Charming villages, majestic peaks, splendid thermal resorts, fascinating views, perfect hotels and restaurants… for most tourists, switzerland is synonymous with quality. Over 120 resorts, 48 peaks with a height of more than 4,000 metres, the longest skiing tracks in Europe and the highest skiing zones.
The history of various sports and of winter tourism is strongly associated with the most famous Swiss resort of St. Moritz. More than 150 years ago, a hotel owner in St. Moritz, Johannes Badrutt, made a bet with his English guests, offering to pay for all of their travel costs from London to the resort if they didn’t like the Swiss winter. The skeptical Englishmen arrived before Christmas. and stayed until April. That was the beginning of winter tourism in Switzerland.
A LIVING HISTORY
In 1880, this resort hosted the continent’s first curling tournament. Two years later, the first figure skating championship in Europe took place in St. Moritz. At the end of the 19th century, the resort became popular among wealthy Englishmen, who enjoyed the charms of the Swiss winter. Tired of parties, they started to compete in sledging contests. Chasing each other in the usual way seemed boring, so they began to dash about the icy streets of St. Moritz on metal sledges, lying down head first. Soon, a Crest run appeared – a skeleton track with natural ice, starting right at the Kulm hotel. It was on this track that the Olympic competitions of 1928 and 1948 took place, long before this kind of sport was included in the official program of the Winter Olympic Games. The first skiing school, the first snowbound horse races, the first golf tournament in the Alps and even the first electric street-lighting in Switzerland (in 1878) – at the end of the 19th century, St. Moritz changed from a small mountain village into a modern city. No wonder St. Moritz is the only Alpine resort that has hosted the world championships in mountain skiing on three separate occasions, let alone the Winter Olympic Games, which have taken place in St. Moritz twice – no other Alpine resort can claim such an honour. The world mountain skiing championship will be held in St. Moritz for the fourth time in 2017, which will constitute another record.
The rich winter program of events and entertainment offered by St. Moritz includes the famous White Turf horse race, which gathers all of the beau monde, the unique gastronomic festival, the snow polo event, and various competitions. Every week, something interesting and unusual is happening in the city. For those who prefer to spend their money on more active pursuits, St. Moritz offers a Ski Pass for only 35 Swiss Francs a day – much cheaper than at most European resorts.
These places are incredibly beautiful – even the Swiss themselves, used to this incredible beauty, like to rest in the Berner Oberland. The white peaks of the mountains standing in line four thousand kilometers high, the turquoise waters of the lakes and the mountain rivers, the roofs of the houses covered with snow… it is a real winter fairytale. The Jungfrau region includes such ski resorts as Grindelwald, Wengen, and Murren, with over 210 km of tracks, the perfect place for skiing and good hotels and restaurants. In addition, you can visit Bern or Interlaken to go shopping, to have a meal in a good restaurant or to go to a concert without spending hours travelling. There are two skiing zones immediately above Grindelwald that are perfect both for newcomers and for veteran skiers. Grindelwald and the picture-postcard Wengen share tracks that are perhaps the most beautiful in the Berner Oberland. The very recognisable trio of mountains – the Eiger, the Monch and the Jungfrau, standing in a line as if posing for a photographer – always catches the eye.
Cosy streets decorated with Christmas illumination, chocolate boutiques, excellent hotels with modern spa centers, shopping – Interlaken always has something interesting to offer. From December to February, the city center turns into a fairytale called Ice Magic (www.interlaken. ch). Several skating rinks of various sizes are connected via a long ice track. After skating to your heart’s content, you can warm yourself up with mulled wine and have dinner in a nearby restaurant. The skating rinks and tracks are open in Interlaken every day from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p. m. from 19 December to 27 February. You can hire all the necessary equipment, and for children there is a special skating rink with supporting figures.
In the hotels, restaurants and various street decorations in the Canton of Bern, you will again and again see black and white pictures of cows going from the pastures up to the mountains. When you take a closer look at the pictures, all cut from paper, you can’t but be struck with delight – how could these possibly have been made? Decoupage, or the tradition of making pictures from paper, is popular in Gstaad and its surroundings. The main complexity is in the incredible delicacy of the work. All of the smallest details – the fir tree needles, the tree leaves, the bells on the cows and the goats – are cut with special high-precision scissors. But Gstaad is famous not only for its paper artifacts and beautiful souvenirs. This ski resort offers over 220 km of tracks, and on Clacier 3000 you can ski from October to May. Not so long ago, a unique viewing platform was built – the world’s first bridge to connect mountain peaks. In good weather, you can see not only Mont Blanc, the Eiger, the Monch and the Jungfrau, but also the famously recognisable Matterhorn Pyramid – 24 peaks reach over 4,000 metres in height. Gstaad and the neighbouring resorts are the places in Switzerland with the highest concentration of good restaurants – from the gastronomic, with Michelin stars and GaultMillau points, to the simple and homely. In total, there are over 100 restaurants and cafes at the resort and in the surroundings.
A REASONABLE COMPROMISE
Travelling to the mountains is a winter fairytale for those who like mountain skiing, and is no less of a fairytale for those who do not have a strong desire to spend all day on the slopes. In Switzerland, there are many opportunities for other endeavours. For instance, you can get accommodation in Lucerne, the country’s most visited city and one which lies only 54 km away from Zurich.
On a good day, you can go up Rigi Mountain in an antique steam train that looks like it came from another century (departs from Arth-Goldau or Vitznau). On this mountain, called the Queen of Mountains for its beauty and views, there is a wellness centre, Rigi Kaltbad Mineral Baths & Spa, which opened not so long ago and is a project by the famous Swiss architect Mario Botta. Visitors can admire the mountains right from the heated spa pools, and those eager to ski can do so on the Rigi mountain tracks or go to a neigbouring resort.
Every year, a million tourists come to the Swiss Alps for skiing or snowboarding. There are mountains in other countries, though not nearly so beautiful, but a thermal resort that uses 5 million litres of water daily from a source of 51 degrees Celsius cannot be found anywhere else. The Leukerbad, the largest wellness resort in the Alps, is located in one of the most picturesque areas in the Canton of Valais. Both spa and wellness lovers and skiing enthusiasts are sure to like the Leukerbad. And if you are not too tired, you can take a walk along the scenic paths around the resort.
Winter walks in the mountains are a new European trend. More and more people are coming to mountain resorts to enjoy the pristine natural beauty, to wander about snowy forests or to have a winter picnic. In winter, many routes are even more beautiful than in summer. It will suffice to mention dawn at the Matterhorn foothills or an evening walk under the setting sun with a view of the legendary peaks. If the idea of simple walks along the snow-cleared paths seems like a strange undertaking, you can choose a gastronomic, historical or educational route: during your walk you can sample wine or learn something new and interesting. In Switzerland, tourists face only one danger: it is so beautiful and attractive that it can be addictive. You will not be able to do anything about your desire to return to this country again and again.