Swiss Alps: The Best Mountain Adventure
For cheaper deals in ski season, it’s best to stick to lower- key resorts. This car-free hamlet, accessible only by cable car, is the stuff of Swiss Alpine dreams. Skiing is sensationally picturesque: the run at the top of the Bettmerhom cable car (2,647m) skirts the edge of the Aletsch Glacier-the largest in the Alps and a World Heritage site.
Part of the Jungfrau region but less storied than Wengen or Murren, Grindelwald’s natural assets are film-set stuff. The chiselled features of the Eiger’s north face, the glinting tongues of Oberer and Unterer Glaciers and the crown-like peak of Wetterhom will make you lunge for your camera. In late January, artists create extraordinary ice sculptures at the World Snow Festival.
Between the Dents du Midi and Dents Blanches in the Valais’ far west, this tiny resort (1,055m) is hidden away in the vast ski area of Portes du Soleil. With 400 miles of downhill runs and the French ski resorts of Morzine and Avoriaz a lift ride away, it’s heaven for back-country skiers. The Swiss Wall at Chavanette is among the world’s toughest mogul runs. The village is accessible by train.
COL DU GRAND ST BERNARD
Snowed in for up to six months a year, the perilous Great St Bernard Pass is the 2,473m -high climax of the N21, harbouring a petrol-blue lake on the Italian border. St Bernard dogs were used by monks here for centuries to rescue travellers lost in the snow. In July and August the Fondation Barry runs walks with the dogs atop the pass.
This valley remains mystifyingly unknown, despite harbouring one of the world’s greatest hydraulic marvels, the 285m-high Grande Dixence dam. From the dam base, it’s a 45-minute hike or a speedier cable car ride to the top, framed by snow-dusted crags. Collecting the melt water of 35 glaciers, weighing 15 million tonnes and supplying a fifth of Switzerland’s energy, the dam impresses in both scale and statistics.
SWISS NATIONAL PARK
Spanning 66 square miles, the country’s only national park is a nature-gone-wild swathe of peaks, shimmering glaciers, larch woodlands, pastures, waterfalls and high moors strung with topaz-blue lakes. Fifty miles of well-marked hiking trails lead through the park. The Swiss National Park Centre in Zemez sells an excellent 21-walk map and guide (£15), so you can easily head off on your own. Entry and parking is free.
Ringed by mountains, hugging the banks of the aquamarine Aare River and topped by a turreted castle, medieval Thun is every inch your story book Swiss town. It’s infused with a young spirit: crowds sun themselves at riverside cafes and one-of-a-kind boutiques fill the arcades. In autumn, golden beech trees light up beautiful Schadau Park, along the shores of Lake Thun.
Framed by the peaks of Hornli, Weisshorn and moraine-streaked Schiesshom, Arosa is an Alpine all-rounder: perfect for downhill and cross-country skiers in winter, hikers and downhill bikers in summer, and families year-round. The road or rail journey from Chur is nothing short of spectacular. Between mid-June and late October, you’ll receive a free all- inclusive card for transport and the Untersee lido.