Saas-Fee, Switzerland – Travel Review
By Richard Jones
With Christmas around the corner, the airwaves are about to become flooded with festive tunes. And one of the yuletide hits on the never-ending loop is Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas’. Love it or hate it – this year marks the 30th anniversary of the track, and among the memorable things about the 1984 record was the video. People of a certain age will recall footage of a fresh-faced George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley on a ski lift trying to win over the same pretty young lady against the backdrop of an unnamed Alpine skiing village. The resort in the video was actually Saas-Fee in Switzerland – the destination for my daughter Isla’s and her fellow ‘Young Guns” annual week of winter ‘Freedom’ on the slopes.
There are many key moments in a child’s life – their first steps, first word, first day at school. And ever since I learnt to ski almost a decade ago, I had been looking forward to the moment I could take Isla on the pistes. Sure she’d accompanied me on other winter holidays in the past, but due to her age, she spent the majority of the time in the kids’ club, interspersed with the odd hour in the ski school. But this year, before we travelled, I had one main aim: to get my seven-year-old skiing with me down the nursery slopes.
It only seems two minutes since I was in Isla’s metaphorical boots – the stereotypical ‘Bambi on Ice’ screaming “I can’t do it!” and ready to throw in the towel after a couple of setbacks. However, thanks to the instructors and her fellow beginners, Isla predictably felt more confident as the trip wore on.
“A magical candlelit fairytale walk”
Thirty years after George and Andrew hung out in Saas-Fee, the town still ticks all the boxes for groups seeking the perfect setting for their latest winter adventure. Its location, in the district of Visp, is close to the glaciers of the Dom and Allalinhorn, making it one of the most reliable resorts in Switzerland as far as snowfall is concerned. There is plenty to do out and about in Saas-Fee, and after arriving via train from Zurich, we spent our first evening trekking through the dark woods on a magical candlelit fairytale walk.
Switzerland is famous for many things – watches (the transport literally runs to the second), chocolate (some of the samples we tasted were to die for), and, of course, cheese. And you can’t travel all the way to Saas-Fee without trying a fondue dinner at Vieux Chalet. But those partial to cheese dreams or watching the calories, beware – you may be overloaded with the yellow stuff by the time the bill arrives.
Another eatery well worth a visit is the world’s highest revolving restaurant, Threes!xty, at the top of the Mittelallalin summit, which as its name suggests, features spectacular 360-degree views of the valleys. Meanwhile, after lunch atop the mountain, Isla and her friends loved visiting the nearby cave grotto (again the biggest in the world).
“An excellent base from which to discover the Swiss Alps”
Following a day’s skiing at Saas-Fee, the next day we hopped on a PostBus from the terminal to the adjacent town of Saas-Grund and the Hohsaas resort. This was much quieter than Fee, and our group had the whole mountain to itself at times. Saas-Grund is perfect for beginner skiers, with the gentle nursery slopes as well as the kids’ play areas making it the ideal setting for apprehensive youngsters like Isla. And it was during just her second day’s skiing, that Isla did what I had hoped she’d do – make it not only down the beginner pistes with the instructor during the morning lesson, but join her dad on the blue slopes in the afternoon.
Don’t get me wrong, it was far from plain sailing – we both fell over a couple of times, getting our legs in a tangle. Nevertheless, unlike the previous day when we were at opposite sides of the mountain, we were able to keep each other’s spirits up, get down in one piece, and celebrate at the bottom.
Accommodation-wise, the Hotel Alphubel, in the north-east corner of Saas-Fee, is an excellent base from which to discover the Swiss Alps. It has been run by the Supersaxo family for generations, and they go to extreme lengths to make sure guests, young and old, are taken care of. The kindergarten at the hotel is regarded as the best in the resort with children of all ages treated to a whole host of activities. Isla and her pals were taught how to make pizzas in the kitchen one afternoon, before tasting their creations at dinner. There is also a brilliant games room in the cellar for older kids, containing table tennis and pool tables, air hockey, fussball and Playstation 3s.
“A perfect setting for a family ski”
Granted Alphubel’s disco is no ‘Club Tropicana’, but for kids who prefer to dance and party, like Isla, the hotel’s patriarch/DJ Gottfried transforms himself (with the help of a bizarre chicken costume) into the hotel mascot GoSulino each night. After proudly standing side by side on the slopes with my daughter earlier in the day, I was less happy when she grabbed me to be her dancing partner to the strains of ‘YMCA’, ‘Okie Cokey’ and yes, you guessed it Wham!’s ‘I’m Your Man’.
Saas-Fee was a perfect setting for the first of hopefully many times Isla and I will ski (and dance) together. However, unlike Michael and Ridgeley, who split two years after the release of ‘Last Christmas’, this is one partnership that will definitely stand the test of time.
Crystal Ski Holidays (crystalski.co.uk) offers a week’s half board at the Hotel Alphubel in Saas Fee, Switzerland, from £755 per adult and £599 per child including flights from Manchester to Geneva and transfers departing in January 2015.
For more information visit the Switzerland Tourism website MySwitzerland.com.
Swiss International Air Lines offers up to 31 daily flights from the UK to either Zurich, Geneva or Basel – swiss.com.
The Swiss Travel System provides a dedicated range of rail passes and tickets exclusively for visitors from abroad – swisstravelsystem.co.uk.