Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Swiss bliss in Wengen

After a fortnight in the Utah Rockies, a chance to renew acquaintance with their antithesis. The peaks above Wengen and Grindelwald could not be more different than the mountains of the American west. Nor could the experince of skiing.

Where the Rockies, for the most part, present a softer profile, the Eiger, Jungfrau and Monch brood behind their curtains of drifting cloud like some great triumvirate, deliberating the fate of mortals below. While mountain eateries in US ski areas are mostly self service and often cavernous, those above the Swiss resorts are more intimate, with waiter service.

On the long, delightful intermediate descent from the Mannlichen to Grindelwald the piste winds past bars and restaurants which - especially on a sunny spring day - seem to defy you to ski past without stopping for a coffee. And when the weather socks in, what could be more warming than a dish of bubbling cheese ad spatzle at the Kleine Scheidegg station restaurant.

Wengen, reached by a spectacular cog railway from Lauterbrunnen, has the feel of tradition. It appeals to UK skiers of a certain age. Snowboarders do not rule here. Aside from taxis, some of which are electric, its streets are blissfully traffic free.

I stayed at the comfortable and very welcoming Wengenerhof,a 5-10 minute walk from the centre, past the spired church with its commanding view of the valley.
Buffet breakfast stretched from bircher muesli to scrambled eggs and bacon. I are dinner there and elsewhere, most impressively at the Baren restaurant, where a rustic menu included sour cream soup and delicious veal with courgettes. I drank apres ski beer at the Tanne and watched a football match at the Rocks bar. While they were hardly sedate, neither presented music at levels which made conversation impossible.

The skiing was as I remembered it - agreeable rather than adrenalin pumping. Big, wide boulevards above the treeline; that marvellous run to Grindelwald for which it was worth tolerating the dreadfully slow ride back on the Mannlichen gondola; the telegenic Lauberhorn downhill course, which serves as an energy sapping through hardly frightening black piste (but watch out you don't hit the narrow passage left and right too fast; and the gentle blue run home to Wengen, partly a winding path through the forest.

I travelled with Inghams, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year

Monday, 1 March 2010

Refusing breakfast won't bring home bacon

A young woman guest came down for breakfast at a hotel in North Wales on Saturday to be told she was too late. It was 9.45 am. Yet this same hotel, clearly battling the twin impact of recession and nasty winter weather, was courting passing trade with a poster offering rooms at £10 a night b&b (provided guests dined in the restaurant). Such deals are all very tempting - but unless they are accompanied by good food and service the customers they attract won't come back. That could be particularly damaging in future economic downturns.Visitors to this site may have noticed that I am not entirely convinced by reports that recession has prompted an increase in "staycations". This sort of contradictory failure to provide flexible service helps explain why.