Let’s take it from the top

High times on the ski slopes of En­gel­berg, south of Zurich

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Britain & Europe - TOM CHESSHYRE

BY the end of my first morn­ing in En­gel­berg I feel as though I’ve been put through a tum­ble dryer. To start with, we have rid­den to a peak called Klein Titlis in “the world’s first re­volv­ing ca­ble car”. This is a cir­cu­lar con­trap­tion that turns 360 de­grees while climb­ing rapidly to 3000m — you squeeze in like sar­dines and twist and turn up­wards, the floor mov­ing eerily be­neath your feet.

Af­ter this dizzy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, we are soon de­scend­ing nippy red runs be­fore tak­ing the aptly named Ice Flyer chair­lift back up. Then we are experiencing the Cliff Walk, the “high­est suspended bridge in Europe”. Here, we stroll along a sway­ing struc­ture with a metal walk­way that hangs 500m above a plung­ing slope. It’s a long way down. For a while we marvel at shark-tooth peaks and a moun­tain shaped like a Bud­dha (Bud­dhist skiers come es­pe­cially to visit). Next up, our guide asks: “Would you like to do Laub?” Laub, it tran­spires, is a long off-piste run with a 1200m ver­ti­cal de­scent.

In pow­der that’s the best part of a me­tre deep in places, we slither, slide and tum­ble to­wards the val­ley floor. It’s ex­haust­ing, ex­hil­a­rat­ing . . . and com­pletely bril­liant.

En­gel­berg, just an hour’s drive south of Zurich, must be one of the most over­looked Swiss re­sorts. There’s plenty of ski­ing to suit all lev­els and bun­dles of char­ac­ter. The vil­lage at the cen­tre has a quaint high street with a cou­ple of bars. There’s live mu­sic at Ho­tel Ho­he­neck, where the band pumps out Rolling Stones and Bob Mar­ley hits, a scat­ter­ing of laid-back cafes, a small co-op su­per­mar­ket and a monastery at the far end.

Yes, that’s right, a work­ing monastery. This is a Bene­dic­tine abbey, with about 30 monks, which was first built in 1120. Tours are pos­si­ble at cer­tain times. Un­for­tu­nately, they are not avail­able the week­end we visit, so in­stead we go to the monastery’s Cheese Fac­tory shop con­nected to the in­ner court­yard, where vats of curds and whey are churn­ing away. Great chunks of cheese are for sale, as well as slices of cake, bot­tles of wine and shiny fon­due sets. Af­ter see­ing this monas­tic ver­sion of a posh deli, we catch part of Sun­day mass at the neigh­bour­ing church. Be­neath a high ceil­ing, with walls flanked with fres­coes, we watch the ser­vice, lis­ten­ing to the toll of bells while breath­ing in the in­cense.

But back to the fresh pow­der on the slopes. An­other day, an­other great off-piste run: this time it’s named Stein­berg. At the top, on a glacier, the ski­ing does in­deed feel like “ski­ing on pil­lows”, as one of our group de­scribes it. We’ve been in­cred­i­bly lucky with overnight snow­fall. We tum­ble and roll to the bot­tom once more.

To cel­e­brate get­ting down in one piece, we head to Klein Titlis for a cof­fee and are in for a sur­prise. The restau­rant and the sur­round­ing peaks here have fea­tured in many Asian films, and there are dozens of Chi­nese and In­dian day-trip­pers vis­it­ing from Zurich. They’re not ski­ing, just tak­ing snaps and look­ing around.

En­tre­pre­neur­ial En­gel­berg­ers have opened watch and jew­ellery shops next to the restau­rant to cater for the high-spend­ing vis­i­tors.

En­gel­berg is named af­ter an an­gel-shaped peak. Wil­liam Wordsworth, no less, wrote a poem, En­gel­berg, the Hill of An­gels, which waxes lyri­cal about the moun­tain. It is pretty.

Af­ter a long day’s en­joy­able ski­ing, we go for a meal and a drink at Ski Lodge, a chic lit­tle ho­tel with a restau­rant in the cen­tre of the vil­lage near the train sta­tion. En­gel­berg, it tran­spires, even has a bou­tique ho­tel and the rooms are smart and com­fort­able. It’s run by a for­mer banker and an ad­ver­tis­ing ex­ec­u­tive who both love ski­ing. This is high-end stuff: oysters and cham­pagne are fol­lowed by a de­li­cious salad with slow-cooked egg on top,

Bene­dic­tine Monastery at En­gel­berg, top; re­sort at night, right; the Cliff Walk, above

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.