OH Mann, what a place to relax and unwind… and delight in walking down a
mountain. The mountain in question is the Schatzalp, just one of the gems in the crown of Davos, one of the most famous and exclusive resorts in Switzerland, a country which is hardly short of either.
'Sharing the magic of an almost eerie silence amid the trees, while hoping for a glimpse of chamois and squirrels and exchanging greetings with the occasional hardy soul heading uphill'
But Schatzalp is a rather special sort of jewel, steeped in tradition and celebrated as a relaxing, often sun-drenched place of relative peace and quiet amid the huge buzz of the ski season – or the crowds of summer tourists.
For this is seen as The Magic Mountain in author Thomas Mann's best-selling novel of the same name, which was inspired when he visited his wife there back in 1912
It certainly does have a magical appeal as you take the funicular railway from Davos Platz – which was built in 1899, decades before the Parsenn Mountain Railway or the first T-bars for skiers on the other side of the valley at Jakobshorn – and emerge from the trees to see the unchanging Belle Epoque grandeur of the Hotel Schatzalp and its 'snow beach' and south-facing terraces.
The Davos area, which now pulls in skiers, boarders, climbers and walkers, as well as expenses-hungry politicians attending financial summits, first appealed to tourists of a different kind, who travelled to the clean, clear air of the Alps in search of a 'cure' from the curse of TB
Clinics and sanatoriums, many now converted into high-end hotels, were built at prime spots on the slopes in the 1800s, with many well-to-do Brits joining the wealthy unwell from across Europe to enjoy the added bonus of fabulous, uplifting views to help heal the spirits.
The decking walks and wide balconies of the Hotel Schatzalp, where sanatorium patients spent many an hour recuperating from the once-rampant 'consumption', now serve as sun traps and cocktail rendezvous for guests enjoying more than a whiff of the relaxing, healing heritage that thankfully remains… and perhaps even taking a bracing walk on the Thomas-Mann-Way.
There are those with great lungs who gird their loins, arm themselves with walking poles and start the trail 1,620 metres above sea level at the Waldhotel Davos, which was once the woodland sanatorium where Mann's wife Katia was treated, trekking the winding 2.6km path through the trees to reach Schatzalp at a panting 1,880 metres.
This is where the 'down' bit comes in – as a skier, it's second nature to ride up a mountain on whatever transport is available, then (hopefully) enjoy the trip back down on your own two legs, so applying the same logic to the walk seemed appropriate.
So time to get on the restored funicular for the trip up the mountain, have a leisurely look around and maybe a coffee on the hotel terrace, then take a meander down the forest trail, stopping off to look at tree-stump sculptures and the ten information spots explaining links with Mann, and sharing the magic of an almost eerie silence amid the trees, while hoping for a glimpse of chamois and squirrels and exchanging greetings with the occasional hardy soul heading uphill. A few benches provide welcome relief for both uppers and downers, some to take advantage of a viewpoint,
others to just enjoy a tranquil moment of reflection.
If the mood takes you, there is a quicker way down in a not-so-profound silence, there is an amazing original sledge run – on a traditional Davos sledge, naturally – which runs for three terrifying (for me) kilometres between Schatzalp and Davos Platz. Built back in 1900, it has 18 nerve-jangling corners and is even floodlit if you fancy a night-time plunge to earn a few schnapps.
Tempting as it may seem, it's not a good idea to have the schnapps before launching yourself down… it might bolster your courage, but you could end up with a trip to hospital rather than earning the deserved schnapps only yards from the sledge dropping-off point (very handy, that!) at the popular, always-bouncing Ex Bar on the Promenade, with the free ski bus stop just by the door and just a few minutes' ride from our handy central base at the Kongress Hotel
Skiing on the Schatzalp is relaxed and unashamedly very much old school – and all the better for it. You are helped on to the draglift to the sound of traditional folk music, with the uphill ride easy and the slopes nice and gentle for skiers of all ages, particularly those who may relish a whiff of nostalgia along with a whiff of the gluhwein or gulaschsuppe earmarked for a (traditional) lunch.
This self-styled 'Slow Mountain' is in marked contrast to the five other ski areas shared by Davos-Klosters, but scores highly by appealing to a more leisurely and environmentally-aware visitor.
A chairlift leads on to the Strela, but the skiing still remains as it was in the early days, relaxed and with an appreciation of nature around you, and you can still get away with wearing super-comfy Salomon rear-entry boots and throw in the odd stem turn on too-long skis without being laughed off the piste. The fear is that if you stand still for too long, you might end up in the local folk history museum.
You'd be in great company, though, for sporty Brits have been in Davos since the beginning – not just the ones with bad coughs – with constant reminders that they virtually founded snow and ice sports and pressed for the building of a huge natural ice rink, with the International Ice Skating Club Davos founded in 1894.
It was a reminder that the grandfather of a chum of mine, a spiffing chap called Charles Edgington, won a gold medal by setting the world one-hour speed skating record there in 1896, wearing a classic English winter sports outfit of white knitted jersey, plus-fours and deerstalker hat. The story goes that he fell down and dislocated a shoulder with just a few minutes to go, but being a plucky Englishman, he of course got up, cradled his arm and duly finished in record time.
He also won his (English) wife while he was there and, being a skater of wide renown, he returned to Davos to break his record again in 1898.
The Swiss championships are still held there and there is a lasting, huge interest in ice sports as well as skiing, with a strong focus on curling, and particularly ice hockey
Although there's excitement aplenty in and around vibrant Davos, the architecture of the town itself doesn't set the pulses racing, because it doesn't have the Christmas card appeal of its uber-glam neighbour, Klosters, and lacks the pretty-pretty Heidiappeal of an archetypal Swiss village full of chalets and flower-bedecked balconies
But there's a sort of pride, bravado almost, in being a pioneer of the Alpine flat roof (to avoid snow being pitched down on to lawyer-savvy heads); along with sanatorium architecture transformed by having large rooms flooded with natural light and balconies sheltered from cutting winds; and minimalist styling on so many of the town buildings all adding up to being a forerunner of Bauhaus.
It's also a great place to get to, with a train ride through the Swiss countryside always a treat to look forward to after a relaxing flight in.
Travelling is a lot easier now than it was for Mann or the intrepid Charles Edgington, with SWISS offering up to 19 daily flights between the UK and
Zurich from Heathrow, London City, Birmingham and Manchester (from £125 return); and up to an amazing 31 daily flights, if you include Geneva and Basel.
From Zurich, we went by super-efficient train (from the airport!) with a picturesque and almost seamless trip to Davos 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 www.MySwitzerland.com or call
Switzerland Travel Centre on freephone 008800 100 200 30, or email
email@example.com For packages, trains and air tickets, email
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