Travel: Saas Fee, Switzerland

Saas-Fee. Picture: Contributed
Saas-Fee. Picture: Contributed
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WAS it feeding wild marmots by hand on the high mountainside? Was it the adrenalin rush of swinging over a deep gorge on a zip wire?

Or was it the exhilaration of zooming down an 11km run on scooters with monster wheels or the rollercoaster ride on the summer toboggan run?

How could we possibly choose our favourite moment of our holiday in Saas Fee in Switzerland when it was all so incredibly memorable?

It was probably the best family holiday we have ever had, and as keen skiers it was a revelation that the Alps in summer could be so much fun.

Saas Fee, in fact, boasts a glacier and does offer summer skiing, but there were so many other activities to keep us occupied that we didn’t have time to try it out.

As it is perched high up in the mountains, we assumed from the start that Saas Fee would have good views, but we were unprepared for just how spectacular they would be, or for the prettiness of the village itself.

If any place fits the traditional image of a chocolate-box Swiss village then it is car-free Saas Fee which nestles under the Dom, the highest mountain entirely in Switzerland at 4,545 metres.

This is German-speaking Switzerland, and perhaps it shows as building has been strictly controlled so that the village has managed to hold on to its rustic character, including the old Valaisian wooden houses and grain barns that date from the 17th and 18th centuries.

The only blot is the large car park on the edge of town but it is a price worth paying for walking down the quaint, peaceful streets without having to avoid any traffic other than the occasional electric taxi or bus.

Being without a car is no problem when public transport is so good. Regular buses connect all the mountain villages, as well as the larger town of Visp to which we travelled by train from Geneva airport.

Taking a short walk from the airport to our train, then relaxing on a spectacular journey along Lake Geneva was a fantastic start to our holiday and it was a joy to find that the clichés about Swiss trains running punctually and efficiently were all true.

The train arrived in time to connect with our bus which we were able to catch beside the train station, and after a short journey up the mountain to Saas Fee we were met by an electric taxi and our hotel manager Paul who happened to be from Paisley.

He escorted us to our hotel, the Chalet Hotel Ambassador, where we had extremely comfortable rooms with balconies offering breath-taking views of the mountains.

With a small pool, sauna, whirlpool bath and excellent food, the hotel was all we could have wished for.

Run by Inghams, the packages the company offers mean that holidaymakers from the UK can still visit Switzerland without having to remortgage their home to pay for the trip.

Switzerland, of course, is not part of the euro and in recent years the pound has been weak against the Swiss franc but with cooked breakfasts, afternoon tea and cake and a five-course dinner with wine, provided by the hotel, there is little expense above the actual cost of the package.

It helps that Saas Fee has recently launched a new drive to attract tourists which means that anyone staying in the resort receives a free pass for all the cablecars, gondolas, chairs and buses, as well as discounts for various activities and venues within the resort, such as the leisure centre.

This pass represents an incredible saving as, for example, travelling by cable car and then the Metro Alpin, the world’s highest underground railway, to the world’s highest revolving restaurant on the Mittelallalin at 3,500 metres, would normally cost around £50 per person but with the pass this amazing journey is all free.

It also means you can take a gondola up behind Saas Fee where the marmots can be seen emerging from the burrows to forage and frolic on the grass.

Armed with carrots we were at first sceptical that we would get anywhere near them, but to our delight they practically knocked us over in their haste to get to the treats. At one stage our son, James (15), had a marmot on his lap while Jenna (17) fed a baby one, simultaneously filming the experience on her iphone in true teenage style.

Another highlight was our mountain walks through astonishing meadows of Alpine flowers including Eidelweiss and deep-blue gentians. Even our teens, for once, did not moan about walking when there was so much to see including Ibex, chamois and pine martens. Besides, there was plenty for them to do besides walking. The Feeblitz toboggan run is cheap and good fun with the toboggans reaching up to 40km on steep turns and a 360 degree corkscrew.

There’s an Adventure Forest too, which is like Go Ape in Britain only – unusually for Switzerland – cheaper. The ultimate challenge on it, is the zip wire across the gorge at the entrance to the village. At 280m it is said to be the longest in Europe and it is a fantastic experience.

Also reasonably priced are the Monster Trotti – scooters with wheels as fat as those on quad bikes and which are a really fun way to descend the mountain above nearby Saas Grund. These are suitable for all ages although it is a bit disconcerting when an OAP whizzes past you on the 11km scenic trail.

More expensive, but well worth it, is the tour through the Gorge Alpine for which a guide (and some bravery) is necessary, as it involves climbs along rock faces high up the gorge and around five zip wires, one of which ends in a dark cave. Kids are in their element here and it is all very safe with harnesses and helmets provided.

For those seeking peace rather than excitement there is a wellness trail above Saas Grund, complete with wooden sunbeds where people can soak up the sun and admire the stupendous views.

Saas Fee and the surrounding villages enjoy sunny days 80 per cent of the year, and with such a climate combined with the sheer loveliness of the surroundings, it is easy to see why it has been dubbed the Pearl of the Alps.

Now we just need to go back in winter to try out the skiing.

THE FACTS

The Chalet Hotel Ambassador offers seven nights on a catered basis (breakfast, afternoon tea/coffee and cakes, five-course dinner with unlimited wines) from £699 per person, including return flights from Edinburgh to Geneva and resort transfers. For more infomation or to book visit www.inghams.co.uk or tel: 01483 791114; www.myswitzerland.com