Tag: Switzerland

Story of the week: World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland


* The World Economic Forum opens in snowy Davos this week. Here’s an old piece – pre Leveson – about the annual CEO shindig. 

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Brace yourself Switzerland.

The 13,000-strong Alpine resort of Davos-Klosters will host the World Economic Forum this week.

Based around the theme, Shaping the Post-Crisis World, the event will bring together some 2,500 of the world’s brainiest eggheads, including 1,500 senior business executives from around the world, 200 government representatives, 30 or so leaders of international NGOs and, crucially for a frisson of paparazzi fervour, 20 so-called ‘cultural leaders’.

Klaus Schwab, then Professor of Business Policy at the University of Geneva, now the Forum’s Executive Chairman, founded the Forum in 1971 in Davos, Europe’s highest-altitude town.

The snow-shrouded Swiss mountains have offered a winter-wonderland backdrop to the event ever since with landmark encounters at the Forum including the 1992 meeting between South African President F.W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela.

So, to celebrate this year’s Forum, we ask, “From blue skies thinking to blue skies playing. Which kind of Davos player are you?”

Rupert Murdoch

Murdoch will be one of the co-chairs of the 2009 event and will doubtless find this Alpine enclave the ideal hideaway to plan his next move towards world domination.

Better still, the 77-year-old newspaper baron is in good company with the resort inspiring a tradition of literary greats: Robert Louis Stevenson finished Treasure Island while convalescing here in 1881; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle penned a few Sherlock Holmes tales and found time to lay out Davos’ first golf course.

But it’s the German novelist Thomas Mann who is most closely associated with Davos-Klosters. His Davos novel, The Magic Mountain, was first published in 1924.

Media players can take some time out from the Davos Congress Centre to walk the new Thomas Mann Path through the mountains.

Of course, any self-regarding Australian trend setter wouldn’t be caught dead in one of the resort’s mere hotels. Strewth, mate.

So Mr. Murdoch may be interested to learn that Descent, the luxury chalet company, has a new, über-luxurious property in Davos-Klosters. Tivoli Lodge is a design-led, fiercely discrete chalet, just a two-minute drive – chauffeured, ‘natch – from the centre of Davos Dorf.

It boasts a home cinema and a study, from where to taunt cowering editors about their front-page splash. Afterwards, make a splash yourself in the spa complex with its hot tub and indoor pool.

Finally, round off another power-brokering evening with your co-chairmen at Hubli’s Landhaus, a Michelin-starred restaurant in the tiny village of Laret, just outside Davos.

Expect great local fish and game, served amid a high-powered ambiance.


The Forum has courted a more rock’n’roll vibe in recent years with the likes of Bono, the larger-than-life U2 frontman, who seamlessly blends philanthropy with lobbying, a high-profile former attendee.

Away from the deal-sealing meetings, Davos-Klosters is perfect for some adrenaline-pumping high jinx of rock star-esque proportions. With 54 ski lifts, 320km of slopes and 75km of cross-country ski tracks, located at altitudes between 1,124 and 2,844m, the six Davos-Klosters ski areas are a winter sports Mecca.

The Jakobshorn slope is the in place for snowboarders with its half-pipe and monster pipe constructions, while the municipality of Wiesen is home to a 1500m sq open-air ice rink, the venue for a spot of ice-stick shooting, an Alpine take on curling.

Alternatively, join a Ride-the-Night-on-Snow event with full-throttle night skiing on the Parsenn slopes.

Given the peripatetic life on the road, even an international jet-setter likes a bit of home comfort sometimes and Chesa Grischuna, an elegant, frescoed, chalet-style hotel in the centre of Klosters, offers them – and then some.

Combining local wood carving with modern amenities, the cosy Sali lounge can be turned into a VIP area for a wannabe rock god to hold court about saving the planet.

Later that night, invite a select group of business groupies to join up for some high-altitude fine dining at Bruhin’s Weissfluhgipfel, a restaurant located at the highest point in Davos-Klosters –that’s 2,864m, since you ask – before moving on to Davos Platz for late-night drinks and a bawdy karaoke version of With or Without You.

Cabanna Club, Cava Grischa at the Hotel Europe and Ex-Bar are the in places and stay open until late.

Angelina Jolie

The Forum loves a sprinkle of Tinseltown stardust and Angelina brought it in spades a few years back.

For the international humanitarian who skips from red carpet to UNICEF refugee camp in one dainty turn of Jimmy Choos, accommodation has to be both holistic as well as glamorous.

Step forward then the new Iglo Village. Located on the Davos Parsenn ski slopes, its 17 separate igloos are built for discrete privacy yet offer international hotel-style services when you emerge from your pod.

