Not long after I moved into my new home earlier this year I realised that sacrificing a summer holiday for home improvements was going to be tough. Rather than my usual city breaks and sunny escapes, I would spend my weekends engrossed in DIY and gardening. So the opportunity to escape to Switzerland for a few days was one I couldn’t refuse. A little research reassured me that the weather would be warm, averaging 17°C in August, and the country clean, safe and scenic. My base for the long weekend was the Sporthotel Valsana in the small town of Arosa, in Switzerland’s picture perfect Graubünden mountains. Just a few hours south of Zurich, we arrived into the city after a short hour and a half flight from Heathrow. The airport is an ideal starting point for a weekend break; with daily flights from the UK you can be in the bohemian city of Zurich or one of Switzerland’s stunning ski resorts in just a few hours. We made our way to the Swiss Rail platform and boarded one of the best rail networks in the world, famed for its scenic routes and exceptional efficiency. Having been awake since 5am, this sort of journey would ordinarily present the chance to catch up on lost sleep, but I challenge anybody visiting the country for the first time to do anything more than marvel at the tree covered mountains, deep valleys and chocolate box houses which you pass as you head south.
Despite its traditional Swiss charm and sophistication, Arosa is little known in the UK and businesses like the Tschuggen Group, who own SportHotel Valsana, are working hard to promote the resort to Brits, particularly as a summer destination. During winter months the resort is busy with tourists (its population increases fourfold from a modest 2,500 to 10,000) attracted by its endless sunny days and impressive snow record, yet the town is just as appealing when not covered in a blanket of snow. Calm lakes, shady forests and the never-ending ridge of mountains provide an outdoor playground for thrill seekers, especially if visiting the Valsana, a hotel known for its tennis facilities, private pool and its passion for sports.
This isn’t the sort of place to bring your bikini and high heels – neighbouring Italy and France are more likely to offer the sort of holiday where you’ll need these, as I soon discovered. A tall, traditional building, the hotel’s exterior is in keeping with the town’s style; painted white with dark wood framing its entrance, windows and balconies. Once inside, the small reception area is tastefully decorated with patterned armchairs, practical dark carpets and a smart solid wood desk, giving us a taste of the hotel’s personality. After dropping our bags we met with the husband and wife team who run the hotel and enjoyed a brief tour of the building. As well as its recently redesigned bedrooms, guests at the Valsana can enjoy dinner in one of its three restaurants, beauty treatments in a small health spa or drinks on the terrace overlooking the gardens, where outdoor tennis courts, a children’s play area and small golf area can be found. For those visiting in the winter months, Valsana offers hire of skiing equipment and sledges, perfect for exploring Arosa’s 70km of blue and red runs, as well as some brilliant off piste routes.
Less than an hour after arriving in Arosa, I had checked in and changed for my first private tennis lesson on Valsana’s outdoor courts. Admittedly this meant little time to familiarise myself with my surrounds (or even unpack!) but on the court, my coach helped me master the basics of a good serve, improve my forehand and backhand and seemed enthusiastic about my progress (although I later learned that one of the few words of English he knew was ‘super’ so perhaps I shouldn’t have been so encouraged). After collecting what seemed like hundreds of tennis balls from across the courts, I was free to return to the hotel. With an hour or two to spare, I settled into my room, a generous double with an unobstructed view of the mountains, before I headed down to dinner in the hotel’s traditional, modest restaurant. Though it couldn’t be described as flash, the dining room was friendly and comfortable, and provided a relaxed setting for a Swiss speciality – fondue – followed by a decadent chocolate dessert. Our waiter kept us smiling throughout the evening, suggesting a delicious Swiss wine to accompany our meal, which we enjoyed as the sun set before heading to bed.
The next morning I made use of the pool, which I had to myself, wandered around the lake and spent some time reading on my decked balcony. There was even the chance to practise my German in the town stocking up on chocolate, for research purposes, of course, and as fuel for the hike we had planned for later that morning.
Equipped with walking sticks and trainers, we made for the mountains accompanied by our enthusiastic guide Frederick. Taking a cable car to around 2,900 metres above sea level, we spent the rest of the afternoon navigating Arosa’s breathtaking scenery. Having earned a rest, the nearby Grand Hotel with its well-equipped spa seemed like an excellent place to relax once back in the town. Part of the Tschuggen hotel group, the Grand Hotel offers a more luxurious level of accommodation than the Valsana, not least because of its Michelin starred restaurant and 13,000 square ft spa. A network of pools, saunas and treatment areas are set into the mountainside, and striking glass domes flood the spa with light. With two hours to relax and unwind, it was the perfect end to a challenging day.
After another restful night in the Valsana, our final day took us to a rope park in Arosa’s deep, cool forest. Not for the faint-hearted, I learned the hard way that my physical fitness and fear of heights were no match for this high adrenaline assault course in the trees. After a few hours spent clambering through the wilderness I was happy to be on solid ground again, even if it was to pack my things and head home.
Arosa, and the Sporthotel Valsana in particular, isn’t the sort of place you go to sunbathe and sip cocktails. But if you are looking for a holiday that combines beautiful landscapes with endless activity in equal measure, Switzerland will not disappoint.
Doubles at the Sporthotel Valsana are available from £85 per person, per night based on two adults sharing.
For bookings visit www.valsana.ch or call +41 81378 6363
Swiss International Air Lines have flights from London Heathrow / London City starting from £118 round trip.