Davos - not dashing, but no way dull
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DAVOS is so often a place for financial summits that it seemed a great idea to go there and see what attracts the wealthiest people in the world - the ones who control OUR money too!
The famous Swiss resort is not the prettiest place in the world by any means, what with its flat roofs to avoid snow and ice cascading onto litigious heads, and compared to its glitzy neighbour Klosters, it can look a tad dowdy when the clouds are down.
But Davos is a big, businesslike town - the highest in Europe, at 1,560 metres - and the summits that benefit all of us are the ones on either side, with tangible delights like sun, snow and fresh air that cost nothing at all. You just can't put a price on the best snow for years, some of the cleanest air on the planet and vistas that bring a lump to your throat.
That pure, fresh air is key to its existence, for since Victorian times, with tuberculosis a feared killer across Europe, Davos has been a place where people headed for healing, so sanatoriums, clinics, villas and classic hotels mushroomed in the beautiful Alps, helped by efficient, picturesque rail links - see www.myswitzerland.com/
The Brits, being Brits, took along their sporting spirit and thanks to famous personalities like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this also included skiing, and with like- minded luminaries he actively encouraged a craze that continues to flourish. It was hard graft in those pioneer days to trudge up the mountains before you would slide back down, so other decisive factors in the growth of Davos were Europe's first T-bar ski-lift on the Jacobshorn in 1934 and the construction of several mountain railways.
That far-sightedness has continued, so what Davos might lack in chocolate-box charm, it more than makes up for with world-class skiing and facilities to rival any in the region - both downhill and an amazing amount of cross country.
Converted sanatoriums make great luxury hotels these days, along with newer, lavish hotels with wellness and fitness facilities like the Sunstar Parkhotel Davos . . . and there are enough cafes, chocolate shops and bars in the straggling resort to lead a saint astray.
The biggest attraction is the Parsenn, and ever since its funicular railway opened 80 years ago, the world-renowned ski area shared with Klosters has been a benchmark classic. A glance at the piste map is enough to whet your appetite for the sort of skiing dreams are made of, and a ride on the two-stage Parsennbahn cable railway from Davos Dorf opens up the sort of amazing expanse of terrain that will live in your memory for the rest of your skiing life.
From the Weissfluhjoch at 2662 metres, with it's MUST-meet-here-for-lunch restaurant, you can retrace your route to the Mittelstation on a wide-open blue, before heading up again and then swooping down to the Parsennhütte to maybe meet up with the Klosters crowd joining in from the Gotschnagrat side. Once in that huge ski bowl, you're almost spoilt for choice with the number and variety of runs.
It's also fun to follow in the tracks of the ski-lift pioneers and take the T-bar at the base of the Jakobshorn for old time's sake, as that other side of the valley nearest Davos Platz is still very much a fun place to be, with a cablecar and chairlifts to whisk you higher for lots of great, open recreational skiing. Freestylers head for the Jatz Park with jumps, rolls and rails and everybody, but everybody, heads for the Jatzhütte, where it's party time all the time on its sun terrace, complete with whirlpool and palm trees (!) - check it out at www.jatzhuette.ch/
The log cabin-style Bolgen Plaza cafe/bar at the base is also a great place to hang out at any time of the day, and especially late afternoon, as it has a grandstand view of a floodlit halfpipe for entertainment, as well as being next to the lifts, nursery slopes and general meeting area and on one of the main hiking and langlauf routes alongside the river.
For a touch of genuine old school skiing, the Schatzalpbahn funicular from Davos Platz carries you in style to the 'magic mountain' of Schatzalp/Strela, claimed as Europe's first 'slow and easy' ski area, where skiers are still handed the T-bar draglift personally to the sound of traditional Swiss music. The Schatzalp is also the starting point of a classic 2.8km, floodlit toboggan run made even more famous by author Thomas Mann in his novel The Magic Mountain - hence the title, which now fits very comfortably with the hugely-enjoyable mini-area.
This cameo spot sums up just how much Davos is steeped in history . . . which is also reflected in the fascinating Wintersport Museum with its memorabilia and great British connections.
Take it easy on the bubbly and a great time can be had without breaking the bank . . . even in the legendary Ex-Bar (where one cheeky minx called me 'Opi' - Grandad) and if Davos is good enough for Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg whose family owns one of the flashest chalets in the place, then I'm sure it's good enough for the rest of us!
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