ of the village, selling a unique selection of local products (south Tyrol jams, embroidery, cloths) along with high-tech ski gear, and an excellent wine selection, from tiny producers in the local area that sommeliers in Europe’s metropolises would fight over, and local hams and cheeses. Everything was in two languages, German and Italian, and their lack of similarities can make for extra fun: the wine was from the Alto Adige, Italian for Sudtirol (South Tyrol); cured ham was both Speck and Prosciutto; even the area is alternatively called Drei Zinnen or Tre Cime, and the mountain above the village (housing the main ski area) was called Helm until 1918 (and on half the signs) and Monte Elmo since 1918 (and on the other half).

Walking back to the hotel, wine bottles weighing me down, I felt that I had discovered a striking cultural and geographical part of Europe on holiday, and, just coincidentally, enjoyed some of the best and most interesting skiing in the Alps. It is a unique combination, and not for everybody, but true atmosphere rarely is. A place for intermediates, experts – travellers, and connoisseurs.

Drei Zinnen, Italy

We travelled to Drei Zinnen via Innsbruck and a private transfer, with Crystal Ski Holidays, which offers a week’s half board at the Bad Moos Dolomites Spa Resort from £1,165 per person when booked online (based on two adults) including flights from London Gatwick to Innsbruck and transfers. Transfer time from Innsbruck airport is around 90 minutes via an easy, mainly motorway, route.

For more information visit: dreizinnen.com

This article originally appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2020/2021 Issue. 

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glacial alpine lake
glacial alpine lake

The Göscheneralpsee reservoir west of Andermatt is fed by the Dammastock glaciers.

Climate change is creating challenges for mountain resorts the world over. In Switzerland, a new luxury resort is leading the way in incorporating ecologically sound design into every aspect of their development. Jenny Southan discovers the innovations and advances being made in Andermatt

We all know that climate change is a problem, but for ski resorts, which rely on consistently sufficient snowfall, the challenge is particularly pressing – as snow, especially at lower altitudes, decreases, many will be forced to shut down (hundreds have already been abandoned across the Alps). And as the number of ‘snow-certain’ destinations dwindle, there is the added problem that by 2050, half of Switzerland’s 4,000 glaciers are forecast to have disappeared.

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However, the good news is that humans are incredibly innovative, and if serious steps are taken now to combat carbon emissions, the negative effects of climate change could be mitigated. Leading the way in Switzerland is the Andermatt Swiss Alps (ASA) development project, which is one of just a small handful of resorts that is taking serious steps to up its eco credentials and ensure its longevity as an outpost for winter sports.

Stefan Kern, head of PR and communications for ASA, says: “The project is heavily dedicated to sustainability. This is a core value of all our activities – from energy consumption to construction and gastronomy. We are proud to be on the way to being a fully carbon-neutral holiday destination.”

Alpine views

Looking down into the Ursern valley from Schneehüenerstock. Image by Valentin Luthiger

Demonstrating its commitment to the cause, ASA teamed up last year with the Swiss branch of American NGO Protect Our Winters (POW), which is helping it to devise sweeping, longterm initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint, as well as consumption of single-use plastic (none is sold at resort sites). At the beginning of 2020, ASA also launched Andermatt Responsible, a platform that “looks at the whole company’s footprint from heating to energy to water,” as Nicholas Bornstein, head and founder of POW Switzerland, explains.

Read more: Van Cleef & Arpels CEO Nicolas Bos on the poetry of jewellery

A political scientist with a Ph.D in Swiss environmental policy, there are few people better equipped than Bornstein to discuss combatting climate change in mountainous regions. He says that POW “allows me to combine my love of the outdoors with meaningful action”. He explains that his organisation works to “mobilise our community to implement climate change protection measures” via groups of local activists, professional athletes, companies and mountain guides, who act as ambassadors.

Alpine golf course

The Andermatt golf course. Image by Martin Wabel/Bildsektor.

How is climate change affecting Alpine ski resorts? In addition to making ski seasons shorter, Bornstein says: “The snow line has risen approximately 300 metres in the past 40 years, and is predicted to go up a further 500 to 700 metres by the end of the century, and this is putting a lot of ski resorts out of business.”

He also notes that conditions are becoming more dangerous. “We have seen avalanches in mid-winter of the kind that we would expect in April and May. They are becoming harder to predict.” Why? If the ground isn’t cold enough when it starts snowing, an insulating layer is created by the snow where heat is trapped and snow can slide off more easily. “We call these ‘fish mouth’ avalanches,” says Bornstein.

Read more: Jason deCaires Taylor on underwater art & ocean conservation

ASA has identified key contributors and is taking steps to reduce their impact. Bornstein says that approximately 50 to 70 per cent of CO2 emissions in Andermatt are from people coming to the resort by car so they are putting on extra trains from Zurich at weekends, offering discounted ski passes for people who don’t drive (driving in general here is restricted and there is a good bus system for those who don’t want to walk, including an electric bus). Andermatt Reuss is for pedestrians only.

Alpine village ski lift

Andermatt seen from the Gütsch ski lift

Food production and logistics are also big polluters, especially in Switzerland which imports a lot of goods. Bornstein says that POW has been working with restaurants in ASA to
put a more regional and vegetarian cuisine on menus. Andermatt’s gourmet restaurants are also reducing the amount of plastic-wrapped ingredients they buy.

Even more impressive is the fact that the entire SkiArena of Andermatt (from homes to ski lifts) is 100 per cent powered by hydroelectric and wind-powered energy supplied by Ursern electricity works, which exclusively serves the Gotthard region. (On the Graubünden side of Andermatt, Energia Alpina also provides 100 per cent renewable energy.) Not only that but all the buildings are heated in a totally carbon-neutral way through the burning of locally sourced wood pellets and surplus heat captured from Swiss army computers buried deep in secret bases in nearby mountains.

Read more: How Gaggenau is innovating the ancient art of steam cooking

“People want to see companies stepping up to the challenge and we believe it is going to become more important to position yourself with a ski resort that cares about the future of the environment,” says Bornstein. Even during the summer when people play golf surrounded by green meadows, ASA has ensured that its 20-plus species of birds have plenty of areas to nest around the course – in fact, there are more birds here today than there were before the course was built, demonstrating that being responsible can benefit both nature and mankind.

RING IN THE NEW

architectural render

Arve Chalet Apartments

Arve Chalet Apartments
Arve is a five-floor block of 17 residences (73–116 sq m in size), each with open-plan living and dining spaces, and window seats offering views of the mountains.

Alpine apartment with mountain views

Enzian Alpine Apartments

Enzian Alpine Apartments
Enzian  is a modern, three-floor Alpine villa housing 12 apartments measuring from 62 sq m to 136 sq m. Some come with saunas, private roof terraces and gardens.

Find out more: andermatt-swissalps.ch

This article was originally published in the Summer 2020 Issue.

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Snowy mountain village of St Mortiz
Snowy mountain village of St Mortiz

The Alpine village of St. Moritz offers more than just an exclusive social scene; the winter sports are first rate too, say Darius Sanai

With snow already falling in the Swiss Alps, LUX Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai looks forward to another first-class ski season in St Mortiz

The first Alpine snowfall of the season has already happened – there is up to 30cm of fresh powder across Switzerland, particularly in the south of the country, due to a weather system recently pushing up from Italy. So naturally our thoughts are turning to St Moritz. Think St Moritz, and you probably think lavish New Year’s Eve parties, long evenings drinking Masseto in friends’ houses, and early evening aperitifs at Pavarotti’s.

It’s easy to overlook the winter sports when you’re so familiar with the social element – and St Moritz has such an engrossing social, cultural and artistic life that you’d be forgiven for never having snapped on a pair of Rossignols while there. Forgiven, but mistaken.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

So here’s a snapshot of what you could, and should, be doing as soon as the lifts open in a few days: it’s our perfect day in St Moritz. We started our day on the slopes at Piz Nair, the top station on the Corviglia mountain, one of three big ski mountains in the area, and the one directly above the village.

It was snowing lightly when we entered the funicular station in St Moritz; we travelled through a layer of thick cloud, fearing a whiteout day, and then, suddenly, we emerged upwards into a blue and white high mountain peaky wonderland.

Cable car on the way up a snowy mountain side

The Signal cable car is the first stage of the journey towards Piz Nair, the peak at the top of Corviglia, the most celebrated of the many ski mountains around St Moritz

At Piz Nair I shuffled over to a snow shelf to look at the view properly. In every direction, triangular peaks were poking out of a soft, uniform blanket of cloud below us. There was no end to the sea of peaks: St Moritz is famous for its “champagne air”, supposedly the purest in the Alps, as it is so well surrounded by high peaks on every side.

Read more: Why now is the time to book into the Bulgari Resort Dubai

The mountain has a superb selection of mainly red runs, suited to good intermediates; we particularly liked the long run all the way from Piz Nair down to Celerina, below St Moritz, which ran through two valleys and finally descended through the trees, with fantastic views of the Piz Bernina mountains, higher than 4000m, opposite. The clouds melted away during the morning, with more panoramas revealing themselves.

fine dining in an alpine restaurant

The White Marmot restaurant with panoramic views of the mountains

And then – lunch. Lunch on the slopes in St Moritz is almost a religion: you are judged by where you go, and where you sit, so here’s some advice: book a table, as soon as you know when you’re going, at White Marmot. This is the restaurant at the Corviglia mountain station, three quarters of the way up the slopes and directly above the town itself. You can easily access White Marmot without skis, by taking the funicular train up, and many people do. Huge picture windows give you an unremitting panorama, and the decor – bare wooden tables fully dressed with huge Riedel wine glasses, 20th century modern design elements, colourful throws, magnums of Dom Perignon sitting on ice – makes White Marmot look like there’s a party going on even before the party has started. The cuisine is beautiful too, varying from Swiss mountain specialities with a contemporary twist to modern Italian haute cuisine.

Luxury alpine hotel within a forest

The Suvretta House is a palace hotel overlooking forests and lakes, with its own ski lift

After lunch, we took a final lift up to Piz Nair to take in the view of what seemed like all of Switzerland again, and headed down, via a series of lifts, to Suvretta House. One of St Moritz’s classic luxury palace hotels, it sits amid a forest on its own ski slope, with its own ski lift. Having skied to the door, we sat in its grand drawing room, looking out over the forest and the valley, sipping on local Pinot Noir, and preparing for the second feast of the day, at Suvretta House’s celebrated Stube restaurant.

The Stube has an informal atmosphere, plenty of Alpine pine, and serves a perfected selection of Swiss, Asian and contemporary American specialities. The chicken wrap is to die for. And all you have to do after dinner is wander up to your room, with a view over the forests and frozen lakes, and prepare for a reprise the next day. Book for early December, and you’ll have fresh snow this year and no crowds.

