Run for the hills! Experience Summer in the mountains with our alternative holiday guide

When we think about the Alps, the first thing we picture is usually snow, skiing and schnapps! But there’s a lot more to holidaying in the mountains than this!…In these pandemic times where much of the world is inaccessible through travel restrictions, but most staycation accommodation is already booked up, we spoke to travel experts about their recommendations for a fantastic Summer break. The results? Head to the hills for clean air, world class cuisine and breathtaking natural beauty. We have picked their brains and also spoken to experts on the ground to suggest to you 5 locations that you may not have considered, but could just provide the backdrop to your most spectacular holiday yet….

The Swiss Alps have long been known for their health-boosting properties. Not only do they offer a mood-boosting combination of green and blue spaces, which studies have shown can reduce anxiety and sadness, but they also offer an abundance of open space, stunning panoramas and stillness, allowing us to reconnect with nature in a way that is forgotten and yet vital, especially for city-dwellers. The scale of the mountains, the clean air at high altitudes and the glorious floral meadows should never be underestimated.

So our first location is Zermatt, in the German-speaking district of Visp. With just 5800 inhabitants and located at the foot of Switzerland’s highest peaks, Zermatt is famous for mountaineering and of course skiing. Cable cars and chairlifts carry skiers and hikers across peaks and even across the border into Italy. The Gornergrat Bahn rack railway line, the highest open-air railway in Europe, runs up to the summit of the Gornergrat and has spectacular views.

An abundance of activities awaits – you can even do Summer skiing Take the gondola from Zermatt to the Klein Matterhorn, where you can enjoy various snow sports along 21km of pistes. Zermatt – Matterhorn offers the largest and highest altitude summer ski areas in Europe. Freestyle fans also enjoy the summer Zermatt Snowpark, one of the highest Freestyle spots and among the best snow parks in the Alps. It is not unusual to meet famous skiers from around the world in the Zermatt – Matterhorn summer ski area as they take advantage of the perfectly prepared pistes, fast runs and downhill slopes as they train for the next Winter season.

Zermatt’s mountain world is as fascinating as it is varied. Offering nearly 400 kilometres of marked hiking and mountain trails around Zermatt, Täsch and Randa, hikers and climbers of all levels can enjoy the different degrees of difficulty, climbs and distances.

Children love Wolli’s Adventure Park, a place for them to experience the freedom of mountain discovery and natural adventure. There are many games and activities for the whole family, such as an adventure playground, marmot watching, grilling with the family or swimming in a mountain lake. Or for something a little different, why not try a laser clay shoot experience in a stunning and secluded mountain meadow?

Perhaps the highlight of any trip (and most definitely popular with lovers of the film ‘Frozen’) would be a visit to the Glacier Palace. Be drawn into the world of eternal ice at this fairytale setting, surrounded by exquisitely created ice sculptures and centuries-old ice formations. Groups can arrange to have exclusive use of the new Star Lounge for gatherings of to 25 people with aperitifs. Instagram opportunities don’t get much better!

Zooom the Matterhorn is a virtual hand gliding experience, allowing visitors to effortlessly soar across the mountains and experience the wonder of the Alps from the safety of a chair. Perfect for avid explorers and perhaps those slightly less mobile, it’s an opportunity to make the most of this incredible setting.

One of the highlights of the cultural calendar is the Folklore Festival that will happen this year on Sunday 15th August. Visitors can experience Alphorn, yodelling, traditional costumes and Schwyzerörgeli, plus Upper Valais groups will be sharing their traditions in music, dancing and colourful costumes from times gone by. The parade through Zermatt is undoubtedly a highpoint of the day!

Gastronomy enthusiasts will revel in the selection of restaurants, from homely local Swiss places to creative fine dining. After Seven has been awarded 1 Michelinstar and 17 Gault Millau points, with multiple award winning star cuisine by chef Ivo Adam. Mountain restaurants that never fail to delight are Zum See, Chez Vrony and Findlerhof.

Where to stay, we hear you ask? Zermatt of course has an impressive selection of hotels and chalets, but our top 3 recommended places are Zermatt Peak, Chalet Les Anges and Chalet Tuftra Findelbach.

Surrounded by majestic mountains, Chalet Les Anges is without doubt one of the most beautiful chalets in Zermatt and brings accommodation in the resort to a new level of luxury. Sleeping 14 across 7 bedrooms, it sits on the best possible position in the Petit Village, at the closest point to the town and with unsurpassed views of the Matterhorn and Zermatt below. It is full of light with large panoramic windows to take advantage of some spectacular views. A great feature for Summer is the terrace, ideally set on the Southern side of the chalet featuring a barbecue and a large table for 14 guests.

