Zermatt: Whirlpool with a Matterhorn view


Zermatt: The Omnia


Our treat: The OMNIA

The OMNIA was our treat on the final night in Zermatt: the rather luxurious hotel that I was to write a review of. It sits on a ledge perched above Zermatt, and has the most extravagant view of the village and the Matterhorn. It's peaceful and quiet, but in minutes you can be in the hustle and bustle below... thanks to a rather nifty elevator in the cliff that leaves from a candlelit cavern and takes you directly to the reception. The rooms have complimetray Kiehl's toiletries, a free third decanter of Bourbon, and memory foam mattresses by Tempur. Everything feels solid and well made, with solid wood panels.

In our room was a wooden free standing bathtub with a skylight above it. The whole interior was designed by Ali Tayar, a New York based architect and designer, and is designed to resemble the traditional American mountain lodge. The hotel had very turbulent beginnings, involving Heinz Julen, who I mentioned in my previous post - he initially designed the interior, but after 7 weeks of opening, the owner gutted the entire building to remove traces of Julen. All very scandalous. Upon arriving, you get a complimentary welcome drink on the sun terrace, and classical music is playing as you enter your room.

The wellness area is beautiful, all in black and low lit, with a pool that goes from indoor to outdoor, and a black marble whirlpool with view of the Matterhorn. Dinner was divine, and we had a cosy little alcove to ourselves. Downstairs is a cosy lobby and library, full of arty hardbacks and with an open fire. Oh, I forgot to mention the staff are all dressed in designer uniforms, very elegant and look nothing like your average hotel staff, Service is top-notch but informal, and whilst the place breathes unassuming elegance, it is very laid back and welcoming. Very very expensive, but I'd say worth it. At breakfast they serve home made croissants.. true pampering...

Zermatt: Kick-biking


Zermatt: The Matterhorn


The Matterhorn and more ...

The Matterhorn is almost a Swiss cliché; you see and hear about it everywhere. But seeing it in real life, up close and personal, it is easy to understand why everyone raves about it. Words can't describe its towering Toblerone like presence, standing alone and above the tiny village of Zermatt. My breath was taken away.. truly. Tim and I spent last weekend in Zermatt, all expenses paid courtesy of a 3,000 word travel article I am writing about this destination. We arrived in beautiful sunshine on Friday afternoon, and after being shown to our hotel, had a village tour. I admit, I had expected Zermatt to be one of those huge ski resorts that has lost all character and been consumed by strip clubs and loud bars. I couldn't have been more wrong.

It has a lovely traditional part, with old wooden houses, and the main street, whilst touristy, has character and local bakeries occupy most spots - as well as of course a few designer stores. Apparently it is the place for celebrities to go and get away from it all, and not be bothered by the paparazzi: above the village is a chic lodge, that costs something like 100,000 per week and the likes of the Beckhams stay there.. allegedly. Below it is a glossy looking hotel, the OMNIA, to whose luxury we were to be treated on Monday night.. more on that later. On Saturday morning we went skiing!

We left Zermatt in glorious sunshine and warmth, and travelled about 45 minutes in a cable car to reach the Klein Matterhorn, where you can ski on the glacier. It was one of my best experiences skiing yet.. my rental skis were very short (good for a beginner), and we were skiing looking at the Matterhorn ahead of us and Mont Blanc far in the distance to the right. Another active moment came on Sunday afternoon, when we went kick biking. This a strange, and seriously pointless, modern sport. You basically go downhill, on a sledging-like track, riding a bike with a big front wheel, a small back wheel and no seat.. yes, as crazy as it sounds. Tim really enjoyed it, but I thought it was a bit silly and I felt very shaky and unbalanced ... an experience I'm glad I've tried but didn't have to pay for.

Sightseeing moments were after a train ride up to the Gornergrat glacier, which has the best classic panoramas of the Matterhorn, as well as an observatory where you can star gaze at night. I was also fortunate to meet some very interesting people, including a lovely couple who run a bakery chain in Zermatt selling Matterhorn chocolates and a "mountain guide" fruit loaf, designed to give energy on the mountains. It has just won an award, and we can understand why.. definite fruity goodness.

Another interesting character was Heinz Julen, who is a Zermatt-based architect-cum-artiste, and has just built a modern hotel/ art gallery/ club in Zermatt called Backstage. Amongst its interesting features are a lift from the rooms into the club-cum-cinema downstairs and a wellness facility based on the seven days of creation. His trademark are unique chandelier creations; one has violins draping from it, and another forks. The hotel we stayed in for three nights was less than impressive, or maybe we have just become too big for our boots. All the staff were 15-year-old trainees, who kept dropping plates and forks, knocking over jugs of water, and had the more irritating English expressions. Lowlights including being served a crust of bread with melted cheese on top for dinner one evening, under the guise of a main course. We had a treat to come though...