For more information visit: engadin.ch
Book your stay: suvrettahouse.ch

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Andermatt Swiss Alpine village in summertime
Andermatt Swiss Alpine village in summertime

Summer in Andermatt with bike trails, the historic village streets, the Radisson Blu hotel and the new golf course

Andermatt is rapidly becoming one of Switzerland’s best year-round Alpine destinations. Already famed for its winter sports, the resort is now offering activities, accommodation and dining for summer, too, thanks to a major new development. Rob Freeman discovers the joys of the village’s new season

As the winter snows melt on the slopes above Andermatt, the year-round allure of this Swiss village becomes apparent. Thanks to the charm and the beauty of its summer meadows carpeted with white, blue, yellow and pink Alpine flowers, the resort has become a multi- faceted, all-season destination.

As glorious as it is in winter – Andermatt is now a world-class winter-sports centre and part of central Switzerland’s largest linked ski area – the resort, thanks to some remarkable developments that are taking place there, is equally stunning in the summer. In many ways, the contrast between the verdant valleys and the glistening white peaks above in summer makes this landscape even more striking.

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Andermatt’s parish records go back 800 years, with many of its houses being centuries old, so it’s small wonder that there is a palpable sense of history and tradition in its streets. With such a background, it’s intriguing to see the village enter a new phase, underlined by the recent opening of the elegant shopping and dining square, the Piazza Gottardo, which is part of a visionary development by Egyptian investor Samih Sawiris that will see the village double in size. There’s a distinct yet subtle style to this new car-free area, known as Andermatt Reuss, of which the Piazza is the centrepiece. The trick is having every building individually designed by one of more than 30 Swiss and international architects to create an eclectic rather than uniform appearance.

Swiss village street view

Each new building, as architect Christoph Langenberg, the project manager of the developer Andermatt Swiss Alps, explains, pays homage in one respect or another to the traditional styles of the local architecture. The Edelweiss apartment building, for example, has distinctive shutters with chevron patterns in contrast to the broad arches that protect balconies against the sometimes severe weather. But its most extraordinary feature is its exterior colour, which starts from a dark base and gradually lightens as it rises until seeming to fade into the sky. Diamond shapes are scored into the façade, with wavy lines accentuating the lightness. In another building, House Wolf, the design incorporates the careful gauging of the sculptural effect of the roof overhang.

“The buildings are clustered together more closely than is usual in new projects like this,” Langenberg adds. This is deliberate, to reflect the traditional way in which these villages evolved. The buildings have always been close together for warmth and security. We wanted the new developments to be an extension to the old village, rather than something separate.” One to five-bedroom apartments are available, and the whole project, which will include 30 individual chalets, has no purchase restrictions for foreigners.

Two cyclists riding their bikes around an alpine lake in the summer

The square, complete with fountain, is fringed by shops, restaurants and bars. Restaurant Biselli already epitomises Piazza Gottardo’s village spirit and, from 8am to 11pm, is a focal point for holidaymakers and residents. Occupying the ground floor of the six-storey House Alpenrose apartment building, the restaurant is also a bakery, providing rolls and croissants every morning, and a chocolate shop where the chocolatier can often be seen creating little masterpieces. It also has a small section selling holiday necessities such as milk, butter and jam, even toothpaste. The softly lit restaurant, which is romantic and stylish, has a menu embracing dishes such as goose liver mousse with cognac and truffles, and sea bass baked in puff pastry, as well as local specialities such as tarte flambée of onions, bacon, sour cream and mountain cheese, and dumplings with roasted pork belly.

Read more: Maryam Eisler in conversation with Kenny Scharf

The Mammut sports shop opposite is a high-end ski-rental shop in winter and a bike, hiking and climbing emporium in summer. A Victorinox store has a large selection of Swiss Army and kitchen knives, designer luggage and watches. A pharmacy and small supermarket will soon join the line-up.

Exterior of a building designed as a large chalet

Radisson Blu Hotel Reussen

The impressive Radisson Blu Hotel Reussen opened recently, and its Spun restaurant, highlighting Swiss and Italian cuisine, also fronts onto the Piazza. The hotel also has a fitness zone including two saunas, steam bath and 13 treatment rooms and extensive gym, as well as a 25-metre public indoor pool with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the mountains of the Urseren Valley. A new concert hall with state-of-the-art acoustics and seating 700, designed by British studio Seilern Architects, is attached to the hotel. Further accommodation for the village will include a hotel aimed at families, featuring a water-slide through reception!

Summer offerings include walks from gentle strolls to challenging hikes, and climbing for novices as well as experts. Also popular are e-bikes with auxiliary motors to tackle distances and gradients that would otherwise be out of the question. The Four Headwaters Trail links the nearby sources of four rivers, the Rhine, Reuss, Ticino and Rhone. The 85-km family-friendly route can be split into day trips or a five-day tour staying at huts. And days out on the Matterhorn Gotthard Glacier Express are spectacular. There’s no more marvellous way to enjoy these glorious mountains.

Green of a golf course surrounded by mountains

Andermatt’s 18-hole golf course

The new 18-hole, par-72 championship Andermatt Swiss Alps golf course

Designed to complement its spectacular natural setting, Andermatt’s 18-hole golf course is immediately adjacent to the village. Although it only opened as recently as 2016, it has already achieved the highest possible accolades, including being named Switzerland’s Best Golf Course in the World Golf Awards every year since. Designed by renowned German golf-course architect Kurt Rossknecht, it has the feel of a Scottish links course and meets international tournament standards. Importantly for holidaymakers, it is open to the public on a pay-and-play basis.

Find out more: andermatt-swissalps.ch

This article originally appeared in the Summer 19 Issue.

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Alpine village of Andermatt in winter
Switzerland's remote alpine village of andermatt

The Swiss alpine village of Andermatt. Image by Laureen Missaire

The fairy-tale village of Andermatt is fast becoming one of Switzerland’s most desirable destinations with the recent opening of a new ski region as well as a scattering of luxury hotels and holiday homes. But what’s it like to live and work in the region? A new documentary series investigates

The Swiss village of Andermatt sits nestled amid the towering peaks and forested slopes of Switzerland’s Saint-Gotthard Massif, some of the world’s most dramatic  scenery. The recently launched twelve part YouTube documentary series, aptly named Mystic Mountains is an ode to the region’s beauty, nature’s captivating power and an investigation into living remotely.

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Filled with panoramic images of drifting clouds and snow-covered mountains, each episode runs for approximately ten minutes and features interviews with locals, guests, historians, artists, free-riders, farmers and business people. The final script was the result of discussion-led workshops with director Benoit Pensivy of 3W, during which mysticism became the overarching theme as way of describing the individuals’ experience of the Andermatt landscape.

Watch the first episode below:

Find the full series here: andermatt-swissalps.ch/en/andermatt/mystic-mountains/

 

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the rolling mountains of the swiss engadine in summertime
the rolling mountains of the swiss engadine in summertime

A view across the Engadine valley from Muottas Muragl, above St Mortiz

Switzerland’s Engadine region has been the enchanted holiday home of the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche, Gerhard Richter and some of the world’s most discerning wealthy. LUX takes a summertime tour of this romantic paradise

Landscape photography: Isabella Sheherazade Sanai (@sheherazade_photography)

There was a moment in the evening, a point in the flow of time each day, when the colour on the mountain was perfectly balanced. Just below my balcony, the larch forest rising out of the lawn was an almost vanishing green, turning to black. The same forest was a dark emerald high up the mountainside. The high pastures above, a thin carpet of melded brown and dry, light, green. And the peak of the mountain, that minute, was just straining to catch the last of the day’s sun, emanating from behind the hotel, on the west side of the valley. It was the colour of a tarnished gold ring, glowing with the pride of being in daylight, today, while the rest of us had fallen into tonight.

Out of the trees and grass around me, the image was accompanied by a rising smell of damp, green, earthy life, its textures matching those in the glass of wine that would always accompany this ritual, a glass of pinot noir from two valleys away, in what the Swiss call the Bündner Herrschaft.

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The Waldhaus Sils, where my room and balcony were, is known for its magic. Artists, writers, musicians and poets are guests there, sometimes invited by the hotel for the inspiration they bring. Gerhard Richter, arguably the greatest living artist, unarguably one of the most expensive, was staying while I was there;  as were others from these worlds, whom I won’t identify as I didn’t spot them personally (the Waldhaus is very discreet about its guests).

The hotel sits on a forested ridge (thus the name Waldhaus – ‘Forest House’) above the village of Sils, once home to Friedrich Nietzsche, and overlooking Lake Sils, considered by many in the art world to be the most beautiful lake in Switzerland. The lake is at the southern end of the Engadine, a broad, flat, high-altitude valley making a slash through the most mountainous part of the country, its southeast corner, from Austria to Italy.

Sils Lake in Switzerland pictured in the summer

The Waldhaus Sils sits in a forest above the mystical Lake Sils, which has inspired poets, artists and writers since the 19th century

There is something about the Waldhaus Sils that no amount of money could create in a new hotel. The furnishings, from light fittings to tables, chairs, cabinets and even the signposts, look like they have come from a mid 20th-century Modernist sale at Phillips auction house. They are so perfectly positioned, as if everything has been looked at with aesthetic sight-lines in mind, and yet none of it feels Designed (with a capital D); this is just the aesthetic of the family who own the hotel. No wonder Richter and others love it so.

The Waldhaus mixes old, in the sense of mid-20th century, with a very up-to-date cuisine and wine list. Most guests take the half-board option, with dinners in a broad gallery of a dining room, with picture windows looking into the forest. Most memorable were the variations on a consommé, each night made with a different base stock; and the choucroute and pork fillet served by a visiting farmer-chef one evening.

Luxury hotel bar decorated in maroon colours

One of the bars at the Waldhaus Sils

One day, we walked out of the hotel down through the trees until we reached the floodplain of the lake, a flat meadow between the shore and the village. It was a summer day of intense mountain sunshine – you burn much more quickly here at altitude than down on the Mediterranean – but a flapping, chilly wind reminded us of exactly where we were. Along the lakeshore, a child and a dog were paddling in the water, on a tiny beach sprouting out of the path. The path itself curved past a tiny jetty housing a couple of rowing boats, and onto a forested promontory. Dipping and rising between larch trees and the water’s edge, it offered a different perspective every minute, with changes of light and in the colour of the water on the lake. The mountains beyond emerged bigger with every step we took away from them; my own mountain, which I had watched from the balcony, was revealed to be no more than the leading ridge of a much larger cluster of peaks at the end of what was a hidden valley.

Read more: Welcome to the age of internet art

We walked along that valley the next day. To get there, we first took a cable car from Sils up to a station above the treeline, from where we looked down at a string of lakes extended all the way down the Engadine past St Moritz, and were greeted by a pack of manic, crested chickens sprinting around a coop with a view most humans would crave. We walked along a path skirting the edge of the mountainside, past uncurious cows, until a luscious green valley, alternating meadows, streams, forest and hamlets, appeared beneath us. Invisible from the Engadine, this is Val Fex, home to some of the most ancient communities in Switzerland, who used the secret nature of the place (its entrance is sheathed in a deep, forested gorge which looks impassable from below) to shelter from invaders from Italy and the Germanic lands.

