Remember the Belinda Carlisle song…‘Ooh, Heaven is a Place on Earth’? Well, I’ve found that place, and it’s called Adelboden. You don’t arrive there borne aloft on the wings of angels, but on a No 230 bus (via train from Zurich). I know that’s a big claim to make, Heaven on Earth, but the stick with me. The town has all that’s needed for a contented afterlife: bakery, cheesery, small supermarket, winery, traditional cafés, ski gear, museum, and historic hotels. I should mention the church too I suppose, as this story is predicated on some sort of belief system.
Switzerland tops the ‘pretty-as-the-picture-on-a-chocolate-box’ league with Adelboden vying for the crown. At 1,350m with 3,000m-plus peaks surrounding a gigantic bowl of loveliness, there’s dozens of small farms, summer dwellings and pastures higher up. This is a traditional community that has clearly found the perfect balance of farming and tourism reaching back to 1902 when Arnold Lunn first brought organised ski tours from England. We Brits loved it and kept coming, with hotels like The Parkhotel Bellevue and The Cambrian catering to them summer and winter. Both original buildings remain but extensively restored. Mine, the Cambrian, has retained the fabulous Belle Époque style of its previous iteration as the Grand Hotel Regina, whilst transforming into a four-star superior Design Hotel of the World.
So exactly what makes this my Heaven? We’ve touched on the beauty, the simplicity of the town, and the quality of lodgings. What about the skiing? I’m a quiet, contained skier. Not for me the drug of speed. I get my kicks from the search for the perfect turn; by being open to sensations…sound, smell, sight, feel. It’s my Zen place. Not for me the aggressive, macho posturing of the mega-resort, where people ski to been seen. No whiff of testosterone in Adelboden, just folk being themselves and living and loving every minute. There are four sectors, Tschentenalp rising from the centre, the others, Chuenisbargli, Engstligenalp and Sillerenbühl accessed by regular-as-clockwork buses. Don’t expect heated 8-person high speed lifts. The system is efficient (this IS Switzerland) and, yes, there are some t-bars but this is Heaven remember. What’s the rush?
Christian Rubin from the Ski School Adelboden took me on a tour of the Chuenisbargli and Sillerenbühl areas. The pistes were impeccable uncrowded corduroy, the sun shining, the sky a duck-egg blue, nary a cloud for St Peter or any angels to perch on. At the furthest point we paused and chatted. “See the little valley down there” he said, “that’s Simmental, where the famous breed of cows come from”. Being a Devonshire-boy I understood. We got to discussing everyday life (or should it be afterlife?) here. Christian’s family are many-generations of farmers. Instead of the accepting the obligatory annual military service for all young men, he discovered an alternative loophole allowing him to make cheese in the summer, moving with the herd up the mountain to the flower-rich meadows where they live until September. “Better than shooting a gun!” he said. Hallelujah!
For lunch, The Parkhotel Bellevue, which sits where it has for 120 years, in a slightly superior position above the town. And so it should. Owned since 1926 by the Richard family, rebuilt in the Bauhaus style following a fire in 1931, now beautifully refurbished. The restaurant has 15 Gault Millau points with food to match. But I’m a food philistine, preferring rösti and a couple of fried eggs over more fiddly-diddly concoctions. What gets my juices flowing is wine…not quantity but quality. The archangel sent to earth as sommelier is Marc Richard; more than an angel really, a wine-God. Marc lovingly cares for a cellar of 800 vintages and was pleased to let me sample several. A Condrieu ‘Les Terrasses de l’Empire’ Viognier Georges Vernay 2016 (CHF120) was my nectar from the Gods. His favourite? A Vosne-Romanée Domaine Méo-Camuzet 2004 (CHF135). What a man! One of the Richard hotel dynasty, his day job was at IBM, wine his eternal love. Behind the I.T. expert’s exterior he’s a rebel. He scattered his parents’ ashes in the forest just above the hotel, somewhat controversially since regional law forbids it. “They loved it here. That’s where they wanted to be. I’m not digging them up now!”
The Engstligenalp is closest to Heaven at 2,360m. A chair deposits skiers on the lip of a wide plateau dotted with all manner of oddities. A children’s area presided over by Globi, a cartoonish blue bird with yellow beak, beret, and red and black check trousers. I decided that Globi is the work of Satan, sent with his beady eyes and pecky beak to tempt innocent kinder away from heaven. The eyes followed me everywhere. Ugh! There’s an Igloo Hotel where you can sleep in an ice bed at around -3c for CHF395 a night. Brrr.
Way, way across the plateau are a couple of blues, reds and blacks. Mmm. Looks a long way to schlepp, but wait! Heavenly help is at hand in the shape of a Monkey’s Tail lift. WHAT? In thirty plus years of skiing I’ve never pulled the Monkey’s Tail. It’s a continuous overhead line with plastic cables attached. You grab a tail and hang on. At this elevation the snow is real and absolutely beautiful. There’s no one on the runs, which are wide, swooping and 99.9999 re-occurring perfect. Just writing about it now makes me smile.
There was a last Heavenly surprise to discover above the town on the Tschentenalp, a mad idea of the Tourist Office. 1,950m up, on the edge of a steep drop-off is a swing, just an ordinary kid’s playground swing. But if you have the nerve to ride it (and I hadn’t, but my new bestie Claire did) you hang out in space with your feet touching Heaven.
Back to my lodgings, The Cambrian, first visited 40 years ago by Welshman Grant Maunder, his brother, and their family. He fell in love with the colonial-era building and vowed one day to own it. Fast forward to an older, now wealthy Grant, who bought it with his brother in 2009, renamed it The Cambrian, and with celebrated Welsh chef Bryn Williams, and a roster of top designers, has turned it into the gem it is. Never was the mantra ‘Location, location, location’ truer. Unwinding in the infinity pool looking directly across at the sweeping panorama was a divinely celestial experience.
For more information on visit the Adelboden Tourist Office online. Adult 5 day lift pass CHF281.
For more information on The Cambrian Hotel see online. Prices from from CHF650 per night for a family suite.