It’s Davos, but not as you know it

 
Julian Harris
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DESPITE being a 30-something supposed grown-up, I must confess to still suffering from the occasional nightmare. While on duty as a night editor of this newspaper, for example, my sleep can be disturbed by a recurring dream in which I’m culpable for printing over 130,000 front page headlines of “UK ECOMONY DIPS AGAIN” (yes, reread if you missed it).

But there’s an even worse nightmare – one scary enough to cause any business hack to bolt upright at 5am, drenched in chilly sweat: being sent to report on the World Economic Forum in Davos.

The latest Forum – known as “WEF” – finished last week, the highlight appearing to be the fact that old chums David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson had pizza for dinner. Wonderful stuff: hold the front page.

Let me explain, in case you’re blissfully unaware – at the turn of each year, the small Swiss mountain town of Davos is colonised by leading business figures, and politicians who pretend to understand business.

It’s the place to be seen for these funny folk, who mingle around the conference centre while Angela Merkel stands at a lectern and reels off platitudes about “budget consolidation”. Anyone who’s anyone is there, which is one reason why it’s good to be a no one.

But the unattractiveness of the WEF is not the fault of Davos itself. Rather, one of the worst things about the WEF is that people travel to such a stunning part of the world, and then waste it in a bleak conference centre.

Being sent to Davos for the WEF is like being promised a day at Silverstone with a Ferrari, only to find out that it’s been rained off and you have to spend two hours in the cafeteria with your mother-in-law.

Fortunately, I visited Davos and the nearby town of Klosters during the summer, when there was no hint whatsoever of an impending economic conference. Counter-intuitively, the summer months count as the off-season. Apart from the WEF, this idyllic region of the Swiss Alps is best known for its winter activities, mainly skiing and other snow-related fun.

Klosters has a modern history as a kind of celebrity-magnet: it is one of Prince Charles’ favourite places to slide down some slopes and be photographed playing dad with his grinning sons. However, it was originally enjoyed by the rich and famous as an escape from the devious eye of the media.

During the Second World War, American GIs trapped in Europe discovered it wasn’t the worst place in the world to while away the days until the battles were won. And, upon the arrival of peacetime, word spread across the pond that Klosters made for a superb holiday location. Before long Hollywood stars like Greta Garbo and Gene Kelly were gathering in the Chesa Grischuna hotel, where hoards of thespians congregated in order to get smashed, dance on tables and indulge in all manner of revelry – happily out of the public eye. Being famous in Klosters became so normal that it offered a kind of highly-coveted anonymity.

More recently Renee Zellweger has lodged in Chesa Grischuna, a place that is like a microcosm of the town itself: traditional, charming, unpretentious and welcoming. There is nothing particularly showy or extravagant about Klosters; rather, it is simply nice and everything works. Within an hour of arriving – following a seamless train journey from Zurich, consisting of a couple of unusually stress-free interchanges – I found myself serenely accepting these Swiss stereotypes. The angst of rush-hour London Bridge station and its signal failures felt like a lifetime ago, as I took in the sight of the awesome surrounding mountains from my hotel balcony.

During the summer months, the snow having melted, the hills around Davos become ideal for hiking and cycling. Ready-made paths run along the side of the hills, so one isn’t burdened too much by constant climbs or drops.

On a spirit-lifting sun-drenched Friday we hiked to the nearby Schlappin valley where we met Rudolf Wotzel, a former M&A banker at UBS, Deutsche Bank and Lehman Brothers. Wotzel has become known for his dramatic exit from the world of finance, which involved an isolated trek across the Alps (from Germany to France) followed by a book – Across the Mountains to Myself – and finally buying and opening a hostel and restaurant in this postcard-perfect little valley.

Wotzel stresses he has not turned his back on capitalism, but rather opted for a different type. “This is not an indulgence project,” he tells me. “We have a business plan and are looking to break into profit this year or next.”

This kind of ambitious feel-good capitalism is in evidence around Davos, too, as we visit a small cheese factory that has been built up a hill in the middle of where the cows graze – “So we don’t have to transport the milk or the cows: it’s better this way” – as well as what I’m promised is the highest brewery in Europe, at Davos Monstein.

Walking to both, we often found ourselves a few hundred yards beneath a local, who would be effortlessly sky gliding in the clear blue space above our heads. As they calmly sailed through the air, and the cows mooed, and I sipped on the bottle of locally brewed beer that I’d guilt-tripped the guide into buying me, it became obvious why Formula One drivers and wealthy financiers move to the Swiss Alps. It may be expensive, but this part of the world really does have an awful lot going for it – and not just during the skiing season.

NEED TO KNOW

Getting to Klosters / Davos
■ There are many flights from London to Zurich. Swiss offer daily services from Heathrow and City airports, while EasyJet go there from Gatwick. Flights on Swiss start from £119 return.

■ Train journeys from Zurich take around two hours, switching at Landquart. For simplicity, a Swiss Transfer Ticket covers a round-trip between the airport and your destination. Prices are £90 in second class and £142 in first class.

For more information visit: www.MySwitzerland.com, call the Switzerland Travel Centre on 00800 100 200 30 or email, for information: info.uk@myswitzerland.com. For packages, trains and air tickets email sales@stc.co.uk