Swiss PUREfection – An Alpine Village Ski Fairytale

 It is true, just about everything is PUREfect in Switzerland.

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The Mighty Matterhorn

The air is invigoratingly fresh, the water crystal clear, the trains  strictly punctual, and just about all facets of life appear very well organized.

The goal of this trip was to discover the perfect alpine ski holiday for my clients who love to ski but even more importantly love all that goes with a European mountain holiday – fine food and wine and the charm and tradition only found in an authentic alpine village.

Non-stop flights into Zurich or Geneva are possible from many US Gateways and a stop over in either city for a wonderful rest, a bit of history, and some excellent food is a must.

I stopped over in Zurich and stayed at the perfectly charming Baur Au Lac located right on the Limmat River at the mouth of Lake Zurich.  Zurich is the largest of the Swiss cities, but so perfectly peaceful, calm and yes, organized that it is a wonderful way to overcome a bit of jet lag.  I suggested a guide for a half day city tour of old town, some of the marvelous old churches, and some time on the chic industrial west side for dinner or theatre.

A rest at the historic Hotel Baur Au Lac, reached just 15 minutes from the airport with wonderful beds, big open windows to breathe in the fresh air, and absolute quiet offers a welcome respite from jet fatigue.

Train travel is Switzerland is truly a joy – timeliness is ingrained in the Swiss culture and everything literally does run like clockwork.  You need to have your game on though, pack only what you can carry and be prepared to switch trains sometimes with only minutes to spare.  3 trains later and less than 3 hours, our train pulled into the charming and star-studded village of Gstaad.  The driver from the Alpina Gstaad, of course was on had to greet me the moment I bounded from the train, large suitcase in hand.

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Nothing prepared me for the Wow experience that is the Alpina Gstaad.  An alpine hotel experience like this simply does not exist in the United States. 

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Keep in mind that the primary difference between European skiing vs. US Skiing is the village experience.   While in the US we very much value the ski in-ski out access and convenience of ski resorts, keep in mind that in Europe most of the villages have been here for hundreds of years, much longer than skiing has been around.  This means that you must often shuttle, walk, train or drive to the actual gondolas which are often built above the villages.  Not in all cases, there are certainly some very efficient and purpose built ski villages just as you find in the US, but then you are trading that for the picturesque alpine village that make the European ski experience so special.   As long as you are prepare to work a little bit harder to get to the slopes, you will be largely rewarded by a European holiday, incredible food and beverage and lots and lots of charm.

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Welcome to the Alpina Gstaad

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In general skiers here are happy to enjoy a leisurely breakfast and get to the slopes by mid morning, taking in a few runs before an incredible mountainside lunch, followed by possibly a few more runs in the afternoon but many do head to the pools and spa or a nap in the afternoon, again it is not all about the skiing – it is the entire Alpine experience. 

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Only in the Alps are these craggy mountain views found!

So, back to Alpina Gstaad – approximately 50 rooms and suites, all with enormous balconies, fire places, hand carved wooden beamed ceilings, wonderful beds and bathrooms, tons of closet space and drawers, and panoramic mountain views.  One thing that the hotel gets so right, among many, are the controls for curtains, sheers, awnings, ambient lighting – everything is at the touch of a button and allows you to create so many environments depending on the sIMG_4909trength of the sun or the time of day.  I for one had my doors open and my fireplace on throughout my stay – such a magical place to rest in between ski runs and meals!

I wont even go into the art and furnishings but suffice to say, all is eye candy and such an interesting and chic pairing, a surprise at every turn.

The Michelin Star restaurant was perhaps one of the most impressive meals I have had in a long while but that is not the only thing worth eating!  

A traditional Swiss fondue and raclette restaurant and a very impressive Japanese restaurant, both surprise and delight.  Guests receive a daily 100 Swiss Franc credit to use as they wish for their food and beverage!

For those willing to spend the money, to have the Alpina Gstaad experience, they will most definitely feel the money is well spent for an experience that is anything but ordinary.  Europeans travel with children and they are very much welcome at the Alpina – in the restaurants, during designated times in the Six Senses Spa, at the indoor and outdoor pools or  in the cheerful Tree House (or kids club).

Tonight, we have a private screening in the Alpina movie theatre – but this is a great spot for older kids to relax for their après-ski time, with movies shown several times a week at 5:30pm.

Gstaad, a sleepy but posh town, is a great spot for winter or summer fun. It is not for the die-hard skier but for the dabbler who is happy to get a few runs in at one of the many ski areas but appreciates rest, gourmet adventures and socializing in a beautiful place.

Next stop, Zermatt in the extreme South on the border with Italy.  Zermatt is the Swiss town of your imagination with horse drawn carriages, no cars in the old town (except for the small electric taxis), and wonderful history and architecture.  Guests can be taken to and from the train station in a horse drawn carriage!  The city truly has an old world village feel that many who come to ski in Europe are seeking.  Of course the claim to fame is the iconic and beautiful Matterhorn, which is the subject of countless photos and never fails to impress.

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Train up through the Alps

The skiing in Zermatt is exceptional and vast with some of the most beautiful topography that the Alps have to offer.  The hotels here are adorable and quaint with the grand dame being the historic 57 room Grand Zermatterhoff.  Every room is different and feels very Swiss with a modern touch.  It will be important to know what is important to you in order to help select the best room – is it a Matterhorn view, a balcony, a fireplace or extra space – I am glad that I got to see so many room types in order to best guide you.

