With restrictions being lifted on an almost daily basis getting into Switzerland couldn’t been easier. With changeable weather in the UK and a lust for the mountains I headed off and flew from Heathrow in less than two hours. The hop on one of their ‘run like clockwork’ trains using the brilliant Swiss Travel Pass that gets you just about anywhere you want in the country by train, bus and even boat. In no time at all the sleepy but exclusive village of Villar-sur-Ollon was in view and I had a glimpse of my home from home for the next few days.
The thing that never fails to impress me about Switzerland is their ability to make everything seem easy and simple (when I know it’s not). For example, being picked up from the bus stop by the hotel driver, he takes your luggage, you get in the vehicle and then you’re at check-in for a one minute ‘please sign this’ stop and off to your room. I say room, but a vast expanse of deftly created pine would be a better description. I walked into a space that was larger than most two-bedroom flats in London. Looked around, couldn’t see my suitcase, and thought it would come up shortly. Checking out my home for the stay I wandered about opening several doors, separate WC, vast bathroom with triple opening windows looking out to the mountains, wardrobes galore. Then another door, and I found a small boot room stacked with shelves, more hanging space and on a large table my suitcase was there. Simple things that make arriving so pleasurable. This is all down to Markus Marti, hotel manager extraordinaire.
This is also a ski-in five-star hotel which means you can take the train up to the high mountain pass of Bretaye and ski or try your luck at snow trekking and when you want to return just ski down into the hotel, plonk your kit in the lockers provided and waltz into the hotel. At over 1800m the snow is good and plentiful.
Chalet RoyAlp is small enough to feel intimate but large enough (a little over 60 rooms) to warrant three restaurants. The Grizzly is a traditional eatery that concentrates on what the Swiss do well, Raclette and Fondue. This traditional food is epic here, truffles, hams, meats of all sorts and all washed down with plenty of the local wine, not found often outside the country but well it’s worth seeking out their Pinot Noir and Gamay grown on the shores of nearby Lake Geneva.
Not being a skier has never been an issue for me in Switzerland, obviously in the warmer months there’s plenty of trekking, cycling, and exploring to be done but in the winter there’s still plenty on offer for those who don’t wish to risk life and limb to a couple of pieces of fibreglass and gravity.
I even found, amidst the snow and wonderful eating, to find time to have a little R & R in the form of painting a little modest watercolour. Of course, if that doesn’t float your boat then there’s always the spa and pool to keep you out of trouble. Massages, treatments galore await your weary body.
There’s plenty of talent in the village too, I ate at the excellent Peppino, part of the Victoria Hotel, a bone fide Italian restaurant with wood fired oven and a great side-line of fresh Burrata. The hotel is owned by the charismatic Charlotte and Jean-Marc Boutilly, a formidable charm offensive couple who have hotelling in their veins. They look after a few concerns in the village, later this year they reopen the completely renovated Belle Epoch Palace Hotel, with a focus on authenticity, sustainability, and art this looks to be an exciting summer for the region.
Not far by bus from Villar-sur-Ollon is Villar-Diablerets, where you can find one of Europe’s longest sledge runs. This, I thought, would be far more sensible than skiing, what could possibly go wrong? Hiring of the sledge was easy, it seemed a little small to me, not quite kids’ size but at 6ft I thought something bigger would be more appropriate. Nothing doing, all the same size. So, off in the gondola a few stops and I’m there, at the top of the run. Nothing too daunting as yet, and a bright sunny day was in full swing.
So, after a rudimentary lesson (you use your feet more than your arms, it requires a rethink on the received logic of steering, but you’ll work it out very quickly when you try). So off I went, slowly at first but then speed gathered as it tends to. So, I tumbled a bit, quite a lot really, maybe five or six times, some of them spectacular sprays of snow ending up with me off the run up to my waist in snow. But, and here’s the thing, I had been told this would happen, I’d have thought twice, but I wasn’t, and I had a ball, it was such fun. The Swiss always find a fun and fast way to descend a mountain, regardless. The length of the run? Well, that was a heart stopping 7.2 km, it took me around 40 minutes (Swiss record is of course a bit quicker at 18 mins) but what a blast, much more fun than skiing in my book.
Switzerland never disappoints me, it has everything the traveller could want, drama, romance, great food and wine, unparalleled scenery, and the ability to allow you to end up on your arse but still enjoy it!
Chalet Royalp Hotel and Spa, Domaine de Rochegrise 23, 1884 Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland.
Tel: +44 (0)24 495 90 90
Located in the heart of the Villars-sur-Ollon ski resort in the Swiss Alps, Chalet RoyAlp Hotel and Spa is an hour and a half drive from Geneva Airport and one hour from Lausanne.
Type of Hotel: 5-Star Hotel
Number of Rooms: Just over 60 Superior and Executive Rooms, Suites and Residences including complimentary Wi-Fi.
Price Range: High
Insider Tip: Find a cosy spot by the fire and curl up with a book after dinner.
Reviewer’s Rating: 10/10
Neil Hennessy-Vass is Contributing Editor for Our Man On The Ground as well as a widely-published globetrotting food and travel writer and photographer.
Photographs by Neil Hennessy-Vass
SWISS offer more than 160 weekly flights from London City, Heathrow, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh and London Gatwick (seasonal) to Zürich or Geneva.
One-way fares start from £76 to Zürich and £54 to Geneva including all taxes, fees and surcharges, one piece of checked and hand luggage. SWISS will transport your first set of skis or snowboard equipment and boots free of charge in addition to your standard free baggage allowance. (Excluding hand luggage only fares). For more information visit www.swiss.com or call 0345 601 0956.
Transport within Switzerland
Swiss Travel System AG can provide you with a unique all-in-one 1st class Swiss Travel Pass which include unlimited travel by train, bus and boat as well as public transportation in more than 90 cities and towns.