Eric's visit to Switzerland,

"Winter Wonderland"

Having grown up an avid skiier, a winter ski trip to Switzerland has been on my personal bucket list for a long time. This December, after many years of imagining what it would be like, I finally had the opportunity to experience the magic of the Swiss Alps during a week long visit to Switzerland, the "Winter Wonderland"
Eric Pierson

Arrival day

The adventure began with an overnight flight from Miami to Zurich on Swiss. The airline was clean and comfortable, good food and beverage and a pleasant service crew. Upon arrival, after clearing customs, we were met my a luggage transfer service, who took our checked bags and delivered them to our hotel while we then made our way to the train station.

After a couple easy train changes and a relaxing two-hour scenic train ride we arrived in the first city of our tour, St. Moritz, where we checked into the Kulm Hotel St Moritz.

The Kulm Hotel St. Moritz

Steeped in tradition, the Kulm Hotel is what I imagined visiting a Swiss Mountain hotel would be. In our occupation, we are fortunate to visit many of the top properties around the world. The service and attention to detail we experienced at the Hotel Kulm have it ranked among the top few hotels I’ve experienced from a service standpoint. Walking through the property, you could feel the history and envision travelers in the 1800’s sitting in the same grand ballrooms as they enjoyed their vacations. 

Kulm Hotel ST Moritz

The Kulm Hotel St Moritz welcomed it’s first winter guests in 1864. In 1879, it housed the first electric light in Switzerland. It’s gone through several ownership and management changes through the years; still though, several core staff return year after year. The current General Manager was very visible in the public areas; he and his wife have been managing the property since 2013. His father had been the properties GM from 1970’s into the early 2000’s. The hotel closes for the fall each year and had reopened only two weeks prior to our arrival. Rather than show any signs of rust, the staff executed their jobs to perfection – every person we came in contact was eager to assist, went about their job with a smile and gave the impression that they had been working there for years

St Moritz

The town of St. Moritz reminded me of Aspen or Vail. Luxurious high end shops, nice restaurants and hotels, it truly does embody it’s nickname of the “champagne ski town”.

Our day on the mountain was a typical day according to the locals. With the temperature reaching a high of about 14 degrees Fahrenheit, the snow stayed light and fluffy all day. The air was so dry and the sun so bright, when sitting in the sun, it was actually quite pleasant. So comfortable, we actually made a stop mid-morning for a beverage on the outdoor deck at the mountainside restaurant, and then enjoyed lunch outdoors in the early afternoon. As the sun started to set, the temps dropped quickly, during the day though, it was hard to believe the temps were as low as they were.

After a tasty meal prepared by the hotel’s Peruvian chef, we ventured into town to experience the apres ski scene. Our first stop a bar showcasing a mixologist who specialized in Gin & Tonic’s. Second stop was at the Badrutt’s Palace Hotel, another historic property in St. Moritz. The Badrutt’s Palace hotel has converted one of their lower level rooms into a Dance Bar, adding an for a modern element in their classic hotel.

On to Andermatt &

The Chedi

After a restful night’s sleep, and a short transfer to the train station, we boarded the famed “Glacier Express” train and enjoyed a scenic 3-hour train ride to Andermatt. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch on board as we rolled over numerous bridges, through tunnels, and past several small snow covered towns and villages. Andermatt, a town built around a military base, is newer to the ski tourism and travel. Upon arrival, we took a short walking tour through the old town and then checked into the Chedi, a warm, modern decorated, newer property. The Chedi had recently celebrated it’s 5th anniversary. 

The Chedi

Sleek, modern, and relatively new, the Asian influenced Chedi is the most luxurious accomdoation in Andermatt. Being a new hotel, the rooms spacious. An ipad is set by the bed that controls everything in the room – lights, curtains, music, tv, even the fireplace. All rooms have a fireplace, in some, the fireplace is on the exterior wall so that you enjoy the warmth of the fire inside the room or you can sit on your balcony and enjoy the fire behind you. The Chedi has a designated “Living Room” staffed with ski butlers to assist in outdoor equipment rental. It is very convenient to be able to walk into the equipment room without having to leave property. Once fitted, the gondola is only steps from the back door. In addition to the skiing, a highlight of our stay was a traditional Fondue dinner in the Chedi’s Chalet.

Skiing Andermatt

While St. Moritz was like skiing in Hollywood, Andermatt gave me the impression that it was more of a purist’s mountain. The snow was very good, and ski trails well maintained. In Andermatt, the “off piste” or back country skiing was much more accessible. In some cases, the trails were marked with flags so that those who wished could easily ski out of bounds and then dip back in without having to visit another area of the mountain. Depending on which side of the mountain one skis, the terrain can cover four separate peaks. An apres ski train runs from the town of the base area of the furthest peak back to Andermatt for those who prefer to enjoy a beverage as they finish their day on the slopes.

Burgenstock and on to lucerne

Two nights at the Chedi flew by, and it was time for us to move along again. After another tasty breakfast, we loaded into a van, drove over a few mountain passes, and up into the clouds to visit the Burgenstock resort. The Bürgenstock consists of several hotel options. It sits on top of a mountain overlooking lake Lucerne. Views were spectacular from the Lobby as we looked out over the clouds that were blanketing the lake. After a quick site visit to see the property, a very tasty lunch and some time to explore, we rode the funicular down the mountain and took the ferry across the lake into the city of Lucerne. From Lucerne, the Park Hotel Vitznau was a short 30 minute drive. 