Along a woodland path at the bottom of the little valley, home to thousands of butterflies, we reached the Hotel Fex, where we had a fantastic lunch made of foraged and farmed local ingredients – young beef, herbs, grasses and flowers – while gazing at the high end of the valley. It was an hour’s walk, down past the butterflies and the meadow and through the gorge, to the Waldhaus and a balcony view back up to the sunset peak.

Idyllic forest scene with a river running through

The forested peninsula on Lake Sils, nearly 2km above sea level

St Moritz is fifteen minutes’ drive down the Engadine valley from Sils, and it has a roster of legendary palace hotels. Our destination was just outside the town of St Moritz, on a hillside. Suvretta House, one of the oldest grande dame hotels of Switzerland, surveys the surrounding scenery like a majestic ocean liner atop a wave. As we approached from Lake Silvaplana, it was almost as if nature had bent to the grand hotel, according it its centre-stage position, with nothing around it except forest and lakes, on a ledge in this long, high valley.

That was an illusion; within a couple of kilometres of Suvretta House lies one of the highest concentrations of (vacation) wealth in the world, but part of this area’s appeal is that it doesn’t look like it.

Luxury five star hotel Suvretta in Switzerland

The facade of the historic Suvretta House hotel

Our junior suite at Suvretta House had six windows opening out onto a carpet of forest below, the lakes ahead, and the peaks of the Bernina range on the east side of the valley beyond. The décor was clean and crisp, a kind of safe contemporary Swiss, with plenty of rich fabrics to please luxury’s traditionalists.

The Bernina mountains are one reason for the particularly attractive climate here; they protect the area from storms sailing up from the Adriatic beyond, while to the north and west, several ranges of high mountains stand as a kind of climatic Berlin Wall to prevent the moist Atlantic air of northern Europe arriving. The result is that this is the sunniest spot in Switzerland; and Suvretta House itself lies on a sun-trap of a ridge. We discovered this the next morning, on a pre-breakfast frolic in what must be the most picturesque children’s playground in the world, carpeted in lush grass, banked on three sides by Alpine forest and on a fourth by a slope leading down to the hotel.

Read more: The Getty LA launches an African American Art Initiative

At the front of Suvretta House, the 25-metre indoor pool stretches through a conservatory alongside a broad lawn, on which sun-loungers, a giant chess set, and other leisure accoutrements are set (in summer, anyway; in winter, it would be under several metres of snow).

Luxury indoor swimming pool surrounded by glass windows

Suvretta House’s swimming pool

High mountain restaurant in the swiss alps

The Fuorcola Surlej restaurant above St Mortiz

Breakfast was served at the Arvenstube restaurant, and featured about 36 different types of bread, cooked (and shaped) in their own in-kitchen bakery every day from three in the morning. The buffet seemed lavish enough, until we found it extended around the corner with dozens of combinations of freshly cut fruit, more permutations of gluten-free cereal than would fit on the biggest yoga mat, an array of nuts, seeds and other health-giving items that would embarrass a health food store, and still plenty of indulgences on the pancake/ chocolate/Nutella/cooked bacon front.

We returned to the Arvenstube for dinner, at first a little apprehensive. Almost every hotel in the German-speaking Alps has a restaurant called a stube; in humble hotels these are often beer-cellar-type places serving humble food (sausages, dumplings) and good beer. Luxury hotels sometimes persist in the belief (mistaken, in our views) that a luxury stube ought to be a play on these dishes, with lashings of old- fashioned Michelin-chasing creams, foams and drizzles, and tiny portions that make you wish you had gone out for some fondue instead.

What we found instead was a revelation. In the beautiful evening light as the valley turns to night – the Arvenstube faces south – there was a menu based on the concept of ‘Switzerland  meets Latin America’ from chef Isaac Briceño Obando, and it really worked. Examples: Puschlaver lamb, baby corn, roasted spring onions, tortilla powder and mountain honey; or Swiss cheese, guava jelly, tamarind jelly and paprika coulis; or tepid char with grilled peach, palm hearts and pine nuts. It was the distinctive, balanced, vivid cuisine of someone with a real ability to understand how and by whom his dishes would be consumed. We returned there three times and always had clear, crisp options.

Landscape photograph in the Swiss Engadine valleys at summer

On the path to the aptly-named Paradise hut, above Pontresina

Food image of a goats cheese salad with rocket and truffle shavings

Goat’s cheese with rocket and truffle at Chasselas

The Suvretta House also owns the Gault Milau-celebrated restaurant just up the road, the Chasselas. At the bottom of a piste, with its own chairlift linking it to the main Corviglia ski area of St Moritz, the Chasselas tries hard to look like a pristine, immaculate but humble mountain hut; however, the cuisine and wine list are anything but humble. We loved the medium-grilled saddle and braised cheeks of Iberico pork with artichokes, balsamic onions and plain in pigna, and Irish highland lamb racks with salsa verde, grilled vegetables and barley risotto. Different chef, but the Suvretta principles remained: there was nothing on the menu to weigh you down and make you feel, like many mountain restaurants do, that you need to climb the nearest peak to burn everything off.

It’s tempting never to leave Suvretta House (either during your stay, or when it’s time to depart) but we did, one day taking a cable car up the opposite side of the valley, towards Piz Corvatsch, and walking along a rocky, dramatic, high altitude trail until we reached a restaurant in a little mountain hut on a ridge. The other side of the ridge revealed a little lake, and a flabbergasting view down to a glacier and up to a range of high, snowy, rocky peaks. Fuorcula Surlej, the restaurant, really is a humble mountain hut. The owner told us she lives there, with only her dog for company, all summer and all winter; when she returns after her autumn break to open up for the ski season, all the available water is frozen in blocks of ice and she curls up with her dog to keep warm.

A small staff in her kitchen were making dishes off a short menu; we tried the barley soup, which tasted of fields and mountains together as we ate it on the terrace, looking out at the high peaks framed by dreamy deep blue; followed by a spaghetti with ragu, flavoursome home-made food by someone whose home is a ridge at the top of nowhere, towering above the Engadine.

Darius Sanai

For more information and to book your stay visit: waldhaus-sils.ch; suvrettahouse.ch

This article was first published in the Winter 19 issue.

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Skier on a run down into a valley
New gondola connecting ski region in andermatt, switzerland

The gondola on the first stage of the link between the different resorts

This winter sees the opening of a spectacular new ski region in Switzerland, with the completion of a link between two neighbouring resorts. Rob Freeman reports on the latest step in the transformation of Andermatt into a major skiing and second-home destination

Amid the towering peaks and forested slopes of Switzerland’s Saint-Gotthard Massif, one of the most ambitious and spectacular projects in the world of winter sports has reached fulfilment this winter.

The opening of a new gondola lift marks the final step in the creation of the largest linked ski area in central Switzerland. Admittedly, the lift doesn’t enjoy the snappiest of names. But when it carries such a weight of importance as the Oberalppass-Schneehüenerstock Express does, then who would begrudge it as many syllables as it wishes?

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The ten-person gondola system is the final piece in a jigsaw which brings together two previously separate resorts to form the now fully joined SkiArena Andermatt-Sedrun.

The union, which also forms a liaison between the Swiss cantons of Uri and Grisons, has been a dream for many years and now the twin resort has been lifted into the premiere league of major ski destinations.

Skier on a run down into a valley

Skiing down the valley towards Sedrun

Alpine restaurant on the edge of a ski run

Restaurant Nätschen, on the link run between Andermatt and Sedrun

But what sets it apart from other mere commercial projects is that this extraordinary enterprise embraces a singular spirit of romance and adventure. It’s the culmination of a personal mission by Egyptian billionaire Samih Sawiris, who, at the suggestion of a former Swiss ambassador to Egypt, took on the challenge of leading the rejuvenation of Andermatt.

Sawiris’s Swiss-based firm Orascom Development put up very substantial financial backing to make the vision become reality. The achievement is all the more remarkable because he embarked on his mission shortly before the financial crash a decade ago – and has admitted that, had he known it was about to happen, he “wouldn’t have had the guts to commit to the investment – so, I was lucky”.

Apres ski train in Andermatt

The Après-Ski train runs regularly between Andermatt and Disentis

Even luckier are the skiers and boarders who can take advantage of what he has helped create – a ski area of mouth-watering scale and variety. “With the completion of this link, we connect two cantons, two languages and two cultures,” Sawiris told me. “The region from Andermatt to Sedrun with the connection to Disentis, which will be in place from summer 2019, will be a highlight of the Swiss winter-sports offer.” He described how everyone connected with the venture had worked tirelessly to see it completed. “There’s something for everybody now, for experienced skiers and freeriders, families and those who like to take their skiing easy.”

He added: “The good thing is, even if you’ve skied from Andermatt to Sedrun, you can still take the Après-Ski train back if you’re too tired to do it on skis”.

Read more: The Avenue of the Stars: a taste of Hong Kong’s future

At least £100 million has been spent on new lifts and upgrading the ski area – with the redevelopment as a whole said to have cost well over £1 billion.

Andermatt, once a small and quiet place (although it was noted for a dramatic James Bond car chase, during which Sean Connery zipped along the nearby Furka Pass in his Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger) has virtually doubled in size with the construction of stunning new accommodation to complement the skiing upgrade. But it has successfully retained its great charm, particularly along the historic cobbled main street, which runs from the main bridge crossing the Unteralpreuss river to the Gemsstock cable-car station.

Ice rink at five star hotel the Chedi Andermatt in Switzerland

The courtyard ice rink at the Chedi Andermatt hotel

Mountain restaurant in Switzerland

The mountain inn Piz Calmot on the Oberalp Pass

Andermatt has always offered superb skiing for both experts and intermediates. A north-facing bowl beneath the nearly 3,000-metre high peak of Gemsstock, known for its sheltered slopes that keep excellent snow, its challenging off-piste routes, and a fine, sweeping red run that intermediates can happily tackle.

On the opposite side of town, Nätschen has a wide range of fabulous, sunny slopes that are perfect for family skiing. Experts have a wonderful choice of black pistes and freeride terrain, but there are also reds and blues where intermediates can hone their skills.

But, as of winter 2018, that’s just the beginning. The extensive pistes of Sedrun and Disentis beyond have always been a big draw to Andermatt guests, and on the same Gotthard Oberalp lift pass. But until now it’s been necessary to take a train to reach them.

Andermatt Swiss Alps development village in Switzerland

The new Andermatt Swiss Alps development is on a sunny open plain

Now skiers and boarders can hop on the new lift, with a red piste also in place to link the two villages in both directions, and there is a further link to Disentis to come soon.

