THERE'S rösti . . . and then there's real rosti – and the genuine article is certainly not the sort you get in a packet from a supermarket freezer.
'It would be difficult to find anywhere better for learning, playing, gentle skiing and chilling out in the spring sunshine on its south-facing slopes'
Almost every mountain restaurant in the Alps has rösti of one sort or another on the menu and there are many, many more than 57 varieties,with all manner of extra ingredients, to bulk you up with essential carbs and calories for skiing or boarding
Along with gulaschsuppe – the original Alpine penicillin – the basic fried potato dish is part of the cheap and cheerful staple diet on a ski trip for me, but after more then 30 years of hitting the slopes, sometimes harder than intended, I have finally found the real deal.
And the secret of how to make what was essentially a simple, solid stomach-filler to help poor peasants survive the harsh winters was revealed in one of the poshest places on the planet.
The picture-postcard resort of Klosters in Switzerland is the haunt of royals, not-so-royals, Hollywood stars and the super-rich, among others, with peasants a bit thin on the ground these days, but humble rösti hits the regal heights at the classy and very comfortable family-owned Silvretta Parkhotel in the heart of the village.
After a day on the slopes of the friendly 'home' mountain of Madrisa, dinner was served in the hotel's Stübli restaurant – one of four to choose from – and Silvretta direktor Christian Erpenbeck led us through a menu of local specialities, starting with barley soup, followed by air-dried beef ravioli and then a superb steak with fresh vegetables… and rösti, the like of which we hadn't enjoyed before.
Christian was quietly amused at the murmurs of approval around the table and explained his head chef's method, which he, in turn, put down to his mum.
The Swiss have a special variety of potato for the task, but we can choose a good tasty sort like a Cyprus or a Rooster, cut into big chunks and parboiled. Then drain them, let them cool and – this is the magic touch – put them in the fridge for two or three days at least, if you can, with no need to squeeze out any wetness or starch.
When you're ready to indulge, put the dryer and still-slightly firm potatoes through a coarse grater, season well and then press them gently into a buttered, hot-ish frying pan, either in small batches or all in one large 'cake', then cook to a golden brown underneath, before turning and adding some more butter to finish the other side. Delicious – and also great with a fried egg on top and a glass of beer!
No beer on the night, though, for our Klosters meal was helped by a splendid wine from the local Graubunden region – Trais Cotschens Grendelmerer Bannwart 2011 – recommended by Christian and very much appreciated, before we rounded off dinner with a feather-light chestnut mousse dessert, followed by coffee and huge smiles all round.
We shared the Silvretta as a base with a 19-strong group of Skiing With Heroes injured veterans and were honoured to meet up with them on Madrisa, a personal favourite of the six ski areas Klosters shares with nearby Davos, and a firm favourite with locals and families with its fabulous skiing and boarding for all ages and abilities.
It would be difficult to find anywhere better for learning, playing, gentle skiing and chilling out in the spring sunshine on its south-facing slopes, and the sun certainly had it's hat on and came out to play this year, with conditions ideal for the Heroes as well as the likes of me.
I was honoured to meet up with a similar group last season at the end of their week's stay and the progress they had made on so many levels was simply amazing – and charity founder Gilly Norton was delighted to report that six of last year's Heroes have been helped into full-time jobs.
This year, two of the vets were back again to help the new guys,who included two women, along with the charity's volunteer ski buddies, who acts as mentors and guides as they take to the slopes on a snowboard, two skis, one ski or a sit-ski, often for the first time.
It's humbling, uplifting and eventually hangover-inducing to ski and then do some 'apres' with a bunch of people who have suffered so much in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan – one lad was blind, others had limbs missing, and another had already undergone 50-odd operations. And then, of course, there is the spectre of post-traumatic stress.
Klosters has demonstrated that far from being just a playground for the privileged, it has a real heart and is a generous home base for a great charity, whose expertise and pioneering adaptive ski hardware has been made available to a much wider range of people, many of whom might never have dreamed of visiting the mountains.
Skiing and sunshine are great therapy, even if some hard-liners mumbled about it getting a tad too warm for crispy 'proper' snow to perform on. But for me, what could be nicer on a glorious day, with the afternoon snow getting a bit sticky, than to head for the outside bar at the impressive new Madrisahof restaurant and cool off with a gentle beer, before maybe having half a spring chicken from the BBQ.
More skiing? Naaaah! Another beer, out with the Ambre Solaire and flake out in a deck chair. I wasn't the only one.
To reach Klosters, Dave Graham flew with SWISS, who offer up to 19 daily flights between the UK and Zurich from Heathrow, London City, Birmingham and Manchester (from £125 return); and up to 31 daily flights if you include Geneva and Basel.
From Zurich, we travelled by ever-efficient train via Landquart thanks to the Swiss Travel System with a Swiss Transfer Ticket covering a round trip from £96 second class, £153 first.
For more information on Switzerland, visit this link or call Switzerland Travel Centre on freephone 00800 100 200 300 or email firstname.lastname@example.org; or for packages, trains and air tickets, email email@example.com
Dave Graham is on the team at SilverTravelAdvisor.com and a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers.
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