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Alpine Adventures in Graubünden, Switzerland

Sarah Thompson tries the healthy approach to a summer holiday

Published on August 30th 2014.


Alpine Adventures in Graubünden, Switzerland
 

WE'RE trying to convince people that coming here is better for you than lying on a beach for two weeks,” says one of the PR team for the Swiss canton of Graubünden. We've just arrived in Flims, the summer name for the resort known as Laax in winter, and with the sun shining on forested mountains and wildflower meadows, I think they've got a pretty easy job on their hands.

The swirling clouds create dramatic, ever-changing views as they reveal glimpses of nearby glaciers and distant peaks.

As a country with no coastline, it’s no wonder Switzerland is keen to tempt us away from sun, sea and sand. So instead of beaches, it offers us Alpine lakes for wild swimming. Instead of days spent flat-out on a lounger, it gives us the next big things in adrenalin activities. As for sunshine, it can do that too, some days. But when it rains?

There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes,” the PR girl says.

I take that to be a comment on the unflattering nature of fleece and Gore-Tex, but later realise she means, if you're dressed right, the rain need not stop you. And if stepping out in a downpour, properly dressed or otherwise, doesn't appeal, there's plenty of indoor pursuits too. As we were to find out.

Pretty blue flowers on CassonsPretty blue flowers on Cassons

Wild swimming, Swiss-style

For now though, the mountain tops are clear and it's a balmy 26 degrees. For my first taste of the healthy Alpine approach to holidaying, I walk down to the beautiful Lake Cauma which has water the colour of Radox and is surrounded by pine trees which smell just as good. Wild swimming is a bit misleading for this particular outdoor dip – Lake Cauma is like a well-tended beach resort in a forest. There's a bar, volleyball, pedalos, dingies and snorkeling, and the grassy hollows around the lake are filled with families and youngsters enjoying picnics in between racing each other to the island and back. The water itself is surprisingly warm – a very temperate 20-24 degrees in summer. If only I'd remembered my towel.

Lake CaumaLake Cauma

The Rocks Resort – a mellow kind of 'family-friendly'

For people without kids, the words 'family-friendly' can make you want to run screaming to the hills. But the Signina Hotel at the Rocks Resort – our home for two nights – doesn't exude the high-excitement mayhem you normally associate with school holiday destinations. The interiors are soft and muted, the food is cosmopolitan and high quality, and the atmosphere is relaxed and calming. I put the latter down to the non-stop schedule of children's activities running during the day: with all that go-carting, treasure-hunting, tree-climbing and mountain-biking, the kids are too worn out by teatime to do anything but sit quietly in a contented daze.

If I was a child staying at the Rocks Resort, you wouldn't be able to drag me out of the next door Freestyle Academy. Imagine flying fifteen feet high on a trampoline, attempting a few somersaults, and landing safely in a massive foam pit. You can do that here. You can also zoom down almost vertical skate ramps, fling yourself off climbing walls, turn an aerial trick on a stunt bike – all with huge pools of soft foam to cushion your fall. The Freestyle Academy was built for snowboarders to practise their skills in summer but it's just as popular as a playground for fearless, flying youngsters.

Freestyle AcademyFreestyle Academy

Rocks ResortRocks Resort

Cassons, the easy way

The following morning, we take two chairlifts and a cable car (my all-time favourite modes of transport) to the heights of the Fil de Cassons, 2695m above sea level. The swirling clouds create dramatic, ever-changing views as they reveal glimpses of nearby glaciers and distant peaks, there one minute, hidden in the mist a moment later.

Clouds from CassonsClouds from Cassons

It's too high up here for trees but the wildflowers are abundant. They feed on the minerals that leak from the rocks when it rains, and provide food for the marmots – chubby, squirrel-like creatures that inhabit these parts. We also see an ibex, doing its classic Ibex thing of standing on a pointy crag of rock, gazing down on the world below.

For lunch we refuel with some traditional Swiss mountain fare in a chalet-style restaurant. Capuns – dumplings wrapped in chard – are designed for filling stomachs rather than photo-ops but they're a tasty, satisfying dish. Then it’s time to make the descent to Flims via a new riverside path, the Trutg dil Flem, which hugs the sides of a gorge, criss-crossing the white-water torrent below.

CaponsCapuns

Rhätische Bahn Mountain Railway

The next day we take the PostAuto bus to the city of Chur, then climb onboard the Rhätische Bahn railway to take the UNESCO World Heritage train line up to St Mortiz. This famous journey feeds your eyes with turquoise rivers, apple orchards and castles on rocky promontories before it begins its zig-zagging climb through a mountain wilderness of forests and ravines. This spectacular scenery will be overshadowed for a while by the derailment which happened a few days after our visit when a landslide hit the train following unusually heavy rain. The line re-opened two days later.

Rhatische BahnRhatische Bahn

The Swiss National Park

To the untrained eye, all of Switzerland looks like a National Park. But in fact they’ve only got one, a short drive from St Moritz, and it’s our next stop. A National Park here isn’t the same as in the UK. It’s a pristine, highly protected area where you’re not allowed off the paths and there’s only two places to stay – a hotel and a hut. The scenery is wild, rugged and awe-inspiring. It looks utterly inaccessible but the path network means anyone with a reasonable level of fitness can have their wilderness moment. The Swiss National Park is just celebrating its first century and probably looks the same now as it did when it was first created.

