The Peak Of Swiss Skiing: Crans-Montana & Champéry

Crans MontanaWhen you’re scouring the A-Z of super Swiss ski resorts you need go no further than C:  C for Champéry and C for Crans-Montana.  They are as different as chalk and cheese fondue but both pack punch and appeal.

Crans-Montana is famed for its music festival, easy elegance and luxury, and Champéry for its delightfully modest traditional charm.  Both boast extensive slopes for skiers and riders, and with Champéry linked to the extensive Portes du Soleil region you can ski into France.

So before you snow-plough to the end of the alphabet for Verbier (invaded by high-rolling Russians and the achingly trendy boutique designer hotel W), Wengen (with its old-fashioned profile and beloved by Brits of a certain age) and Zermatt (with its mountain-high priced lift pass and bar bills)  it’s worth discovering the delights of classy Crans-Montana and the creature comforts of cosy Champéry.

Snow conditions at Crans-Montana, perched above the Rhone Valley, usually make even the most mediocre skier feel and look good. Sadly, by our arrival in mid-April, the big melt had begun.  As our gondola soared above the fast-thawing snow one poetic skier mused: ‘If the daisies hold hands the slopes will be white again.’  They didn’t and it wasn’t.

What activity we lacked on the mountain we made up for in the valley by hitting the dance floors at the Caprices music festival, an annual shindig staged in a series of giant marquees that shakes up the town  Crans-Montana morphs to the coolest place in the Alps with a bonanza of boogying and heady hedonism till dawn.

Thank heavens for the champagne air that shifts the effects of late-night excesses.  If they could synthesize that sparkling atmosphere as a morning-after cure it would beat Berocca and rival Resolve.

It was a daily battle to lift my head from the downy pillows of our hotel, the Crans Ambassador, that strives to earn every one of its five stars, to pad on fluffy towelling slippers to the power shower (whose door was so clean I head-butted the glass in my rush _ there’s always a downside to perfection) then down to breakfast, which surprisingly failed to quite measure up to impatient skiers’ demands.

The stylish hotel, built along the lines of a block of Toblerone, commands a view to die for. Its huge terrace embraces a 200 degree panorama of the Swiss Alps, the spiky Matterhorn and mighty Mont Blanc dominating a glittering horizon.

Prime times to enjoy this magnificent view: après-ski, after a muscle-restoring spa session with a mineral bath or volcanic stone massage. What bliss to relax in late-afternoon sunshine, lounging on sheepskin throws and sipping chilled Fendant white wine from crystal glasses. Or after a night of music and dancing, curled up in front of a crackling log fire under a blanket of stars with obliging staff providing nightcaps.

Gill on the MountainMore modest accommodation came courtesy of Hôtel Le National, in business since 1896 in the heart of the mountain village of Champéry in the Valais Alps. But the breakfast buffet was tops, as were dramatic views of the Dents-du-Midi and the Dents Blanches mountains.

No need for a hotel spa as just five minutes by car or train – as you’d expect in ultra-efficient Switzerland trains and ski buses run like cuckoo clockwork – are the public thermal baths of Val d’Illiez where indoor and outdoor baths famed for their healing properties range from the soothingly warm to witheringly chill. Taking the waters, which are rich in sulphur, calcium and magnesium, will leave you smelling faintly of eggs, but with glowing skin and renewed vitality.

Just what’s needed if you have survived the scary exertions of the Swiss Wall, a fearsome black ski run that boasts a 90 per cent gradient.  I stuck to the wide selection of leisurely cruising pistes and practised bouncing along on a welcome dump of powder snow.

The choice of runs is immense as Champéry thanks to the Portes du Soleil ski area comprising a dozen interlinked ski resorts and which hosts an annual music festival, Rock the Pistes, on the slopes.

All that rocking and skiing means guilt-free calorie intake. Food on the mountains, taken at a leisurely pace on sun-soaked terraces, tastes even more delicious at altitude, as do the wines.  Cheese, in all its guises, features big time – raclette, fondue, omelettes, salads and sandwiches.  We made an heroic dent in the Swiss cheese mountain.  Raclette – molten cheese with potatoes and pickles – and fondue should both carry a health warning.  Do not drink water or beer as indigestible cheese balls will form in your stomach.  White wine is the only answer.

There must be a local law that dictates you are not allowed to leave Switzerland without sampling fondue.  Made with Gruyere and Vacherin Fribourgeois cheeses, white wine, garlic lemon juice and a small measure of the cherry spirit Kirsch – the ingredient that propels it into food heaven – I was happy to comply.

Shared with friends in a rustic mountain restaurant it is the ideal skiers’ lunch teamed with just a glass a glass of local Valais white wine. This is, after all, the largest wine region of Switzerland. You won’t find any bottles in supermarkets back home as the Swiss wisely keep the best for themselves.

If you are befuddled by choice of resorts it’s worth consulting the Where to Ski and Snowboard 2015 skiers’ bible to give you the latest low-down.  It makes booking the best holiday as easy as ABC – even if you only get to C.

FACT BOX

Inghams features three properties in Crans-Montana, Switzerland. Stay at the 4* Hotel Art de Vire for 7 nights on a Ski Inclusive basis with prices starting at £1084 per person and including half board accommodation, 6 day lift pass, 6 day ski/board and boot hire, Sfr 30 bar credit and free use of ski lockers as well as flights from London Gatwick to Geneva and resort transfers. Half-board at the newly-reopened Crans Ambassador is from £1699.

A choice of regional airports is available at a supplement including Heathrow, Cambridge, Southampton, Exeter, Bristol, Stansted, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds Bradford, Isle of Man, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Inverness, Jersey, Belfast and Geneva. Flights are also available with Swiss departing from Heathrow and including 2nd class rail transfers with prices start from £1019 to stay in the 4* Hotel Art de Vire on a Ski Inclusive basis. For more information and to book visit www.inghams.co.uk or call 01483 791 114.

Gill Martin

Gill Martin

Gill Martin is an award winning travel writer and former Fleet Street journalist – Daily Mail reporter, Daily Express feature writer and Sunday Mirror Woman’s Editor.
She is a freelance writer for national newspapers from the Financial Times and Daily Telegraph to tabloids, magazines, regional newspapers and websites.
After a six month career break after the Indian Ocean tsunami where she volunteered as a communications consultant in Banda Aceh, Indonesia for Plan, the children’s charity, she is now focused on travel.
From skiing everywhere from Kashmir to Argentina, Morocco to Turkey, North America and all over Europe; snow shoeing in Canada; captain of the GB team of the Ski Club of International Journalists; whitewater rafting down the Zambezi; electric mountain biking in Switzerland and cycling in Portugal; Kenyan and South African safaris; riding elephants in India and horses in Brazil; paint balling in Romania; opera and archeology in Serbia; Caribbean snorkelling; sampling food and wine in Italy.

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