Alpine delights

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 August, 2011, 12:00am


Heading to a ski resort in summer sounds like booking a beach holiday in the middle of winter. Summer is when Switzerland's alpine resorts come into their own. The chilly temperatures, the clatter of skis and sticks in the chair lift queues, and the riotous scenes that go with apr?s ski partying are all absent, and visitors are left to revel in the natural beauty of the mountain scenery.

Switzerland has been a favourite holiday destination since the 19th century, when its clear mountain air was thought to be especially beneficial. Grindelwald in the Jungfrau has not changed much since Europe's Belle ?poque, or 'beautiful era', that lasted until the first world war. The glaciers are vast, there are plenty of hiking trails, deciduous forests carpet vivid green valleys, and the horizon is dominated by the 3,970-metre Eiger.

Davos is a paradise for outdoors types. Check out the excellent walking, fishing, horse riding, paragliding, rock climbing, wind surfing, water sports, hang gliding and golf. It is pricey, but there are reasonably priced chalets. All the bars and eateries will please night owls.

One of the most rustic resorts is the Onsernone Valley, near the Italian border, which is said to be one of the sunniest spots in the country. Extensive chestnut forests, cactuses, mimosas and fig trees lend a Mediterranean air. In addition to hiking and golf, a dip in an Alpine lake is invigorating, though nobody basks in the water for long.

Perhaps the best known ski resort is Verbier. It undergoes a transformation in summer. Some 400km of hiking trails spread out from the village, and hikers can follow the tracks of the chamois -part goat, part antelope- through this realm, whose upper reaches are still sprinkled with snow in summer. Adventurous travellers can go rock climbing or paragliding, while the designated mountain bike pistes extend for 200km. A mountain railway winds its way up to Mont Fort (3,330 metres) which enjoys a jaw-dropping panorama from the Matterhorn to Mont Blanc. Golfers will find two demanding courses in Verbier, and a modern sports centre.

Gstaad is Switzerland's classiest resort, and the list of its regular visitors read like a Who's Who of the rich and famous.