Mark Nicholls experiences the alpine chill of ice fishing in Switzerland – and also finds time to take in a few ski-runs
Beneath several inches of snow, up to a metre of ice, and in the depths of icy cold water, supper lurks.
We are on the frozen surface of Lake Melchsee, some 1900m above sea level, where the temperature is a few degrees below freezing, despite the clear blue skies and bright sunshine. The snow glistens as skiers take to the lifts in the distance.
But we are focussed; learning the finer points of ice fishing in the small Swiss ski resort of Melchsee-Frutt and bolstered by the promise that our hotel chef will cook whatever we catch.
Our guide – our fish-meister – is Gusti Berchtold, or as Swiss Tourism likes to call him, “Mr Fish.”
Ice fishing, is somewhat as you might expect it to be: clear away the snow from the frozen surface of the lake, drill through the ice, clean out the hole and dangle your line through to tempt the fish swimming in the freezing waters below. Being successful, however, is more of an acquired skill.
After meeting at the Fischputz Station and picking up rods, ice drills and shovels, we strap on ice fishing gloves and snowshoes and trudge across the frozen Lake Melchsee to pick a spot for a morning’s fishing.
“The most important thing about ice fishing,” extols Gusti, “is to see it as an adventure – but with the point of catching fish.”
From there, he gives us a demonstration on how to prepare the ice hole. We watch as he shovels away several inches of snow, then drills through the ice with a long red-handled implement, before clearing the hole of ice residue so it doesn’t re-freeze.
Having, less expertly prepared my own ice-hole, I am free to fish. I dangle my line through the hole with a lure on the end (sometimes bait such as worms are used), allow it to drift down to the bottom of the lake and then wind the line back in a few turns and wait. As feared, nothing happened.
The lake is some six metres deep and stocked with Char and Trout. To fish requires a licence, which costs CHF 55 (about £40) and includes guidance, tuition, and permits the catching and keeping of up to five fish a day, with a maximum of 25 people on the ice.
Passive fishing is a little less-hands on, with a bell attached to the rod tip; if it rings, it may be a sign you have a bite. I remain active, but I’m afraid I didn’t catch anything, warmed only by the hot tea from my flask rather than the prospect of a fish supper.
Yet the setting is idyllic; a fabulous panorama of ski runs, a tiny church, and a cluster of hotels high in the mountains of the Lucerne region of Switzerland.
Thankfully, some among my group did catch fish – lovely Rainbow Trout – which were later cooked by the chef at the hotel and enjoyed by us at an early-evening wine-tasting session.
The previous day, having flown into Geneva, I caught the train to Lucerne, took a connection to Samen and then the post-bus up to Stockalp at 1080m above sea level. The final leg of my journey to the Frutt Lodge and Spa at 1920m was via the gondola.
Getting to the hotel is an adventure, though also straightforward too; you deposit your luggage at the bottom of the ski gondola in Stockalp and next see it in your room. Similarly, with your ski equipment, which is conveyed up the mountain and placed in the ski room at the hotel entrance. All very efficient and convenient.
Melchsee-Frutt is now a mountain-top resort of a handful of hotels, but until 15 years ago it was very much a village community with a school and church.
As a hotel, Frutt Lodge and Spa is homely and cosy, with oak-panelled rooms and huge windows that draw in the natural light and offer views over the lake or the mountains. It has excellent restaurants and a 900-square-metre pool and spa area and, importantly, easy access to the slopes…which after our morning of ice fishing, we were eager to experience.
The ski area of Melchsee-Frutt – 106km from Zurich Airport and 40km from Lucerne – is relatively compact. The 40km of pistes, served by 16 lifts, are ideal for families and beginners, but there is a variety of black, red and blue runs and you can ski all the way down to Stockalp.
Some of the runs are shared with toboggan routes, so there is a need for awareness, but the reds and blacks can offer a different challenge, such as the run from Balmeregg at 2255m or down from Bonistock (2160m).
As the late afternoon light closed in, we headed back to the Frutt Lodge and Spa to relax in the pool, steam room, sauna and spa – where there are also treatments and massages available – before dinner in the Titschli restaurant.
The hotel opened in 2011 with 67 rooms for adult guests but is linked by an underground tunnel to its sister residence, Frutt Family Lodge, with a further 47 rooms for families with its own spa, Lago Mediterranean restaurant, bowling alley, gym and cinema.
The main reception at Frutt Lodge and Spa is grand, with the ski room close to the main door and easy access to the lift system from the entrance. There are sofas and a fire, a terrace and a bar with giant cowbells hanging overhead.
The restaurant has a high-quality fine-dining menu, offers a superb breakfast and there is also an extensive wine menu, demonstrated once a week by sommelier Stephanie Mieth in an hour-long wine-tasting session where she talks guests through the regional Swiss and European wines on offer.
“We normally choose two white and two red wines for the wine tasting,” she tells us. “We have a lot of Swiss wines and then wines from France, Italy and Spain as well as Portugal, Austria and Germany with a few from California and New Zealand. But most are from the classic European wine areas.”
It is to accompany this wine tasting that the chef had cooked our trout…a mere snack rather than supper for six!
For those who want to know more about the hotel, there is also a behind-the-scenes tour which takes in the kitchen, back-of-house and the laundry.
The mountain-top setting of Frutt Lodge and Spa proved a remotely idyllic location to spend time away from it all ice-fishing and skiing. Other winter activities included snowboarding, snowshoe hiking, sledding and cross-country skiing, or simply relaxing on the terrace and enjoying the view.
In the summer, activities include hiking, biking, rope park, climbing, visits to alpine farms and wildlife observation and fishing.
After a couple of days on the mountain, we paused on the return journey in Lucerne, which proved a lovely city to explore for a few hours. It’s easy to walk around the side streets and cross the ancient wooden bridge, though another option is to take a boat trip along Lake Lucerne through a landscape enjoyed by such luminaries as Mark Twain, J.M.W. Turner, Wagner and poet Friedrich Schiller (author of William Tell).
There are also impressive shoreline hotels, a transport museum and Europe’s first rack railway, opened in 1871 from Vitznau to Rigi Kulm.
Travelling in Switzerland is always a delight, particularly across the snowy terrain by train or boat. And for this journey, the final stage up to Melchsee-Frutt via ski gondola from Stockalp was fabulous; a magnificent finale matched only by the accommodation and views when I arrived.
Accommodation: Room rates at Frutt Lodge and Spa (www.fruttlodge.ch) start at CHF 228 a night (£180 or €213) for two guests, including breakfast and spa entry.
Ice fishing: Costs CHF 55, (teenagers CHF 40), rod rental CHF 10 a day, and snowshoe rental is CHF 15. Visit www.melchsee-frutt.ch
Ski pass: A one-day pass is CHF 55, a six-day pass is CHF 264.
Getting there: Swiss International Air Lines offers more than 150 weekly flights from London City, Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh to Zurich, Geneva or Sion. The Swiss Travel System provides a range of travel passes and tickets for visitors from abroad. The Swiss Travel Pass offers unlimited travel on consecutive days throughout the rail, bus and boat network, including scenic routes and local trams and incorporates the Swiss Museum Pass for entrance to 500 museums and exhibitions. Prices from £185 for three days in second class. For more information please visit: www.swisstravelsystem.co.uk
Mark Nicholls is an award-winning freelance travel writer and author, based in the UK and has written for a range of national titles, specialist magazines and international websites and operated as a war correspondent in locations such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
Photographs by Mark Nicholls and Frutt Lodge and Spa