Switzerland: The original and the best

Davos is the highest city in Europe, St Moritz is all about high style – but both have epic skiing, says Leslie Woit

Yes, skiing can be dangerous. But just at the moment even walking along the main shopping street in Davos seems tricky. Above the shops bursting with Bogner jackets and tasty baked treats, massive snow drifts are heaped like Nigella's leftover mash, cascading over the eaves of the resort's flat roofs. One good sneeze and the whole thing could blow.

The resort made famous for hosting the planet's economic gurus at the annual World Economic Forum has been pummelled with a winter's worth of snow in just a few weeks. Roads were closed, lifts were shut, even the igloo village was snowed under.

During the storm of a decade, snow removal workers racked up 120 hours of overtime to clean it all up. What a difference a year makes: there is no better place to be than the Alps right now.

There's no more perfect place to head during an old-fashioned winter such as this than two of the birthplaces of winter sports: Davos Klosters and St Moritz. Connected by a scene-stealing Swiss rail journey and close enough to be combined in a week's skiing, these resorts offer an embarrassment of activities and diversions. The common denominator? Fantastic terrain that is so underused at the moment, you might almost feel sorry for the resorts.

Well, you might. But I don't. At the top of Davos Rinerhorn, a white sea of untracked powder unfurls between my new pair of Salomon BBR fat skis and the valley floor. It's a life-affirming, health-enhancing sort of feeling.

I'm in good company. Davos created an entire industry from people seeking cures for their ills; 26 tuberculosis sanatoriums were built here at the start of the 20th century. Its most famous literary association is with the author Thomas Mann, who was inspired to write The Magic Mountain after visiting the resort.

One hundred years on, the mountain and its five neighbours still weave their magic. Schatzalp has gentle slopes, a harrowing sledge run and the former sanatorium-hotel in which Kaiser Wilhelm reserved a room for a decade, just in case. Above the town, Jakobs-horn, aka Fun Mountain, has a snow park that is home to the O'Neill Evolution snowboard competition, and an outdoor hot tub at the Jatzhütte to rinse off.

The small areas of Madrisa, Pischa and Rinerhorn, 10 to 20 minutes from town, are freeride heavens that regularly have powder well after last snowfall. And the big daddy area of Parsenn features 18 lifts and swathes of super-wide, hero groomers. In all, Davos Klosters offers 320km of pistes. Credit must be given to the four British travellers who stumbled across the first 12km – the route down to Kublis – while lost in the fog in 1895.

Skiing the highest city in Europe provides urban advantages. Stay at the cosmopolitan Grischa Hotel – reopened after two years' renovation with a swanky bar, four restaurants and gargantuan beds – and you're within spitting distance of the train station and the ski bus (free, frequent and punctual).

For culture, check out the Winter Sport Museum (the only museum in the country to be recognised by the FIS, ski racing's governing body) and the splendid Kirchner Museum, with great lashings of colour by the German expressionist painter. Davos is also home to Europe's largest natural ice rink (open air and romantic), and mile after mile of cross-country ski trails are available free of charge.

There's also a great opportunity to try night sledging. I rode the funicular up to Schatzalp, then enjoyed dinner, drinks and an alarmingly speedy descent punctuated by more than one fight with snowbanks that didn't get out of my way in time. Magic.

The next day, it was time to board the Rhätische Bahn, the romantic little red train that winds up and down Graubünden's peaks and valleys, destined for the glittering Engadin Valley. I was staying just 5km from St Moritz, in the tiny lakeside village of Silvaplana, a nest of pretty houses decorated with sgraffito – an artistic effect achieved by scratching off the top layer of paint. Above it all, the new wood-and-glass slope-side Nira Alpina hotel offers unbeatable access to Corvatsch, the highest of St Moritz's four ski areas.

Should you want to get around, there is a free shuttle service, but there's lots to keep you here too: two restaurants, a bakery, a lovely spa with five treatment rooms and a whirlpool with a window onto the slope. There's also a French DJ on the top floor who keeps spinning long into the night. I was in Room 409 just beneath him, so I should know.

From my bed the next morning, I watched the shadow of Corvatsch move across pristine peaks as the sky turned aquamarine-pink. Then I suited up for the one-minute journey through the private, glassed-in walkway straight on to the cable car.

At 3,303m, the skiing on Corvatsch is some of the Engadin's best: it's mostly north-facing, all its 120km of pistes are groomed nightly and there's a dedicated (and inexpensive) beginner's slope. Plus there's night skiing and the bars open on Friday evenings until 1am.

