WHETHER it’s the ski season or the summer holidays, the Swiss Alps are crawling with tourists. If people aren’t whizzing down a snow-covered hillside in the winter, come summer they’re resolutely trudging up a well-marked, well-trodden path.
But head to these same Alpine villages only a week or two out of season and you’ll have the place almost to yourself, offering the perfect retreat from the stress of City life. And after a sticky London summer battling with overheated public transport, a stuffy office and a distinct lack of sun, it was with much relief that I hopped on a plane for a long weekend in Arosa, a small Swiss resort about 1,800m above sea-level.
Arosa is not as well known as its bigger and more famous neighbours of Davos and Klosters. It’s a compact Alpine village by comparison, but it has more than enough in terms of walking, cycling and horse riding trails to keep you occupied.
It’s about three hours from Zurich airport but don’t bother hiring a car. For a start, the train is just as quick as driving, it works like clockwork – three changes, not one missed connection – and the final leg is not to be missed. It’s a narrow-gauge railway that wends its way steadily higher up the valley towards Arosa from the valley town of Chur and you’ll get some stunning views if the weather’s favourable.
The five-star Tschuggen Grand is certainly the place to stay in Arosa and we were met at the tiny station by an immaculately-dressed member of staff who drove us the short distance to the hotel, which is perched just above the village, and used to be a sanatorium.
But those hoping to stay in a chocolate-box Swiss chalet will be disappointed. Rebuilt in the late Sixties after a fire destroyed the original hotel, the Tschuggen Grand did not escape the architectural penchant of the time for concrete and glass.
But while the exterior of the hotel might be somewhat drab, the interior is faultless thanks to Swiss designer Carlo Rampazzi, who spruced it up substantially in 2006.
All the rooms have a smart, modern feel with bright quilted headboards – mine was a patchwork of vibrant orange and zebra stripes. Eye-catching, certainly, but I was glad I didn’t have to wake up facing it. The large bathroom, with its clean lines, glass and local Grisons granite was just as up-to-date and as well appointed.
While the hotel is certainly modern, the adjacent Bergoase spa, which opened in December 2006, is verging on the futuristic. It is carved into the hillside and is topped by nine glass sails, which blend into the trees during the day but glow different colours at night.
The spa is joined to the hotel by a suspended glass walkway so I was able to walk to and from my room wrapped in an over-sized dressing gown and slippers. Although the spa is built into the rock, its sheer size (an astounding 5,000 sq m over four floors) and light make the whole place feel open and relaxing. Whether you’re there to exercise, get pummelled or relax completely, there’s plenty of choice, though fitness fiends wanting a work-out before breakfast may wish the spa opened earlier than 8am.
I decided to start in the gym – a tad later than 8am, I’ll admit – before heading to unwind in the outside relaxation pool and then enjoying a detoxifying lunch in the spa’s own restaurant, which rounded off the morning nicely.
A full body sports massage was just the trick for my troubled back though I could have chosen to go for any number of other treatments, including reflexology and ayurvedic massages. If you’re really pushing the boat out or looking to impress, then you can also hire one of the two private spas, which include treatments for two.
It would be very easy to laze in the spa for days on end without feeling the need to ever venture outside the hotel. This will certainly more than fill those common days in the mountains when low cloud, rain and even snow put paid to the best-laid plans.
But if you’re lucky to have excellent weather, then there’s really no excuse not to make the most of the staggering surroundings. The hotel can arrange all manner of activities – from yoga up the mountain at 2,000m to cycling, walking and horse riding. And if you feel you need a bit of a helping hand to get you started like we did, then the hotel’s private mountain railway – the Tschuggen Express – will take you up the first 150m of altitude in just over two minutes.
If you’re heading off into the hills – or even if you’re not – there’s plenty of opportunity to fill up at breakfast. Faced with the biggest continental spread I have ever seen, it was tempting to try a little bit of everything, safe in the knowledge I would work it off later. Fresh trout, local cheeses and meats, bircher muesli and boiled eggs all made it onto my plate while if you feel the need for something hot, they’ll cook almost anything.
It’s not just breakfast that’s taken seriously at the Tschuggen Grand. There are no fewer than five restaurants, which all put plenty of emphasis on local ingredients and the crisp and delicious Grisons white wine, whether you’re dining at the gourmet La Vetta or the less up-market but extremely fun Bunderstube, which offers local specialties such as cheese fondue and raclette as well as a skittles alley to try your luck after dinner – if you can still move, that is.
I left the Tschuggen Grand feeling energetic and healthy with all my City lethargy and worries gone. More than a hundred years ago, people started arriving in Arosa in search of better health. While the Tschuggen is anything but a sanatorium now, this is still true today. For 7 nights at Tschuggen Grand Hotel on B&B Basis including flights, Kuoni (01306747008 www.kuoni.co.uk) offer prices from £1290pp based on two sharing.