So, Travel is shut down…… but not for long
and it is time to start dreaming. The winter 2021 and 2022 season promises a
I for one cannot wait to hit the slopes, savour Fluhalp, toast life in the Hennu Stall, drink in the views and seek out the elusive Bombardino next year. This Voyagers Traveller has had the privilege of skiing in the Alps on several occasions over the years and harbours quiet disappointment over missing the 2020 and 2021 Ski seasons.
I am now planning and hoping for the best with a 2022 holiday being plotted with a great deal of anticipation and excitement. Now it might be that you are looking at going on a similar trip, so I thought I would jot down a few thoughts on going it alone and what I have found.
The one thing about being a Zambian alpine skier is a distinct lack of fellow skiers. As high as the Mafinga Hills are at 2,339 meters above sea level, snow is not a Zambian phenomenon and skiers are an extremely rare breed. The main destination for skiing is probably in the European Alps. Anyone keen?
As a solo skier coming out of Zambia many of the normal packages feel like a square peg, round hole problem. The Operators normally structure around two people or more sharing and include flights leaving various European airports – often low-cost or charter hubs; think Easyjet into airports like Chambery that serve the French Alps followed by a Coach ride to the slopes. Whilst hugely convenient, bundled with Ski Hire, Lift Pass and, other necessities – getting to an airport like Luton from Heathrow imposes challenges and costs.
For that reason, my approach as a solo traveller often combining business and pleasure has been to fly into Switzerland either Zurich or Geneva and, take a ride on the superlative trains operated by Swiss Bahn into the heart of the mountains right to walking distance of the lifts.
Over the years and not always for skiing I have enjoyed the excellent services of Etihad, Emirates and, Swiss to access Switzerland from outside of Europe into both main airports. From within Europe KLM, Swiss, Lufthansa and British Airways offer excellent connectivity, alternatively I have experienced the slightly less luxurious but astonishingly cost-effective Easyjet routes into Geneva from Berlin. All these flights have been booked and arranged by Voyagers. Given routings from Zambia can be diverse, involve open jaws and multiple airlines – doing these bookings on our Orange or Nova online portal is a challenge and I would recommend e-mailing a consultant for comparative quotes on different routes – professional consulting knowledge goes a long way on trips like these and I have had some amazing deals over the years – sharp end seating at Economy prices!
I have settled on Zermatt in the Canton of Valais as my favoured skiing destination. Zermatt is a wonder, a mainly Germanic town on the border with Switzerland, nestled between some of the most majestic peaks on earth. The town's skyline is dominated, and the eye is constantly drawn to the imposing Matterhorn that lies to the South of the town marking the border between Italy and Switzerland. Sitting here in Ndola – I have to say I really miss it! The Zermatt ski crowd in general, is wealthy, understated and rather wholesome. Not sure I fit in, but so be it.
The Train to Zermatt from either Geneva Airport or Zurich Airport takes you in comfort to the small town of Visp where a train change is required to board the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn train to Zermatt, this journey wends its way into the mountains through stunning scenery punctuated by snow-capped peaks, waterfalls, and giant boulder fields.
The Town and accommodation mix ranges from outrageously expensive to quite reasonable – I have seen hotels advertised at $26,000 for four nights down to $150 a night for a comfortable 2-star bed and breakfast offering. I have stayed at the impeccable Hotel Antika (www.antika.ch ) and the lovely Matterhornblick (www.matterhornblick.ch ) on a number of occasions and have never been disappointed. Friendly if slightly reserved service seems to be the norm in this corner of Switzerland.
Zermatt probably does not spring to mind as the ideal place to visit as a novice. However, with a couple of nieces who learnt to ski on Zermatt’s beginner slopes, it is an excellent and conducive skiing environment for beginners. Benefiting from high altitude, good snow, and professional instructors. That said high altitude can translate to low temperatures in January and February therefore March may be a more comfortable time to take youngsters skiing. On the Ski school front, I particularly liked (summitskischool.com), with mainly British instructors who facilitated my attempts to improve with good humour and encouragement.
For the more accomplished skier Zermatt offers 200km of pisted runs comprising enjoyable Red runs, rolling Blues and some challenging blacks and hectares of off Piste skiing. The ski areas split into three sectors the 3,103m high Sunnegga-Blauherd-Rothorn, the 3,532m Goernergrat-Stockhorn and the 3,802m Trockener-Steg-Schwarsee area. The lift infrastructure is unmatched in my opinion and the mountains are well linked enabling constant variety, changing views and the chance of discovery.
One notable option is skiing across the border into the Cervinia ski area, the most common route is via the Klein Matterhorn cable car and then taking aim at the ridge at Testa Griggia – if the route to Italy is open – take the chance to venture across as early as possible and explore for the day. Just remember; make the final lift of the day to get back to Switzerland, failing is an issue that will result in an adventure. One enjoyable Italian gift is the Bombardino available at the Café at the top of Testa Griggia, something to try – a little winter warmer. Thanks to Ale for the education.
