KLOSTERS, Switzerland | It’s easy to find a beautiful small town hidden away high in the Swiss Alps, one with fine food, challenging slopes and a welcoming, fireside atmosphere.
It’s not so easy, however, to find one favored by British royals, a place where you might find yourself sharing a cable car with the future king of England, Prince Charles, or one of his dashing offspring, Prince William and Prince Harry, who first learned to ski here.
The royal connection — one of the cable cars is even named after Charles — has shaped the public’s perception of the tiny town of Klosters in Switzerland, but it’s only one of many reasons to visit. It’s actually traditional, not flashy, and offers skiers, hikers and those simply seeking rest and relaxation a quiet sense of tranquility not found in many glitzier, more crowded Alpine resorts.
That may be what has drawn Charles, with his well-documented distaste for impersonal, high-rise modern architecture, a scourge that afflicts some of the newer ski havens in France and Italy. Klosters has remained largely unchanged over the decades, effortlessly maintaining its small town charm. It’s fun after skiing just to walk the back streets and admire the beautifully carved doors and other wood decorations that adorn many of its older houses. The town has a sense of unhurried history — tourists started coming some 150 years ago, centuries after the first monastery was built here — and it’s so snow-oriented that inexpensive wood sleds are stacked high outside the main grocery story.
Klosters is connected to the larger, more built up town of Davos, known for the annual World Economic Forum — and for its excellent mountaintop restaurants. In skiing terms, the two towns comprise one huge resort. The combined skiing is magnificent, and the slopes are often uncrowded. The mix of terrain focuses on mid-level skiers, with an emphasis on neatly groomed slopes, and it’s always exhilarating to ski to a new village or find a new restaurant tucked away on the lesser known runs. The high altitude hiking is phenomenal.
Part of what sets Klosters apart from resorts in other countries is the unmatched Swiss railways, which make getting to Klosters a true pleasure. It’s a joy to arrive at Zurich Airport, catch a train that skirts two beautiful lakes, then, after a simple switch, arrive in Klosters roughly two hours later. It’s the best way to acclimate, to enjoy the mountain views and the rushing rivers without the hassle of renting a car and managing new roads.
It’s a perfect example of what makes European travel so alluring: Instead of sitting isolated in a car trying to decipher road signs in an unfamiliar language, you spend time in a train often filled with other skiers, including, inevitably, some English-speaking locals with well-informed opinions about the best place to ski, eat and drink. It’s also very easy to use the trains to travel to nearby towns at the start of the ski day, providing convenient access to new terrain. The scenery along the way can be astonishing, and it’s hard not to admire the audacious engineering that went into the construction process. Needless to say, the trains run on time.
The easy run from Zurich makes Klosters an attractive day trip for youthful skiers eager to get in a day’s skiing without having to pay for lodging. Passengers on the early morning trains tend to be wearing ski gear and munching energy bars as the trains climb toward Klosters and other nearby ski towns. Klosters also has an excellent bus system to take skiers from their hotel, or the rail station, to several chairlifts — and one of the main lifts is actually just around the corner from the train station.
Klosters has played a discreet role in royal romance. It was here in 2006 that Prince William was first photographed kissing Kate Middleton, who was then his girlfriend. The public kiss was interpreted — correctly — by royal observers as a clear indication that their relationship was serious and deemed to have a future.
The university sweethearts briefly broke up after that, but when Kate returned to Klosters with William in 2008 — and they were photographed on the slopes together — it was taken as affirmation that they were very much a couple again. They married a few years later and now have two children.
The royal link has also been marked by tragedy. In 1988 Charles was skiing with a close friend, Major Hugh Lindsay, when an avalanche struck as they were skiing off-piste high above Klosters. Charles was unhurt, but Lindsay was killed.
It was also here that Charles in 2005 dropped his typically very correct public persona and let slip his true feelings about a reporter assigned to the royal beat, describing the BBC’s Nicholas Witchell as “so awful” during a brief, uncomfortable meeting with the press at the start of the royal holiday.
If You Go…
KLOSTERS, SWITZERLAND: http://www.davos.ch and http://www.klosters.ch . Two-hour train ride from Zurich.