It’s the classic chocolate-box scene: Snowy peaks, glistening lakes and green valleys stretching as far as the eye can see. In the soaring Swiss Alps, the air is clear, the views are invigorating and the thrills to be had are many. Of course, there is skiing. Some of the world’s best ski resorts, such as Verbier, Gstaad, and Zermatt, are here, offering endless runs of pure-white powder snow, in some cases even in early summer; you can swoosh your way down the Fee Glacier when most of the snow has melted in resorts at lower altitudes. But skiing or snowboarding are not your only options. There is ice-skating, tobogganing, hiking and biking, plus family-friendly attractions, and a slower pace of life watching the world go by aboard one of the area’s vintage mountain railways.
The Alps were actually a summer playground long before they became a winter one, and if you pay a visit outside of the snowy season you’ll soon see why. Hiking is a big deal in this mountainous land, and La Reserve du Haut Val de Bagnes, close to Verbier and Switzerland’s second-largest nature reserve, is a very decent place to strike out on foot. Created in 1968, the reserve is crisscrossed with hundreds of miles of hiking trails, and one for nature-lovers is the six-hour Chamois Trail, where you’ll have a good chance of spotting sure-footed chamois goats and ibexes, plus ridiculously cute furry marmots.
If wheels are more your thing, then you might like to know that from June to September you can use the network of cable-cars and ski lifts in the Four Valleys area around Verbier to access 120 miles of marked mountain biking tracks. There are circuits for beginners as well as experienced bikers, with ‘easy rider’ and ‘pro rider’ versions of most tours, and you’ll find a few hire centers in Verbier where you can pick up a trusty steed. Alternatively, your Luxury Retreats concierge can organize bike rental ahead of time.
For a real adrenaline rush, you might want to check out the via ferrata, or ‘iron road’ between Saas Fee and Saas-Grund. With the help of a trusty mountain guide, you’ll navigate a network of steel ropes, ladders, suspension bridges and a Tyrolean zip-line that carry you high above the ravines and waterfalls of the mighty Gorge Alpine. If you needed to give yourself an excuse to dig into the gooey, cheesy depths of an indulgent fondue, completing this white-knuckle challenge is as good a one as any.
All the walking, wheeling and hanging around over precipitous gorges worn you out? Then how about a ride on that most civilized form of transport, the train? The Gornergrat Bahn was the world’s first fully electrified cog railway (it opened in 1898) and is the highest open-air cog railway in Europe. It starts its journey in Zermatt and takes 33 minutes to reach the summit of the Gornergrat – a vertical climb of nearly 5,000 feet. The line leads over dramatic bridges and through tunnels, past forests, mountain lakes and the magnificent Matterhorn towering over it all. At the top, you’ll find an astronomical observatory, a large sun terrace and a restaurant serving up steaming cups of hot chocolate.
For Elsa and Anna fans the Glacier Palace, located near Zermatt between the Klein Matterhorn and Breithorn peaks, is a must. A lift descends 50 feet below the surface of the glacier into a world any Frozen princess would be proud to rule. Corridors and halls peopled with marmots, wolves, eagles, and dragons are carved out of the iridescent blue ice and there’s an ice slide for young visitors too.
Toboggan runs are another feature of the area, and the biggest and best is in Verbier. At 6 miles, it’s the longest in western Switzerland, winding its way from the cable-car stop at Savoleyres down to La Tzoumaz. The route is gentle enough for kids to ride by themselves, but we’re pretty sure you’ll want to jump on as well.
So you want to ski the Swiss Alps, hike their many trails, career down the slopes on a bike or perhaps just ascend their peaks on a delightful old railway? However you get your mountain kicks, you’ll need a cozy vacation home to return to at the end of a busy day, and we’ve lined up a selection of chalets that are just the ticket.
The climbing and winter sports capital of the Valais region, Zermatt sits below the mighty monolith that is the Matterhorn, giving the town picture-postcard views from every angle. There are no cars allowed in the resort, so once there you’ll be surrounded by an appealing old-world charm. Those seeking an intimate retreat for two will find apartments within walking distance of the many dining and nightlife options of the town as well as romantic wood-burning fireplaces and terraces with Matterhorn views. At the other end of the scale, our Zermatt rentals include chalets to sleep up to 20, some with indoor pool and spa facilities.
Verbier is the main resort in Switzerland’s largest ski area, the Four Valleys. It has sunshine, gorgeous scenery, exciting terrain and a lively nightlife, making it ideal for those looking to let loose on vacation. Our Verbier chalet rentals will help you make the most of your time in the Swiss Alps, whether you want to enjoy winter’s après ski, or the summer scene. Come with a big group of friends to enjoy a chalet sleeping up to 20, with indoor swimming pools, an indoor and outdoor hot tub, two saunas, two hammams and two impressive wine caves—that’s the after-party sorted, then.
Family-friendly Saas Fee is a traditional mountain village of narrow streets lined with charming old chalets, where our Saas Fee chalet rentals will allow you to feel right at home, whatever the time of year. We have vacation homes perfect for that extended family celebration, with panoramic views, comfortable living areas and beautifully appointed kitchens designed for creating hearty mountain feasts.