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Winter sports in Graubünden (Switzerland)

Winter sports in Graubünden (Switzerland)

Emmanuel Tresmontant - 2010-11-29

Nowhere in Switzerland will you find a greater change of scene than Graubünden, 1hr and 30 minutes south-east of Zurich! Ideal for a family holiday, the small resort of Lenzerheide is tucked away at the heart of a magnificent nature reserve that is great for all sorts of excursions. The more chic resort of Davos has managed to retain the charm of the Belle Époque with its luxury hotels, casinos and unusual, flat-roofed architecture.

Why Graubünden?
Despite its reputation as an expensive country, Switzerland has now become one of Europe’s most attractive destinations. The same is true for winter sports: it’s no more expensive to go skiing in Switzerland than France and it can even be cheaper in some cases!
So, for easy-going family skiing this year, we recommend discovering the canton of Graubünden at the eastern end of the country. It’s quite a trek but it’s worth it! A miniature state formed in 1450, Graubünden is the largest Swiss canton. Standing at the crossroads of Germanic and Latin cultures, three languages are spoken here: German, Italian and Romansh. This natural fortress straddles the Alps and is most captivating for its beautiful scenery, its 1,000 peaks, 150 sunny valleys and mountain pass roads, as well as its famous red train, the Glacier Express, that links Saint-Moritz to Zermatt in 7 hours and overlooks terrifying precipices.
Lenzerheide, a welcoming family resort
For a week’s holiday, we recommend staying in Lenzerheide, 20 km south of Chur, the historic capital of Graubünden and, incidentally, Switzerland’s oldest town.
Saint-Moritz is as chic and “bling” as Lenzerheide is simple and unpretentious. Along with the neighbouring village of Valbella, this winter sports resort, founded in 1882, is set in a vast park-like pass at an altitude of 1,500 m. Interesting features include the Schweise hotel, boasting the biggest Turkish baths in the Alps, and the nearby village of Parpan, renowned for its delicious dry cured meats made in the traditional way by the Brügger family.
Lenzerheide’s two mountain slopes are ideal for smooth, all day skiing in the sunshine on no fewer than 155 km of pistes (a day’s ski pass costs €41 for adults, €13 for children). Take the free morning shuttle from the village to the start of the pistes and head up to Piz Scalottas at an altitude of 2,323 m: the panorama over the sea of clouds covering the valley is sublime! You’ll find a similar view at the Stätzerhon, at an altitude of 2,575 m. Head to the JuneHütte (2,214 m) between Piz Scalottas and Piz Danis for a hot chocolate or schnapps break. This chalet is famous throughout the region and has been run by a Dutch family for half a century.
Here, as in Davos, the pistes are well maintained and constantly “enhanced” with artificial snow made with water from the nearby lakes (no chemical additives are used here). For a pleasant afternoon’s skiing, the Rothorn (2,865 m) on the other side of the mountain, can be reached by cable car. Be sensible if you want to ski off piste and get one of the resort’s instructors to accompany you.
Marked-out circuits for hiking and mountain biking, roller-skating tracks, golf courses, clear, sparkling lakes, curling and sledge-dog competitions… Lenzerheide is not restricted to skiing. It’s a nicely-sized resort that is sunny, peaceful and bursting with energy. Its very affordable and well-run hotels such as Hotel Specha, Hotel Schweizerhof and Sunstar, are mainly located in the town centre at the foot of the pistes.
Davos and The Magic Mountain
An hour’s bus or car ride from Lenzerheide, Davos provides an altogether different setting and offers a more artistic and literary aspect of Graubünden. Leaving behind the provincial, picturesque Switzerland, this is a town that should be appreciated for its refined charm with a touch of nonchalance. At first sight, Davos suffers from its celebrity. Since 1971 the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum has been held here, bringing together 2,000 heads of state, economists and businessmen from all over the world. The organisation defends the idea of a free-market economy, now increasingly challenged by alter-globalist movements, and, by association, Davos itself is believed to be a hub for the international jet-set. In reality, this certainly isn’t the case. Far less so, in any case, than Gstaad or Saint-Moritz.
