Adelboden: This traditional ski resort is in the best of health
A 'wellness centre' is due to open in Adelboden. It will only detract from this Swiss town's charm, warns James Hanning
Sunday 09 November 2008
Mention popular and familiar ski resorts to most Brits, and the chances are they will think of Méribel or Chamonix. A German or a Swiss, though, is more likely to say Adelboden. And what do they know about skiing? Quite a lot actually, and – unless you are a tandoori-faced Home Counties stockbroker or an overexcited public schoolboy trying to lose your virginity – we would do well to listen to them.
Adelboden is a delight. It is at the end of a valley 40 minutes south of Berne in the western Bernese Oberland and has the charmingly small-town (pop 3,500) Swiss things that the braying hordes from Gatwick do so much to spoil (an authentic, old-world high street, tea shops and all, a proper agricultural economy and stunning ski runs – 185km of them). To prove the point, in one of the mountain-top restaurants, the thoroughly echt four-person Swiss band played entirely Swiss music on their accordions. No "Guantanamera" here. Not even an "Edelweiss".
We (me, wife and two girls under six) stayed in Adelboden's recently done-up Solis Cambrian Hotel and Spa, which doesn't sound very Swiss or low key, but bear with me. It is one of the smarter hotels in town, with excellent food and an enticing spa, but somehow it knows it doesn't completely fit its surroundings. Yet so comfortable and welcoming is it that you can't help wishing it well – it is the exception, though still low key.
Its owners are two Cardiff-based lawyers who came to Adelboden for a holiday and decided this was for them. "It seemed like a no-brainer," says Chris Nott, anxious to maximise his skiing and make a few bob at the same time. They bought the building in its, shall we say, unpretentious 1970s state and have spent a fair bit giving it a very 21st-century feel and as much comfort as you could want.
Our daughters, for whom this was a first, now complain constantly that we don't live in Adelboden. Of course, they fell in love with Andreas, their ski instructor, on the first day, insisting on sitting next to him at lunch, on the bus and so on. Andreas Belser holds the title of Best Looking Ski Instructor in Switzerland (really), so lots of people fall in love with him. He will bear it bravely, then, when I say that the next day they fell in love with his replacement, the delightful Dee, an American married to a Swiss local, and even asked "who's Andreas?" when I mentioned him a day later.
The ski school is a gondola and a bus ride out of town from Adelboden, which some might find irksome, but the skiing (from there) for the adults is excellent. A party of seasoned Brit skiers we came across had never been to Adelboden before, but said they would never go anywhere else again, so good was it. The real pros can try the Chuenisbärgli run, scene of one of world skiing's classic slaloms, but by general agreement there is plenty for every standard.
At more than 2,000m above sea level (mostly), the resort is high enough to expect decent snow from December to the end of April, and two-thirds of the runs have artificial snow if needed. It also claims to have the highest concentration, among Swiss resorts, of Alpine hut restaurants and bars. The highlight of our week, though, and slightly to our surprise in a week of highlights, was an afternoon's tobogganing, a hilarious and exhilarating 1,000ft freewheel to put anything in the UK truly in its place.
I definitely want to go back to Adelboden. As Chris Nott says, it has "a proper baker, a proper butcher". What would put me off, though, is the town's plan to join the herds of the tourism industry in building a "wellness" resort. "Wellness" is – as if part of a witness protection scheme – one of those words installed in a new country and given a new identity. To my jaundiced mind, in pampered Mittel Europa, a barely used description of a state of mind has become a euphemism for rich egotists paying a lot of money to lounge about – being made to feel they are both beautiful and healthy – instead of exercising.
Anyway, a wellness centre (catering, according to the business plan, for the über-narcissist "selfness" clients) is the last thing Adelboden needs. It has an unspoilt, unmonied but comfortable feel, perfect for families and anyone who doesn't want all-night clubbing. The Kuwaiti investors who are planning a 100-room hotel and the best spa in Europe will tell you the locals, anxious to keep the town busy for more than just the 13 skiing weeks a year, were the scheme's initiators, and that they have no interest in the place being ruined.
The town's current tourist brochure says: "It is better not to compare Adelboden with chic Swiss health resorts, so if you are looking for the sparkle of champagne and sophisticated elegance, you are probably in the wrong place." Precisely, but if you want a lovely family holiday with great skiing, go now, and tell them not to ruin it.
How to get there
Rail Europe (0844 848 4070; raileurope.co.uk ) offers return fares from London to Basel or Geneva starting at £103. Go to swisstravelsystem.co.uk for a Swiss Transfer Ticket – a return ticket allowing one-day transfers from main entrance points to any destination in Switzerland – which costs from £67. For Swiss train timetables, go to rail.ch. Double rooms at Solis Cambrian Hotel & Spa (00 41 33 673 83 83; solisadelboden.com ) cost from £75 per night.
Switzerland Travel Centre (00800 100 200 30; MySwitzerland.com ).
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