Sedrun’s slopes are the most extensive in the area, with glorious open runs, graded red but wide and welcoming, above the treeline.

Skiers walking away from a ski lift

On the slopes between Andermatt and Sedrun

Of course, assorted kickers, boxes, rails and quarters may not be the first things you look for on a piste map when planning your ski day – they’re not mine, either. But if you have some shredders in your party or anyone feeling adventurous, the much admired 600-metre long terrain park at Sedrun could come into its own. It even has a ski and boarder-cross track, with 1.4km of steep-walled curves and jumps. It’s entertaining to ski down the side of the park and watch the spills and thrills at least, even if you don’t want to polish your own tricks!

The SkiArena Andermatt-Sedrun now has more than 120km of linked slopes. There’s a total of ten new and upgraded lifts, most of them high-speed and high-capacity chairs and gondolas, giving the area 22 lifts altogether. Extensive snowmaking has been installed, covering most slopes, in case nature needs a helping hand in the long seven-month season.

Read more: Meet the new creative entrepreneurs

Close up shot of snow on a ski run

One of the south-facing runs towards Sedrun

And as you ski these runs you could well be in star-studded company. Winter Olympics hero Bernhard Russi, a son of Andermatt who won gold in the downhill at the 1972 Sapporo games, rates the run from Schneehüenerstock on the Oberalppass his all-time favourite.

And the last time I skied there I shared the mountain with up-and-coming local downhill star Aline Danioth and Swedish Freeride World Tour champion Kristofer Turdell, who both find that Gemsstock provides ideal terrain on which to train.

The valley floor has sunny cross-country trails for a tranquil change from the downhill variety, and the winter hiking network is delightful. Activities that provide alternatives to skiing are becoming increasingly popular here, including snowshoeing, tobogganing and ice-skating – helping Andermatt set a new benchmark as the complete mountain resort.

Holiday Village Andermatt

This ski season sees the official opening of the Piazza Gottardo, the central square of the new car-free holiday village, which lies beyond the rail station and close to the new ski-lifts. It’s just across the tracks from the development’s flagship, the Hotel Chedi, which opened in 2014 (and where guests have the luxury of their own butler and, of course, the hotel has a walk-in cheese humidor). Beyond the Chedi is the historic old village, retaining its great original charm.

Shops and restaurants are ranged around the Piazza. The village comprises five further hotels, including the just completed Radisson Blu Reussen, 42 high-end apartment complexes individually designed for an eclectic appearance, 28 chalets and a subterranean concert hall – and no buying restrictions for foreigners.

Discover more: andermatt-swissalps.ch

This article was originally published in the Winter 19 Issue

Watch Episode 1 of the “Mystic Mountains” documentary series on the people of Andermatt:

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a thin road winding up a lush green mountain with a cloudy sky
a thin road winding up a lush green mountain with a cloudy sky

The sinuous curves leading up to the St Gotthard pass

The St Gotthard, Oberalp and Furka are three of the most spectacular mountain passes in Europe. And the new Holiday Village Andermatt Reuss is the perfect base from which to explore them, discovers Emma Love

Anyone who has watched the car chase scene in the James Bond film Goldfinger will be familiar with the Furka Pass. As Sean Connery sped round the hairpin bends of one of Switzerland’s oldest passes in his Aston Martin DB5, surrounded by dramatic mountains on one side and the Rhône glacier on the other, it wasn’t just the slick driving that gripped viewers attention but the stunning Alpine landscape, too. One of Andermatt’s ‘big three’ passes – the other two are the St Gotthard Pass and the Oberalp Pass – the Furka is a must for any thrill-seeking adventurers looking to explore the Swiss Alps, whether in a classic car (albeit at a more leisurely pace than Bond) or on two wheels.

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Mike Cotty, who specialises in endurance cycling and is behind The Col Collective, an online resource for cyclists wanting to tackle the world’s greatest mountain passes, believes that these are some of the greatest peaks in Europe for mountain bikers. He recently set himself a 105km cycling challenge that featured a trio of three of the toughest climbs in Europe: Furka, Nufenen and St Gotthard (Furka alone has an average 7.3 per cent gradient and an altitude of 2436m). “The way the peaks are positioned in this area makes it an exciting prospect to link up two or three mountains in a loop like this,” says Cotty, who also hosts cycling tours around the world. “With three mountain passes above 2,000m elevation, the sheer amount of climbing is what makes this route a toughie and on a par with some of the premier mountain stages of the Tour de France.”

To this end, he advises any cyclists thinking of tackling the route to have some mountain experience. His highlight, he says, was summitting the Furka and seeing the valley ahead. “The road to the Grimsel Pass looks like it snakes off to heaven, which is pretty surreal, as are the cobblestones of the old Tremola Road at the end of the ride. How the road was built all those years ago, and the history that has gone before it, is hard to comprehend. It’s a very special place.” Unsurprisingly perhaps, the Furka Pass is included on the Ultimate Drives ‘Greatest Driving Roads’ app (it’s described as “a stunning pass, with an amazing combination of sweepers, tight switchbacks, dramatic views and a drag straight at the end”), which was launched last year by Mark Heather.

Architectural render of pastel coloured swiss style chalet in alpine village during the summer

Andermatt’s new Apartment House Alpenrose

Heather is also behind Ultimate Drives, a Zurich-based company that rents sports cars and supercars, and provides personally tested driving tour itineraries. “The Furka is so dramatic because it’s a mountain road that is driven entirely above the tree line. For most people, they never get this high unless they are skiing, and then the valleys are covered in snow. These lunar like landscapes are something really special,” he says, adding that these are the roads that cars such as a Porsche 911 4S Cabriolet or Mercedes AMG Roadster were designed to be driven on: “Smooth tarmac and sweeping corners, combined with the most dramatic, jaw-dropping backgrounds of the peaks of the Alps. Add to this the soundtrack of a V8 engine reverberating off the valley walls, and the stunning performance and handling of these cars, and it’s really something you have to experience to believe.”

Read more: Is the Waldhaus Sils the most spiritual hotel in the Alps?

Someone else who has vast experience of these roads is Jan Baedeker, Editor-in-Chief of Classic Driver magazine and editor of several books on the subject, including Porsche Drive: 15 Passes in 4 Days. “The diversity of this region is just incredible. In just one day behind the wheel, or a couple of days on your bicycle, you can experience some of the world’s most exciting roads through breathtaking landscapes,” he says. He advises anyone thinking of driving here to start early to avoid the crowds. “The Gotthard Pass is one of the most dramatic and important historic alpine crossings and it’s still my favourite pass in Switzerland.”

Whether you’re behind the wheel of a classic car, on a mountain bike or a Harley Davidson, experiencing these legendary Alpine passes is a Swiss summer must.

A new luxury base for exploring the three big passes in the heart of Switzerland

When it is completed this winter, the latest addition to Andermatt’s Piazza Gottardo, Apartment House Alpenrose, will have 20 exclusive apartments. The exterior matches the architectural style of the Holiday Village Andermatt Reuss; inside the apartments range from those with one- to three-bedroom maisonettes (the largest are 146sq m, but for anyone wanting even more space, two flats can be converted into a single unit on request).

luxury apartment interiors with rustic style contemporary furnishing

Apartment interiors can be bespoke fitted

The joy of the design is that each one can be customised; buyers can choose from two looks (‘modern rustic’ and ‘modern light’) or opt for a bespoke build-out. Most of the apartments come with a corner picture window looking out onto the mountains while all the rooftop maisonettes have their own sauna. Other benefits include use of the fitness studio, spa and swimming pool in the nearby Radisson Blu hotel, and an excellent concierge service which can help with anything from travel plans to stocking the fridge and car hire, making Apartment House Alpenrose an ideal all-year holiday base. And non-Swiss nationals need not worry about the real estate purchasing laws. Andermatt Swiss Alps is exempt, so international buyers can purchase here without special permits (and sell with no minimum holding time).

For more information visit andermatt-swissalps.ch or andermatt-alpenrose.ch

 

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Waldhaus Sils five star swiss hotel rising up from the trees in front of the snowy mountains in Winter
5 star swiss hotel Waldhaus Sils in winter surrounded by snowy mountains and frozen lakes

The Waldhaus Sils sits above Lake Sils, in the Upper Engadine of Switzerland. Image by Gian Giovanoli

The Waldhaus Sils sits on a rock amid a forest in the heart of the Engadine, Switzerland’s legendary high mountain valley; and is a cultural inspiration to artists and writers. LUX Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai on why he’s tempted to make a spontaneous visit to his favourite Swiss hotel

One of the greatest sources of social media FOMO (fear of missing out) in the LUX offices currently emanates from the unlikely source of tourist office Instagram feeds. Normally, these are full of the usual platitudes about activities for all the family and new dine-around packages, and adorned with images of improbably physically superhuman and beautiful families gazing out over vistas in perfectly styled hiking gear.

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But this has been a near-record-breaking winter for snowfall in the Alps. The same bands of cloud sweeping in from the Atlantic that have caused floods in Paris and anxiety in France have dropped their load as snow as they hit higher altitudes. Many resorts have had more snow than they know what to do with, literally in some cases, as poor Zermatt, ringed by some of the highest Alps, was cut off from the world a couple of times.

Dinner at the Waldhaus Sils hotel restaurant in Switzerland

A table is prepared for dinner at the hotel restaurant. Image by Stefan Pielow

While you wouldn’t wish to be skiing during a snowstorm, the weather has calmed down now, and those resort Instagrams are brimming with images of deep snow, chalets peeking out from drifts, silver woodlands, vistas of powder. The fact that the biggest snowfalls happened after the peak Christmas season means there is plenty of fresh stuff around still, also.

Read next: Ulysse Nardin CEO Patrick Pruniaux on why creativity gets results in the luxury watch industry

A ski trip in the next few weeks seems inevitable, but LUX is not tempted by the fleshpots of Courchevel or Verbier. Instead, we are thinking of heading to our favourite, semi-secret hotel in the Alps. A place that does no self-publicising, doesn’t market itself to a market of billionaires, is not interested in whether you are a celebrity (A list or Z list), has no ski-in-ski-out facilities, and yet is, quite possibly, the most entrancing destination we have discovered.

Perfectly framed view from a window in one of the reading rooms at the Waldhaus Sils hotel, Switzerland

Is it a photograph? No, it’s a view from a window at the Waldhaus Sils. Image by Stefan Pielow

The Waldhaus, Sils, sits on a rock above the tiny but culturally significant village of Sils-Maria near the head of a broad, high, sunny valley in southeast Switzerland. Sils-Maria was the home of Friedrich Nietzsche, and it has been a gathering point of the European cultural aristocracy for more than a century: Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann, Marc Chagall and Gerhard Richter have all visited for inspiration. Views from the Waldhaus stretch south, along Lake Sils, frozen in winter and surrounded by forest, and north, past St Moritz (just 10 minutes away) and along either side of the Engadine valley.

