Reinventing the chalet-hotel wheel, Valsana in the Swiss ski resort of Arosa has let trad Alpine stuffiness melt away with last year’s piste. In its place is a fun, fabulous design, with botanical prints, industrial accents and bold reclaimed pieces. The restaurant caters to every kind of traveller (vegans, gluten-phobes and clean-eaters will all be fed well here), and the hotel’s eco credentials are heroic. The Arosa-Lenzerheide ski area has 225 kilometres of slopes to throw yourself down – in summer, it’s all about the watersport-friendly lake and its surrounding hiking trails.
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm, also flexible.
Double rooms from £192.07 (CHF243), including tax at 3.6 per cent.
Rates usually include breakfast.
The train from Chur (can we call it the chur-chur train? Sorry) is the stuff of Swiss chocolate-box dreams: be sure to sit on the right on the way up and on the left on the way down for the best snowy views.
Mid April until the end of June, and from the end of September until the beginning of December. (Exact dates for 2018: 8 April to 22 June and 23 September to 7 December.)
At the hotel
Free WiFi throughout, indoor tennis court, gym, yoga. In rooms: flatscreen TV, iPod dock, free bottled water, complimentary soft-drink minibar, Nespresso coffee machine, tablet with hotel information.
Our favourite rooms
Private balconies, oak parquet floors, Aztec-print throws and on-point furniture (eg: aviator egg chairs) ensure there’s no trace of twee Alpine trad here. We love the split-level Loft Junior Suites, which have a balcony and bath tub all helpfully arranged to frame the peaky landscape. Even the entry-level suites are a decent size. Families and groups should book the multi-room apartments, which can have extra beds added to sleep up to six.
The spa has a heated family-friendly pool, with a wall of windows showcasing the slopes.
There’s a much-needed spa ready to soothe boot-weary limbs after a day on the piste, with a steam room, sauna and three treatment rooms for Clarins rituals. Yoga and fitness classes are held regularly, and there’s a sports club with personal trainers and Technogym machines.
The usual mountain-friendly suspects, plus cosy cashmere for elegant après-ski attire and your gym kit for the PTs to put you through your paces in the flashy sports club.
The hotel is accessible for wheelchairs, except for the pool and tennis hall. Some of the rooms have specially adapted bathrooms.
All ages welcome. Extra beds and cots can be added to some Junior Suites. There are several ski schools in Arosa to start them young. Swimming aids and inflatables can be borrowed in the pool, and the hotel has sledges for toddlers.
All food is locally sourced and seasonal where possible (harder than it looks at 1,800 metres above sea level) – only European wines are served and all of the bread and dairy produce comes from Arosa. Electricity comes courtesy of the local hydro-power plant. The heating system is one of the most environmentally friendly in Europe – the hotel uses geothermal probes and captures waste heat (from other appliances and activities) that’s then stored in an ice battery until it’s needed.
Out on the sun terrace if you’re factor-50’d-up or mountain gazing through the windows.
Anything that matches your moon boots.
Twist takes more of the hotel’s signature polished oak floors, hanging lamps, leather chairs and colourful wall fabrics and throws them all together – in a good way. Breakfast is served here; expect a calorific spread of bread, cakes, muesli, smoothies, porridge, eggs and meats to get you through till your first piste-side pitstop. Allergies are well catered for and there are plenty of interesting healthier options should you want them, including pick-your-own-protein salad bowls, vegan-friendly chocolate mousse and unusual-but-tasty dishes such as beetroot couscous with hazelnuts and buttermilk. A New York-based company is behind the music and there are regular DJs and live sets.
There’s a bar area in Twist, where you can enjoy local gins and wines, including a Swiss sparkling wine made with pinot noir. Food is served here, either from the main restaurant or a series of après-ski snacks, such as steak sandwiches or a falafel salad.
Breakfast is served in Twist from 7.30am until 11am. Food is served in the lounge and bar all day until 11pm. Lunch in the main restaurant is between 11.45am and 1.45pm; dinner is from 6pm until 9.30pm. The bar calls time at midnight.
The hotel is in the alpine village of Arosa, in the Swiss canton Graubunden.
As with most ski resorts, the nearest airport is a significant descending drive away – the one up from Zurich International will take two hours. Hotel transfers in a Mercedes can be arranged on request.
From Zurich, change trains in Chur and board the small mountain-wending Rhaetian Railway to Arosa – the views are incredible. And it’s not the quickest way to arrive, but you can bet your Swiss-made watch it’ll run like clockwork. The station in Arosa is a three-minute drive from Valsana (pick-ups are complimentary; just let the team know what time you’ll be arriving).
Chur is the closest town, a 45-minute drive away. There’s an underground carpark at the hotel; parking costs 18 francs during the winter, 10 in summer.
