Saas-Fee, Switzerland Ski Holidays
Saas-Fee, Switzerland Ski Resort Review
Saas-Fee, nicknamed the 'Pearl of the Alps', fulfills its touristic tag. Set nearly 3,000m below Switzerland's highest mountain, the mighty 4,545m Dom, the village exudes chocolate-box charm. But as a resort the place has its share of critics, who consider the ski area too small, the village too cold and would honestly prefer to be holidaying in its more famous neighbour, Zermatt.
Having only 100km of piste, and vast crevasses to catch anybody wandering too far from the marked ski trails, Saas-Fee's skiing is gravely limited for a 'big-league' resort; and the ring of mighty peaks that surround it entail the village doesn't truly warm up until the spring. But while Zermatt has turned into something of an alpine theme park, Saas-Fee's limitations have allowed it to keep its traditional character, with cozy restaurants and hotels on the main street mixed with rustic 17th-century barns, hanging a few feet off the ground to stop the rats from getting in. The barns are now vacated and the rats are long gone, but they've left behind one of the most attractive ski resorts in Europe, not to mention some of its most snowsure slopes.
The glaciers that fence Saas-Fee mean the main ski area, which rises from the village up to a breathtaking 3,500m at the top of Allalin, is quite long and really thin, with pistes threading their way alongside a dramatic high-alpine landscape of crevasses and seracs. But having a vertical drop of 1,700m, guaranteed snow, top-class snowboard facilities and some of the most sensational scenery in the Alps, there's more than enough to entertain most standards for a week.
Bashful skiing novices have some great nursery slopes at the edge of the village, within walking distance of a warming gluhwein at one of the many bars that line the snowfront, but anyone else will prefer to go for the heights. Main mountain access is through the queue-busting Alpin Express gondola/cable-car hybrid, which brings skiers up to Felskinn at 3,000m. From here, there are some endearing sweeping reds back down to the village, or take the chance to get even higher and break three world records while you're at it. First take the world's highest underground funicular, the Metro Alpin, up to a dizzying 3,500m. While this may be an amazing feat of engineering, there's a lot of walking at both end of the ride which, at this elevation, decreases its appeal. When you're at the top, you may take a break in the world's highest revolving restaurant at Mittelallalin. As you would expect, prices match the altitude but the food's pretty good and you do get to rotate slowly through 360° throughout lunch. Lastly, you could visit the world's largest ice pavilion, an impressive maze of ice sculptures. You can even get married in the glacier chapel.
For a patch of post-nuptial exercise, the pistes down from Mittelallalin are primarily gentle blues and reds served by a series of T-bars and draglifts (shifting glaciers mean chairlifts are a no-no). You can go back down towards Felskinn or across to the other main lift artery up from the village at Langfluh. When you get to Langfluh, choices are limited - you can either head back up toward Mitellallin, try the tricky red/black descent to the village 1,000m below or test your knees out on the unprepared mogul piste under the Langfluh chairlift.
Saas-Fee's third ski area, Plattjen, comprises of a lonely gondola ride up to 2,580m and a rare sighting of trees on the way down its steep slopes, which include a few short blacks and an FIS slalom competition run where you can test your turning circle on. Plattjen isn't almost as snowsure as the rest of the ski area, but its underused pistes are decidedly worth a visit during or after a snowstorm. If you're planning to embark off-piste, do hire a guide so you don't end up in your very own ice palace - crevasse danger is quite real.
A lot of of Saas-Fee's mountain dining places, like Morenia, are no more than glorified cafeterias having inflated prices and standard self-service fare, but there are some exceptions. Popcorn Plaza, at Langfluh, is a popular boarder hangout having great glacier views, decent food and supremely comfortable deckchairs on the sun terrace. Up at 3,500m, Mittelallalin is haute, haute cuisine with views to die for and prices that are not quite wallet friendly. For lesser mortals there's a standard snacking place below. Halfway down from Spielboden, up a forest path off the piste, is the charming Gletschergrotte, which dishes out traditional mountain treats in delightfully rustic surroundings.
Saas-Fee is a big snowboarders' hangout, winter and summer, from Popcorn bar and board shop in the main square to the brilliant snowpark high up on the glacier. The park is groomed year round and fitted out with a half-pipe and quarter-pipe, plus a decent range of rails and tables.
Saas-Fee's fine-looking streets make it an appealing place to be a non-skier. Additionally, there's an entire mountain, the gondola-served Hannig, dedicated to non-skiing delights like hiking, paragliding and sledging, including a 5km night sledge run twice a week. Back down in the village the Romantik Hotel Beau-Site's wellness centre will soothe your every ache, while the well-equipped Bielen public leisure centre features a 25m indoor pool, sauna, steam bath, tennis and badminton. Back outside, thrill-seekers may slip off to Feeblitz, which is an all-weather bobsleigh-on-rails, or the ice rink.
Dining in Saas-Fee
For a piece of rustic romance, head along a path through the woods towards Saas-Almagell and you'll get to the enchanting Bodmen restaurant, a country inn that serves up wonderful dishes from fondue to fillet steak and features 'a glass panel into a lively barn with small farm animals, so one can watch the goings and doings of rabbits, small poultry, guinea pigs and cats for hours. Back in town Arvu-Stuba is a nice place to dip your bread, with everything from cheese to curry fondue on the menu, plus friendly staff and simple decor. For something a little more urbane, Boccalino's pizzeria has cheap pizzas in slick surroundings. Gourmands might want to book in advance to visit the much-lauded Fletschhorn. Their speciality, chicken roasted in straw, is sublime, as are the cheeses like truffle-flavoured chevre.
Saas-Fee's skiing might be limited, but its apres-ski is ample, with everything from stand-in-your-skiboots gluhwein stops to trendy board bars. If you like the idea of a little of horizontal after all that vertical, you could then join all the other nobodies on the snowfront at the No-one bar, which has brought the living room to the piste with sofas and armchairs in the snow. Other popular spots for post-piste drinks are the Hotel Burgener and Hotel Zur Muhle, both featuring outdoor terraces and an avalanche of gluhwein. If it's tea and cakes you're after, then move along to Teehaus Domino, in the middle of the village. It's a long trek from the lifts, but worth it for home-made apfelstrudel with vanilla ice-cream. Afterwards, the Popcorn Bar & Shop, below the hip Hotel Dom, is the place to park your board, with great music, billiards, darts, mojitos and a snowboard shop attached for late-night waxing. If that all seems a bit too trendy, then the nearby Alpen Pub is an underground joint with live sports, decently priced beer and cowbells for lights.
The five-star Ferienart Resort is the smartest address in town, with four restaurants, in-house shopping, plus a superb spa and 'nude zone'. Other ideal four-stars include the Schweizerhof and the Metropol, both of which have pools. You could also for the Herbert Ypma-recommended Hotel Dom in the main square. All rooms have satellite TV, CD player and Playstation, plus there's a sauna and internet access. If you want something a little more traditional, then the basic but comfortable Park Hotel shouldn't clear out your Swiss bank account.
Not all Saas-Fee hotels are expensive. Check out Hotel Bristol Saas Fee which is situated opposite the ski and snowboard meeting point, the ice hockey and curling rink. The hotel is well known for its excellent cuisine and a well selected wine-list in a pleasant atmosphere. Rates start at $95 / person.
Hotel Britannia is situated near the Saas-Fee Ski Resort and Saas-Grund Ski Resort. Pets are welcome in this hotel. Rates start at $169 / night.
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