An impressive panorama .. on a good day you can see to Mt. Blanc ...




Les Sources des Alpes


Into thermal waters ...

I truly came to appreciate the wonders of my job last weekend, during a three-day visit to Leukerbad, a pretty village tucked into a basin between sheer cliff faces at the heart of the Valais. That I arrived in sunshine, winding up a precarious road in the local bus, was no surprise - the Valais is bordered by 4,000m mountains, which prevents cloud from entering the Canton. The road winds through little hamlets, splashes of colour either side, and Leukerbad isn't visible until you get there. It's a secret wonderland, really. Ancient wooden buildings stand next to 1960's concrete blocks, and quaint streets wind past numerous vegetable gardens. And there is something else special about it too - it is home to 65 hot springs, eight of which are used in the village's array of thermal spas. Therein lay my task - research for an article about this concept of "wellness" in thermal waters.

It was the cliffs that made a first impression on me - they rise vertically around the village, huge jagged lumps of sculpted rock. If you look up, you see a Swiss flag, which looks tiny but is quite big, and marks the vertical ascent of the Via Ferrata, looming high above the village. The hotel was my next treat: a 5 star haven of large, airy rooms, fresh fruit laid out, and luscious bath robes. Heavenly treatment, and a thermal pool that I was dying to jump into. The hotel, Les Sources des Alpes, is the only Relais-Chateux in the world with it's own thermal spring. More on that later.

My first "job" was to ride in a cable car with the village's marketing manager to the top of the Gemmi Pass. This is a famous mountain pass that many literary greats have gushed about, including Guy du Maupassant and Mark Twain. It's a hair-raising ride, as the cable car rises over steep cliffs at break-neck speed. The view from the top, though, is just beautiful. You can see as far as the Matterhorn, and look along a panorama of enormous, snow-topped peaks. In the restaurant at the top, we enjoyed traditional "Rosti" - a dish of chopped up, fried potatoes.

After overcoming my vertigo during the ride down the mountain, it was time to enjoy some "wellness". David Kestens, the marketing manager, told me wellness was about enjoying fresh air and exercise, dining well and topping it all off with relaxation in thermal water. So to the hotel pool I went. The water is high in calcium and sulphate, meaning it is good for the bones. And you literally feel the need to sigh with pleasure as you step into it, and it envelopes every stressed or aching muscle.

Tim joined me later in the evening (having had to spend the day working - ha!), and we went to enjoy our first 5 star dining experience. We dressed to the nines, and felt let down when we noticed a couple wearing tracksuits! Never mind, at least the waiting staff had made an effort. I'll just say, the restaurant has been awarded the gault millau, and it shows. We dined like kings: I enjoyed plenty of fresh bread, salmon served with a courgette stuffed with saffron risotto, then an apricot creme brulee - not to mention the delicious Valais wine, Petite Arvine, which felt like silk in the mouth.

Our nutritious fine dining experience meant we awoke on Saturday feeling energetic enough - or crazy - to decide to walk up the Gemmi Pass. 1,000 metres of vertical, unrelenting ascent. And a truly magical experience. The path zigzags up the cliff, offering wonderful views, and we even saw what we think was a golden eagle dancing in the air above us. After that energetic excursion, the hotel treated me to a complete spa pampering. First of all, I sat in a massage bath, where jets of water course along every sinew and muscle; then I had a salt scrub to detox and cleanse; followed by a full body massage with luscious alpine creams. The hotel spa was amazing. It had a small outdoor pool, with a jacuzzi and a view across the cliffs, then an indoor pool, with the hot spring gushing directly into it from little fountains. The nicest thing was, it was so quiet. There was hardly anybody staying there, and it felt like true relaxation. The hotel was so quiet and calming - you could really escape from the stress of the city there.

Let me skip to a highlight of the following day. We visited Leukerbad's two largest public spas: the first, the Burgerbad, is all about fun, laughter and roller coaster slides into the thermal water. The other, the Lindner Alpentherme, is more grown up and designed for relaxation. We made like tourists and walked between the spas wearing our bath robes - we got away with it I think, because they had 5 stars on! At the Lindner, we had a very special "Roman-Irish Baths' experience. This is a two-hour treatment designed to warm the body and cool it again slowly, as you make your way between saunas, steam rooms and pools of different temperatures. In the middle you have a scrub with coffee granules, then a soap brush massage, involving soap being brushed into your skin, and rinsed off with a splash of warm water and a massage. The climax of the treatment is plunging into a pool of only 8oC! The only snag: you have to be naked. Tim and I were terrified, but actually, it was more pleasant than we expected. You quickly get used to the sensation, and the number of people in the complex at any one time is limited to about six.

I feel I've blabbered on enough now, so I guess you'll have to read my article to find out more ... I could go on for pages. But it's safe to say, this is a lifestyle to which I would like to become accustomed.
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