‘Even cheese feels vir­tu­ous in the Alps’

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

As the boat slipped away from the jetty, my stresses slipped away, too. For starters, this be­ing Switzer­land, ev­ery plane, train and wa­ter-mo­bile had run right on time. But bet­ter, I was plough­ing into a happy place: the sun was sparkling off Lake Lucerne, the shores were frilled with pine and pas­ture, moun­tains tan­ta­lised in the near dis­tance. A pleas­ing breeze tick­led my grin. There was noth­ing for it but to re­lax…

There’s some­thing about the Alps. Not only do they pro­vide a mood­boost­ing com­bi­na­tion of green and blue space – which, stud­ies have shown, re­duce anx­i­ety and sad­ness. They also of­fer pure air, re­viv­i­fy­ing wa­ters, the aes­thetic plea­sure of a meadow bright with wild flow­ers and the put-you-in-your-place­ness that comes from be­ing amid for­mi­da­ble peaks. I’m not the first to no­tice. The Ro­man­tics raved about these moun­tains in the late 18th cen­tury, en­cour­ag­ing waves of Grand Tour-ists; Switzer­land’s first moun­tain ho­tel opened on Lake Lucerne’s Mt Rigi in 1816. Then, from the 1840s, slope-side sana­to­ria sprang up, tout­ing the ther­a­peu­tic ef­fects of high-al­ti­tude air. But while the moun­tains re­main as nat­u­rally cleans­ing as ever, the health re­sorts have moved on a bit, as I was soon to dis­cover.

There has been a ho­tel atop the lake­side Bür­gen­stock ridge since 1873. It has al­ways been in­no­va­tive – its founders built the coun­try’s first elec­tric fu­nic­u­lar rail­way (which still runs) and the Ham­metschwand Lift, the high­est ex­te­rior el­e­va­tor in Europe. Af­ter its Fifties hey­day as a celeb hang-out – Au­drey Hep­burn mar­ried here – the ho­tel slowly fell into de­cline. But in late 2017, fol­low­ing an eight-year ren­o­va­tion, the Bür­gen­stock Re­sort re­opened. So I wanted to see how healthy both the ho­tel and its en­vi­able lo­ca­tion could be.

The re­sort com­prises four ho­tels; I was lodg­ing in the Mat­teo Thun­de­signed Wald­ho­tel, a hip hill­side be­he­moth of un­treated wood and stone that’s both lux­ury re­treat and med­i­cal cen­tre. Un­like the other three, the Wald­ho­tel looks away from Lake Lucerne, which is no loss. This sunny south-fac­ing as­pect gazes into a se­cre­tive lit­tle scoop of green, where cow­bells thunk, buz­zards swirl and the high Alps loi­ter be­yond. As I ate break­fast on the ter­race, I could see the farm that sup­plied the cheese on my plate.

And it’s funny how even cheese feels more vir­tu­ous in the moun­tains; there’s some­thing about be­ing able to taste its prove­nance. Plenty of other lo­cal in­gre­di­ents – from sum­mer berries to Swiss lamb and veal – turn up in dishes across the re­sort’s eight restau­rants, which range in theme from heavy haute French to healthy Mediter­ranean, such as cour­gette spaghetti sprin­kled with laven­der. Those with Rooms at the Wald­ho­tel cost from around CHF410pn (£324), in­clud­ing shut­tle­boat trans­fers from Lucerne, the fu­nic­u­lar, break­fast and ac­cess to the Wald­ho­tel Spa. The Bür­gen­stock’s Alpine Spa costs from CHF95 (£75) for three hours (0041 (0) 41 612 6000; buer­gen­stock.ch/en). The au­thor flew with Swiss In­ter­na­tional Air­lines from Heathrow to Zurich (0345 601 0956; swiss.com). For more in­for­ma­tion, see myswitzer­land.com. deeper di­etary con­cerns can book tai­lored weight-man­age­ment pro­grammes, one of the Wald­ho­tel’s life­style pack­ages. Zee Shan Razi, the nu­tri­tion­ist, gave me some point­ers in the cook­ing lab, where we turned lentils and ap­ples into a de­li­cious lunch. The aim, he said, is not a dra­matic two-week weight loss, but to ini­ti­ate sus­tain­able life­style changes.

