Saas-Fee – Valais, Switzerland

The Pearl of the Alps

Everyone falls for Saas-Fee in a big way. Then again, nearly everything in these parts is big: the mountain village (nicknamed “Pearl of the Alps”) is surrounded by a majestic arena of thirteen peaks towering over 13,120 feet (including the nearby Matterhorn and Dom; the latter—at 14,908 feet—is the highest mountain entirely on Swiss soil).

This is stunning scenery, indeed. And although one naturally expects extensive skiing to match, the steep terrain, tight ring of dramatic peaks, and extensive glaciers have limited develop­ment. But Saas-Fee offers some of the best snow conditions in Europe, and its Felskinn-Mittelallalin ski area is Switzerland’s premier summer ski destination. The area’s high-terrain walking paths also draw summertime visitors.

Given the quaint atmosphere (visitors must leave their cars outside town and rely upon a few select electric cars in town), the other big draw in town may seem somewhat incongruous: celebrity chef Irma Dütsch, the ebullient queenpin at the Hotel Fletschhorn.

What is such a sophisticated culinary personality doing high on a forested hill, in a chalet-like hotel-restaurant just outside town? Female chefs are not commonplace in Switzerland, but this one’s international gourmet followers are so loyal they call her “Pearl of the Alps.” Her French-based regional cuisine with smatterings of the exotic and poetic would be a standout anywhere.

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