Switzerland’s alps are majestic, their greying shadows mysterious. Jutting out at sharp angles soaring towards the sun, the rugged mountain peaks pierce the horizon with their splendid presence. Spreading vastly in to the distance across all directions, the mountains are truly humbling; if there is anywhere that can remind you of how infinitesimal your existence, it is standing at 3000 meters gazing into the abyss of equally as tall apexes. The alps define the landscape, and even to some extent the landlocked country itself. 48 of the 82 alpine four-thousanders – summits taller than 4000 meters above sea level in the Swiss, Italian, and French alps – are found within Switzerland’s borders.
During the summer months, the crisp alpine air is scented by the sweet perfume of mountain grass, blanketing the slopes in hues of green, and fields of flowers, each one a radiant gem against the silvery backdrop of rock. In winter the rough terrain is transformed in to a snow covered wonderland, the golden rays illuminating the mountainside as each snowflake sparkles in the sun. The mountains come alive as we flock to partake in our favorite winter sports, climbing above the clouds that define life during the cold, grey months below, into the sunshine.
There is nothing quite like climbing to the top of the Alps and looking down upon the earth. Everything in the world suddenly makes sense – Anon.
For me, the alps are and always will be a magical place; ever since reading the children’s classic Heidi, I have been infatuated with the mountains and their promise of endless adventure. Heidi, an orphaned young girl sent to live with her reclusive grandfather up the mountain in the small dörfli, befriends Peter, the local goatherd; together they conquer the mountaintops. Life in the mountains is simple, unfettered by the rumblings of cities hundreds of meters below… It’s tough, but oh so beautifully simple and unworried by modern inconveniences. It’s easy to romanticize the idea of this perfect alpine getaway, the locals’ treasured antidote to mundane life at sea level.
Think of days spent skiing or wandering across the zig zagging foot paths hugging the side of the slopes, and evenings warming up over bubbling pots of cheese fondue, finishing dinner off with a creamy chocolate truffle or five. Sound like a string of stereotypes? Switzerland is almost as idyllic as the perfect pictures we conjure, a land where the new year is quite literally rung in by farmers parading down moonlight streets swinging their largest cowbells proudly from their necks, despite the freezing winter temperatures. It’s a country that prides itself on its quaint traditions and the ubiquitous picturesque vistas, summoning a sense of wonderment in even the least sentimental of us all.
Switzerland has ski resorts to suit everyone, from beginners to advanced skiers and those dreaming of a perfectly charming alpine retreat to those after Jägermeister shots and a lively Après Ski scene. There are the larger resorts like Zermatt, home of the Matterhorn or the Toblerone mountain to the rest of us, Verbier, a firm favorite amongst celebrities and European royalty, and Davos, offering over 320km of pristine ski pistes. Then there are the smaller resorts, which exude an evasive authenticity with their chalet lined streets and all round less touristy feel. Head to resorts like Andermatt, Wengen, and Arosa, which all offer excellent skiing, and plenty of it with lengthy slopes, without quite as many of the big town extras.
My choice? I’ll always head back to Arosa, a winter paradise unbeknown to many, tucked away amongst the peaks at the end of a winding valley. Reached by car along a narrow road that curves exactly 365 times during the 45 minute drive from the town of Chur to the village or red train – P.S. there’s no such thing as a train journey without striking panoramic views in Switzerland -, arrival is always marked by the extraordinarily scenic journey that precedes it. Recently connected to neighboring Lenzerheide via a cable car that crosses between the mountaintops separating the two, Arosa is now the shared home of some 225km of slopes. As a result it still possesses the endearing allure of a small village, complete with horse-drawn sleigh rides along snow covered paths, whilst gaining access to infrastructure that makes the combined resorts one of Switzerland’s largest ski areas.
A holiday in Switzerland is hard to beat; the spellbinding mountain scenery and the equally as impressive ski runs, the mountain villages with their alpine architecture so subtly beautiful, and the food, oh the hunger inducing delectable food. All the boxes and some are ticked. Yes it’s expensive, Switzerland always has competed at a price point above rest, made even more noticeable in recent years by the persistently strong Swiss Franc, but is it worth it? For me the answer will continue to be yes for as long as the sky remains so intensely blue and the cool, fresh, air so reinvigorating. The Swiss Alps and all their splendor compete in a class of their own.