Zermatt has more coveted Gomeo points than any other town in Switzerland; this means that for gourmands, there are fantastic options.   The village is walkable and has great shops and après-ski opportunities, but the most special part of Zermatt is the mountain itself and the unique restaurants and bars and even small hotels that you happen upon. Unlike in the US where most of the dining establishments are actually owned by the ski resort, in Switzerland and specifically Zermatt, you find 100 year old family owned establishments that have outstanding food and character.  The lunch spot we chose today had incredible small roasted chickens on a spit and a plate of Gnocchi rivaling anything across the border in Italy.

Climbing the mountain in Zermatt may involved several different gondolas, trams, chair lifts, t-bars, etc.  You definitely need a map and keep in mind you wont just find skiiers.  Many go up to hike, walk their dogs, snow shoe, or to simply go out to a restaurant and take in the views.  Again, it is not all about the skier – the mountains are a way of life and everyone of all ages enjoys them.  I love the number of older people you see on skis in Europe, you just don’t find this as often in the US.  The hotels have fitness centers, but the Europeans prefer to just go and walk up the mountain for their adrenaline rush.  They eat very well, but believe me everyone is fit!

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Para Skiing anyone?

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Our wonderful ski guide, Jeremy – the Zermattian!

So, it is always helpful to have a guide to show you the best runs for your needs. We were assigned a young Zermattian named Jeremy who really made our day great!  The guides will gladly pick you up at your resort and are true experts on the mountain and the area.  Best times for skiing in the Alps are Christmas – but be prepared for 10 night minimum stay.  Spring is a gorgeous time to ski in the Alps and those with early March breaks may be in for a real treat with tons of sun, but this may mean some runs will be closed and afternoons that can be a bit slushy – a guide insures you are always on the best runs.  The beauty of Zermatt is that at 12,000 feet and an enormous glacier, there is always a place to ski even year-round.

What do I love most about Switzerland? 

The Punctuality – Well for one the efficiency and timeliness is beyond anything I have seen anywhere in Europe. Perhaps it is their history as watchmakers but everything and everyone is extremely punctual.  Things run, well, like clockwork!  Taking the trains is a dream come true and you can truly get to every nook and cranny that exists.  As one train rolls in to the station at 3:23 and your connection is due at  3:28, run like hell because they are not waiting.  Punctuality is literally a source of national pride and I had to crack up when they did announce over the loud speaker with disdain that such and such train was running 15 minutes late “and this is due delays from abroad” (meaning Italy, of course, tardiness would never be a Swiss issue!).

The Cleanliness – Everything is spotless everywhere – the air, the water, the streets, the trains, the hotels, the public bathrooms, everything – again a source of national pride!

The Language – Yes, all of them!  No matter where you are and what is happening the Swiss bounce back and froth fluidly and without missing a beat in German, Italian, French and English.  They might use a bit of all in one sentence but they also know who to respond to with Merci, Danke, Grazie and thank you!  Of course, in general, Europeans tend to be excellent with languages but the prize by far goes to the Swiss not because they know so many languages, but because they use them all with ease and every day!

The People – The Swiss may be considered predictable, or organized or sometimes even bland.  They have a way about them that is calm, confident, very happy, and always exceptionally pleasant.  I did not see or speak to anyone who was not genuinely delighted to be in the moment of whatever they were doing – and I do not mean just at five star hotels, everywhere. They love the great outdoors and value their breathtakingly beautiful country!   I am convinced again, that general happiness and comfort in who they are is a national trait (and treasure!)

So for an alpine ski holiday or a summer trekking trip in the mountains or lakes, Switzerland checks so many boxes and is an exceptional destination for nature lovers, adventure seekers and those with a discerning taste for excellent food and wine!  (The Swiss do not export many of their wine, but trust me when I tell you, you won’t want to drink anything but local when you are here!)

There are many wonderful places to stay and I can even set up a tour of special tour for clients via Harley Davidson!  Stay on a lake or enjoy one of the cities!

Let me know when you are ready and I will help guide you to the very best that the country has to offer!

The hotels I enjoyed this trip and can highly recommend are noted below..

Baur Au Lac, Zurich – http://www.bauraulac.ch/

Resort to Laura Madrid Virtuoso Amenities with compliments:

  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
  • Daily Buffet breakfast, for up to two in room guests
  • $100 USD Food & Beverage credit, to be utilized during stay
  • A Welcome gift from the hotels chocolatier
  • Early check-in/late check-out
    • subject to availability

The Alpina Gstaad, Gstaad – http://www.thealpinagstaad.ch/

Resort to Laura Madrid Virtuoso Amenities with compliments:

  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
  • Daily Buffet breakfast, for up to two in room guests
    • (All ready included in rates)
  • 100 CHF equivalent Spa Services credit to be utilized during
    • stay (not combinable, not valid on room rate, no cash value if not redeemed in full)
  • Early check-in/late check-out
    • subject to availability

Grand Hotel Zermatterhoff, Zermatt – http://www.zermatterhof.ch/en/zermatterhof/

Resort to Laura Madrid Virtuoso Amenities with compliments:

  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
  • Daily Buffet breakfast, for up to two in room guests $100 USD Spa Services credit, to be utilized during stay
    • already included in rates
  • Early check-in/late check-out
    • subject to availability

Moevenpick Zurich Airport – http://www.moevenpick-hotels.com/en/europe/switzerland/zuerich/hotel-zuerich-airport/overview/?gclid=CIf0-J-ol70CFVFp7AodY1YAfg

I know there is nothing exciting about staying at an airport hotel but I was pleasantly surprised at this wonderful option at the Zurich Airport.  Shuttle is complimentary, guests are offered sparkling wine, water or juice at check in, the restaurant is decent, the bar lively, and the rooms spotless.  The hotel is well staffed and the staff are thoughtful. After 4 trains back to Zurich, this was a wonderful place to sleep before my early flight home!

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