For expert skiers, a real highlight is the Itinerary runs – marked in yellow on the ski maps, these are borderline off Piste and represent a challenge. These areas are monitored for avalanche risks but not patrolled. Off Piste itself – do not go there unless you have a guide – the same should be said of Glaciers. For those of us whose main interaction with Ice is in a Dirty Gin and Tonic (recipe below) our knowledge of these bodies of shifting, crevassed ice is a bit abstract. Should you venture out there you will be regarded by the locals in much the same way as we regard someone from abroad taking their kids paddling in the Zambezi………
The lift pass for Zermatt is more expensive than almost everywhere else, however it is worth it, and I consider it good value. Remember to buy the International option if you have ambitions of going across to Italy.
One of the highlights of Zermatt is the food:
On the Mountain
There are amazing restaurants offering a range of principally Swiss and Italian food scattered across the mountains, at last count there were over 50 establishments. There are of course the budget-friendly self-service restaurants that one finds throughout the Alps. The real gold is to be found in the smaller restaurants which you would be best to book in advance.
My favourites include:
· Chez Vrony – located in Findeln a pretty hamlet on the mountain facing the Matterhorn, one of the highlights and a must-do on all my trips to date. Wonderful wait staff, great food. Essential to book. www.chezvrony.ch
· Gandegg Hutte - 3030 a rustic, relaxed, friendly establishment that serves fantastic swiss food and hearty fare to fuel a day of skiing. Particularly recommend the Bacon and Egg Rosti. Skiing into this establishment requires having a plan, examine the Piste Map accordingly.
· Fluhalp,this mountain house (too big to be a hut) stands as a sentinel in the valley between Stockhorn and the Rothorn just off Red 19. A substantial menu with magnificent pasta options, traditional swiss highlights such as Fondue, generous portions with a large sun-trap terrace make this my must-visit restaurant. Prices are reasonable, the atmosphere a heady mix of amazing views, live music (Feb & Mar), and great food. www.fluhalp-zermatt.ch . Saint Patrick’s day at Fluhalp is a highlight!
· In Italy: Chalet EtoileGreat food at the bottom of Cervino – wow. Much loved and worth the trip to Italy on its own. http://www.chaletetoile.it
In Town – there are loads of wonderful restaurants and the mix changes regularly – good hunting!
Three shout-outs on the Swiss inspired food in town:
· Le Gitan – Swiss Grills, my personal favourite in this category, the proprietors are fabulous, food is great. You will probably need to book. www.legitan.ch
· Stockhorn Grill – slightly quirky, fun, traditional Swiss Grill www.hotelstockhorn.ch
· Max Julen Grill - www.beau-rivage-zermatt.ch
There is a somewhat understated McDonalds in town, which offers lower cost refuelling for those in need and on a budget.
For the Solo Traveller, I must mention Pizzeria Roma, where the owner is a star always ready to plan and arrange a table, the staff go out of their way to make you welcome, the pizza is magic and a complimentary glass (or two) of limoncello or schnaps goes a long way to take the edge of solo dining. I often eat here two or three times each visit and never leave without the desire to return.
Apres Ski! – On the slopes.
This is potentially the most hazardous part of your trip. A few compatriots have in the past, at various locations imbibed a combination of beer, champagne, schnapps amongst others and failed to negotiate the trip home with grace, style, or indeed maintaining the correct orientation to the ground. There are a few choices on the slopes with my favourite being on Red 50: The Hennu Stall www.hennustall.ch . A fun, boisterous bar located on the left-hand side of the run – if you are slower off the mountain a sea of skis laid out in rows will alert you. The entertainment ranges from live acts to DJs belting our Euro Trash pop (for reference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vloUhu7QxmU ) . The mood is fun and the drinks flow freely. The ski down from Hennu Stall is narrow, lumpy and at the end of the day slushy. Conducting the run in the dark under the influence should be – well it shouldn’t.
Pappaperla Pub s a long-time favourite, often with a live band, great bar staff, and with a packed end-of-day crowd. The Brown Cow Pub opposite Grampi’s offers beer on tap, Rugby on the screens, and generous bar snacks. A fun place to watch the Six Nations when it is being played. Upstairs is a fun Italian Restaurant that offers great food including Pizza.
There are some historical sites in town that are worth visiting, The English Church is very worthwhile from a historical and spiritual perspective, providing insight into some of the tragedies that have befallen climbers. For those so inclined there is a Sunday English service. I enjoyed the small museum in the centre of town – located under the small glass pyramid close to the Church. The remains of a traveller who died probably crossing the Theodel Glacier Pass are particularly fascinating. Just walking through the centre of town and seeing the older wooden buildings offers insight into the history of the area.
If you have a hankering to take the family skiing and like the sound of Zermatt the Club Med just across the border in Italy might suit you.
On the Solo ski front – it can be done and enjoyed, but it is much more fun with friends: Ale, Andy, Rob B & Rob M have turned my semi-annual journeys to the slopes into treasured memories for which I am grateful.
Wishing everyone well.
As Promised: Dirty Gin and Tonic recipe: In a tall glass, lots of ice, thinly sliced lime and lemon pieces, a rosemary sprig – long enough to go from the bottom of the glass to the top, finger of cucumber, a shot (Zambian please 35ml) of Bombay Sapphire all topped off with Indian tonic water. Enjoy!