There’s a helipad a five-minute drive from the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
Valsana is within the expansive Arosa-Lenzerheide ski area, which has a whopping 225 kilometres of runs. The closest cable car, Weisshorn, is 10 minutes away on foot; there’s also a free sports bus stop in front of the hotel that will cart you directly to the lifts. Stay on the bus a bit longer to read the Kulmand Hörnli Express ski areas. When you’re finished flying through powder for the day, make your way down one of the slopes that leads directly to the hotel. Ski-in, indeed. Back at the hotel, guests can attend a yoga class, use the spa or join one of the film nights in the lounge (popcorn included). Other wintry activities include snowshoeing and ice golf on the lake. In summer, there are several hiking and mountain biking trails to enjoy – guests can borrow one of the hotel's mountain bikes (free) or e-bikes (CHF20 for a half day, CHF40 for a full day) – and there are pedalos and watersports on the lake.
Pay homage to everyone’s favourite Swiss cereal with a visit to Alpenblick on the slopes, where the wood-burning grill will ensure adequate ski sustenance is provided. It also wins the prize for restaurant with the most inventive ways to reach it: on skis for lunch, by horse-drawn carriage for dinner and a toboggan race back to the village afterwards. For hearty meals mountainside, try Motta Hütte, or the teen-friendly burgers at Sit Hütte. Other dining and drinking spots close to Valsana include Bullrian and Gütterschuppen.
No ski holiday is complete without a rave in your salopettes, AKA après-ski. In Arosa, the best place to crack the magnums of rosé at 4pm is Kuhbar; and if you’re still going later, head to the town’s hottest nightclub, Wandelbar.
Nudity. Every romance needs it. Lasting ones depend on it. But this amorous weekend started with a little more than Mrs Smith had bargained for.
‘Darling, there’s a naked man in the shower!’ she proclaimed, her eyebrows arched to the heavens. For a moment, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. There were many things I thought I’d learn on this trip to Arosa, an above-the-clouds Alpine retreat in the Swiss canton of Graubünden. Finding out what lurked inside the swim shorts of a German guest was not one of them.
Travel demands an open-mind, of course. It teaches you how to expect the unexpected. How to adapt to adverse circumstances. How to roll with the punches. And here we were, now familiar with the spa rituals of one of Valsana Hotel’s more flagrant clientele. Ditching your small ones is commonplace in European saunas and steam rooms. That, we both knew. But perfect loin cloth squares are provided to cover your dignity. And Mrs Smith and I certainly didn’t want to see… well, the frankfurter without the bun.
So how to wipe the vision from memory after our post check-in spa dash? The first sight of the shimmering Untersee lake and Weisshorn peak next morning, and Mrs Smith started to soften. Ensconced in an aviator egg chair, poised beside our private balcony, she began to fall in love with the Swiss Alps again. The chalet-style hotel sat wrapped in a summer’s meadow, framed by a ridge of pyramid-like peaks, the middle distance covered with cows grazing on sloping pastures as their bells jangled in the breeze. In winter, of course, this transforms into a ski resort, with 225 kilometres of snow-dusted slopes to assail. But either way, this was the Switzerland we’d hoped for.
The playful room design, a spin on the traditional Alpine chalet, helped thaw her out, too. On many ski holidays past, Mrs Smith had hated the stuffiness of the mountain huts, the bare bones aesthetic of heart-shaped farmhouse chairs, gingham tablecloths and marionette dolls. But here there was not a flower box or fondue set in sight: this was Soho House meets the Swiss Alps.
In our Junior Suite, she loved the bold Aztec throws and botanical wall prints. As well as the cinema-sized TV, I made a beeline for the the suitcase-box record player and pre-selected vinyl. I brewed her a fresh Nespresso, peeking outside to make sure those mountain views didn’t disappear. She padded across the oak parquet floor to select a Lionel Richie LP. Her choice? ‘Endless Love’. Things were looking up.
From lobby to lounge, the hotel turned out to be the ultimate Alpine fantasy. Given a complete overhaul from the trustworthy Tschuggen group, it reopened in the winter 2017 with 40 rooms and nine family apartments, a worthy newcomer to the sometimes-staid mountain scene. Outside, there were trails to hike, bike or buzz down at full throttle, but inside the narrative was very different. The design was industrial: a testament to the nation’s obsession with post-modern, sustainable design. Every inch had been considered and nothing was accidental. Trust the Swiss to power a hotel with an energy concept consisting of geothermal probes and an ice battery. Impressive.
The open-plan restaurant Twist, with its walk-around bar, polished counter and guilt-free menu was a safe space for veggies, vegans, gluten-bores and clean-eaters. As well as channeling the vibe of a New York hipster deli, it was framed by top-to-toe windows, which let the morning and afternoon light flood in. Over dinner, we found ourselves elbow distance away from our German friend once more. And what a hoot that was. ‘You know,’ Mrs Smith whispered, while hovering her fork, ready to spike a perfectly-rounded gnocchi from her bowl, ‘We’ve seen all his bits.’
The rain falling gently the next morning, we paid little lip service to the tennis court and headed instead back to the spa. Would this time prove different? Mrs Smith and I had hit the jackpot. We found ourselves alone in its luxurious, reclaimed pine lair, soothed by a herbal footbath and an ice rubdown. Afterwards, naked and perspiring in the aromatherapy sauna, we were transported beyond the windows, straight into the Arosa forest and up to the sky-high peaks.
The temptation to hike above the clouds for a leg stretch lingered. But I was more inclined to savour the dream-like steam with a very nude Mrs Smith. Naked romance, in its purest form.