The Romantic Plus igloo, ideal for a sub-zero tryst with Brad Pitt, offers a guided nighttime snowshoe trek followed by a gourmet fondue dinner before retiring to your igloo for a dip in the heated whirlpool bath.

Many of the A-List-hangout eateries around the resort can get a bit sniffy about arriving en famille with your brood of sprogs adopted from various Southeast Asian countries.

One place that combines great food with family-friendly service, however, is the art-deco restaurant Flüela-Stübli at the Hotel Flüela. Melt-in-the-mouth veal dishes for the ‘rentals, special menus for the kids and quality time Hollywood style for the whole family.

The holistic approach also extends to Davos-Klosters’ biggest draw away from the slopes: wellness.

Davos first came to prominence in the 1860s when Dr Alexander Spengler championed the clean mountain air for convalescing tuberculosis sufferers.

Today there are around 500 clinics in Davos-Klosters alone, so after a hard day of pressing the flesh at the Forum, it’s time to indulge in some serious pampering.

The original Wald Sanatorium, dating from 1911, is now the slick Waldhotel Davos. Located in a peaceful location on the edge of a forest, it boasts an indoor saltwater grotto and lymph drainage therapy.

Drain away then wear the contents in a vial around your neck afterwards – that’ll impress the bankers.

Mervyn King

British captains of industry, like our very own Governor of the Bank of England, are in a tight spot.

With the British economy going down the pan, Mervyn King can’t be seen to be flogging his expenses account too hard. But how can a financier with a taste for the good life do Davos on a budget and still keep up with the Euro-Jones’?

Well, Davos-Klosters does have some budget-conscious accommodation. The Allod Park Apartments in Davos Platz offer simple but centrally located serviced suites from £375 a week for two bedrooms.

You can even order fresh bread rolls to be delivered each morning. Hearty but good-value food is also available at the local stübli, rustic Alpine eateries for high-carb, low-priced food. One of the best is Walserhuus Sertig, a family-run restaurant with venison and meat fondues from £6 per person.

Going on the piste can be a pricey affair – budget £34 for a one-day ski pass, plus around £20 for ski and boot hire.

So better arm yourself with a stout pair of shoes and experience the perfect still of the Davos-Klosters mountains by following the resort’s 84km of pristine snow-shoe trails.

The après-ski action could push the most prudent of banker into their own mini credit crunch, so instead of joining the beautiful people at Audi’s Graströchni on red piste 21, head over to the Monstein Brewery, the highest brewery in Europe. The Brewer’s Aperitif tour costs £19 and ends with a drink-your-fill, hic, tasting session.

Finally, if it all gets too much, throw caution to the sub-prime wind and place your last Swiss Franc on black 17.

The casino in Davos is open until late and the drinks are cheap.


Davos-Klosters Tourism

World Economic Forum 

This story was first published in the Voyager magazine in January 2009. Liked this? Try also Riding the Post Bus in Switzerland. 

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Story of the week: Riding the Post Bus in Switzerland


This is the latest post in a weekly series, highlighting stories from my travel-writing archive with no active link. I’m running them here in full. Subscribe to posts at this website for more. Read more of my stories from Switzerland, Riding the Glacier Express and Riding the Jungfrau Express.

William Tell has got a lot to answer for.

The folk tale of the Swiss farmer turned renegade fighter for independence from Austria’s ruling Hapsburg empire, not only inspired the German writer Friedrich Schiller to popularise the legend, but also the Italian composer Rossini to pen an overture by way of tribute.

Today the familiar three-note refrain from the William Tell Overture (a C sharp, E and A major, since you ask) heralds the approach of the PostBus on blind corners and mountain roads throughout Switzerland.

While Switzerland’s super-efficient train network covers the main urban hubs, it’s left to the bright-yellow PostBus to tackle the Alpine passes, link the rural villages and provide a lifeline to the remote communities that pepper the immaculately-coiffured Swiss countryside.

The buses still deliver the mail but, more importantly, also serve a vital purpose as a transport lifeline to rural Switzerland.

This year marks the centenary of PostBus with the first ever bus service inaugurated in 1906 from Bern to Detlingen. Later that year the Bern to Papiermühle route started.

The original breakdown-prone vehicles, converted from army lorries and seating just 14 travellers plus a driver and conductor, reached maximum speeds of 30km per hour. Winter operations started in the 1930’s when skiing became fashionable in Switzerland.

Today the 758-route network spans 10,450km and carries 105m passengers per year. Services are coordinated with the train timetable and computer monitored to ensure that the entire country’s public transport system runs to split-second punctuality.

The company also recently took over the franchise to run public transport in four French cities and already runs public transport around the tiny principality of Liechtenstein.