Staircase detail photograph at the Waldhaus Sils five star hotel

Image Mart Engelen

The Waldhaus is a family-run hotel that has an other-worldly feeling of design harmony: not ultra-contemporary, not classic, but a perfectly curated collection of modern 20th century design. It’s there in the details – the chairs, the tables, the wood flooring, the lights – above all, the lights – and also in the fundamental layout: a window view from a reading room that looks like a perfectly framed Thomas Ruff image; the way the staircase is lit, and the stair rails designed; the way the keys hang at reception.

There is nowhere we have found that has this encompassing, and inspiring, depth of modern-classic design beauty: the Waldhaus Sils has not been consciously designed, just put together and maintained by its family owners.

There is everything you would expect from a five-star Swiss hotel, including excellent, not over-fussy, cuisine; an indoor pool; and a service to take you to and from all the ski lifts of the St Moritz area to enjoy that snow. But we will be just as happy walking down through the snowdrifts to the wooded promontory on Lake Sils where the Romantic poets took inspiration, or to drink a hot chocolate laced with rum next to Nietzsche’s house in Sils itself. And walking back up to the hotel, crunching deeply through the white, and reflecting that the Waldhaus and its aura will still be with us long after the greatest literary figures of the 21st century have come and gone.

waldhaus-sils.ch/en

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LUX's featured luxury destination Davos, Switzerland
Outside view of the Belvedere hotel in switzerland, the best luxury hotel in Davos

The Steigenberger Grandhotel Belvédère, Davos

Why should I go there now?

The Belvédère is the hotel for top dignitaries at the World Economic Forum in Davos, held on the last week of this month; many of the most significant events are also held at the hotel, with a high likelihood of bumping into Emmanuel Macron, Bono, Bill Gates or Melania Trump (all at the same time).

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Unfortunately, if you’re not already on the global A-list, you’re not going to get a room at the Belvédère that week, no matter what you pay. But you might well be inspired by TV images of the handsome hotel façade and the mountain view beyond to visit the slopes of Davos at a less hectic time.

What’s the lowdown?

When it’s not hosting world leaders, Davos, along with the neighbouring village of Klosters, is at the centre one of Switzerland’s leading ski areas. The town is in a broad valley with skiing on four separate (and unfortunately not interconnected) mountains. Take the funicular up the most significant one of these, Parsenn, and you are rewarded with some of the prettiest and most varied skiing on a single mountain in the Alps; the long, sinuous red to the Schifer skilift alternates between open mountainside, gullies, and undulating forest.

Skiiers on the top of a mountain in Davos

Davos and Klosters serve one of Switzerland’s prettiest ski areas

And if you go before the end of February, you’ll maximise your chances of being able to complete one of the longest runs in Europe, which extends beyond Schifer, through forested hillsides, all the way down to Schiers, a 30-minute train ride from Davos. The total distance from peak to valley is 12km, all of it relatively easy. And this is Switzerland, so everything from ski and boot hire to lift operation to the buses running the length of the village, is beautifully efficient.

Getting horizontal

Unlike many ski resorts, Davos came of age as a spa town in the 19th century and the grandeur of the Belvédère reflects this era – as does its service, which is more fin-de-siècle luxury than Alpine cosy. We particularly enjoyed dinner in the Restaurant Belvédère, which has recently been modernised: bare wood floors, contemporary art, but still thankfully with tablecloths and traditional waitstaff – this would not be a place for a Soho House-style makeover. There was still a hint of Belle Epoque about the place; and another dinner in the Romeo & Julia Fondue Tavern featured a fabulously sourced and scented fondue.

Dining table at the Belvedere restaurant in Davos, Switzerland with views of the alps

Dining with a view at Restaurant Belvédère

Our room had a view across the rooftops to the mountains opposite; furnishings were traditional and the balcony was a fine place for a last schnapps of the day. There was also a good pool and spa area.

LUX's featured luxury destination Davos, Switzerland

Davos town, at 1500m, is quite functional; the surrounding mountains are excellent for intermediate skiers

Flipside

Unlike its neighbour Klosters, Davos is a rather functional town, not a village, so you won’t have the cute atmosphere of some of the Alpine resorts; and with no slopes above 2900m, it is best experienced when you are surest of snow – try zipping there before the WEF begins this month (though you’ll have to mind the temporary construction work and security at the Belvédère), or when everything is over in early February. The snow’s fabulous at the moment.

Rates: From 191.20 CHF ( approx. £150 / $200 /€150)

Darius Sanai

steigenberger.com

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Glenburn Tea Estate himalayas
Tea Estate himalayas

Breakfast is served alfresco at Glenburn Tea Estate on the terrace. Image by James Houston

The Himalayas are one of the few corners of the earth that remain unconquerable by humans. Many of the world’s highest peaks are yet to be summitted and much of the range is still a mystery. In the first leg of a journey from North East India to Nepal, Digital Editor Millie Walton ascends to the colonial city of Darjeeling to experience life at high altitude from the luxurious view point of Glenburn Tea Estate.

Life on the mountains begins at sunrise. The curtains of our suite are drawn at 6am with the delivery of “bed tea” ( a china teapot of the estate’s finest brew) and biscuits. The room glows pale yellow, a light which will soon turn bright and icy. We have been told that this is when the Himalayas are at their most magnificent as the sun slides down the edges of the mountains, and the snow blushes pink, then gold. This morning, however, nature won’t oblige voyeuristic eyes and the mountains are concealed by layers of puffy, white clouds. Set against, the vibrant green of Glenburn’s surrounding tea plantations, it’s still beautiful, but not quite Kanchenjunga.

Glenburn Tea Estate

Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world, sits opposite Glenburn

“You may need umbrellas. It rains almost every day here,” Jemima, our Scottish hostess warns us as we set off on a morning walk down to the Sikkim river. In the hot sun, it’s hard to believe, but the weather at high altitude is volatile and necessarily so for the healthy growth of tea. “Most people don’t realise that there are only two types of tea: Chinese and Assam. We grow both here at Glenburn,” our guide explains to us, as we stroll through the neatly combed lines of tea plants. Today is Sunday so there are no pickers at work, but there are over 1,000 employees on the estate who contribute in some way to the production of the tea. The estate, originally established by a Scottish family hence the Celtic name, is now owned and run by one of the most respected tea families in India, The Prakashesnot just as a business, but as a community. There are five villages, five schools, shops, hospitals, mosques, churches, Hindu and Buddhist temples on Glenburn’s hillsides. Lives are created and lived on the same soil from which the tea grows. It’s not something you tend to think about when you sit down for a cup of afternoon tea, but of course, most of the brands we are familiar with don’t have that kind of heritage, in fact, we’re told, a large percentage of the tea bags we dip into boiling water are stuffed with the leftover scrapings of leaves, the bad, cheap stuff. Unwittingly, our tastebuds have been dulled into acceptance of mediocre.

Read next: Hotel Byblos owner, Antoine Chevanne on intimate luxury

The Glenburn estate isn’t actually in the town of Darjeeling, and whilst it’s only 6 km away (as the crow flies), it’s a painful hour’s jeep ride along mountain roads and down dirt tracks to reach the pretty green and white cottages that sit on a well kept, mountainside shelf (each morning the postman makes the journey to deliver the daily newspaper). So it’s remote enough not to see or hear the deafening horns of India’s jostling traffic, which somehow still manages to infiltrate the lower parts of Darjeeling. Walking down an increasingly steep track to the river, the only sound is the singing of birds. The lower we descend, the more jungle like the landscape becomes – the mountains here are so vast that they support multiple ecosystems – and we arrive at the riverside campsite glistening. Here more adventurous guests can camp for a night in the basic, comfortable lodge, but compared to the four poster bed in our bright and spacious floral suite, we decide lunch will suffice.

Glenburn himalayan luxury

Tea pickers on the estate

The river, flowing fast with ice cold, glacial mountain water, is the border between West Bengal and Sikkim, and whilst Indians can move freely between the two states (we meet two men returning to a Glenburn village later on with baskets of beer hanging from their foreheads, as alcohol is cheaper across the water), foreigners require a permit to cross the bridge so all we can do is peer through the distant trees. The journey back is by jeep – luxury travel gives guests the option to choose the intensity of their adventure – and the clouds are still stubbornly blocking our view, smouldering with coming rain. Come nightfall though, the mountains around us are blinking with thousands of lights revealing the isolated communities that are hidden during the day. At a higher level, the sky seems even more black and endless filled with the vibrations of cicadas.

Himalayan Luxury

The Singalila Suite

Glenburn Tea Estate

Views from the bathtub. Image by James Houston

Dinner is served formally at 8pm, following colonial tradition, round a communal dining table after drinks in the drawing room. On the first night, guests timidly trot round the edge to find their place name, smiling shyly at their neighbour, but conversation flows freely after a few glasses of wine; the remoteness of Glenburn appears to attract a more worldly and relaxed type of traveller in comparison to city smart hotels. The menu is themed each night according to the produce the estate has been able to source, and whilst it’s not quite Michelin star quality gastronomy, the chefs do well with the limited resources, often incorporating tea into dishes in innovative ways. It’s a languid, indulgent and homely evening. The very charm of Glenburn lies in its unpretentiousness and eccentricity; each room is furnished with beautiful, “lived-in” antiques, battered board games are stuffed onto shelves amongst well read books, there are no locks on any doors and guests are free to wander without butlers pouncing on them to ask if they’d like another drink. It’s a nostalgic world that could not exist anywhere else, but the foothills of the Himalayas.

Read next: Haute cuisine at high altitude in Zermatt

That night, I’m awoken by the reverberating drumming of an insect calling out hopelessly into the darkness for a female. It’s almost 2am, hours from sunrise and yet… I draw back the curtains and in the silvery light of the moon glimpse the jagged edge of a luminous mountain, just visible for a moment before a shadow moves across the sky. There’s something reassuringly calming though, just knowing that the mountains are and always will be there.

glenburnteaestate.com

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The Alps are at their most sublime when the sun is warm, the snow has given way to meadows, and the crowds are far away, says Darius Sanai. Here we focus on two legendary resorts which really come alive in the summer

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 22.35.04

Postcard Perfect: The Matterhorn towers over Zermatt’s green summer slopes

Zermatt: The high peak paradise

Mention a luxury chalet in Zermatt to anyone with an ounce of snow in their blood, and they will immediately start to fantasize about the glorious off-piste of the Hohtälli, the vertiginous black runs down from Schwarzsee, the myriad routes down the back of the Rothorn. For chalets and Zermatt mean the ultimate in he-man (and she-woman) ski holidays on the highest runs in the Alps, for groups who can then relax in a super- luxe communal chalet and share stories.