Davos, on the contrary, appeals to those seeking peace and quiet and anonymity. Its skiing area is one of the largest in Switzerland, with 300 km of pistes scattered over six different mountains, with the main sector being the Parsenn. The difficulty level here is slightly higher than Lenzerheide and the space highly exhilarating. Not far from the main station of Davos Dorf, a funicular will take you up to the Weissfluhjoch (2,662 m) where you can take a cable car to the Weissfluhgipfel (2,844 m). The setting is wonderful and all the pistes perfectly maintained, but it can be very cold (between -12 and -18 degrees during our visit in December)!
Davos originally owed its reputation to its sunshine levels and pure, dry air which, in the late 19th century and until the discovery of antibiotics, was believed if not to cure people suffering from pneumonia and tuberculosis, at least to improve and stabilise their condition. Davos rapidly became a fashionable health resort attracting writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle and, of course, Thomas Mann, whose masterpiece, The Magic Mountain, is set entirely in Davos.
The Kirchner Museum
During the first half of the 20th century, Davos was a centre of artistic creation, as demonstrated by the Kirchner Museum, which we highly recommend. Ernst-Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938), a major painter of German expressionism, left Berlin in 1917 to settle in Davos where he appreciated the tranquillity, the light and the inspirational presence of the mountains. However, in 1936 his powerful art was deemed “degenerate” by the Nazis. Heartbroken and fearing persecution, Kirchner committed suicide two years later. The building, with its frosted glass facades, contains cubic spaces of great luminosity where you can discover the work of the painter and, in particular, his alpine landscapes, which express a mystical dimension. The other great artist on display is Sophie Staeuber (1889-1943). Born in Davos, this exceptional lady practised every art with passion and genius: painting, drawing, sculpture, dance, music, decorative arts …Staeuber took part in the Dada and surrealist movements but was most importantly one of the pioneers of abstract and geometric art. Her work is little-known abroad and definitely worth seeing!
The Belle Époque charm of Davos
A stroll down the main street (called the Promenade) is all it takes to get a taste of the old-fashioned charm of the luxury hotels and villas built during the Belle Époque.
Head to the lounge of the town’s finest hotel, the Belvédère, to enjoy a cup of tea or a martini in a magnificent setting.
The unusual Hotel Schatzalp is an old sanatorium set on the mountainside in the heights of the town and accessible only by a historic funicular. Built in 1900, this completely Art Nouveau style building served as the setting for Thomas Mann’s novel. The atmosphere here is still amazing, with its big ballroom, period dining room, bar, wrought iron lift and retro rooms, devoid of television and with big wooden balconies that overlook the Davos Valley.
If you’re dining out in Davos, be sure to reserve a table at the restaurant of the Waldhotel, a superb establishment with a swimming pool, which was also frequented by Thomas Mann. Its modern rooms start at just €110 a night! The dining room strives to capture the atmosphere of The Magic Mountain with its Art Deco furniture and ambiance. German chef Martin Liefeith’s cuisine is contemporary, detailed and full of originality and you can choose from three different menus: “M&M” (food and wine), “Freestyle” (creative) and “Garden” (vegetarian). You can combine them and order dishes à la carte, such as the warm oyster in champagne, Graubünden mushroom risotto and Tahitian vanilla crème brûlée topped with mandarin jelly. The excellent wine list features Petite Arvine and Marsanne wines produced by Marie-Thérèse Chappaz, the great Valais winegrower (bank on €70 for 4 courses without wine).
Useful information
Hotel Belvédère
Promenade 89
7270 Davos-Platz
Tel: +41 81 415 60 00
Hotel Schatzalp
7270 Davos-Platz
Tel: +41 81 415 51 51
Kirchner Museum
Promenade 82
7270 Davos
Tel: +41 81 410 63 00
Buolstrasse 3
7270 Davos Platz
Tel: +41 81 415 15 15 

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