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