There is, however, another and very different experience to be had in a chalet in Zermatt. Mine started with sitting outside on a broad balcony in a polo shirt, gazing up at the green foothills and rocky high peaks, birds and butterflies drifting past. The summer sun is strong here, but in the mountains the air is dry and there is always a hint of the glaciers in the breeze, so you never feel like you are sweltering.

Zermatt is a glorious place in the summer, as its soaring peaks – it is surrounded by 30 mountains of over 4,000m in height, more than any other village in the Alps – are less frozen, less forbidding, more open to being explored than in the ski season. And while the village is the number one Alpine destination for summer holidays, it is still less crowded than in winter, when the entire populations of Moscow and Mayfair flock to the village under the Matterhorn.

Peak Season: The village of Zermatt wears a cloak of green throughout the summer months, but the jagged Matterhorn retains its mantle of snow and ice

Peak Season:
The village of Zermatt wears a cloak of green throughout the summer months, but the jagged Matterhorn retains its mantle of snow and ice

Chalet Helion, run by uber-swish chalet company Mountain Exposure, is one of the ultimate incarnations of its breed. Technically, although it’s a wood-panelled, chalet-style building, it’s not actually a chalet; rather it is an extensive lateral apartment running across the breadth and length of the construction. You get there via a three-minute taxi ride or five-minute walk from the main train station. Cross the rushing green Zermatt river, walk past the art nouveau-style Parkhotel Beau Site on a little knoll, and there it is.

On walking into the apartment, turn left into a vast, open-plan living room/dining room/kitchen area, with space to seat a party of 20. It sleeps eight people and is well organized for entertaining, as the living quarters can be closed off from the dining and chilling space, where there is also a cosy study.

Draw back the curtains and, beyond the broad balcony terrace, is the most magnificent view in Europe: an uninterrupted vista of the Matterhorn. It rises above the end of the valley like some supernatural thing, a giant, quasi- pyramidical, almost vertical rock formation, covered in thick snow and ice, surrounded by glaciers, standing above other mountains that are green with friendly summer pasture. It looks down with disdain, mocking us mere humans with our pathetic summer activities.

It is also mesmerizing. From the balcony at dawn, it glows rose like a Laurent-Perrier champagne; in the middle of the day, its least forbidding time, it is all silvers and whites; at dusk, it takes on its most frightening aspect, its darkness making you think of all the climbers who have fallen thousands of metres to their deaths on it. My father climbed the Matterhorn when he was young and made me promise I would not do it; he can rest assured from his own place in the skies that there is no danger of that.

The Matterhorn is Zermatt’s brand, adorning every poster, postcard, sticker and banner. But development means it has become harder and harder to find a room with a view of the mountain itself rather than a view of the newest building. And this is what makes Chalet Helion so special, as its vista, from a gentle slope above the village centre, is uninterrupted.

But the mountain isn’t the sole reason to go to Zermatt. There’s only a certain amount of time you can stare at the almighty, after all. Just down from Chalet Helion is the lift system that takes you up to the Sunnegga-Rothorn mountain. A train tunnel bores through the bare granite and, three minutes later, you emerge into a wonderland.

Sunnegga, the first stop, is above the treeline and at the top of the steep foothills that border one side of the village. From here, unlike down in the valley, you see that the Matterhorn is just one of dozens of massive, icy, knife-edged peaks above the resort. Directly in front of you rise four 4,000m-peaks, culminating in the Weisshorn, shaped like a gigantic shark’s fin and, at 4,512 metres, even higher than the Matterhorn. To the left, snowy pinnacles hint at even higher summits. To see those, we climbed into the
cable car to the very top of this lift system, the 3,100-metre high Unter Rothorn (recently rebranded as just Rothorn, but as there are three variations on Rothorn around here, I prefer to stick to its original name). We stepped out into eye-watering sunshine and crunched onto a patch of snow left over from winter: 3,100 metres is high indeed. The peeking peaks from the previous stop now revealed themselves as six huge mountains layered in unimaginably thick snow and ice, rising above the Gornergrat ridge in between us.

The highest of these, Monte Rosa, looked like a giant’s meringue, massive but without the character or shape of the others. At 4,634 metres, it makes up in heft what it lacks in shapeliness: you can make out the other face of Monte Rosa quite clearly when standing on the roof of Milan’s cathedral, more than 100 miles away. (As a comparison, Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, is 1,343 metres, and Germany’s highest, the Zugspitze, is 2,963 metres.)

Zermatt is famed for its mountain restaurants, but that morning I had gone shopping at the local Coop (which in Switzerland means amazing fresh, local ingredients, from radishes to mountain cheese), and we picnicked instead, sat on a rock by the side of a pewter-coloured lake, in which the Matterhorn was perfectly reflected. Here, at Stelisee, you are at peace with the mountains above and the valleys below. The sun bakes you, apart from an occasional wisp of wind which wafts down from the glacier like nature’s own cooling mist spray. Butterflies, bees and millions of grasshoppers play among the fields of wildflowers all around. Even the Matterhorn from here looks less dark, more pretty. Never has an air-dried beef sandwich with freshly grated horseradish tasted more perfect.

Chalet Chic: Chalet Helion occupies the entire top floor of this traditional, pretty chalet building

Chalet Chic:
Chalet Helion occupies the entire top floor of this traditional, pretty chalet building

Walking down, we came across another lake, Leisee, deep green in colour. Fittingly, amid the sea of wildflowers surrounding this one, was a confederacy of tiny green frogs. Not much bigger than an adult fingernail, you had to be careful not to tread on them as you walked along the path.

Dinner in Zermatt comes with reservations in both sense of the word: you need to book, as the place is heaving in season; and you always feel slightly annoyed that the restaurants, however well deserved their culinary reputation, have no Matterhorn view, as they are clustered in the village centre.

This was a further joy of Chalet Helion. On most nights we cooked, and ate and drank local Valais wine (vibrant Fendant whites, deep Cornalin reds) on our balcony or at the dining table with our private, picture window view of the mountain fading to grey. After which, a Havana on the balcony: one clear night we could make out the helmet lights of the night climbers on the sheer rockface of the mountain.

On one evening, Mountain Exposure’s charismatic owner, Donald Scott, a British snow- phile who came to Zermatt and never left, brought one of the company’s chefs to create us a fabulous, complex Swiss mountain meal. Our dining area was transformed into a restaurant, an option open to any guest who pays.

We will certainly be back, for the view from Chalet Helion, and its entire experience, is as eternal as it is wondrous.

Chalet Helion is available summer and winter from Mountain Exposure, mountainexposure.com. For general information, see zermatt.ch

SPA AT MONT CERVIN PALACE

For decades Mont Cervin Palace has been the byword for glamour for all visitors to Zermatt. A well-kept secret is that this five-star hotel in the heart of the village has a beautiful, 25-metre indoor pool, and an outdoor spa pool and garden as part of its hidden annexe. The garden and outdoor pool (which is open year-round) have a dramatic view of the mountains from the village centre, and the indoor pool and hydrotherapy area are the best places in the valley to retreat to when the weather closes in – or if you want some cross-training exercise after a day’s skiing and hiking. The best news? They are open to non-residents, for a fee. montcervinpalace.ch

Gstaad: Alpine chic with a twist

Gstaad has a reputation as a gentle place, perhaps more suited to high net worth retirees wanting a peaceful and safe place close to their money (in Swiss bank accounts) in which to holiday. But that reputation vanished before my eyes as soon as I set foot into the garden of The Alpina hotel.

The Hills are Alive: Wildflowers fill the alpine meadows around Gstaad during the summer months

The Hills are Alive:
Wildflowers fill the alpine meadows around Gstaad during the summer months

Before me, a long outdoor pool, lined by teak decking and a few (not too many – this is Gstaad) sunloungers. Around it was a garden in full bloom; beyond that the rooves of this traditional village (The Alpina is on a small plateau above the centre), all framed by an amphitheatre of forest, meadow and mountain. Far away were high rocky peaks and glaciers. It was hot in the sun, and a first morning spent in and by the pool, accompanied by the occasional cocktail, was bliss due to true exclusivity. At that moment, in any number of luxury Mediterranean hotels, super- wealthy guests would be jostling for space by the poolside in neat rows, trying to attract the attention of overstressed serving staff, waiting far too long for their drinks to arrive.

We, on the other hand, had the attention of numerous waiters (there were a few other guests, but more than enough staff to deal with them) and sufficient space to have a conversation about my tax affairs on my phone with no danger of anyone overhearing (not that I would be so vulgar).

Mountain Highs: Gstaad rewards summertime visitors with verdant valleys framed by snow-capped peaks

Mountain Highs: Gstaad rewards summertime
visitors with verdant valleys framed by snow-capped peaks

Suite Dreams: Swiss artisans have created the interiors at The Alpina, using local stone and period woodwork

Suite Dreams:
Swiss artisans have created the interiors at The Alpina, using local stone and period woodwork

Wandering inside a neat little chalet, we found stairs to take us down to a cavernous and exquisitely finished spa area. One corridor led to a salt room, where even the walls were seemingly made of salt, another to the treatment rooms, and another to a quiet cafe area lined with photographic books and jugs containing various herb-flavoured waters.

Beyond that, another pool, inside the cavern, some 25 metres long, bookended by spa pools and crowned by a glass cupola looking into the garden above. If the weather ever failed, this would be the place to spend the day, as we discovered the next day when a thunderstorm swept in. The Alps form the border of the hot Mediterranean climate zone and rainy northern Europe, and you can feel the battle between one and the other, day by day.

When the sun reappeared we headed up the round, green mountain facing us – more a fairytale hill than a dramatic Alp – in a gondola and found a large chalet restaurant, Wispile, serving fondues made with cheese from the chalet’s own cows, clearly visible in the pasture above. The view was over the village and the wooded foothills and forests beyond, out towards Lake Geneva. Wispile also has a menagerie of animals, from llamas to pigs and goats, which families can help to feed.

If Wispile is all that you expect from a Swiss Alpine hut, the evening offering at The Alpina is something else entirely. The owners of this new uber-luxe hotel, which was clearly built to compete with, if not actually outdo, the celebrated Palace hotel down the road, wanted the best of world cuisine in a village not renowned for its cosmopolitan food offerings.

For MEGU, a Japanese restaurant in the heart of the hotel that is an outpost of the celebrated New York establishment of the same name, they enticed and employed master chefs from Japan. It shows: the sushi was magnificent. A taste that I will try and remember for the rest of my life is the signature crispy asparagus with crumbed Japanese rice crackers, chilli and lemon. The Oriental salad (various Chinese vegetables, nuts, seeds, sashimi of Dover sole and sesame oil) was also unique and memorable. Stone-grilled wagyu chateaubriand with a fresh (not powdered) wasabi soy reduction was also fabulously vibrant. I’d take MEGU over Nobu and Zuma, if only it were in London.

