Ski weekend in Scuol: skiing, sledging and wellness

The view is irresistible - a crowd of wispy pine trees hikes up the steep slope, bearing snow on their shoulders and sun on their crowns, striving for the jagged band of classic summits above - and it's a good job ... the man berating us is as naked as the day he was born. Perched on a bench in the panoramic sauna, he orders us to fetch towels to put beneath our feet, "or the wood will get wet". I try to keep my eyes on the scenery outside without appearing bad-mannered. Hang on, though - I shouldn't be the one feeling rude: he should! "Why don't you fetch something to protect your modesty?" I want to retort. But I don't. I just fetch a towel, my cheeks burning like a naughty schoolchild. I hate naked wellness: it's something that will always make me uncomfortable in Germanic places.

This particular 'wellness troll' wasn't to ruin our evening, though. After a hard day's skiing, we weren't going to be deterred from the otherwise glorious spa at Hotel Arnica in Scuol, a village tucked into a natural sunny basin in the Lower Engadine in the Swiss canton of Graubünden. A charming three-star on the edge of the village, Arnica is one of the nicest hotels we have stayed at. It offers reasonable rates without sacrificing comfort: all rooms, which have traditional wooden details and beds you don't want to get out of, boast balconies. Meanwhile, there are practical touches such as kettles - always handy when you are a Brit afoot. We started our weekend on the blue pistes at Motta Naluns, the ski area that reaches 2,785m above Scuol. I love these pistes: they're wide, flat enough so as not to freak me out, and have invariably excellent snow conditions. Add to these qualities that they look onto the wildly romantic peaks of the Swiss National Park, and it's hard to imagine a lovelier ski resort.
Later that afternoon, we munched cake by local Scuol baker Peder Benderer (don't miss the Naiv d'Engiadina, a gooey blend of nuts and praline), before descending to dine at Hotel Traube in the old town. Scuol's old town is a honeycomb of squares dotted with fountains, and cubic Engadiner properties decorated with sgraffito. Hotel Traube didn't disappoint. We dined in a wood-panelled Stube full of interesting sculptures and artwork - me on monkfish with basil risotto, and Tim on venison with vegetables and cauliflower cheese. The food was outstanding.
The following day, before checking out, we wake up, breakfast behind the hotel's vast panoramic windows, and head off sledging. From the top of the Motta Naluns cable car, a high-altitude walk through snow-deep woodland brings us to Prui, where we jump on our sledges and hurtle between trees down 3.5km of gentle pisted path to Ftan. It's an overused expression, but the setting is truly Narnia-esque. We may have encountered a wellness troll to give us nightmares, but we're leaving with our heads full of wintry dreams.

How to do Zurich on a budget

I'm faced with the same quandary every time we have visitors in Zurich: what can we do that won't break the bank? It's an expensive place - fine if you work here and earn a Swiss salary; not fine if you are visiting from the UK. Train travel is the biggest drain on cash: when Dad and Will visited earlier this month, I looked for 'Sparbillette' tickets on the SBB website, which give a discount on train fares. Sadly none were available, so we limited the amount we travelled. Luckily, there are plenty of options in the city itself that won't break the bank.
1. UETLIBERG: One sunny day, we took the train to the top of Zurich's local mountain Uetliberg and walked along the ridge, enjoying panoramas of the lake. It was a little icy underfoot, but thankfully the path is not very steep. We kept high, navigating woodland and agricultural land, until we descended through sun-drenched pastures to Leimbach (this is in zone 10, so don't buy a return ticket to Uetliberg - the single will set you back enough).
2. CLIMB THE GROSSMUNSTER: For CHF 4 each, we climbed the 187 steps and 62 metres to the top of one of the Grossmünster's elegant twin towers. The minster was central to the Swiss-German Reformation, and its ornately adorned exterior belies a suitably stark interior. Views from the south tower are awe-inspiring: during our visit, we enjoyed clear skies and panoramas that stretched down the lake, up to the Dolder Grand hotel on Zürichberg, and all the way across the industrial quarter around Hardbrücke.
3. VISIT THE ZOO: It's not exactly a pinch at CHF 26 for adult entry, but it offers value for money. Zurich Zoo boasts an impressive array of animals in respectable-looking enclosures. We chuckled at an orang-utan putting a small cardboard box on its head before trying to climb into said box - obviously a size issue there; watched snow leopards delving into parcels of food dotted around their enclosure; and wanted to gaze endlessly at the playful seals bobbing their heads above the surface. Perhaps most impressive, however, was the new elephant park: the 6,800 square metre roof, which looks like a giant convex pretzel, conceals a leafy space for the six elephants. They even have their own swimming pool.
4. TAKE A BOAT TRIP: Pick the right day, and a boat trip with the ZSG on Lake Zurich can make you think you are on the Med. We enjoyed a short round trip (less than CHF 9 per person for 1.5 hours) on a delightfully sunny day. There was scarcely a breeze on the water; we enjoyed the sun on our faces as the ferry glided along past the enviable lakeside villas.
Other small treats to enjoy include freshly squeezed orange juice from Coop on Bahnhofstrasse (CHF 3 for a small bottle) and a light lunch at the traditional Zeughauskeller, where you can have homemade broth for around CHF 10.

Sledging at Moléson, Gruyeres

It's hard to imagine a more pristine winter wonderland: a jagged summit soars towards the clouds above a landscape of rolling hills deep in snow. It is a Sunday in early March, and we (me and Tim, and Dad and Will) are standing at the top of the sled run on Moléson, a 2,000-metre mountain above the renowned cheese-making village of Gruyeres in Canton Freiburg. In summer, the pastures are studded with small-scale dairies and grazing cattle wearing jangling bells; today, after a flurry of snowfall, the landscape is white and unblemished - the kind of scene you'd find on a Christmas card. It's silent, too, until we set off ...

We hurtle along, descending the four kilometres of snow-deep piste, whooping with delight and chuckling as one or the other of us loses balance and ends up stuck in the verge. It's all the funnier, as Dad looks a little tin man-turned-Bond baddy with his vintage mountaineering sunglasses and Buff headwear! There are occasional breaks in the trees, allowing for glimpses of Moléson, which looks Matterhorn-esque, its sheer face piercing through the haze.

If its setting is to die for, the sled run's gradient is a dream: never too steep, but steep enough to keep going. All too soon we reach the end. Evening is falling; if it weren't, we'd take the funicular back up for another go ... P.S. Don't judge us on the photo below: Will said do 'Blue Steel' à la Zoolander, and Dad and I took it too seriously ...
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