Crans-Montana crams in the fun

Glowing... a typical, gentle sunset seen from Grans-MontanaTHE swish Swiss resort of Crans-Montana has long been a haunt of the rich and famous, popular as a sun-soaked, high-altitude retreat with crisp, clear and clean air since Victorian times . . . with good reason.

A glance at a map shows it’s handy to get to from Bern or Geneva and it’s only just down the valley from the smaller airport at Sion, but the superb Swiss railway system means it’s no problem to get there from Zurich, or anywhere else for that matter, with the train ride through the picturesque country just part of the treat of being there.

It’s even fun just getting to Crans-Montana from the nearest train station, leaving the platform  at Sierre/Siders and just following the red line across the road and along the pavement on the main street to the base of the funicular, which climbs steeply up to the resort centre in a matter of minutes and saves a tortuous, lengthy drive by taxi or bus.

Once up there, it’s tempting to use adjectives and clichés as flowery as the Alpine meadows, because ordinary descriptions tend to be just that - ordinary - whereas your surroundings are anything but. Easy on superlatives, then, but please take them as read, because the mountain scenery here, along with the Valais canton as a whole, is simply breathtaking.

Ready for the off... the top stretch of the famous Pist NationaleThe group of villages making up the resort has the seal of approval of suave, bon viveur Bond star Sir Roger Moor -  “nowhere in the world will you find a place more peaceful or more beautiful” - and keen foodies will have seen on TV that inspirational chef Michel Roux also has his retirement chalet there amid lush slopes high on the vast, south-facing plateau with its lakes and forests.

Food and excellent, abundant wine is very much a part of this fertile Valais region and as well as sumptuous fine dining – and there’s plenty of that around - there’s the simply wonderful, habit-forming Raclette. This traditional dish can be a satisfying, leisurely fusion of  taste and theatre, deserving star billing at Mayen de la Cure, owned by Chantal Crausaz, when the chef melts the half-wheel of delicious mountain cheese by the aromatic log fire and then scrapes it onto your plate to go with hot baked potatoes, pickles and fresh-baked bread. Calories? What calories?

The Valais also rejoices in being the largest wine-producing region in the country and it would be failing in our duty not to try some with the tasty Raclette, or with anything else, for that matter.

Kids' stuff... refuelling time for children and grandchildrenAnd ‘anything else’ has to include echoes of being trendy in the 1970s with more cheese . . .  and a fondue. But in this part of the world, it’s the real deal, especially welcome if you’ve had an exhilarating, if exhausting, snowshoe trek to the extraordinary ‘eco’ hamlet of Colombire. Easy to get to in summer by hiking or even driving, reaching the unique heritage site in winter is quite a pull, but made magical by using just the light of the moon and stars to follow the path.

After a delicious fondue, along with a traditional local pasta dish and salad, the penny then drops that to get back down will take a good hour or so on foot . . . or a fraction of the time by toboggan, which is when a decent helping of wine is a big help in making your mind up to put a head-torch on and just go for it, before turning in at the traditional Hotel Valaisia. Wheeeeeee!

With food and wine aplenty to fuel the body, from other restaurants like Le Mayen in the resort or Chetzeron on the slopes, there’s also plenty to feed the senses in one of the most beautiful parts of the world you could want to be in, discovered as a tempting tourist haven in the late 1800s. By 1906, Sir Henry Lunn was there knocking a golf ball about, and just a few years later, his son Arnold really put Crans-Montana on the map with what is credited as being the first genuine Alpine skiing downhill race in history. The two sports have been the bedrock of the area’s success ever since, but there’s an awful lot more to it.

Showing off ... DG with attitude before having lunch at altitude Winter delights include every snowsport you can possibly imagine, plus the aaaah factor of dog-sledding and patting the husky pups, but as  a skier, I love the way you can launch yourself down lovely, open ‘motorway’ reds – there are no less than 70kms of reds on 20 marked pistes – relax, maybe, on some of the 17 blues, or  get the adrenaline pumping on the four blacks and World Cup courses . . .  and linking some long, swinging turns on the 12km Piste Nationale descent to the valley, which has to figure on everyone’s agenda.

Even when it’ s freezing, it’s cool to be cool, so there’s no better place to head for a touch of aprés-ski or aprés-anything than Zerodix (check out www.zerodix.ch), watering hole of the stars, one of THE places to see and be seen, and possibly some of the most tremendous (public) fun you can have with ski boots on.

Dogged determination... but beware of yellow snowCarving turns over for the season, summer brings swings of a different kind, with four golf courses in Crans Montana headed by the Sevvy Ballasteros 18-hole European Masters (just so long as your handicap is 36 or under!); the nine-hole Jack Nicklaus course and two nine-holers open to all. There’s a state-of-the-art performance centre, a driving range and three other 18-hole courses within a half-hour drive, and no less a golfer than our own Lee Westwood says: “There is no more beautiful and picturesque place. It’s spectacular wherever you look.” So there.

Couple all that golf and the ‘usual’ mountain activities of hiking and climbing with virtually every other summer sport and adventure you can think of - even high-altitude  beach volleyball, would you believe - and you have an amazing place to spend a holiday, which I guarantee won’t seem half long enough.
*Have fun surfing around on the web for all the places mentioned, as well as the Valais tourism site and various links for all manner of offers, ideas and tips.

David Graham (aka SilverCoyote) travelled with Switzerland Tourism: www.MySwitzerland.com or call Switzerland Travel Centre on freephone 00800 100 200 30 or email info.uk@myswitzerland.com.

