Today is Swiss National Day, this year marking 720 years of age for the country. While its inhabitants enjoyed a bank holiday, with parties in every village, visitors from the UK will not feel so festive looking ahead to a winter of grappling with an increasingly grim pound-franc exchange rate. Today it’s SF1.27 = £1; on 1 August last year it was SF1.63; in 2009 SF1.78; in 2008 SF2.06; in 2007 SF2.43. The Euro is 1.14 per £1 compared to 1.2 last year (source: currency website xe.com).
Common sense says this could be a year to go to Italy or Austria – the cheapest of the “big four” – but I think there are plenty of skiers who will remain faithful to Switzerland. To a certain extent I am one of them, chiefly because our family has a fantastic little flat in Anzere. As I’ve been doing my cheapskate best to save cash in Switzerland for years, well before the exchange rate turned nasty, here are a few tips.
1. Use the Resort Price Index in Where to Ski and Snowboard 2012 (out in September) to identify cheaper resorts. In the 2011 edition (rrp £18.99), Meiringen was the sole Swiss resort (of those that made the survey) that was cheaper than the average across the Alps. Engelberg and Laax were a little dearer, followed by Andermatt, Anzere, Val d’Anniviers, Adelboden, Champery and Villars. Into the “ker-ching” category, and in ascending order, were Davos/Klosters and Zermatt, then Crans, Verbier and St Moritz. I’ve missed a few – and so have they – but you get the idea. There are various advantages to smaller resorts, anyway – such as fewer opportunities to shop or eat expensively.
2. By canny about guided off-piste. In Andermatt and Engelberg, two of the best off-piste spots in the Alps, a little knowledge can save you a fortune. In Engelberg, the guiding centre (opposite the station) is happy to form groups out of strangers, which brings the cost down dramatically if you are on holiday a deux. A couple of years ago a friend and I were put with three Swedes for a fantastic day with guide Remo Baltermia. A few days later in Andermatt, we nearly fainted when told the day rate for a guide and instead tracked down Monica Heussi of Andermatt Experience, a qualified instructor who took us to some brilliant remote places, but – as per Swiss rules for non-guides – not on glacier, for almost half the price.
3. In some cases chalet packages will be the cheapest option, but if (like me) you are not a fan of chalets or if they are not an option, go self-catering – or choose a self-catering package with a small operator; for instance, Zuba Ski has uncatered chalets in the Val d’Anniviers, prices tbc soon, and German operator Belvivo has flats in Anzere, including six days’ ski pass, from 249 Euros per person. Even in Zermatt, you can get reasonable rates on apartments – as long as they aren’t flash – in lowish season. Last year my sister and her family of four paid SF1,200 for a week in a central apartment with a balcony. To make this work, it follows that you must then shop sensibly in the supermarket rather than pursuing a daily diet of boutique cheeses and the finest viande sechee.
4. Pick your resort carefully if you have young kids. In Zermatt, under nines are free, but in Verbier, Davos and Wengen only under sixes are.
5. Picnic at lunchtime – even in midwinter. Last January in Muerren we ate rolls on the chairlift and stopped for a hot chocolate or two if we needed to warm up. In a blizzard we snuck out our picnic into the restaurant, which I know is naughty, but at least we had cash left to spend in the Staegerstuebli later… In occasional resorts you can cook your own meat on the mountain: in Anzere, there are barbecues in two piste-side cowsheds, plus a supply of firewood, and many a lunchtime have we heaved a rucksack full of saucisses and a tube of Thomy mustard up there (only to forget the matches…).
6. Buy your train pass in advance if you have a long trip from airport to resort – the Swiss Transfer Ticket costs a fixed price for train and/or postbus from airport or border to end point (currently SF130), but it’s only worthwhile if your journey is quite a decent one and if the on-station price is more (check at http://www.sbb.ch/en).
7. Sleep in budget accommodation: Switzerland has plenty. I’ve stayed comfortably in a dormitory in Basel BackPack en route to ski touring, and in the excellent Balmers Herberge, Interlaken (gateway to Jungfrau region), both for around SF30 per night including breakfast. I’ve stayed in the youth hostel and in the then-unmodernised Hotel Bahnhof in Engelberg for around SF45, and in slightly ropey hostels in Zermatt and Verbier for a similar amount. My favourite budget lodging in Switzerland is Chalet Fontana smack in the middle of Muerren, opposite the supermarket, at SF50 per person per night.
8. Make use of ‘guest card’-type offerings. In some resorts you’re entitled to use a sports centre, go on local buses or visit museums and attractions for free or at a discount. Check what you can get and use it.
9. Go for the Tagesmenu. In Zermatt’s Schwyzer Stuebli in Hotel Schweizerhof, three tasty courses costs less than SF30 in winter (and as a bonus there is nightly live Swiss music too). If you’re visiting a hotel for supper, eat in the Stuebli rather than the ‘smart part’, if there’s a choice. For example the Stuebli at the Walliserhof, an excellent hotel in Zermatt run by a friend of mine, offers more rustic, cheesy, reasonable options than the next-door Grill.
That’s it for now – and if you have tips for saving cash in Switzerland please post a comment!
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