PAUL GAL­LAGHER

And his son en­joyed a ski hol­i­day in the re­sort of Saas-Fee in Switzer­land

Stockport Times East - - TRAVEL -

THE best sea­son to en­joy a win­ter fam­ily hol­i­day in Switzer­land? It’s def­i­nitely the spring.

We jet­ted out of Manch­ester bathing in early April sun­shine and as we landed in Zurich, the sun was still out and the tem­per­a­ture a bright 16C.

A cou­ple of hours into our train jour­ney to­wards the Alps, and we still hadn’t spot­ted a sin­gle white-capped peak as we glided through the sun­lit val­leys.

There’s no need to worry about the ski­ing prospects though – our des­ti­na­tion re­sort of Saas-Fee is the high­est in the Swiss Alps at more than 1,800m and is pretty much snow-sure even in the warm­est of spring­times.

Af­ter step­ping off the train and on to a bus, we wound our way higher and higher around the hill­sides on an ear­pop­ping haul to the place that calls it­self the Pearl Of The Alps.

And on first im­pres­sions, Saas-Fee lives up to its ti­tle.

The vil­lage sits at the foot of at least a dozen peaks which wrap spec­tac­u­larly around in an arc al­most all the way around the sky­line.

Clus­tered to­gether in the bot­tom of the bowl, the busy chalets and tra­di­tional cow­sheds cre­ate a set­ting which man­ages to seem both quaint and au­then­tic.

Cars are banned in Saas-Fee and the nar­row streets are filled in­stead with skiers clomp­ing along in their boots in­ter­rupted only by the few elec­tric-pow­ered taxis which are per­mit­ted to take vis­i­tors from chalet to ski lift.

For our visit, we are stay­ing at Ho­tel Al­phubel which also has its own billing - re­fer­ring to it­self as the Panorama Kid­shotel. It jus­ti­fies the Panorama ti­tle, our bal­cony over­looks the rooftops of the vil­lage and of­fers a face-on view of the 4027m high Al­lalin peak which dom­i­nates the val­ley.

As for the ‘Kid­shotel’ part, I am trav­el­ling with my eight-year-old son on his first ski trip so I can leave him to be the judge of that.

Our first evening in the ho­tel is an early hit with the kids as we join a group of par­ents on a torch­lit walk of the hill­side be­hind the ho­tel.

The chil­dren are en­thralled as our guide takes us past the dark wooden cow­sheds perched on stone stilts and into the shad­ows of the for­est while ex­plain­ing the leg­ends and su­per­sti­tions of the me­dieval set­tlers who farmed the sur­round­ing land.

Mass tourism changed all that, of course, but it is the next morn­ing, when we get kit­ted out with our hire gear and gather on the nurs­ery slopes, that we dis­cover the real de­light of Saas-Fee in April – there’s hardly any­one here.

It’s not that the re­sort is de­serted but it def­i­nitely isn’t crowded.

For a first time skier like my son, find­ing that there is no-one to crash into on the be­gin­ner slopes is a def­i­nite bonus.

By the end of the first morn­ing he is al­ready con­fi­dently ar­row­ing down the slopes and eye­ing the blue runs above with far less ap­pre­hen­sion.

For lunch we leave the vil­lage be­hind and head up on the ski lift to join the world’s high­est un­der­ground fu­nic­u­lar rail­way, wan­der past the world’s largest ice grotto and dine at the world’s high­est re­volv­ing restau­rant.

The su­perla­tives are un­nec­es­sary to war­rant a trip to Mit­te­lal­lalin, which is breath­tak­ing in ev­ery sense.

We join the Metro Alpin in a sta­tion which stands at the edge of the glacier and travel up­wards through a tun­nel which goes 6,000ft through the moun­tain, like tak­ing a tube train to the skies.

The top sta­tion is at an altitude of nearly 3,500m and the walk up the stairs to the 360-de­gree re­volv­ing restau­rant leaves even the fittest of our group pant­ing in the thin air.

Col­laps­ing into our seats, we are re­warded with a stu­pen­dous view through the restau­rant win­dows as it slowly an­gles around the sur­round­ing peaks.

The ice grotto is also fas­ci­nat­ing if only to learn that the blue glacier used to reach all the way down to the vil­lage but has re­treated dramatically over the course of the 20th cen­tury to end half­way up the moun­tain.

“En­joy it while it is still here”, our guide jokes grimly.

While Saas-Fee still has what re­mains of the glacier to guar­an­tee the late ski­ing, the nearby slopes of Saas-Grund – a short trip down the val­ley on a bus – also boast plenty of snow.

Here, we are treated to a beau­ti­ful morn­ing in the spring sun­shine on cor­duroy pistes which are com­pletely de­serted.

Our small party of young­sters could sing along in Ger­man with the Ski Bunny be­fore en­joy­ing ski school and then join­ing their par­ents on the wide and empty blue runs.

Back in Saas-Fee, there is a de­cent choice of restau­rants, in­clud­ing a fab­u­lous fon­due feast at the Vieux Chalet.

For our young­sters, how­ever, the best nights are clearly a meal stay­ing in at the Kid­shotel be­fore the fam­ily en­ter­tain­ment or play­ing in the games room.

It may not be win­ter, but Saas-Fee lives up to its hol­i­day billing in ev­ery other way.

The re­sort of Saas-Fee

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