Swiss International Airlines - Swiss - operates 36 daily flights from London Heathrow, London City, Manchester and Birmingham to either Zurich, Geneva or Basle: Call 0845 601 0956 or visit www.myswiss.com.

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Switzerland Travel Centre for all Swiss holidays.

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  • Ian W
    19 days ago
    Umm ... too early to tell ... will keep my eye on it as my programme develops!
  • discerning traveller
    3 months ago
    Thanks for that. I do appreciate what you are saying. Just thought it worth a try! I'll have a look at the courses and have a think.
  • Silver Travel Advisor
    3 months ago
    Hi Ian - we've just published our next course for Weds April 22nd, would that work with your schedule?
  • Silver Travel Advisor
    3 months ago
    We'd love to do regional courses, the issue is finding the right tutors and keeping an affordable price. Nick and Deborah are fantastic and we always get great feedback - in fact better and better! They live in south London so they can take the tube and there are no extra costs incurred - whereas if we had to pay for transport and hotels to Exeter, this would push up the cost of the course to a point where it might become unappealing. A tricky one! We have just confirmed our next course on Weds 22nd Aprl - perhaps an opportunity to spend a night in London and visit a few sights at the same time? We can make recommendations of where to stay if that helps.
  • discerning traveller
    3 months ago
    Having looked at the writing courses, they interest me as well. I note that there is interest in the north. I live in the south west and would love a course down here!!
    Exeter?
  • Grosvenor
    4 months ago
    I would really like to attend one of the Travel Writing courses, and would be willing to drive down to London, or go by train. But it also requires at least one night, possibly two in a London hotel, which makes the cost prohibitive.

    I'm sure many members from The North of England would appreciate a course in, say, Leeds or Manchester.

    Having got in a plea for the north, would it be a good idea to have at least one annual course in a different region?
  • Ian W
    5 months ago
    have had my eye on these workshops for some time and, yet again, the date clashes with work! I'm a semi-retired. self-employed training provider who works 'mobile' - taking my training courses wherever they're needed and, on this date, I'll be training just outside of Oban (lovely place so another hotel review as a minimum forthcoming). Ho hum! (that's Scottish for 'such is life' :-)
  • JulieM
    5 months ago
    I agree, that's a great idea :-)
  • chrismse1
    6 months ago
    An online travel writing course run by yourselves would be good.
  • DRSask
    6 months ago
    A northern course would be great! I am only in England for a few weeks a year so I hope there is one during my next visit.
  • VMStockport
    7 months ago
    I, too, would be interested in attending a Writing Course based in the north.
  • Lin
    7 months ago
    Great! Really looking forward to a northern course.
  • JulieM
    8 months ago
    I'd like to attend the workshop but travel to and from London will cost me more than the course itself. I look forward to seeing courses made available in the Midlands or a bit closer to home (Shropshire) and I'll be there :-)
  • Shirley Battie
    10 months ago
    I would love to have come but am already booked. could we have quite a bit of notice another time. You probably did but I missed it.
  • Shobhna
    10 months ago
    I would be interested in this , however, do you not have any weekend dates available?
    That would suit me better. Thanks
  • Alicia
    12 months ago
    I would also be interested in a northern workshop - how about Manchester or Leeds?
  • Lin
    12 months ago
    I would most definitely be interested in a course in the North of England, particularly if it was in the North West. Any further news on this?
  • Cynthia
    about 1 year ago
    I have never been on a writing course, but it sounds so interesting. I am going to look into it and if the dates are ok sign up for it.

    I have worked all my life and it would be exciting to do something I have always wanted to.

    I am 75 and its never to late to learn. I enjoy my computer and say thank you for spell check. So here goes my wish may come true and I might get to join you all.
  • Cynthia
    about 1 year ago
    Yes that is a great idea!!!!!!!!
  • Stephanie Holliday
    about 1 year ago
    I've just been on the writing workshop and would highly recommend it. It was presented in a very professional way by two highly experienced travel writers so you got the feeling you really were getting expert advice and help. We were asked to submit a 300 word piece of our own travel writing for 'critique' before the day. This can be a bit scary but they handled their assessment of our writing in a very sensitive way and I don't think anyone would feel at all demoralised by their comments - it was worth the slight moment of apprehension when they handed them back to us!
    All in all - good fun, very enjoyable and well worth coming from Lancaster for.
    I do hope you can get a northern wotkshop going in the spring as I'd definitely be interested in going on another one.
  • Silver Travel Advisor
    over 1 year ago
    thanks for the feedback- we are looking into this for the spring
  • Silver Travel Advisor
    over 1 year ago
    Hi - we've had several requests now for a northern course - we are on the case and will try and get one organised for the spring! Thanks for the feedback.

    The London courses are really popular, we are sold out for the November one and already half full for March, so a regional version would be the logical next step.
  • enrico
    over 1 year ago
    I'm like tracyliz and live " up north" so it would be a little bit too far to travel for some 4 hours not to mention the expense.I would most certainly be interested in the course if it was within reasonably travelling distance.
  • tracyliz
    over 1 year ago
    This writing course sounds really interesting and a good fun day out.It would be lovely to meet others with similar ideas and those who share a passion for writing about travel experiences.
    Unfortunately London is a bit too far for me to travel at the moment and I wonder if others,like me,would welcome a similar day course "up north".
    Running a competition for places,as the other member suggested would or could be a great idea.Hoping all who attend enjoy a great day out.
  • chrismse1
    almost 2 years ago
    Please can we have a competition to win a place on this course. It sounds really interesting but as so many people are on very low incomes these days a chance to win a place would be amazing.