Holidaying in places like Switzerland in the winter has always been synonymous with skiing or snowboarding, but you might wonder what else is there on offer? For someone like myself who suffers from vertigo, I’ve always wanted to travel to such places to admire the picturesque views without the need to conquer my acrophobia. Recently, I headed off to the breathtaking region of Crans-Montana to discover the multi-faceted activities on offer with a winter holiday in the Alps.
The first thing to note is there is always a festival or an exhibition happening at Crans-Montana. During my visit over the Christmas season, I experienced the first edition of the Etoile Bella Lui Festival, which was a Christmas market with a difference, with an emphasis on lights and the natural snow-capped surroundings. Highlights included a 33m high illuminated Ferris wheel and a quaintly decorated lantern path, made up of over 150 lanterns and light art. Epicureans gathered at artisanal food stalls and stands filled with local wine producers. The success of this festival was evident and the next one will run from the 4th of December 2020 to the 3rd of January 2021.
Whilst the Etoile Bella Lui Festival might have now ended, the lantern path will be in place until March 22. Also worth considering if you have a group of 10 or more people, is the gourmet experience in the ‘lantern hamlet,’ where you can see a traditional mazot whilst feasting on an authentic raclette extravaganza and heartwarming mulled wine.
Imbibing and dining is a significant part of the Crans-Montana experience and even with snow-capped mountain tops, you can have a winery tour such as visiting artisanal producer, Nicholas Bagnoud where you can taste local classics such as Fendant, a symbolic white wine from the Valais, and sample exceptional cheese and saucisson.
Restaurant prices are from mid-range to Michelin-starred level, with hidden gems to be found at places like Le Continental where the owner/head chef Paul brings years of culinary skills from fine-dining restaurants. Another great offering is at the restaurant of Hotel Art de Vivre, where I stayed and sampled a great value set lunch including dishes like feuilleté aux champignons and gnocchi à la fondue de Fromage. The dishes do tend to be on the heavy side, but that is to offer you a heartwarming embrace from the chilly weather.
You can also get great value by visiting Le Bistrot des Ours, the bistro arm of one-Michelin-starred ‘L’Ours,’ managed by Franck Reynaud. They are proud of using local produce, so even the salmon tartare was from canton des grisons rather than Scotland or Norway. Here you get Michelin-starred quality with a more informal atmosphere and pocket-friendly prices.
The restaurant is part of Hostellerie du Pas de l’Ours, one of the top five-star hotels in Crans-Montana. Combining the traditional chalet experience with modern-day comforts, this is one of the most established hotels in the region. And one of the top non-skiing activities I would recommend is hotel-hopping even if it is just visiting to try their cuisine and seeing the remarkable architecture.
A personal favourite of mine is the upscale Le Crans Hotel & Spa with commanding views of the surrounding mountains being on top of the main ski resort. Here, you will genuinely appreciate the wonder of nature and appreciate why Crans-Montana is a must-visit place whether you are a skier or not. The rooms and suites are named after famous mountains and are decorated individually with different themes. For example, the junior suite Everest has an Indian theme and is decked with flamboyant colours. The jaw-dropping views from their rotunda restaurant, Le Mont Blanc makes it a must-visit place along with the Michelin-starred cuisine. Time-permitting, you should also check out Hotel Chetzeron at an altitude of 2,112 metres – a former cable car station, this is one of the most ecologically sustainable hotels in the region.
With all this talk of food and wine, you might wonder what activities you might be able to partake in. Even though curling was invented in Scotland, you can try your brushing skills here at Ycoor ice park. It is an incredibly entertaining team sport that isn’t too strenuous, yet builds considerable camaraderie. For the young or young at heart, there is Alaia active sports centre, where you have more than 5,000 metres squared of indoor and outdoor space for skateboarding, BMX bike riding, rollerblading, kick boarding and more to enjoy to your heart’s content. If you want to enjoy the great outdoors, there is also snowshoe hiking where you can burn off calories by walking around the mountains or even just near the local golf course.
Finally, the most surprising discovery of my journey to Crans-Montana was visiting Lens and the Fondation Opale museum, which has an unrivalled Aboriginal art collection in Europe if not anywhere in the world, outside of Australia. Their current exhibition until the end of March: Before Time Began, examines the evolution of contemporary Aboriginal art with more than 80 substantial pieces of artwork. There are thought-provoking installations, sculptures, and paintings on canvas and bark. The highlights include Kulata Tjuta: Kupi Kupi, an installation with 1,500 spears and two striking large-scale paintings commissioned especially for the exhibition.
With a wealth of culture, arts, sports, culinary and sightseeing delights, make sure Crans-Montana is on your radar when you consider your next European winter holiday.
One way fares start from £83 to Geneva including all taxes, fees and surcharges, one piece of hold and hand luggage and then you can use the Swiss Travel Pass to reach Crans-Montana.
The Swiss Travel Pass offers unlimited travel on consecutive days throughout the rail, bus and boat Swiss Travel System network. This pass also covers scenic routes and local trams and buses in around 90 towns and cities. Prices from £185 for 3 days in second class.
Image credit at top of article: Louis Dasselborne