Swiss National ParkSwiss National Park

The Kempinksi Grand Hotel des Bains, St Moritz

Staying in a five-star hotel as a writer on a freebie gives you conflicting emotions; joy that they’ve let you in somewhere so utterly gorgeous and exquisite, sadness that you’ll never be able to afford to holiday there again. In my Classic Junior Suite, a discreet price list gave the room rate at 2,700 Swiss Francs a night (£1,788). But when I checked online, I saw you can actually book it with breakfast for 710 Swiss Francs (£410). A reasonable price to pay considering how blissed out this place makes you feel.

Classic Junior Suite at The KempinskiClassic Junior Suite at The Kempinski

The Kempinski St Moritz is luxurious (goose-down bedding, marble bathroom with underfloor heating, two TVs in case the view of snow-capped mountains doesn’t cut it). But it’s the relaxed atmosphere that makes it stand out from other five star establishments. The staff are friendly and down-to-earth, making you feel at home even if home is light-years from this kind of lifestyle.

Kempinski St MoritzKempinski St Moritz

The Best Breakfast in Switzerland”

Those aren’t my words, but I’m not disagreeing. When you arrive for breakfast at the Kempinski you’re greeted with an offer of a newspaper or an iPad before being taken to a beautifully dressed table with worn silverware and fresh flowers, and plied with a ‘culinary eye-opener’ such as fresh watermelon juice or a tangy apple soup. There’s a pianist playing something soothing somewhere, then it’s over to the buffet of your dreams: a dozen varieties of soft rolls, piles of delicate cakes and pastries, exotic fruits, local cheeses and meats, smoked salmon, prosecco, eggs cooked any way you like them by chefs in white hats. No matter how comfy your kingsized bed is, or how late you stayed out the night before, this is worth getting up for. Even if like us, you’re already booked in for brunch elsewhere.

Breakfast at The KempinskiBreakfast at The Kempinski

Second breakfast – brunch in a forest

Hobbit-like we follow our Kempinski breakfast with brunch at an Alpine cheese dairy in the nearby Morteratsch Valley. Here you can watch them making cheese over an open fire, see it (and smell it) ripening in the cellar, and tuck into an outdoor buffet in the woods complete with smoked sausages, fruits, breads, coffee, and a whole lot of cheese. It’s a popular start to a day of hiking but as it’s raining, we follow it with tea and cake in St Moritz instead. The healthy holiday idea is on hold for a few hours.

Alpine Cheese DairyAlpine Cheese Dairy

A whole lot of cheeseA whole lot of cheese

St Moritz in summer

Gucci, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada. If the mini-bar at the Kempinski hasn't flatlined your credit card (£6.20? For a packet of popcorn?) there's plenty of places to spend silly money on St Moritz's main shopping street. This town attracts the super rich with its designer boutiques and five-star hotels but there are decent accommodation options for the budget traveller too.

St Moritz is best known as a skiing destination but summer brings other attractions. Cable cars make high-level hiking and mountain biking possible without a long slog uphill, and some hotel deals include lift passes. The typical climate here is supposedly dry and sunny though when we visit it’s changeable with low cloud clearing to blue skies and back again within the space of an afternoon. As with all mountain holidays you're wise to go for at least a week to give yourself a chance of having days when you can see views like the one below.

St Moritz in summerSt Moritz in summer

And if it's bad weather, there's always the option of bad clothes or, if you're at the Kempinski, hanging out in your luxury suite, taking a dip in the pool, and sipping Jasmine tea in the spa. Bring on the rain.

We are only in Switzerland four days but the combination of stunning scenery, super-relaxing surroundings, and active holiday pursuits make it a restorative, energy-replenishing trip. Even with the busy schedule, it’s one of those holidays which leave me feeling more rested than when I set off. Imagine what two weeks could do.

Kempinski PoolKempinski Pool

Fact File

Sarah travelled as a guest of Switzerland Tourism. She flew to Zurich with SWISS then took the train to Chur followed by the PostAuto bus to Flims, using the Swiss Pass from Swiss Travel System.

Switzerland Tourism

For more information on Switzerland visit www.MySwitzerland.com or call Switzerland Travel Centre on the international freephone 00800 100 200 30, or email info.uk@myswitzerland.com. For packages, trains and air tickets please email sales@stc.co.uk.

Swiss International Air Lines

UK to Zurich:

SWISS offers up to 19 daily flights from Manchester, London Heathrow, London City, and Birmingham to Zurich. Fares start from £147* return, including all airport taxes, one piece of hold luggage and free ski carriage. (*Please note this is a leading fare and is subject to change, availability and may not be available on all flights. Terms and conditions apply.) For reservations call 0845 6010956 or visit: www.swiss.com.

UK and Ireland to Switzerland:

SWISS operates over 190 weekly flights to Switzerland from Manchester, London Heathrow, London City, Birmingham and Dublin. All-inclusive fares start from £120* return, including all airport taxes. (*Please note this is a leading fare and is subject to change, availability and may not be available on all flights. Terms and conditions apply.) For reservations call 0845 6010956 or visit: www.swiss.com.

Swiss Travel System

The Swiss Travel System provides a dedicated range of travel passes and tickets exclusively for visitors from abroad. The Swiss Transfer Ticket covers a round-trip between the airport/Swiss border and your destination. Prices are £96 in second class and £153 in first class. For the ultimate Swiss rail specialist call Switzerland Travel Centre on 00800 100 200 30 or visit www.swisstravelsystem.co.uk.

 

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