One of the most famous PostBus routes is the longest line, running from St. Moritz via Chiavenna to Lugano in Switzerland’s far south.

The 132-km journey on the world-famous Palm Express lasts four hours and leads through Italian territory, skirting Lake Como and passing through Italian-speaking Swiss villages en route to Lugano, transport hub of the Swiss canton of Ticino.

Another legendary PostBus route takes in Juf in the canton of Graubünden, Europe’s highest permanently inhabited settlement, situated at an elevation of 2,126m above sea level. The journey winds through the Rofla Gorge into the Val Ferrera and onto the high-altitude valley around Avers.

My own PostBus odyssey, however, cut a more leisurely but none-the-less dramatic swathe through the heart of Switzerland.

I boarded the Julier Route Express in the Graubünden region, Switzerland’s rural heartland, and headed for the Bernese Oberland, a journey across Alpine passes, along lush, green valleys and with a backdrop of snow-sprinkled mountains and ice-pop glaciers from my window seat.

Starting out on a crisp autumnal morning from the resort town of St. Moritz, home of the Cresta Run and winter sports playground of the rich and famous, we headed southwest along the Julier Pass at an altitude of 2,284m.

The pass divides the northern part of the Graubünden canton from the region known as Engadine and marks the line between areas where Swiss German and Romanisch, an ancient patois based on Latin, are the primary local dialect.

Dropping down through the ski resort of Savognin at an altitude of 1,207m, we then climbed again to Lenzerheide with great views across the Albula Valley en route.

After about two hours on the road, sitting back in what feels like an upmarket National Express with air conditioning and reclining seats, we approached the outskirts of Chur, the oldest town in Switzerland and the base for the gleaming new, glass-built PostBus interchange, which coordinates the dispatch of yellow buses in all directions across Switzerland.

In Chur, we learned, all the buses in Grabünden are named after small villages in the region with the name and emblem of the village embossed on the door during a christening ceremony when it first enters service.

The interchange is a bus-spotters paradise with icons of priests, farm equipment and the Alpine Ibex, the mountain goat-like animal indigenous to the region, amongst the symbols adorning the doors.

Back on the road after a break for coffee, we were soon fringing the edge of Walensee lake northwest of Sargans, climbing through flower-strewn valleys south of Luzern and powering through the outskirts of Interlaken before reaching our terminus at the village of Brienz mid afternoon.

During the journey the driver would stop at a shaded roadside pull-in to collect a hefty, yellow sack of post while an assortment of Swiss, German and Italian hikers would clamber aboard, dragging their Nordic walking poles in their wake and chatting excitedly in a variety of dialects about the scenery they would be enjoying on the way to the next trailhead.

I Just sat back and enjoyed the theatre of the whole journey, letting someone else negotiate the hairpin bends of another jaw-dropping Alpine pass and alighting for blasts of fresh, mountain air at regular stops along the route. The journey was timed down to the split second, so hikers can plan their journey according to the set-in-stone timetable.

That night, over a dinner of traditional Swiss fare, I grabbed a few words with PostBus CEO Daniel Landolf. As a Brit used to leaves on the line, it was to my chance to pose the burning question: how do the buses manage to run on time to a precise timetable?

“We try very hard to respect the schedule as we may not be the cheapest transport system but we do aim for high levels of satisfaction,” explains Landolf, who looks like Bill Clinton’s younger brother and possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of Switzerland’s bus timetables.

“The secret,” he adds with a wink, “is that we run a mystery shopper system to check up on the schedule.”

This story was first published in the Daily Mail in 2006. Do you have a favourite Swiss journey?

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Story of the day: Riding the Glacier Express in Switzerland


I like train travel.

I like the ease of it, the view, the sense of modernity mixed with a wistful glance to a more genteel era.

I like the fact the trains – the ones in Europe anyway – generally work pretty well.

There are mishaps as Eurostar is on the wrong track – again, taken from my previous incarnation as Hit the North, testifies.

This story, taken from the Sunday Telegraph, recounts a journey on one of the world’s greatest rail journeys in Switzerland.

Here’s an extract:

As I entered the carriage, the conductor was steeling himself for the kind of announcement that every Swiss train manager dreads.

We took our seats. His bristly moustache twitched nervously. His broad shoulders shifted uneasily in the tight, red jacket. He removed the black felt hat and scratched his bald patch agitatedly.

“Ladies and gentleman, I regret to inform you that, due to the threat of avalanche on the line, this service may be slightly delayed,” he announced.

A Swiss train running late? There’ll be questions in Parliament.

Read the full story, Riding the Glacier Express Across Switzerland.

And check out the video, too. More video in weeks to come.

Meanwhile, what are your favourite rail journeys?

Post your comments below.