When a couple hooked on skiing decide to get it together, it can be a marriage made in heaven and that’s the romantic vision for Lenzerheide and Arosa, two centres with ambition in Switzerland’s number 1 tourist area.
The two sparkling resorts in Graubunden are embracing each other and reaching out to embrace even more visitors, with a linked ski area that offers some brilliant terrain and all you could want, both on and off the snow, for a full spread of ages and abilities.
We headed first for Lenzerheide, taking the train from Zurich after flying in from Manchester, joined by other colleagues who flew from London and arrived within minutes on a similar early morning flight by SWISS.
It’s always a pleasure to use Zurich Airport (and SWISS!), because as soon as you’ve picked up your baggage, it’s just an escalator ride to get to the railway booking hall-cum-shopping and cafe mall on the floor below, with the platforms directly under that, all with clear information displays to make your journey a painless experience.
A short train ride into the main station in the capital itself, then within ten minutes we’re on a double-decker InterCity train and heading past Lake Zurich and through glorious countryside to the old town of Chur, before meeting a bus, again within minutes, for the final leg of our winding, climbing journey into the mountains.
Just time to check in at the Hotel Kurhaus, grab skis and boots for the following day, then change into warm outdoor gear for an evening wander.
There’s a definite attraction about having a gentle walk before dinner to work up an appetite but then again, there’s a punishing, steep uphill slog through deep snow to reach some food! Maybe I went a good few steps too far for a first night at altitude, with a testing, three-hour guided snowshoe trek to reach the renowned, and rather remote, Alp Fops mountain restaurant, a good few thousand metres higher up from the village on the Piz Scallotas, as the light faded and snow began to fall.
Shattered and wet through when we got there, it felt worth the effort to reach the cosy farmhouse, built in 1882 and run by the sixth generation of the Malar family, with genial storyteller Gian Malar full of smiles and local tales as he handed out some very welcome beers. No use asking for a menu, because you get what’s ready in the kitchen, including a hearty, traditional barley soup followed by a superb fondue and the Fops Plattli, featuring a feast of local products.
All too soon, it was time to tackle the second half of the snowshow ordeal, after it had gone really dark and we were given the news that there was no road, sledge track or piste anywhere near to get us down speedily. So it was a case of girding our loins and trudging back down, albeit by a straighter route because there was no need to zig-zag due to the uphill gradient, but being full of great food and having had a glass or two of beer with our friendly hosts wasn’t really helping as clouds covered the moon and snow began to bucket down, filling in dips and ditches where there were already no obvious tracks to follow.
Only one of us (not me!) stumbled into a hidden stream as the snow got deeper by the minute, but we all heaved a sigh of relief as we finally saw the lights of the village and found our sanctuary at the Kurhaus. Too tired for a nightcap or even a warm shower, we all slept the sleep of the righteous to be ready for the next day’s adventure.
Great breakfast, then with the sun sparkling off the fresh fall of powder, we headed off to cut some tracks on it, with a choice of both sides of the valley as well as another huge swathe of skiing available over the mountain around next-door Arosa thanks to the Urdenbahn cablecar link, cutting what used to be a marathon journey time between ski areas down to a matter of minutes.
With more than 220kms of prepared pistes to go at, reaching as high as the 2,865m Rothorn, you’re not going to run out of skiing in a hurry, and with the whole double-valley area open to the sun, you’re quite likely to get a good tan into the bargain. Some hot-shots in our party went off with a guide to get in as many runs in as they could before lunch, while a colleague and myself took things a little easier on some glorious open terrain near the Avant Clavo restaurant, with sheep-fleece covered chairs outside on its sun terrace making it almost compulsory to linger over an espresso while people-watching and keeping a lookout for tips on ski technique.
With tired legs and tan-tingling noses, it was time to gain altitude again and meet up with the rest of the crew for lunch at the Panoramarestaurant Rothorngipfel and take in the amazing views.
Afternoon was wind-down time, with a ski-bus ride back to the heart of Lenzerheide and the biggest hammam in the Alps at the Hotel Schweizerhof, where wallowing in wellness is well, wonderful! There’s something unavoidably decadent about doing a ‘circuit’ of a huge luxury spa, with all its splashy bits and pools, then lounging, Roman-style, in upholstered alcoves in the rather indulgent restroom, drinking ice-cold water and nibbling dried fruit and nuts, with relaxing music wafting in the background.
Suitable refreshed, it was back to our base at the Kurhaus, and after the rush of the previous night, there was time to appreciate just how lucky we were to be there.
Walking past the ‘oldies night’ sign, which I’m assured referred to the music in the adjoining Corner Bar and Restaurant, rather than me, we were greeted with the sight of an amazing, imaginative Christmas tree sculpture made of literally tons of Davos sledges. That was just the start of an eye-opening experience in a boutique-style hotel that has been given a makeover to put it up there with the best in the region, and that’s saying something in an area that includes St Moritz and Davos Klosters.
Charming ‘gasteberin’ Andrea Pollioppi gave us a tour of the rooms and apartments before we put on what pass for glad(-ish) rags on a ski trip to eat in the Tapas Lounge, a stunning larch-wood room with pillars and drapes dividing it subtly into semi-private sections, which in summer is reserved for high-profile special events and weddings.
Here, we enjoyed a real treat in the company of our delightful tourism hosts Cornelia Keller (thanks for the cuddly toy ibex!) and Marlen Rogenmoser, with trays full of Spanish and regional Grison specialities featuring the best of local produce and a drop or two of very pleasant Swiss wine.
A great night, but then up at the crack of dawn on another crisp day to try a spot of biathlon at Lenzerheide ’s state-of-the-art complex, where I soon found that a day of cross-country skiing in Canada 30 years ago did not give me a lot of credibility, or even much stability.
After some tuition on how to get off my backside (several times), I decided that the smooth, ultra-narrow skis were not as user-friendly as my 165cm carvers and opted to concentrate on the rifle shooting part of the discipline, which also allowed me to lie down for a bit, this time intentionally.
After posing with the gun and looking like an unlikely combination of Grizzly Adams and Wild Bill Hickok, I settled down and fired off a generous allowance of five-shot clips at the targets, both regular and extra-small, and after a string of dead-centre hits I decided this was at least half a snowsport I could really take to.
Lunchtime came all too quickly, then it was time to shoot off back to the Kurhaus for a shower before taking the Post bus to Chur and then a picturesque train ride to Arosa.
More surprises to be revealed in Part 2.
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