Florence Rolando has earned many kudos for her incredibly inspiring new blog on kids design, Pirouette. Half French, half Swiss, she shares with BozAround a hidden gem in the Swiss Alps: Albinen. Be it icy winter or sunny summer, Florence loves to retreat to her chalet with husband Romas, Paul (18), Jasmine (6) and Iris (5). Shall I add that little Iris will always hold a sweet spot in my heart, for being Marcelo’s first ever girlfriend, back in my New York days when Florence and I were partners in crime with Bubble the Kids Trade Show.
We bought a small chalet 4 years ago while we were living in NY. I found it online, we took a plane and it was love at first sight. We always return home with a stronger body and a very happy soul. With 400 inhabitants and south facing, Albinen is very well preserved. It’s in the heart of Valais (one of the largest “cantons”). The village overlooks the Rhone Valley and is dominated by high rocky mountains. Albinen is only a 2hour train ride from Geneva or Milan airports. And Swiss trains are never ever late!
The village is so authentic with wooden chalets and cobble stone paths that you could feel on a film set. Cars can’t get in the center, so children can play in the street like in the good old days. Albinen is on the Swiss-German speaking side, 6 km from Leurkerbad, a larger resort famous for its thermal baths.
TO DO, IN WINTER
You can go to Torrent, a 10 minute drive from Albinen by car or with the local shuttle. There are about 50 km of ski pistes which culminate at 2,500 m. From there, the view of the Alps is incredible: all the way from the Matterhorn to Mont Blanc.
Or Gemmi, the second site, a bit further away with 25 km of cross-country skiing and great sledge pistes. It’s also a paradise for walks with snow-shoes.
In between the two is Leukerbad. The Snow Park is ideal for beginners and young children. It’s adjacent to the Sports Arena, a large complex with a climbing wall, indoor ice skating and curling rinks. After a day on the snow, it’s great to dive into the hot springs. Imagine an outdoor pool with warm, steaming water, the white peaks above your head.
TO DO, IN SUMMER
Hiking! There are grass fields (with cows ruminating), forests, glaciers, lakes, falls and idyllic hamlets. Don’t miss the dramatic walkway that leads along rock walls to a 35m waterfall. The Gemmi Pass also gives access to the longest and most challenging climbing path in Switzerland, the Via Ferrata with long, vertical ladders on the Daubenhorn, 2943 m. You don’t need to be a super master in climbing, but you need to be fit and not scared of heights! A guide is highly recommended (Riccardo Werlen is great and speaks English, Italian, French and German! [email protected]). It takes about 8 hours to climb to the top and come down. It’s of course not suitable for children, but you can leave them with the local and very friendly Leurkerbad creche, Villa Champignon.
In Albinen there’s a football pitch and a playground, with a “tyrolienne”, a crazy slide a bit like flying on a teleski. In summer, it’s great to relax in the thermal baths. Burgerbad is the biggest alpine thermal spa complex in Europe with ten baths, a 120-metre water slide, pools for children and babies, as well as 10 pools for grown-ups. Indoor tennis and squash are on at the Sports arena all year long. If you are lucky, you’ll see cow fighting matches as well as sheep and cows coming down from the “alpage”, the high altitude fields.
SLEEP & EAT
Albinen’s Village Inn recently won a “Swiss gastro prize”. The owners, Sasha and Annelore serve a creative and organic menu made out of vegetables and fruits from their garden, as well as Walliser plates (assortment of local dried meats) and raclette. Since 2010, a charming B&B opened its door, La Demeure des Elfs. They have 8 rooms all decorated in the alpine-with-charm way, as well as a large terrace where to admire the view from and where to have a hot chocolate with a croque monsieur. For more sleeping options, click here. Leukerbad offers a large selection of accommodations too. The hotel Sources des Alpes is one of the most luxurious.
Crans Montana (French speaking) is only 45 minutes drive from Albinen. It’s famous for its golf courses and the view of the mountains from the lake is lovely, but the town itself is not that attractive. Grimentz, a little more distant, is full of charm with its chalet balconies and windows lavishly decorated with red geraniums. After about an hour an a half drive, you can reach Zermatt. You’ll have to park the car and hop up on a little train to access it. Don’t miss the Eco Hotel with its delicious organic restaurant.
Absolutely striking is the gigantic Aletsch glacier, 123 long km! You might hurry up for your visit as the glacier is shrinking. Last June, 600 people paused naked on the ice for a global warning protest. For those dreaming to spend a night in altitude, I recommend Cabane Topali, a basic refuge near Aletsch, very low key yet featured in many decoration magazines. White Pod, on another comfort and price level is also a unique experience. Think glamping in the snow…
Thank you Florence for sharing those wonderful Swiss secrets on BozAround.