Snow, ice, and the mountains – All this all used to mean hardship for people living in the Alpine valleys for thousands of years. Today, they are the three basic elements of Alpine lifestyle. Those three, skiing, and mountain huts. In addition, vanguard architecture and gourmet cuisine have long found their way up to Alpine heights.
Splendid vistas, a cosy ambience, delicious food, warm welcomes: Switzerland boasts countless ski huts full of atmosphere. Click, click – get out of the ski bindings and ready for a great break. For many skiers, the fun of skiing really starts once they take their skis off. And many huts provide them with good reasons not to take in too many downhill runs and rather enjoy some joie de vivre in a snug setting or rest on a lovely sun terrace.
There are some 2000 Swiss ski huts, and many of them are truly exciting places and a pleasant contrast to some of the huge outlets that exist in ski areas. The largest number of commendable mountain restaurants are located in Zermatt, Findlerhof, for instance, Zum See, or Stafelalp. On the Swiss side of Matterhorn, skiers can choose from about 20 premium restaurants, and almost all of them are easily reachable for winter hikers, as well.
Other regions offering a great mountain hut culture include Engadine, Gstaad, and Crans-Montana. Looking at the menus reveals that many top hosts have replaced luxury products with local culinary delights. Instead of serving seafood and goose liver, they now treat guests to delights made with local ingredients: Valais lamb entrecôte with mashed potatoes instead of Atlantic turbot, hay soup with dried meat instead of lobster curry. For many guests, Chez Vrony is the measure of all things. Evolving over the course of decades, the more than 100-year-old wooden chalet combines Valais’ Alpine ambience with a contemporary feelgood design. Deck chairs are covered with sheepskins and woollen blankets and extremely comfortable – and they allow guests to take in the view of Matterhorn and mountain hares. But the best about Chez Vrony are its hosts – Vrony and Max Cotting-Julen. Even when the place is packed (which is nearly always the case), they make their guests, who come from all corners of the world, feel welcome and like VIPs. And the meals are simple, yet sophisticated – imaginative, yet down-to-earth. The atmosphere gets more cheerful by the hour and when the final rays of sun insist that it is time to leave, guests obey only reluctantly, and with the firm resolve to come back the next day. Last winter, Chez Vrony even made an appearance as a pop-up restaurant at Zurich’s Widder Hotel.
Visitors who aspire to reach even higher heights and discover architectural history treasures, should tour up to Monte Rosa Hut, located at 2990 metres above sea level. When the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ) was looking for a major project to mark their 150th anniversary, they learned that Monte Rosa Hut was in dire need of comprehensive renovation. The Department for Architecture and Civil Engineering, led by Professor Andrea Deplazes, developed a project together with their students of architecture. In a 2004 competition, the draft of crystal-shaped building won. Planning for the new hut started in 2008, and the project could get underway thanks to the support of numerous sponsors. The hut was opened on 10 July 2010. “Mountainside architecture” could be a category the extravagant building might fall in, it definitely does not look like your traditional mountain hut. Today, Monte Rosa Hut serves as starting point for the ascent of Matterhorn, and is world-famous.
«Authentic, yet contemporary» is Michel Péclard’s motto. The Zurich catering entrepreneur manages the long-standing “Alpenblick” restaurant in Arosa, located right next to the Hörnli slopes and on the winter hiking trail that leads from Innerarosa to Schwellisee. The wooden Alpenblick interior includes the «Züri-Stube» (the most ancient part of the building), a grillroom with an open fireplace, and a chef’s table – a long table seating up to 30 guests. The subtle renewal of the interior carefully maintained the hut’s original charm. Instead of a busy self-service place, guests are treated to rustic culinary class. The menu offers Alpine delights and tasty barbequed dishes. Many guests appreciate the mix. At Alpenblick, you are likely to run into very different guests – a London investment banker or a local family of seven – and you will find that they are all enjoying the fact that the can just be themselves. Except for when they are on the terrace, of course: Anyone able to secure a seat here or a deckchair will have to deal with envious stares of those who were less lucky.
Just before noon, rush hour. Everyone is flooding into El Paradiso – the communicative, the enterprising, and the cheerfully crazy winter guests of St. Moritz in Engadine. The sparkling winter wonder world descends on the two restaurant terraces, as if drawn by a magnet, even though the Paradiso hut sits off the transferring slopes and close to the Suvretta hill. With passion and thoughtful consideration, Hans-Jörg and Anja Zingg created an enjoyable yet extravagant environment at their hut.
Engadine, however, still has so much more to offer: There is Chasellas, one of two mountain restaurants operated by Suvretta House. Among other awards, Chasellas has received praise from the testers of the British Monocle magazine for its successful symbiosis between local and international cuisine and for the creations which let seasonal products and the specialties of regional producers take centre stage and have quite rightfully come onto the radar of St. Moritz visitors. Another place known for its impressive vistas of the Engadine lake scenery is the Trutz mountain restaurant. The view is particularly spectacular from its marvellous sun terrace. Inside, guests are treated to plain dishes, such as barley broth, lentil dishes, or polenta – and a cosy hut ambience. A must-try are their delicious sweets, their Kaiserschmarrn, crumb cakes and apfelstrudels.
Guest of Kulm St. Moritz and Grand Hotel Kronenhof in Pontresina can enjoy a “Lunch on the Peaks” as part of the dine around arrangement with sister restaurants on Corvatsch, Lagalp, and Diavolezza. A high-alpine experience in which a night of full moon is as impressive watching as watching a movie in the open air.
Mountain huts as places of longing, far from everyday life, have reached unparalleled popularity. Simplicity does not mean to make do without style or great food. In addition, new mountain gastronomy concepts are emerging which allow starred chefs to explore the alpine world and the mountain hut ambience. Delighted guests are their reward.
Source: Claus Schweitzer: „Die schönsten Skihütten und Bergrestaurants in der Schweiz», Werd Verlag