Although I am technically a resident of Switzerland, my family is living in the Netherlands, so I spend a lot of time to-ing and fro-ing. We plan to move to the French-speaking Romande area of Switzerland, so my ski trips this winter have largely had an ulterior motive, i.e. where best to live. This has resulted in a number of my trips being based in the valley to get a feel for places, and then going up the mountains to ski. And additionally I did one trip staying in a ski resort to get a feel for the pros and cons. So, given a choice of anywhere in Switzerland we could choose to live, where would it be?
And the answer is… Aigle. Ten minutes from Montreux, thirty from Lausanne, an hour from Geneva airport and a whole bunch of world class ski resorts. From a family point of view the schooling seems better than Valais and the people less provincial – and Valais is walking distance away! The weather is about the best in all of Switzerland with around 300 sunny days a year. The apartment we are hoping to secure won’t be built for at least a year, but it promises to have wonderful views of Les Dents du Midi, perhaps one of the half dozen most memorable mountains in the whole of Switzerland.
Anyway, over the next few days I will share my insights about skiing on my winter trips to Vaud and Valais, and let you into some of the adventures along the way, like inadvertently ending up in Geneva (but getting to visit the wonderful Galerie 123), watching Brigitte rock the pistes, partying with a bunch of Belgians, picking up some useful ski tips and much more. But now time to pick up the kids!
I had to go down to Switzerland for some business and thought I would take in a day’s skiing, even though the weather didn’t look good and I had a cold. The trip was painless and it made a nice break despite my heavy head. I took a bed on the excellent City Nightline on Thursday night from Utrecht to Basel for around fifty euros and was in Basel before 7am. If it wasn’t for the business, I could easily have been on the slopes somewhere like Wengen within a couple more hours.
The next morning I got up early and took a train across to Zurich where I bought a Snow’n’Rail combined ticket at SFR 60. Despite all the talk of the cost of the Swiss Franc, somehow sixty francs for a scenic trip up the Linthal valley and a day in one of the most pleasant small, car-free resorts seems to me good value. Braunwald is not a huge resort, but it does have a good range of skiing as well as plenty for non-skiers to do – indeed, despite it being a Saturday, the slopes were almost empty and there seemed to be more tobogganists and winter walkers below the Eggstöcke than skiers and snowboarders. It has struck me before how unusual a resort so easy to get to from Zurich is so quiet at weekends, with most weekend warriors preferring to go to Hoch-Ybrig or Flumserberg. The trip really is a doddle, with the funicular railway right in the Linthalbahn Braunwald railway station. A quirky feature of Braunwald is the configuration of gondolas used in the resort, with one cableway operating them in pairs, another in quads and a final one alternating with chairlifts on the same cable.
The weather wasn’t great so I had a leisurely day on the slopes. I later saw replays of Lara Gut winning in St Moritz, but the self-service restaurant at Grotzenbüel put up a big screen to let us watch the racing live at Kitzbühel on the shortened Streif course off the Hahnenkamm.
After a pleasant day on the slopes, a leisurely train journey back down the valley and a meal at Zurich Station’s NordSee fish restaurant it was time to get on the sleeper back to the Netherlands in the company of two charming Chinese ladies. The fare was cheaper than from Basel bizarrely, some 44 euros.
Montreux is most famous for the Montreux Jazz festival, that takes place in the town every summer, or perhaps the fabulous climate or the beautiful walk from Vevey to Castle Chillon alongside Lake Geneva. For the winter sports enthusiasts, however, its location at the bottom of the Vaud Alps makes it a fabulous destination to use as a base for a holiday.
The town boasts a very good Christmas Market in December, when the best nearby slopes at Glacier 3000 have already been open for several weeks, but other resorts are also starting to open at this time nearby in the heart of Vaud and the Valais, including Verbier, Gstaad, Leysin, Les Diablerets and the resorts of Les Portes du Soleil – all roughly an hour away by rail or road. However all of the resorts of the Valais are reasonably accessible from Montreux. There is also a small ski resort just above Montreux at Caux and Rochers de Naye which can be reached by a funicular from Montreux, conveniently very close to the excellent youth hostel (which we use as our base for the Jazz Festival).
If you are planning to do a ski holiday in Switzerland and use rail to get about, Montreux is perfect. It is easy to get to by train or road from Geneva, itself served by an International Airport with a railway station actually inside the airport. Nearly all the great ski resorts in the region can be reached by train from Montreux, but also you can cut across to Lucerne and visit the resorts of the Bernese Oberland and Central Switzerland by taking the spectacular Golden Pass Line, a panorama train that operates between Montreux, Gstaad and the Bernese Oberland with onward connections to Lucerne.
More information on Montreux can be found at the Swiss Winter Sports web site.