When PM Teresa May and her husband Philip took to the Swiss mountains for their walking holiday this summer, they were following in the footsteps of the many eighteenth and nineteenth century Englishmen (and a few Englishwomen) who took the Grand Tour. While visits to the great European cities were one part of the route, so, too, were the Alps and, notably, Switzerland. Especially with the start of the Romantic era, it was a place regarded as a marvel, where you could experience the sublime in landscape. Very little has changed to this day and in Saas-Fee, often called ‘the pearl of the Alps’, you look out on a scene that simply takes your breath away.
Saas-Fee, in the Swiss region of Valois, is surrounded on all sides by dizzying peaks, all over 4000 metres – Alallin, Alphubel, Taschhorn, Dom – and glaciers that glisten like mother-of-pearl in the sunshine. It’s pretty enticing so there’s nothing for it but to put on those hiking books and hit the mountain trails. You don’t need to be an experienced hiker round here as there are routes for everyone and every level of ability across some 350km of trails. Starting from the village itself, there are plenty of beginner walks, some taking even less than an hour, passing tiny chapels and shrines, fine houses, mountain streams and meadows, woodland and even a hydrotherapy trail.
If you want to get up in the mountains themselves, there’s no need to slog up from the village to get started as there are numerous cable car lifts and even the world’s highest tram, the Metro Alpin. So you can have a leisurely walk for a few hours or take yourself on a proper walking holiday over several days, staying in mountain huts. There are ancient pilgrimage routes up in the mountains, 900 plant species, ibex, black squirrels, chamois (if you’re very lucky), hares, roe deer and marmots so friendly they’ll take food from your hand.
Of course, all this walking builds up quite an appetite and Saas-Fee now has a festival in September to celebrate the hearty pleasures of mountain food. The Culinary Mile sees local bakers, distillers, butchers, hotels, chocolatiers and restaurants quite literally setting up their stalls in the long main street of the village so locals and visitors can spend the day sampling everything from venison to apple strudel, washed down by local Schnapps and Swiss wine (I recommend the Pinor Noir).
You need to take a day over it as this is robust food and rich, too, so you can spend some time admiring the local costumes and listening to the many bands before you hit the next foodie stand. The Swiss love their meat roasted. There was spit-roast pork and spare ribs, venison, beef, salt pork and, of course, lots of Frankfurter-style sausages. There is a wide variety of sweet things, too – apple strudel, sacher torte, cheesecakes and meringues and the oddly named “cholera” which turns out to be a baked pie crammed with potatoes, cheese, vegetables and fruit.
The Swiss do their own delicious thing with potatoes. Two of my favourites were raclette (with local melted cheese) and rosti (fried and buttery) especially when served with wild mushrooms. And they’re not bad with cheese either. There is the unforgettable fondue – we had this in our hotel, the Allalin named after one of the nearby peaks, which every night offered us a six-course dinner (I’m seeing a pattern here). So, just as well all that walking is right on the doorstep really, otherwise it might be more of a case of rolling home down the mountain.
For more information visit www.MySwitzerland.com
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Inghams