A Swiss Family Escape

"Lenzerheide, /’len.zer.hi.da/” has been a Swiss family favourite for years. It is one of the top 10 ski resorts in Switzerland but surprisingly is still relatively unknown in the UK. Claire Gill and her family travelled with Powder Byrne to Lenzerheide and by all accounts they had a holiday of a lifetime.

Lenzerheide’s most famous resident is passionate about its charms. Roger Federer has set up home amongst its mountain peaks and it has featured in more than one Bond movie. For serious skiers the big deal is that in 2014 Lenzerheide was connected to Arosa – giving access to 225 slopes over three stunning valleys. Just next door to St Moritz and only two hours from Zurich, this part of the Graubünden region is both stunning and wonderfully accessible.

We travelled with Powder Byrne, upmarket family specialists. Having not ‘done’ an arranged skiing holiday with a proper ski operator, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. “I’m sorry we might have to get you on quite an early flight Mrs Gill.” Used to 3.10am from Stansted I was ready for the worst. "It'll be 9.10 from Heathrow, is that do-able?" Are you kidding? I will be booking in for Gordon Ramsay's Plane Food breakfast hours before. It got even better when we arrived at the other end. Masses of red-jacketed smiley young people were ready to take our bags, show us to our minibus, complete with picnic, prosecco and toys for the children. We glided through the Zurich traffic and up we wound; up and up and with each sip of my prosecco, I relaxed into it all. Eye-spy with mountain goats kept the children amused as the road wound its way higher and higher until the Priva Alpine Lodge came into view. A sympathetically designed modern complex of apartments and chalets around a central reception and dining area, it was both slick and warmly welcoming. Cue yet more smiling young people for whom nothing was too much trouble. Never has sorting ski passes and kit been more straightforward. Our apartment had three double bedrooms, a plethora of bathrooms and a lovely big sitting room and kitchen with a huge balcony overlooking the slopes. We were in heaven.

The children were grouped by age before we arrived – there was a very comprehensive questionnaire pre-holiday to check the ability of each child to make sure they were in the right group for their ability. I had asked for my two eldest to be together so that the days wouldn’t seem too daunting but I needn’t have worried. The guides were super- friendly and positive so there was no time for much apprehension. Ronnie (aged 5) was in the Yetis, for tinies who had never skied before.

And as for us, group guiding is part of the Powder Byrne service. I wasn’t sure about the group skiing thing, but it turned out there is something very relaxing about being told where to go.

The brand new cable car that links Lenzerheide with Arosa is thankfully short, across a deep valley of craggy mountain tops. It is easy to ski across during a full ski day. Get there early and make the most of sunny runs and head back to Lenzerheide for lunch, or stay for the day. The majority of runs are blue and red, but the blacks are also very skier-friendly; super steep but few mogals.

For the children, even the highest lifts have nice blue runs to get to the next pit stop for hot chocolate and cake. The lifts all have delicious mouthfuls of names. Link them up in your mind with corresponding restaurants, of which there are plenty, and you’ve got the measure of the place. Urdenfürggli, next to ‘the one that does sublime burgers’, Piz Scalottas, just above ‘the best fondue in Switzerland’ and Arosa Weishorn, take off your skis and carry them a few steps up for custard millefeuille (local speciality pudding). Sitting in our favourite lunch spot, wrapped in sheepskin rugs sipping chilled Reisling in our sunglasses, we felt like something out of a Bond film ourselves.

And these are open wide slopes with hardly any people on them, no lift queues and barely an English voice to be heard. Cross-country skiing is a big thing here too, with 56km to langlauf your way through. There are moonlit toboganning runs, a 4km long night slope and a mass of things to do for children. There is an ice-skating rink in Lenzerheide itself and a great sports centre with a swimming pool and tunnel slides and an open-air Jacuzzi next to the piste, where you can all lie back and watch the exhausted skiers ski past in the afternoons. The activities really are endless, there is also mini golf which the kids loved and hydrotherapy for me. In the Summer mountain biking takes over. We were there over Easter so the beautiful flowers were starting to show through. It made me long to come back when the fields are full of edelweiss. There is plenty in the village to keep everyone amused, including a delicious bakery and a toy shop with real native Schleich animals, much to the children’s delight. The food at the Priva Alpine Lodge is delicious. With three different restaurants my husband and I enjoyed a romantic evening (while the children were happily occupied by the lovely Powder Byrne babysitter) at the fine dining option; the fondue hut was an all-round favourite and the main family restaurant proved a hit with great children's portions for hungry boys.

If you feel like eating out beyond your own hotel there are lots of places to choose from like the Grand Hotel with its roaring fire, which serves up plates of mouth watering tapas and delicious sherry. Guarda Val is a delightful hotel made up of ancient shepherd huts. We took a horse drawn cart trip up to the newest resort at the very top of the mountain. Up and up we climbed through one Heidi scene after another. The cart driver’s child appeared from one of the chalets complete with pigtails and a broad smile while crook-backed old Alm uncles waved their hellos. Halfway through the week the Powder Byrne ‘family day’ allowed us all to see how the others were getting on. Little gives more satisfaction than watching your 8 and 10 year old manage a slope on their own, faces aglow with pride. And the little Yeti discovered that being close to the ground makes falling over really fun. The grand finale for the children is the PB kids’ race afternoon extravaganza. All the various ages and abilities get to bomb down the slalom course (a blue run) to shrieks of support from all the parents at the bottom of the mountain. Even the little Yeti group managed to get past the winning post somehow. Medals, more cake and huge smiles. We played cards, we swam, we loved Lenzerheide and every single thing it offered us. Our Yeti not only learnt to ski, but he learnt to swim as well. You can’t ask for much more from a holiday can you?"

Claire Gill and family travelled with Powder Byrne. *This piece was written by Claire Gill and was originally posted on Angels and Urchins - read it here.

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