The Chalet features a generous, serene and calm wellness area. It includes sauna, hamman/steam room, a relaxation area and a massage room. The relax zone features a fountain and ornamental pond and is clad in a luxurious Italian marble. Outside there is a 3 metre square all year heated pool with massaging jets and other features, perfect to soothe the joints after a day’s hiking. 

Another fantastic option is Verbier. In the summertime, there are 400 km of hiking trails and hikers can follow the tracks of the chamois and ibex through the mountains, some of them covered with snow all year round. There are 200km of mountain bike piste and other activities include climbing, hiking, paragliding, swimming, golf, badminton, ice karting and trips aboard the mountain railways in the area. There is also a climbing wall for children!

Horse riding is a wonderful experience at Verbier and the Riding School is open every day in the Summer, catering for riders of all ages and abilities. A tour through the mountains by horseback might just be the best antidote to almost a year of being stuck at home… 

The Verbier Festival is back with 17 days of the best in live classical music. A highlight of the Summer calendar, the event is hugely popular and attracts music lovers from far and wide. Visitors of all-ages can experience more than 200 concerts and events: orchestral and operatic performances at Salle des Combins, intimate recitals at the Verbier Église, public masterclasses led by great masters, as well as inspiring talks, children’s programmes and concerts in nature. This year it runs from 16th July to 1st August.

One of our favourite dining experiences at Verbier is the Terrace at the Relais & Chateau hotel Chalet d’Adrien. The large terrace resides over Verbier and offers an incomparable panorama of the snowy mountains, the perfect setting for a delicious lunch after a morning or hiking or skiing. Tea time is a real treat, with a wide choice of Waffles and Crepes d’Adrien, a large buffet of Tarts, Coffee, Tea and Chocolate of the Chalet. Sunday brunch is also highly recommended. Alternatively, Chez Dany offers traditional (but top level) Swiss fair in a charming chalet setting. Their fondue is legendary.

Verbier is full of world class chalets, but one of our favourites has to be Chalet Chouqui.  With uninterrupted views, this chalet really can claim to be unrivalled in its position and size. Chalet Chouqui is comprised of two interconnecting chalets with over 900sqm of internal floorspace.  

The 9 en suite bedrooms all have their own terrace or balcony which give dramatic views of the Mont Blanc Massif.  One of the bedrooms has hand-made beautiful wooden bunk beds, which sleep up to four guests. At 15m in length, Chalet Chouqui boasts one of the largest, if not the largest private indoor swimming pool in Verbier. 

The chalet also comes with a games room (table tennis and table football), a bar, a cinema room, outdoor hot tub, hammam and two sitting rooms with open fireplaces.  The extensive south-facing terrace is full of seating and relaxing loungers, making it the perfect place to enjoy the jaw-dropping views across to the Grand Combin all year round. The Chalet also boasts an impressive staff, including 2 chalet managers, 2 experienced chefs, 4 hosts and a 24h in-resort driving service.

Another option of destination might be Crans-Montana, located in the heart of the Swiss Alps in the French-speaking part of the canton of Valais. The resort is a fusion of the two centers of Crans and Montana and belongs to 6 municipalities. It is a charming place to visit in the Summer months and there are a host of activities and attractions to keep visitors entertained.

One of the biggest draws of Crans-Montana is golf. Three quality golf courses, a prestigious club, an indoor centre that is open all year round, a golf academy for all levels and ages, and the annual host of one of the most prestigious tournaments on the European tour, the Omega European Masters, are all on offer for golfing enthusiasts. This year the Omega European Masters is taking place from 26th to 29th August.

Ycoor will undoubtedly be the centre of attention during the summer as the whole area is transformed into a relaxed and friendly village square, with basketball courts, bowls, unihockey pitches, tennis tables,electric cars for children and a brand new mini-golf course. An indoor ice rink will also be open to the public. Crans-Montana’s famous marmot mascot Bibi will also be hosting the Maison et Jardins de Bibi, inviting children of all ages to his home for lots of entertainment and free activities such as crafts, games and a library corner. Another family favourite will be the Am Stram Gram , a family festival in the mountains. :Running from 14th to 18th July, the aim of the festival is to transport children into a world of games and immersive and participative adventures. 

Every Friday from 5pm throughout July & August there will also be Wine & Jazz nights in the Ycoor gardens, a lovely location to unwind an socialise. Or for Blues lovers, a free festival takes place on 6th and 7th August (postponed until 2022) at The Lake Moubra.

Wakeboard, Wakeskate, Water Ski and inflatable rings are very popular activities on the lake. Catering from 7 years upwards, this is the perfect way to stay active between delicious meals!

Each year “The Guest Tables” is a themed culinary walk/food festival, running from 24th-25th July. The best local chefs, such as Michelin starred Franck Reynaud, will be unleashing all their creativity and talent to showcase the high quality of local produce. This experience will prove to be even more astonishing as each season it will take place in a different & unusual location. On the banks of a lake, on a mountaintop, on a golf course or in the heart of a vineyard, the atmosphere will always be friendly, and the day will feature original entertainment which is sure to leave you with lasting gastronomic memories.

