Where could we go as a small family of three this summer that was more rewarding than sand and sea? Where would give us city-dwellers and commuters much-needed replenishment and lungfuls of pure, fresh air? Oh, and where would we lose the big summer crowds? And so we found ourselves drawn to the Swiss Alps.
On top of offering a handful of activities, the air is crisp, the scenery unparalleled, and you get to immerse yourself in verdant, high-altitude nature. In August, we travelled with Inghams to Saas-Fee, arguably one of the most beautiful villages in the Alps.
We flew with Swiss Air from London Heathrow to Zurich, took a two-hour train ride followed by a 40 minute bus up the mountain. A little bit of a trek, but it was so worthwhile. As we journeyed, our stress peeled off us and we were treated to snow-capped mountain views, glistening lakes and breath-taking landscapes.
Our hotel was equally impressive. The 4.5 star Hotel Schweizerhof is set in a wonderfully typical Alpine scene, with an attractive wooden exterior perfectly suited to our tranquil getaway. We were greeted with a warm smile and a cool drink and every step we took through the hotel brought us closer to a truly fabulous experience.
Wellness is key in Saas-Fee. There are both natural and man-made spas to discover, and our hotel’s on-site facilities did not disappoint. The inviting sauna boasted panoramic views over the area and quickly became our daily sanctuary.
But for us, the real stand-out was the fine dining. The gourmet restaurant offered distinctive Swiss and international dishes. The wine cellar, one of the best in the region, was stocked to the brim with more than 500 first-class European wines – including 300 produced in the Valais. We were treated each day to six courses of delicious dishes which were a feast for both our eyes and taste buds and the highlight of our stay.
Sass Fee – an authentic Alpine village
Branding itself the ‘Free Republic of Holidays’, the Saas-Fee region encompasses four mountain villages in the far south of Switzerland. Sunny Saas-Fee is surrounded by a range of mountains, including the gently crested Allalin. Some of the highest peaks in Switzerland surround the resort, including the Dom, which reaches 4,545 metres at the summit. The immense altitude means that Saas-Fee has no problems offering all year round skiing.
The village itself is car free, although there are scores of milk-float-type electric cars roaming throughout. Winding streets are flanked by traditional Swiss chalets and cowsheds. We learned that every effort is made to maintain the authentic nature of the mountain village. Any new construction has to made of 33% of wood and the roofs have to be of local slate.
Saas-Fee is committed to sustainable tourism and is part of the Alliance in the Alps. It adopts alpine-powered energy and is working towards becoming the world’s first fine-dust-free place!
In and around Saas-Fee
Activities in Saas-Fee cater to all ages and the village is active in all seasons. For us, it was a daily dose of mountain walks and guided hikes. Our Inghams rep, Laura, was incredibly knowledgeable and experienced and led us on a fantastic hike around the Saas Valley. She even lent me her boots as mine were inadequate for the job. Cable cars operate year round and because we had travelled with Inghams Holidays, our lift pass and train tickets were included in the price. This alone comes to a few hundred pounds so it is incredible value.
Summer in Saas-Fee is really beautiful, wild flowers carpet the mountainside and the wildlife come out in force. Burrows can be seen pinpricked cross the slopes and we were thrilled to discover families of cute marmots on one of the many 300 hikes in the area. We also spotted Chamois and Ibex roaming along the lower forests and paths. Thanks to the hills and valleys, the views from the hiking trails are simply stunning. It really is one of the best ways to chill out and de-stress – nature’s version of mindfulness.
Our free use of lifts covered not just Saas-Fee but also the nearby resorts of Saas Grund, Saas Balen and Saas Allmagell which were easily reached by bus. We especially loved Kreuzboden in Saas Grund and The Hohsi Land, where our 9 year-old, Aaron enjoyed pulling himself along the lake on a raft. There was lots to do here: tyre swinging, go karting, a water park and secret tunnels. Each day we took a different route, and had a delicious picnic lunch which was kindly packed for us by the Hotel Schweizerhof.
We independently visited the beautiful capital Bern and also took the Inghams excursion to eco-friendly Zermatt, home to the legendary Matterhorn. Only electric vehicles are allowed in Zermatt to prevent pollution from obscuring some of Europe’s most iconic alpine peaks.
Perhaps the most photographed mountain in the world, the Matterhorn is somewhat of an obsession for mountain climbers. We took the mountain train to the peak of Gornergrat to witness one of the most stunning panoramas. Not only could we view the Matterhorn, but more than twenty of Switzerland’s Alpine peaks were visible.
On top of Gornergrat you can have lunch at one of Europe’s highest-altitude hotels, the 3,100m Kulmhotel Gornergrat. We witnessed a few romantic proposals that day – mountains have that effect!
We’ll definitely be back!
We’re hearing very good things about a Nostalgic Culinary Mile Food Festival that takes place in Saas-Fee during September, so we may have to visit the ‘The Pearl of the Alps’ once more. As it happens we constantly met people on our holiday who travelled here every year. We can absolutely understand why they keep coming back.