Traditionally, European skiing holidays include a lot of fondue, rich food and mulled wine, but one hotel in the Swiss alps is trying to introduce a healthier, eco-friendly concept to the skiing industry.
Perched close to the Obersee lake, in the small town of Arosa, is the new four-star Valsana.
You might associate this part of the world with neighbouring playground of the uber-rich, St Moritz. But the more unassumingly alpine resort of Arosa, nestled at 1,775m in the Schanfigg Valley, has much to offer skiers too.
The original hotel - built in 1900 and knocked down in 2015 - has been replaced by an eco-powerhouse, running on 95% recycled energy, with a self-sufficient CHF 2 million (£1.5m) Thermal Energy Storage (TES) system - only the second of its kind in the country.
The eco philosophy runs through every fibre of the hotel - from the chunky wood furniture, floors and exterior, all made with trees from the surrounding area, to the staff uniforms and artwork, which are made locally too. Even the extremely comfortable beds are eco-friendly - the mattresses are made from natural coconut fibres, rather than artificial materials.
The rooms have a touch of fashionable Brooklyn about them - natural wood, industrial-chic chairs and cosy, colourful fabrics. Not to mention the record player and a selection of vinyl (my soundtrack for the weekend was Johnny Cash and The Smiths). Although it’s certainly high end, it still feels homely and is a world away from the lavish grandiose of sister property the five-star Tschuggen Grand, the oldest property in the region, which is a five-minute drive away.
The carbon neutral system works by drawing waste heat energy, from devices like kitchen appliances and air conditioning units, into a network of pipes to absorb excess energy.
This is sent to a water tank underneath the hotel where, in a complex process of freezing and thawing, heat energy is removed and used to power the hotel - producing zero emissions (pretty impressive when you consider all the elements of a hotel - restaurant kitchens, swimming pools, lighting and heating - that need a lot of energy).
Three full-time staff run the system below the hotel, built with the help of a government grant. “It feels good that we’re doing the right thing,” Leo Maissen, chief development officer, says as he shows me around.
In another effort to be green, public transport is free of charge in Arosa, so guests can hop on a bus outside the hotel to take the five-minute journey to the cable car for skiing.
Immediately around Arosa are 43 miles of easily accessible slopes, and this was one of the first operating ski areas in the region. Many repeat tourists (mainly Swiss and Belgian) return again and again for the pleasant conditions created by the sheltered mountain face, which is protected from strong winds and heavy cloud cover. Here, the sun shines all morning, reaping the benefits of getting snow earlier than the surrounding areas thanks to its position at the top of the Schanfigg Valley. (There’s plenty to ski on in early December.)
With it’s long, lazy blue runs and a few more challenging reds, this area is sufficient for a weekend break and suited to intermediate skiers. But it’s limited, particularly for complete beginners. Thankfully, a gondola now connects the traditional Arosa pistes to Lenzerheide, which means skiers now have access to 150 miles of slopes, including some black runs.
By 3pm, the piste clears out - probably something to do with the -12 degrees Celsius temperatures - meaning it’s time to to relax in the Valsana spa. The pool is exactly what ski resort hotel pool dreams are made of - floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the mountains. You’ll find similarly wintry views from the hotel’s two saunas (one 60 degrees Celsius and one 90 degrees Celsius), a steam room, gym and fitness studio.
While you might be used to digging into a fondue after a cold day on the slopes, the menu at Valsana’s only restaurant, Twist, has a lighter and more holistic approach. “It’s about natural ingredients and wellbeing. We want people to slow down when they come here, and feel at home,” says general manager Renate Blaser.
Unlike in many restaurants and hotels, catering for vegetarian or vegan customers isn’t an afterthought; the bulk of the menu is plant-based with the option to add fish or meat, and many of the indulgent desserts are vegan (not that you’d ever know).
The black and red lentil soup with ginger and fennel, CHF 15 (£11.50), is one of the best soups I’ve had and the virtuous ‘green bowl’ with spinach, feta, pumpkin, avocado, figs and walnuts, CHF 21 (£16), is worth a try too. Meat lovers aren’t forgotten about though - the grilled sirloin steak with herb butter, CHF 55 (£42), is top-notch.
Guests on on half-board can buy a ‘dine-around’ option which includes the four restaurants at Tschuggan Grand.
On piste, the creamy-as-you-like cheese fondue at Hornlihutte (not included in the dine around option, but another on piste cafe, Alpenblick, is) makes the perfect mid-ski rest bite.
How to get there
SWISS (swiss.com; 0345 601 0956) flies from Heathrow to Zurich from £74 one-way. The Swiss Transfer Ticket, from £112 second class, covers a round-trip between the airport/Swiss border and Arosa. Call the Switzerland Travel Centre on 00800 100 200 30 or visit swisstravelsystem.co.uk. Valsana Hotel & Apartments (valsana.ch/en; +41 81 378 6363) have rooms from CHF 380 (£292) per night, based on two adults sharing on a B&B basis. A one-bedroom apartment costs from CHF 670 (£515) per night, based on two adults and two children under 12 sharing on a B&B basis, with a daily cleaning service (minimum seven-night stay). The dine around option is an additional CHF 55 (£42) per person, per night.