Diners are spoilt for choice at Crans-Montana, with a variety of settings and flavours to suit all. One of our favourites though is Chetzeron, quite literally a breath of fresh air. Meals here are entirely homemade and are inspired by traditional Alpine cuisine with contemporary touches. Slow food recipes can be enjoyed in the sun on the terraces or in the cozy setting of the various restaurant spaces. The proximity of producers, breeders and winegrowers is important to Chetzeron, that’s why they work almost exclusively with products from the region. For Summer, one of the standout features also has to be the 4 magnificent panoramic terraces, each with a unique purpose (the first offers large tables for lunch, the second has sun loungers for a relaxing aperitif, the third is equipped with hammocks for a nap and the last is exclusively reserved for breakfast!) For obvious reasons, this heavenly place is much sought-after, so booking is essential!

Our recommendation for Crans-Montana is to stay at The Ultima Chalets, a luxury ski chalet that can sleep up to 38 guests across two impeccably finished properties, in total privacy. The contemporary interior has no expense spared, with designer furniture, fittings, and art work worthy of a national gallery, this all has to the true exuberance of this stunning retreat.

This impeccable chalet is located in the Plan-Mayens area of Crans Montana, not far from the Crans Cry d’Er chairlift and the La Dent-Blanche restaurant.

Chalet 1 has 8 Master suites with ensuite bathroom and dressing room and 2 childrens dormatories, sleeping up to 10. Chalet 2 has 6 master bedroom suites with ensuite bathroom and dressing room. The whole property can sleep an impressive 38 guests. It has all the luxurious facilities you would expect from a property of this calibre and comes fully staffed with chef, hosts/ hostesses and a 24h driver.

If Switzerland doesn’t capture your heart, or perhaps for those already situated Stateside, we also recommend Aspen and Vail. Whilst the Uk government announces further safe travel routes, which we hope and expect to follow for the US relatively soon, this might also be a great location for those living outside the UK, for whom access to the US is easier.

:@danielbayer_photographer

Aspen is undoubtedly one of the most stunning ski resorts in America. Located in Colorado (and ofter referred to as Ajax by locals) and at only 673 acres, it is smaller than neighbouring resorts and retains a unique feel that harks back to the earlier days of recreational skiing in the state. Located within the White River National Forest, lending itself perfectly to biking and hiking, the area is perfect for Summer holidays as well as Winter. Mountainside yoga, music events, guided hikes,sightseeing and live outdoor music events keep any visitor occupied.

The Lost Forest is very popular with active visitors. Tucked in among the trees and rocks are an alpine coaster, zip lines, biking trails, ropes challenges and climbing walls. There are ponds to fish in, creeks to hike along, places to enjoy nature alone or in groups, two disc golf courses and passionate guides to help you find your next adventure.

Gondolas (the bubble variety rather than the boats!) are the perfect way to quickly climb a mountain and take in the view. From there you can access free outdoor activities, miles of trails and delectable on-mountain dining from the top at the Sundeck Restaurant, at the top of the gondola line. Operated by The Little Nell —Aspen’s only five-star, five-diamond hotel — the Sundeck takes full advantage of its mountaintop location in summertime with patio dining and extraordinary views over the Elk Mountains. 

Vail, also located in Colorado, is the third-largest single-mountain ski resort in the U.S.. Vail Village is modeled on Bavarian village styles with pedestrian streets, making it friendly and easy to navigate.

As well as the obvious hiking and biking, scenic gondola rides grant visitors access to Vail Mountain and various activities and restaurants there. Adrenaline junkies will love The Forest Flyer, a family-friendly rollercoaster that winds its way 3,400 feet down the mountain, following the natural contours of the landscape through the forest. At 8,250 feet above sea level, the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is the highest botanical garden in the United States.

There are also a variety of social events to enjoy, such as the Farmers Market and Art Show every Sunday (July to October), free weekly concerts (every Tuesday at the amphitheatre) and “Vail Craft Beer Classic” beer tasting festival, from 25th to 26th July.

Overall, ski destinations can be exciting and beautiful places to visit year round. So if travel restrictions have put the kibosh on your usual summer plans, perhaps consider one of these idyllic locations instead. There’s also the bonus of supporting a community who have lost two ski seasons worth of trade!

If you’d like to discuss any of the above resorts or accommodations, please reach out to the team at Oxford Ski

For any other summer holiday destinations or more general enquiries, feel free to email us and we’ll be happy to introduce you to our range of other Travel Partners (or find and contact them directly in the BBB app!)

(With thanks to the various locations, attractions and tourist boards for the photography – all rights retained).