There was also Sommet, the hotel’s other signature restaurant, which holds two Michelin stars. It is hard to tell which is more important. Sommet has the better location, a big contemporary dining room with a view of pool and mountains, and seating on the broad terrace; MEGU is the cosy space behind the bar at the heart of the hotel. Sommet has 18/20 from the Gault et Millau guide and is refreshingly fuss- free. The seabass with artichokes, hazelnuts and spinach had simple, highly defined flavours, and the organic salmon steak with tomato and olive risotto was cooked with great attention to detail. Sommet’s chef has the confidence to let his quality ingredients, combinations and technique speak for themselves, and this is contemporary fine dining of the most appealing kind.

These were two of my most notable meals of the year, anywhere in the world, to the extent that I would make a journey to the hotel just to eat there, even if I couldn’t stay there. But for overall experience, they can’t quite match that of sitting by the outdoor pool, looking at the glowing green of the Alps, under the deep blue of the mountain sky, in utter peace, while sipping a perfectly made margarita, served by an unhassled staff member who knows exactly when to ask whether I’d like another one. That may not have been the first line of the owners’ business plan when they opened The Alpina, but they have succeeded in making Gstaad a true summer holiday destination beyond, I suspect, even their wildest dreams.

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Reading time: 12 min
The Matterhorn put Zermatt on the map

The Matterhorn put Zermatt on the map

DEEP BLUE SKIES, PERFECT TEMPERATURES, NO TEEMING CROWDS, EXCELLENT CUISINE, CLEAN AIR, ENVELOPED BY NATURAL BEAUTY: WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE ABOUT THE SWISS ALPS IN THE SUMMERTIME, ASKS Darius Sanai

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Beau Rivage Palace overlooking Lac Leman

The deep midwinter is when residents of the western hemisphere traditionally make their plans for the summer holidays, and the world’s travel industry has long been shaped around these rhythms. Things are changing, as a rapidly increasing number of travellers from countries where ‘summer’ is a far less clearly defined concept (think Singapore, Hong Kong, Brazil, India) make their presence felt. And even among those for whom seasons are clearly demarcated, the tendency towards last-minute travel means booking in July, for July, is more than a temporary trend.

But still: you’ll be reading this in the traditional Western winter, and you won’t have missed the flood of television and magazine advertisements enticing you towards your next grand trip. You may well hear the howling of a winter gale outside, and you might have gritted the drive this morning ahead of the forecast snow.

All of this might go some way to explaining why a quite perfect summer holiday destination for anyone with an active family, a love of luxury, culture, cuisine and the great outdoors, rarely appears at the top of people’s list. Switzerland is associated with many great things, but intense heat and sunshine are not among them, which is a great shame because I and the family picked up the most lasting tan in years during the couple of weeks we spent touring some of this country’s most interesting Alpine destinations last summer.  Switzerland may be mountainous, but the southern half of the country is also Mediterranean – it borders Italy, makes wine, serves antipasti and pizza, and some of it even speaks Italian – so sunshine is coupled with clean air and moderate temperatures. The latter is a boon as anyone who has ever tried to take small children to Sicily in August as we did the previous year may know. Forty degrees is OK for sipping rose in the shade, but not for actually doing anything much. In the mountains, strong sun combines with temperatures in the 20s to make for perfect days.

Before I continue, a note: this article has been strung together below from a series of visits at different dates to the destinations below. However, there is no reason at all why someone might not combine some or all of them in one trip, as Switzerland is as compact as it is mountainous.

By The Shores of Leman: The Beau Rivage Palace, Ouchy

Anyone who knows Lac Leman, or Lake Geneva, from its reference in TS Eliot’s rather depressing Wasteland poem might be expecting a rather gloomy place, but arriving in Ouchy, a bijou port village appended to the city of Lausanne, the feeling is just the opposite. The streets – formerly vineyards, which still surround the village – slope steeply down to the lakeside, the pastel coloured buildings speak of Romantic architecture, and the lake itself stretches thick and blue and still, some 10km across to the spectacular mountains on the French side, and as far as the eye can see both left and right. It’s a south facing location, not so much bathed as drowned in delicious southern sunlight: the point at which northern Europe becomes southern Europe. From here, all rivers flow south, to the Mediterranean, and the North European Plain is left behind.

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Beau Rivage Palace overlooking Lac Leman

The location deserves a great hotel, and it has one, courtesy of the Belle Epoque travellers who flocked here in search of sunshine and clean air. It pays to be wary of 100 year old palace hotels in Europe, as some of them have fallen into disrepair as travellers take their money away by jet; but I was delighted to see that it was precisely the opposite with the Beau Rivage. The ceilings are high, the corridors palatial and the ballroom is a wonder, but everything has been refurbished to top global standard at what must be an absolutely eyewatering cost to the private owners. Our rooms had two balconies looking out over manicured lawns, a wood, tennis courts, a large outdoor pool and a considerable terrace area – the hotel seemed to stretch in every direction, a great relief after the cramped conditions one encounters even in the very best Mediterranean hotels. The view stretched to the Mont Blanc massif, looming opposite over the lake (Mont Blanc itself is hidden behind its siblings), and to the Upper Rhone valley to the left.

The pool turned out to be two pools, indoor and out, with diversions to tennis, table tennis, giant chess and simply meandering through the grounds as appropriate. The surrounding area is home to one of the world’s highest concentrations of Michelin-starred restaurants, but, frankly, why bother? We started in the hotel’s bar, which has been remodelled with advice from some extremely cool Londonbased consultants in a super-contemporary style that is somehow still in keeping with the location – plenty of greys and dark woods, not too many urban whites. Mojitos, alcoholic and otherwise, provided a good counterpoint to the day’s heat, and I can’t imagine there are many other places in Switzerland where you can get a Mojito as good as at Claridge’s Bar.

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Gstaad Palace’s New Lounge

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Private spa suite at Gstaad Palace

The oriental-style bar snacks were spot on, but for dinner on our first night we revisited the same spot we had lunch, where I couldn’t resist revisiting a salad of rocket, artichoke, pine nut and parmesan, whose texture still lingers delightfully in the memory. The organic salmon nigiri with yuzu lemon and oyster espuma was a sort of aristocratic sushi that makes one wonder why more Japanese restaurants in Europe are not more adventurous with their nigiri variations. The menu is constantly changing, so you will likely not have what I did, but the conceptualising and cooking were pinpoint sharp. As was the wine list: a Crozes Hermitage from Jaboulet, from the excellent 2009 vintage, accompanied beautifully (although I was later to regret not having tried one of the excellent selection of Swiss wines).

The Cafe Beau Rivage is somewhere you could eat every meal of every day, but the hotel also owns a highly popular Italian trattoria/pizzeria in the neighbouring building whose terrace is the meeting point of the young cool set of the area, and a highly regarded traditional Japanese restaurant, Miyako, in the main building.

We left feeling rather guilty that we hadn’t indulged in a private boat trip on the lake, or visits to neighbouring vineyards, but it is always best to leave something for next time. The Beau Rivage palace is that rare example of a contemporary classic that makes its destination what it is: without it, Ouchy (pronounced Ooshy) would be a pretty lakeside village like many others in Switzerland and Italy (and it does have an Italianate feel).

Gstaad and the Palace

Ouchy may have views of high mountains, but in Swiss terms it is a lowland destination, on a large lake at a mere 375 metres altitude. From now, our trip would take us ever higher into the Alps. A little way down the lake from Lausanne is the town of Montreux, known for its globally-celebrated jazz festival but a slightly humdrum place otherwise. Montreux’s railway station is the starting point of the Goldenpass, one of the Alps’ most famed train rides. The train, with a special panoramic viewing roof, makes its way not along the lake, like the main train line, but up the mountainside abutting the lake. It climbs quickly to 1000 metres, over a pass, and then descends gently into a wonderland of deep green Alpine meadow, woodland, lush valleys, streams, and chalets.  The children kept a lookout for Heidi, and I kept wondering if it was all a projection by the Switzerland Tourism, the sophisticated national tourist authority, but no: it was real. The air was cooler but still warm, the sunlight tempered by dark forest, the slopes rising to snow patches below rocky peaks.

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Train arriving in Gstaad from Montreux

Gstaad is at the end of this expanse of Alpine perfection, a little town in a bowl of big hills and small mountains, with an open view in every direction. And the Palace in Gstaad sits atop the town like a fairytale castle, with its own tennis courts, spa hewn into the rock, and permanent residence (or so it seems) of clients who have either just arrived or are just about to leave in their private jets from the nearby airstrip. The rockfaces of the mountains turn gold in the dusk sunlight as the conversations on the terrace turn to what the next generation will do with the wealth amassed by this one. Not having to worry unduly about such things, we sipped our aperitifs every evening and spent daytimes split between the hotel’s own spa and exploring the mountains.

The spa feels very Swiss, hewn out of the rockface under the hotel, with a granite-lined pool that stretches in an Lshape to a glass wall that opens fully on summer days. The treatments are perfectly thorough and correct as you would expect, my massage unclicking a joint that had been frozen for months; and the adults-only hydrotherapy pools are a fine place to spend a while amid the view. It was here that I noted another key advantage over traditional summer destinations: you are not overwhelmed by other people’s children; in fact, they are a mere footnote to the rather discerning adult clientele. The Palace is a lively place in winter with its louche nightclub Greengo, but in summer it is altogether more chilled out.

Gstaad’s mountains are not toweringly high by Swiss standards, but it’s an excellent place to start: we took a lift up to a restaurant atop one of the mid-size mountains from where the view stretched to the next range behind, and after a rustic lunch of veal (adults) and veal sausages (children) the offspring spent an enjoyable hour or two amusing themselves by seeing if there was anything in the meadow the restaurant owner’s pet goats would not eat. Branches, dandelions, weeds and wildflowers alike were consumed by the goats-with-a-view.

The people, like the goats, traditionally ate what was available locally here, which explains the surfeit of excellent veal which, being local, comes with fewer animal rights worries. And then there are the products, notably the local Gstaad cheese and the considerably more famous Gruyere from just down the valley. These combine most notably in a fondue, and on the recommendation of the local tourist office one evening we took a twenty-minute journey to Gsteig, the next village in the valley, for a fondue at Baren Gsteig.  Amid low beams and cowbells, we settled down to the freshest fondue I have experienced. It may sound odd to call a cheese fondue fresh, but I suspect the fact that all the cheese used

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Edward Whymper was the first to climb the Matterhorn

was unpasteurised hard cheese made a significant difference to both the bite and the minerality of the dish. The bread was just right too, slightly stale (one day old, we were told) crusty local sourdough – if it’s too fresh, it flops into the melted cheese. The fondue also contained a dose of the local brandy, adding more bite and fruit freshness.

Another evening we went to the oldest restaurant in Gstaad proper, at the Hotel Post, on the bijou little high street, where the steak (local, again) had a combination of metallic earthiness and butter-tenderness I haven’t encountered elsewhere.