You can ski 9km down to St Moritz Bad, where you can connect to the Corviglia run or hang around to be well placed for a night in the hippest restaurant in town, La Baracca.

A shabby train workers' shed on the edge of a parking lot might not sound very "St Moritz" (even the name St Moritz is trademarked as a brand) but La Baracca is the cash-only, in-place for fur-meets-fleece parties. Grab your bottle from the shelf by the open kitchen, let Max show you to a communal table, then share bowls of delicious Italian and regional food.

But it wouldn't be St Moritz without quaffing champagne at one of the palace hotels. The all-suite, all-aglitter Carlton is the address to beat. In the Romanoff restaurant, corks pop and crystal tinkles. This is where the St Moritz trademark truly earns its stripes.

St Moritz is about looking good but it's also about feeling great. Nearly 90 per cent of the runs are graded beginner or intermediate, so it's easy to make pretty turns. Or you can head for the abandoned off-piste.

The place is also full of surprises, such as the woman next to me on the train who phoned her doctor for an urgent appointment saying: "My neck has fallen." Or my ski instructor, the first I've met with a Harvard MBA, whose goggles read text messages. And should you get too relaxed, you can swing by to watch brave people negotiate the bone-crushing curves of the Cresta Run. Davos and St Moritz invented wintertime amusements. They may just have perfected them, too.

Travel essentials

Getting there

* The nearest airport to the resorts of Davis Closters and St Moritz is Zurich, served from the UK by Swiss Airlines (0845 601 0956; swiss.com), British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com), easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyJet.com), Cathay Pacific (020 8834 8888; cathaypacific.com) and Helvetic Airways (00 41 44 270 85 00; helvetic.com).

Getting around

* The Rhätische Bahn is operated by Swiss Rail (rail.ch). Klosters to St Moritz from Sfr13.50 (£9.24)

 

Staying there

* Nira Alpina (00 41 81 838 69 69; niraalpina.com), via dal Corvatsch 76, Silvaplana. Doubles from Sfr455 (£311), including breakfast.

* Hotel Grischa (00 41 81 414 97 97; hotelgrischa.ch), Talstrasse 3, Davos. Doubles from Sfr330 (£226), including breakfast.

* Carlton Hotel (00 41 81 836 70 00; en.carltonstmoritz.ch), via Johannes Badrutt 11, St Moritz. Suites from Sfr1100 (£753), including breakfast and dinner at Romanoff.

 

More information

* graubunden.com

* davosklosters.ch

* engadin.stmoritz.ch

* myswitzerland.com

Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
sport Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
Sport
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
Football Vine shows Suarez writhing in pain before launching counter attack
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents The ad shows Prince Charles attired for his coronation in a crown and fur mantle with his mouth covered by a criss-cross of white duct tape
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sport LIVEFollow the latest news and scores from today's Premier League as Liverpool make a blistering start against Norwich
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
People White House officials refuse to make comment on 275,000 signatures that want Justin Bieber's US visa revoked
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLESir Cliff Richard has used a candid appearance on an Australian talk show to address long-running speculation about his sexuality

Sport
Lukas Podolski celebrates one of his two goals in Arsenal's win over Hull

Arsenal strengthened their grip on a top-four finish with a straightforward 3-0 win over Hull City.

Arts & Entertainment
Quentin Tarantino, director
arts + ents Samuel L Jackson and Michael Madsen have taken part in a reading of Quentin Tarantino’s axed follow-up to Django Unchained.
News
The speeding train nearly hit this US politican during a lecture on rail safety
news As the saying goes, you have to practice what you preach
Sport
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (front) drives ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia during the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
sport Hamilton captured his third straight Formula One race with ease on Sunday, leading from start to finish to win the Chinese Grand Prix

Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Voices
Clock off: France has had a 35‑hour working week since 1999
voicesThere's no truth to a law banning work emails after 6pm, but that didn’t stop media hysteria
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Life & Style
Lana Del Rey, Alexa Chung and Cara Delevingne each carry their signature bag
fashionMulberry's decision to go for the super-rich backfired dramatically
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

    Sports coaching volunteer jobs

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Kaya Responsible Travel offer a variety of sp...

    Turtle Nesting and Coral Reef Conservation in Borneo

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Volunteer with Kaya in Borneo and work on a p...

    Elephant research project in Namibia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: If you have a passion for elephants and want ...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit