It’s a measure of a close relationship when two names are linked together and spoken in the same breath, and that’s certainly the case with the Swiss double-delight of Arosa Lenzerheide.
The two villages in the Graubunden region are in adjoining valleys and are just 2kms apart as the crow flies but the crow would have to fly pretty high to make it, or take a lengthy trip by road and rail like the rest of us.
The idea of connecting the resort areas has been around since the early 1970s and now the dream is a reality, with the new Urdenbahn cablecar connecting the Urdenfurggli in Lenzerheide to the Arosa-Hornli and opening up a huge 225kms of prepared pistes with an amazing sunshine record. But it’s still fun to go the long way round and spend time in the long-established villages as well as on the slopes.
After sampling the sun and snow from the Lenzerheide perspective, we grabbed our luggage and a tasty, farewell packed lunch from our base at the excellent Kurhaus hotel and took the Post bus to the regional capital of Chur, which is the oldest town in Switzerland and always a pleasure to visit, before catching a train to Arosa, with a picturesque ride on the dead-end line to the head of the Schanfigg valley.
By no means a dead-end village in any other way, Arosa has long been an important asset among Graubunden’s 40-odd resorts, with a familiar welcome greeting in the Rhaeto-Romansch dialect, “allegra!” when we reached the imposing, top-notch Waldhotel National, with its mantra of ‘feels like coming home’.
It was indeed a very warm, homely welcome, although my home, I must confess, does not have a massive feelgood oasis of a spa to pamper yourself in, and doesn’t always boast four-star service with a never-ending supply of smiles we enjoyed from host Christian Zinn and his team!
Set amid the trees a short distance above the village centre, it’s a cracking base for exploring what Arosa has to offer, but it was soon time to gird the loins and head off for dinner at the Burestuli restaurant, with its ancient timber and traditional green stove, described as the heart of the Hotel Arlenwald at the base of the Pratschli ski lift.
Here, we enjoyed more local specialities and then made sure we had a spot of antifreeze in the shape of a schnapps or two, before our return to Arosa Obersee, the frozen lake in the centre of the village, using another local speciality, a schlitten, or sledge. Not quite as lethal as some other toboggan runs I’ve been on, as I once ended up in entirely the wrong village while careering down ice-covered mountain lanes, so we were not too sore or tired when we got down to wander through Arosa and call off for a nightcap at Lindemann’s Overtime bar on Postplatz.
The family-friendly village is not jammed with bars and is no place for a full-on, apres-ski party animal, but Overtime was just fine for us, with a live retro-rock band and fun bunch of customers that suited the wide age spread of our group and helped set us up for the steep walk back to our hotel.
It was bucketing with snow after breakfast as we picked up our skis and headed off to try the Arosa side of the newly-linked ski ‘circus’, aiming first for the lower slopes of the Weisshorn and the Bruggerhorn, along with lots of weekending local families.
Prominent avalanche warnings meant that taking care was the order of the day, with dodgy visibility also tilting the equation as the snow kept falling, building up so rapidly that the gondolas on at least one lift were ploughing grooves through the drifts as they neared the top station.
A shame that more of the extensive slopes couldn’t be tackled, because the Arosa Lenzerheide togetherness means there’s a vast amount of skiing to be enjoyed, with stunning views on days into the bargain when you can actually see more than a hand in front of your face.
Some brave souls persevered as far over as the Hornli, but I’ve got to the stage, and the age, where I think I know my limits, and when the old adage kicks in that when something stops being enjoyable, it’s time to stop doing it.
It will come as no surprise to say that the thought of lunch at the SIT-Hutte became very appealing; and one of their renowned home-made burgers became even more appealing as the weather showed no signs of relenting, making just getting around a bit of a challenge.
We eventually called it a day, dropped off our skis and boots and made for our new HQ for the night at the family-run Hotel Streiff, high above the village on the Sonnenbergstrasse and with amazing views over the rooftops to the surrounding forests and peaks.
Just the sort of place to spend a few weeks, let alone a single night, the hotel ‘where each day is as easygoing as Sunday’ was just soooo relaxing as soon as we walked through the door, as promised by Lars and Franziska Horal-Imhof and their team.
Not enough time, sadly, to fully take advantage of the Edelweiss wellness area, with its sauna, steam bath and relaxing-room-with-a-view, but a freshen-up was in order before dinner in the hotel’s own cosy stubli.
An aperitif and buffet-style starters paved the way for my simple choice of pork cordon bleu with French fries and Vichy carrots, before home-made chocolate brownie with whipped cream. Nice, and just enough to go with a drop of Swiss wine and lots of conversation about how enjoyable Switzerland can be and how affordable it can also be if you don’t set out to live like a millionaire.
That being said, you’d be looked after like one if you stayed at the Streiff, which has three stars to its name, but can certainly compete with many a hotel with more.
Bedtime eventually beckoned, after allowing time to linger on the balcony to look over the village as the snow drifted down, not-so-secretly wishing that the roads and rail lines would be blocked and we’d have to stay there a while longer.
No such luck, for clearance teams were already hard at work when we surfaced the following morning, with glorious sunshine after a night of constant snow turning the place into the sort of winter wonderland that might sound clichéd maybe, but is never boring and never fails to uplift the senses.
A hearty breakfast, then a last wander through the village amid the snowdrifts, before chilling out by the lake next to the railway station where horse-drawn sleighs took the place of taxis for some delighted visitors. Brilliant.
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