The Palace is a most civilised place to return after such rustic outings: the lobby and bar have a chalet-like feel, but the view is all around. On our last evening, the moon lit up the glacier at the side of the far peak up the valley. We were due to visit the glacier, accessible by cable car, but this was not to be this time. Again, something for another time.

To Zermatt

If there is one place in Switzerland, or indeed the Alps, that can claim to be as important in summer as it is in winter, it is Zermatt. Skiers may know the resort for its challenging black runs, excellent apres-ski, and cosy haute-cuisine mountain dining. But Zermatt is that rare resort, where visitors and global celebrity predated going down mountains with two planks tied to your feet. Like many chi-chi Alpine villages, it was for centuries a remote and impoverished farming hamlet, but its transformation came in the 19th century when Victorian-era Britons, bent on surmounting every challenge the world held, came to conquer its iconic mountain, the Matterhorn.

In the 1860s, successive climbing parties arrived in Zermatt bent on scaling the Matterhorn (now known to anyone who eats chocolates or buys Caran d’Ache pencils) and other peaks in the amphitheatre that surrounds the valley: along with Chamonix, the French

village at the foot of Mont Blanc, Zermatt can lay claim to being the home of Alpinism, of mountaineering as we know it.

Even 150 years later, with the arrival of the big-money skiing parties and the accessibility of higher and more challenging mountain ranges in Asia and South America, Zermatt still attracts the Alpinists in summer. The Matterhorn’s most accessible ridge, first climbed by the Englishman Edward Whymper in 1865 in a tragic expedition that involved the death of four of its members and which cemented the mountain’s ominous reputation, is now more accessible. With the help of fixed ropes, a carefully mapped route, and modern equipment,

hundreds of people climb it every year. But its other aspects, and in particular its vertical North Face, remain a monumental challenge, as do a number of the 30 other 4000 metre high peaks that surround Zermatt.  Oddly, none of these other peaks, the largest collection of 4000 metre mountains in the Alps, are available as the train ascends the valley to Zermatt.

The village still bans cars, so train is the only way to arrive. Alight at the train station, in a mini urban sprawl, and you may wonder what the fuss is all about. But take a few paces over towards the river, look up, and there is the Matterhorn, as otherworldly as it ever was, rising to 4478 metres above Switzerland and Italy.

For me there was only one place to stay in Zermatt. The Monte Rosa hotel is the village’s original hotel, built in the 19th century to house those climbing parties, and gently renovated since. Its heart and soul are in Alpinism: the walls are festooned with souvenirs from climbing parties, letters of good wishes from the likes of Winston Churchill to resident climbers, some of them triumphant, some doomed.

The bar is cosy, low-ceilinged, a place to exchange stories about the day’s adventures, although today’s climbers are no longer all gentlemen of the aristocracy and many of them stay in the town’s youth hostel instead. The restaurant is a classic white tablecloth hotel dining room where you dine on the set menu and choose from the array of Swiss wines on the list, including some very interesting Pinot Noirs from the east of the country, and, my personal favourites, some rich, spicy satisfying single vineyard wines made with the local Cornalin grape in the sunny Swiss Rhone valley nearby.

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Monte Rosa, the home of Alpinism

The Monte Rosa still occupies its original site in the very heart of the village on the square, and the hotel itself attracts carefully limited numbers of tourists come to visit the original home of the Alpinists. Its sister hotel, the Mont Cervin, a couple of hundred metres away, has a large pool, spa and garden that guests can use. The view from our suite was directly to the Matterhorn’s north face, with the village church beside us. And Zermatt, you rapidly learn when you arrive there, is not about lounging about in your hotel: it is about activity. There is a cog railway station opposite the main railway station in the village, and here we boarded a narrow gauge train that inched its way through the village and up through the thick forest on the steep valley sides. So far, Zermatt had remained an enigma, the Matterhorn towering over it, but the vast amphitheatre of mountains that accompany it remaining hidden behind the steep valley sides.

As the Gornergrat train climbed, peaks started to reveal themselves on the opposite side of the valley. Like an animal revealing its sharp teeth, they emerged, pyramidal rock faces rising above the glacier and pricking the sky, and within minutes we were faced with a panorama of jagged edged 4000 metre mountains, from the Weisshorn to Dent Blanche, that climbers the world over come to conquer.

The train’s track rose above the treeline and still we carried on climbing. Another towering series of jagged peaks emerged on our side of the valley, plunging down into scree, valley, and forest. The Gornergrat mountain we were ascending flattened out, the train climbed over a ridge, and suddenly the most spectacular view of all confronted us, a huge series of snowy giants looming at us from directly across the long tongue of a glacier. This was the Monte Rosa, the highest mountain in Switzerland, and its associated peaks.

Emerging, blinking, onto the rock and summer snow patches of Gornergrat, 3100 metres up, we climbed to a rocky viewing point. There was a 360 degree view of peaks higher than 4000 metres, and very little sign of human civilisation.  Below us on one side a near vertical slope dropped to the glacier, where we could just pick out the figures of some climbers tramping their way back from an expedition.

Walking down a little from Gornergrat, trying not to get vertigo, we passed a heavenly mountain lake, surrounded on all sides by wild flowers, in which a rockpool of tadpoles swam, and where an elegant green frog sat sunning itself on a grass patch. The path picked its way through more high meadows of wildflowers, around the ridge, and to the Riffelberg train stop, where we boarded the train home.

On another day we took a lift up the neighbouring mountain, past a little green lake, and strolled down to Findeln, a little hamlet in a sainted position facing the Matterhorn across the valley. We sat on the terrace at the Findlerhof restaurant and enjoyed astonishing food: sashimi with a lime dip; beautifully cooked sea bass; veal in a gentle white wine sauce. The terrace was spacious, wooden and rustic with an astonishing view; the food was perfect urban sophistication. Apparently there are dozens of restaurants like that on Zermatt’s mountains, something the original climbing parties plainly missed.

Pontresina and the Engadine

There is a train that connects Switzerland’s two most famous resorts, Zermatt and St Moritz, directly. The Glacier Express runs several times a day in summer, and while it neither goes through a glacier (although you see plenty) or goes very fast (rather the opposite), the seven hour journey was a great way to kick back, relax and watch central Switzerland proceed slowly past.

Our destination was not St Moritz itself but its chic neighbouring resort of Pontresina, and its flagship hotel, the Kronenhof. Pontresina is a tiny Italian-feeling village on a ledge above the high Engadine valley that cuts through the mountains of eastern Switzerland, near the Austrian and Italian borders. The Kronenhof has a grand courtyard on the village’s main street and a dramatic view across the valley and up towards the glaciers of the Piz Buin.

It was remarkable and rather wonderful to find a hotel of such sophistication so deep in the mountains. The huge indoor pool has been built onto the valley side of the hotel and, surrounded by glass, gives a feeling of flying, with mountains all around. Our suite’s balcony looked down onto forest and up onto glacier, and the jazz bar, again with dramatic views, felt very F. Scott Fitzgerald.

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Pontresina’s flagship hotel, the Kronenhof

The Kronenhof is a big hotel with a panoply of distractions, including one of the region’s finest restaurants (which we have saved for next time), an extremely spacious and throrough kids club, replete with a proper children’s library, and a spa, attached to the pool, so good that it attracts the glitterati from nearby St Moritz all winter. Our room was decked in contemporary Alpine cool, plenty of blond wood, stone and grey, with generous panorama areas to look at the views, and a bathroom squarely aimed at the demanding international traveller.

One morning, leaving the hotel, we took the quaint, twoseater chairlift up through the forest to Alp Languard, a restaurant on a ridge overlooking Pontresina’s valley and the Engadine; another high mountain lunch of extraordinary quality ensued, and a hike up towards the high ridge at the top, which, eventually, defeated us. We took the chairlift down through the forest, amid the scent of pine and wildflowers.  Tea at the Kronenhof involved the magnificent sight of the mountains turning rose, as the sky at this high altitude (the village is at 1800m) turned pink then midnight blue.

Perhaps the most memorable aspect of our stay was the evening we made our way down the 10 minute walk to the bottom of the valley, to be met by a coach and two – two horses pulling an open carriage. The children were thrilled, and the horses made their way up the secret Val Roseg. It is secret because it is a nature reserve, with no cars or even mountain bikes allowed – only horses and hikers. At the end of the high valley loomed a great white dome of a mountain, above the Roseg Glacier, and it was to the edge of this glacier that we made our way, up the enchanted valley, along a river, past a family of marmots, the most elusive of Alpine creatures, who stood to attention as we rode past.

Dinner was at Alp Roseg, another spectacular mountain restaurant with a vast wine list and haute-rustic cuisine, where steak in cafe de paris sauce was consumed with so much gusto you might have thought we, and not the horses, had done the climbing. The journey back in the starlight was equally memorable.

The Waldhaus at Flims

Flims is a resort that has become something of a legend among the snowboarding community. It sits on a very sunny, south facing shelf above the Rhine valley, in eastern Switzerland, halfway between Pontresina and Zurich.  On the forested plateau adjoining Flims, in its own generous grounds, sits the Waldhaus resort, a Victorian-era grand hotel that has been developed and brought up to date.  The grounds are generous enough to incorporate forest, copious lawns, an adventure playground, and a large petting zoo where the children spent amounts of time befriending donkeys, goats and chickens – the animals were so well fed by the hotel that their attempts to feed them usually ended in failure.

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The Waldhaus resort in Flims

The hotel has a glass-encased indoor pool and interconnected outdoor pool, and, next to it, a natural swimming pool where you can swim in non-chlorinated water among frogs and small fish.

We enjoyed a memorable cocktail and canapes on the terrace of the pavillion one evening as the sun set over the mountains opposite, and a very sophisticated meal at one of the hotel’s fine dining restaurants, Rotonde, with its floor to ceiling windows looking onto the forest; those in search of even higher cuisine can venture to Epoca, which has 17 Gault Millau points.

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A trip on a chairlift took us to the Berghaus Naraus, a restaurant on a south-facing ledge with sweeping views and an excellent line in barley soup and air-dried beef – and yet another quite astonishing wine list, which we resisted, it being lunchtime. Instead

we saved ourselves for dinner at the Arena Kitchen Flims, a cool, urban bar,

club and restaurant that could have been in Vermont or Colorado, in the city centre. It was quiet in summer, but you could imagine the teeming hordes in the ski season.

And that, I think, is the way I like it: clean sunshine, pure air, astonishing views, focussed cuisine, excellent service, Europe’s best hotels, and no teeming hordes. I’ll be back to Switzerland in summer.

Beau Rivage Palace: brp.ch

Gstaad Palace: palace.ch

Monte Rosa: monterosazermatt.ch

Grand Hotel Kronenhof: kronenhof.com

Waldhaus Flims: waldhaus-flims.ch

The best way to travel around Switzerland is by train. See swissrailways.com for details

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