The Park Hotel Vitznau is another historic building that has been renovated to provide current amenities.  The Park Hotel Vitznau has fully embraced the notion of ‘maintain the past, create the future’. State of the art technology has been incorporated into the elegant and luxurious décor; each room is different, individually furnished to reflect several of the projects the ownership participates in – Wine & Dine, Art & Culture and Health & Wealth. The hotel sits about 30 minutes outside of Lucerne and is conveniently located close to many attractions, while being a bit outside of the city. Many visit the property for the wine cellar which holds thousands of bottles of wine. Wine enthusiast will often receive the wine list prior to their visit so that they can visit with the sommelier in the cellar prior to dinner where they can first pick their bottle of wine, and then take their seats and select a meal to compliment the wine. 

Mt Pilatus "Dragon Mountain"

Using the Park Hotel Vitznau as our base, we explored the surrounding area, beginning with a trip up to Mt. Pilatus, “Dragon Mountain”

The top of the mountain had amazing scenery. At one time, the area was a ski area, the past fifteen years though, there hasn’t been enough snow. There are two hotels at the top of the mountain, and half way up there is an activity center. In the winter, people enjoy tobogganing, in the summer, mountain biking, hiking, riding the alpine slide, and enjoying the views while kids play on the playgrounds.

Lucerne city tour & Christmas Market

From Mt. Pilatus, we contineued on to the City of Lucerne where we took a guided walk through old town and through one of the Christmas markets. 

Lucerne is a classic European city that it looks like it could be in a storybook. Historic buildings, Europe’s oldest covered wooden bridge, squares, and sits right on the shore of Lake Lucerne. We enjoyed strolling along the cobblestone streets, stopping for gluhwine in the market and learning about the area’s history.  

After our tour and stop at a local brewery to warm up, we headed back to the Park Hotel Vitznau where we were hosted for dinner by several of the Virtuoso Swiss Hotel properties.  It was a fabulous end to an amazing week.  

Notes from the adventure

Food & Beverage

Having dreamed of skiing Switzerland since I was little, I had very high expectatations, and Switzerland didn’t disappoint. Everywhere we went, venues were clean, people friendly, and things were done well. It didn’t matter if we were in a five-star resort, or in a local pub, the food was locally sourced, prepared very well and the service extremely friendly. One night we went to a local restaurant/bar to taste the regions specialty, roesti. Over the course of the dinner as the server explained which local farms the various items on the menu came from, he brought out the local hay schnapps for us all to try. Everywhere we went, we had similar experiences, the locals wanted to share their local specialties with us.

I fully expected to taste great cheeses and chocolates, and had ample opportunities to have our fill of each. A pleasant surprise was the tasty Swiss wines we were also able to enjoy. The Swiss don’t export their wine, they don’t produce very much; and what they do make they say the keep for themselves. 

Skiing

We were fortunate to ski with a guide each day, which i’d definitely recommend at least for the first day on the mountain as you get your bearings. In most resorts in the states, if you take a wrong turn, you end up in a different base area, worst case, a shuttle ride or long traverse back to your car. In Switzerland, a wrong turn could take you into a completely different town, or in some cases different country. With the trails marked differently and skiing terrain you aren’t used to, the day is much more enjoyable when skiing with someone who knows the mountain.

Skiing was very good, especially considering it was early season. The mountain bases and tree line are a little lower in elevation than the Colorado peaks which means it is a little easier for those of us coming from sea level to adjust to. 

What surprised me the most was how much less expensive the skiing is in Switzerland compared to similar resorts in the states. Our first resort in St. Moritz, lift tickets when purchased at the mountain were $85/day. When organized through the hotel, the passes were $45/day, a fraction of the $140 – $150+ day pass at Aspen or Breckenridge. Most hotels include breakfast, and many offer a half board option at a reasonable rate.

In addition to the skiing, there are many other winter activities available. Members of our group enjoyed a horse drawn sleigh ride tour through St. Moritz, cross country skiing, snow-shoeing, tobogganing, and many spent time in the amazing spas.

Closing Thoughts

I was thoroughly impressed by all that we were able to accomplish during our short week in Switzerland. The tourism board aptly advertises Switzerland as “Little Europe” within a couple hours travel time, one can easily visit the French, German or Italian regions. With it’s central location and vast transportation system, the country is easy to navigate and full of many places to explore. With 36 Virtuoso properties, there is no shortage of amazing resorts to stay in while exploring. 

Over the span of our short week we were able to experience four amazing hotels, as we explored Switzerland, the “Winter Wonderland”. Dinner on the final night, we were able to meet with the representatives from eight additional properties and further develop our relationships. As the country is easy to navigate, it was great that so many properties could travel to us to share their time and show us what they have to offer. As our final night dinner ended, our week had come to an end. Boarding the plane the following day, we were all eager to return soon and explore some more of the amazing country.

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