October 25, 2013 7:03 pm

Historic Swiss ski hotels get new lease of life

Some of Switzerland’s grand historic hotels – in remote mountain settings – are being updated for a new generation of guests
The Hotel Wetterhorn in 1913

The Hotel Wetterhorn in 1913

The Swiss Alps are littered with almost as many Victorian hotels as cable cars. Most of them owe their existence to the British, having been built to cater for the tourism boom inspired by celebrated gentleman climbers such as Edward Whymper, John Tyndall and Alfred Wills. Some of them have crumbled; some remain stuck in a time-warp, complete with original fixtures, bathrooms down the corridor and the odd cobweb. But a few have been given a new lease of life, sensitively restored and reinvented to appeal to a new generation.

The Wetterhorn, just outside the hamlet of Hasliberg Hohfluh, is a prime example of rejuvenation. After a string of owners since the 1980s and attempts to turn it into a hostel or craft centre, a buyer came along with a new plan and the funds to make it happen. It reopened in 2012, marrying the obvious hotel premise – to feed and lodge guests in style – with the aim of creating a cultural haven. Refreshingly absent is the usual Alpine wellness-spa-spiritual-rebirth meme. Instead, the Wetterhorn, despite its isolated location, has become a hip hotel whose basement holds a bar with a stage for live bands, readings and comedy gigs, as well as an exhibition space for photographers and artists.

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Keeping the action in the basement leaves the noise as far from the 19 bedrooms as possible – though if you think you might not last the course, make sure you’re on an upper floor. The century-old bedrooms have been knocked together to double their size, while the hotel’s common areas are equally spacious, inviting guests to stroll from window to window and enjoy views of the forests and the imposing 3,692m Wetterhorn, as climbed by Winston Churchill in his sleeker days.

Despite the 50 events hosted this year, this isn’t Ibiza-on-Snow, and visitors are more likely to notice the hotel’s striking interior and outstanding food than the fact that it’s becoming a hub for musicians across the country. The restaurant menu mirrors the musical one, with local, traditional, modern and international flavours – anything from asparagus and passion-fruit soup to meats grilled on an open fire – while on stage it’s everything from rock to blues and folk. So far the concept has been a roaring success.

The Hotel Wetterhorn after its revamp©David Birri

The Hotel Wetterhorn after its revamp

The ski lifts are five minutes’ drive away. With 60km of pistes and 14 lifts, the resort is thoroughly overshadowed by near-neighbours Grindelwald, Wengen and Mürren. This welcome obscurity is backed up by the confusing Swiss habit of referring to a place by multiple names – in this case Hasliberg (the mountain), Haslital (the valley) and Meiringen (the valley’s main town), which has direct access into the ski area, officially referred to as Meiringen-Hasliberg. Good to have cleared that up.

There’s a strong family-friendly flavour to the skiing, matched by ample, readily accessible off-piste for strong skiers; whichever camp you’re in, the absence of others is the key. In fact the only place you’re likely to encounter anything like a crowd is back in the hotel basement.

Double rooms from CHF210 (£144), www.wetterhorn-hasliberg.ch

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The Cambrian, Adelboden

©www.mattcant.com

Arnold Lunn brought the first group of ski tourists here in 1903, when it was known as The Grand Hotel Regina; it reopened as The Cambrian in 2007 after a total renovation. The food and spa are the highlights, along with the dramatic setting. The skiing is outstanding and extensive; the link with neighbouring Lenk gives a total 210km of pistes, while the towering 3,243m Wildstrubel is just one of the local peaks for adventurous visitors to climb up and ski down.

Doubles from CHF235, www.thecambrianadelboden.com

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Grimsel Hospiz, Guttannen

©www.robertboesch.ch

This forbidding stone building is well suited to its impressive setting – alone on the mountainside at 2,165m above sea level. Switzerland’s first certified guest house stood here in 1142; it was rebuilt in 1932, becoming Europe’s first electrically heated hotel. Renovated in 2008, the interior is guaranteed to astonish as you go from snowy wilderness to peaceful haven. There are charming dining rooms and a wine cellar that would be a perfect answer to being pinned down by a storm. There’s no resort, just ski-tours in all directions.

Doubles from CHF510, www.grimselwelt.ch

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Bella Tola, St-Luc

High on the sunny side of the Anniviers Valley, the first Bella Tola was built in 1859. The current building is a renovation of the second hotel of that name, built around 1883. Renewing it has been a gradual process, with old features retained and fused with theatrical interior design – antique furniture and paintings, flamboyant fabrics and, most recently, an extension of one of the dining rooms, as well as the addition of a spa. The skiing in the St-Luc/Chandolin domain is sunny, family-friendly and with exceptional off-piste opportunities. Covered by the same ski pass are the valley’s other resorts Zinal, Grimentz and Vercorin.

Doubles from CHF240, www.bellatola.ch

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