To tide us over until we’re able to travel again, we’re republishing classic travel stories from our archives. Today we revisit Noo Saro-Wiwa’s stay in The Valsana, Switzerland’s first geothermal hotel.
These days, a sense of wellbeing isn’t just about body and spirit but also about leaving a lighter carbon footprint. Which is why the new, eco-friendly Valsana Hotel is the perfect place to spend an Alpine spa weekend without feeling that you’ve given Mother Nature a battering.
The Valsana is Switzerland’s first hotel to be powered by geothermal probes, and there are plans to install an ice-battery that will draw waste heat energy from electrical devices, recycling 95 per cent of it.
Reaching the hotel from Zurich airport involves three beautiful train rides that hug the shoreline of Lake Zurich before delivering you to Arosa, a quiet resort town in the Schanfigg valley. Rooms at The Valsana come with a balcony and hammock, overlooking the Untersee lake and forested hills.
The interior décor is quirky and homely; the dining area has a home kitchen layout, complete with wooden cabinets and patterned wall tiles and the lounge’s fireplace and wine-dispensing machine enhances its intimate vibe.
The hotel’s Twist restaurant has options for vegans and carnivores. Tasty meals such as venison, basil quinoa and red onion marmalade are made from ingredients that are sourced locally as much as possible.
Next day, Julian, our holistic fitness instructor, led us through an urban interpretation of traditional yoga philosophy. Later, I was invited to the sauna where Julian – all man-bun and ripped torso – poured water on hot coals, releasing a hiss of lemon-infused steam. “Are you enjoying the fragrance?” he asked, while fanning the air with a towel. I headed to the indoor pool afterwards to cool off, while admiring the mountain views.
The following morning, I mounted an electric mountain bike and hit the slopes. There are different trails to suit all ability levels, although ‘ability’ is redefined when you’ve got gears powering you up those steep inclines like Spielberg’s ET. Cheating has never felt so good. And less thigh burn meant more energy to enjoy the stunning alpine vistas, not to mention a bear sanctuary.
Save the best activity until last. In the late afternoon the cable car transports visitors high above grassy slopes and grazing deer to the summit of the Weisshorn mountain. That’s where I decided to spend the night at the Millionen-Sterne-Hotel (translation: million-star hotel), so called because it provides a truly stellar experience – literally and figuratively.
Guests sleep on an open-air viewing platform, gazing at night skies that are gloriously unpolluted. Snuggled beneath my hotel sleeping bag, I ogled the constellations and shooting stars before nodding off in the breeze. You could call it ‘peak’ relaxation.
At dawn the staff woke us up to witness a jaw-dropping sunrise. The denuded mountain tops created a moonscape of peaks, dozens of them bathed in mutating hues of purple, orange and red sunlight.
From the valley, the breeze carried a chorus of cowbells, the only sound we could hear for miles. After breakfast, we hiked back down to Arosa in the sunshine: valleys plunging below us, a golden eagle circling above, and the odd marmot poking out of grassy promontories. Pure heaven.