All this eat­ing, whole­some or oth­er­wise, left me ea­ger to ex­er­cise. While the gym fa­cil­i­ties looked ex­cel­lent, the great Swiss out­doors looked bet­ter: sunny, green, rid­dled with well-marked trails. I set out along the Felsen­weg, the cliff-hacked path com­pleted in 1905 so early well­ness-seek­ing tourists could prom­e­nade above Lake Lucerne. It led to the Ham­metschwand Lift, which whizzed up to the 3,660ft-high look­out, with views north to Lucerne, east to Rigi, west to Mount Pi­la­tus, south to the high Swiss Alps. I spent the rest of the af­ter­noon thread­ing to­gether other paths, strolling in bird-sung for­est (where a pine marten peeked out from its hol­low), then walk­ing via neat wood piles, a tiny chapel, pas­tures crazy with but­ter­flies and a farm­house hon­esty shop where I bought a jar of alpine honey. A hot, hon­est, fresh-air, blue-sky work­out.

To soothe my legs, I tried the Wald­ho­tel’s Ice Lab, a cryother­apy ex­pe­ri­ence that ex­poses you, briefly, to -166F (-110C) in or­der to speed heal­ing. Note, the top of the Mat­ter­horn doesn’t dip be­low -22F (30C). And I wouldn’t at­tempt that wear­ing only a bikini, gloves and a face mask.

Stand­ing in this hu­man deep­freeze, my nos­tril hairs crack­led, my lungs gasped and three min­utes felt like 300. But I emerged alive and, if not cured of all ills, oddly in­vig­o­rated.

Less chal­leng­ing was a visit to the Bür­gen­stock Ho­tel’s Alpine Spa, 10,000 spec­tac­u­lar square me­tres of well­ness. Af­ter be­ing ex­pertly mas­saged with alpine-in­spired prod­ucts, I got lost in the ex­panse of saunas, ra­sul steam rooms, Kneipp baths, in­frared cab­ins and, my favourite, the cav­ernous flota­tion pool, where I lay sus­pended in salt­wa­ter as green lights flick­ered on the ceil­ing like the aurora.

There was only one place to end though: the heated out­door in­fin­ity pool, which dan­gles high above, seem­ingly drip­ping into, Lake Lucerne. I pad­dled in, rested my el­bows on the edge, ad­justed my shades and felt as glam­orous as I ever will. Was this healthy? Get­ting too used to this might be a dan­ger­ous thing. But for the mo­ment, I felt very well in­deed.

One-week multi-ac­tiv­ity hol­i­days cost from £349pp, ex­clud­ing flights; in­cludes nine points per per­son. Undis­cov­ered Moun­tains (0345 009 8501; undis­cov­ered moun­tains.com) Forstho­falm Tim­ber Ho­tel, Leogang, Aus­tria This pine-scented eco-ho­tel, 3,445ft up in the moun­tains, is built en­tirely from wood (cut at a pos­i­tive phase of the moon, no less), which should get you off to a re­lax­ing start – stud­ies have shown wooden rooms can lower stress and aid sleep. Then there’s the food: or­ganic, sea­sonal and lo­cal where pos­si­ble, with a ded­i­cated ve­gan chef pre­par­ing five-course meals and the chance to join herb walks. All guests get free ac­cess to the Moun­tain Life Pro­gramme, too: un­lim­ited yoga and fit­ness classes, plus guided hikes.

Rooms at Forstho­falm cost from €128pppn (£115) in­clud­ing meals and ac­tiv­i­ties (0043 6583 8545 55; forstho­falm.com/en; tele­graph.co. uk/tt-forstho­falm)

Soak up the scenery cy­cling in Alta Ba­dia, main; the up­lift­ing views from Wald­ho­tel, be­low left

Test­ing the wa­ters at Flims Laax Falera

Ac­tress Au­drey Hep­burn tied the knot in Bür­gen­stock

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