From an igloo hotel to llama treks and skiing in the light of a full moon, winter magic abounds in the Swiss Alps, writes Andrew Conway
On my first visit to Switzerland in 2001, I skied on the perfectly groomed slopes of Grindelwald, drank Gluehwein at a mountainside apres-ski bar at sunset, dined on raclette and fondue, and rode on a horse-drawn sleigh under the light of a waxing moon. It was magical – Switzerland at its best – or so I thought.
Fast-forward 20 years and what was ‘best’ then has become even better. This wonderful landlocked nation, blessed beyond measure by nature, has taken the concept of the traditional winter ski holiday and turbo-charged it, both for the first-time visitor and active travellers looking for exciting and memorable first-time experiences.
It goes without saying you’re likely to ski or snowboard during a winter vacation in Switzerland. With over 330 ski resorts and countless kilometres of groomed and off-piste mountain trails, the Swiss Alps is a veritable playground for outdoor sports enthusiasts.
But what if you could learn ski touring and spend the night in a remote mountain hut? How about embarking on a llama trek (yes, there are llamas in Switzerland), an adrenalin-pumping alpine skydive or downhill skiing in the light of a full moon?
All these and more are the foundation of a new campaign by Switzerland Tourism, myfirsttime.ch, an inspiration hub featuring 100 one-of-a-kind experiences to try during Switzerland’s winter season.
A combination of day, evening and overnight activities, featuring skiing, sledding, animals, relaxation and gastronomy, these ‘first-time’ experiences offer something for all ages, skill levels and budgets and extend across the country from Andermatt to Zermatt.
And when combined with a Winter Magic Tour – an eight-day itinerary featuring Interlaken, Zermatt and St. Moritz and including accommodations, ski tickets and rentals, train tickets and even seat reservations, you have the makings of the perfect Swiss winter holiday.
Andermatt is the location for a fire-and-ice winter forest experience, a half-day guided hike on snow shoes through a crystalline forest, followed by an open-air bath in a heated wooden tub with beautiful views of Damma Glacier, and a heart-warming fondue in a quaint alpine stable.
Another family-oriented half-day tour is a unique llama trek through the snow-covered meadows and forests overlooking Lake Brienz. Llama farmer Oxi Flück helps guests to bond with and groom these gentle animals before setting off on a trek with spectacular views of the lake and ending with an outdoor fondue feast, cooked over an open fire.
The ancient sport of skijoring – said to be more than 4,000 years old – is offered from Chateau-d’Oex, where you can step into ski or snowboard bindings, hold onto a leash and allow a single horse to pull you across rolling countryside. Think skiing with 1HP and you’ll get the picture.
Adrenaline junkies can head to Interlaken for thrilling skydiving experiences high above the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau alpine regions; you can downhill ski in the light of the full moon from Morteratsch-Bernina-Diavolezza before enjoying a romantic dinner at the summit restaurant; or take a ski touring course from Morgins to explore the peace and solitude of Valais.
All this activity will surely whet your appetite, and food lovers are well catered for with a full-day winter gourmet hike from Flims Laax Falera; a mouthwatering ‘Rolling Raclette’ experience from Engelberg; and an array of outstanding dining and accommodation options such as Boutique Hotel Romantica Val Tuoi in Guarda and the incomparable Chamonna Tuoi, one of just a few Swiss mountain huts that stay open throughout winter. Nestled at the foot of Piz Buin, about 50 kilometres northeast of St. Moritz, this secluded retreat is the perfect place for skiing, hiking and stargazing.
For the ultimate, chilled-out, bucket-list experience, head for Schangnau im Emmental and its eye-catching igloo hotel, complete with a sauna, a cosy igloo restaurant and sheepskin blankets.
And if you happen to go back and repeat any of these unique experiences, remember this. In Switzerland, it’s always as good as the first time.
Switzerland adopts strict health and safety protocols
Switzerland has long been considered a paragon of wellbeing and its legion of tourism operators are taking special measures to protect all citizens and visitors during the global pandemic.
Supported by Switzerland Tourism, the Clean & Safe campaign has implemented advanced health and safety protocols across the country, especially in the accommodation and transport sectors.
The wearing of face masks is currently mandatory across the entire Swiss public transport system. All travellers are asked to adopt required social distancing measures and, where possible, all paid services during a journey should be cashless.