Who doesn’t like a bit of fancy dressing? Most of us do and relish on having a good time when we do. But if you find one evening is not enough, why not head off to Kandersteg in Switzerland where you can get kitted in Belle Epoque attire for an entire week?
This small alpine village in the Bernese Oberland has made quite a name for itself by injecting a bit of life with the event. By popping the clock back more than 100 years to the age of Belle Epoque, it’s clear to see the annual experiment in time travel at the end of January is a huge success.
It hits you the moment you step off the train. Women are dressed in gowns and bonnets while men are clad in suits, bow ties and Bowler hats. It’s absolutely surreal.
The local folk have embraced the Belle Epoque Week, first held in 2009, with gusto. So much so, the preparations for glamorous outfits start in the summer. Shopkeepers, hoteliers and virtually everyone else dress up in the costumes of the era – which bizarrely don’t look out of place after a while.
Events are spread out at through the week in the form of afternoon tea dances, lavish dinners, guided torch-lit walks, horse-drawn sleigh rides, organ concerts and literary soirées all culminating in a grand fancy dress ball at the charming Belle Epoque Victoria Hotel at the centre of the attention.
Kandersteg, unlike St. Moritz and Davos, is not a place for thrill-seekers hungry for fast downhill ski action. Instead it’s liked by visitors for its simple slopes and flat valley surfaces.
The picturesque land with around 25km of groomed piste and five ski lifts is ideal for ice skating and cross-country skiing. Those wishing to extend their time well into the evening can enjoy cross-country skiing and tobogganing at night, too, thanks to well flood-lit trails.
I would challenge anyone to toboggan down a steep hill wearing Belle Eqoque attire like I did on one of the nights during my visit. It was anything but sophisticated, with the ball gown tucked into the toboggan as I went flying down the slopes.
Though cross-country skiing lies at the heart of this area, there are limitless ways to have fun in the white stuff. And if you’re less familiar with ski activities, it’s an even better place to learn.
Having only cross-country skied once before, I lapped up the opportunity to pick up a few handy tips from Urs Niedhart, owner of a cross-country school and a former Olympian, who took part in the 1992 Nordic Combined event. Urs’ patience was very much welcomed and I saw snow extremely close up on numerous occasions before I was able to stand upright for more than 10 seconds.
Having recovered from my lesson, I decided to give snowshoe hiking a go a day later. I was in the good hands of Belle Epoque Hotel owner Casimir Platzer, who guided me and my colleagues on a three-hour snowshoe walk.
You are spoilt for choice when it comes to walks but we headed to Sunnbuel after catching a cable car and ended up at 1,936 metres. We walked mostly off-track along a route that connects Kandersteg to Leukerbad. Home to hares, eagles, and ibex, animal lovers can have plenty of fun trying to guess what creatures have been around through footprints left behind.
Food is integral to the Swiss after a hard day in the snow, whether you’re working or have just been trekking around in the fluffy stuff. Somehow food always tastes so much better when you feel like you have earned it.
Equally, surroundings don’t get any better than the mountains and lake by the Oeschinensee, a spectacular UNESCO world heritage area. The hotel is run by the sixth generation Wandfluh family and is currently by Christoph Wandfluh. He told us he still gets excited by coming into work like it’s the first time he has stepped into the place.
Speaking of surroundings, we were treated to dinner in the cowshed belonging to the Chalet Hotel Adler during one of the evenings. Heaving with diners and with barely any room to move, it made for a cosy, intimate occasion where we tucked into Raclette and Fondue.
But it was the farewell supper at the Restaurant Ritter that really pulled out all the stops. The oldest inn in Kandersteg, dating back to 1789, dining here makes for a special occasion.
We enjoyed various cuts of meat which we cooked ourselves on a Tatarenhut. This special fondue set is shaped in the image of a traditional Tatar hat made of steel with pikes to hang the meat from.
It made for some interesting effort just trying to place the meat on it. I can’t say I was a natural but it did mean I truly enjoyed the food when I did manage to cook it. It brought mindful eating to a whole different level.
For more information on Switzerland, visit My Switzerland or call Switzerland Travel Centre on the international freephone 00800 100 200 30. Alternatively, email firstname.lastname@example.org for packages, trains and air tickets.
For the ultimate Swiss rail specialist call Switzerland Travel Centre on 00800 100 200 30 or visit Swiss Travel System.
Swiss International Air Lines (UK to Zurich)
Swiss offers up to 115 weekly flights from London Heathrow, London City, Birmingham and Manchester to Zurich.
Fares include all airport taxes, one piece of hold luggage and free ski carriage (excluding Economy Light fare). Fares start from £71* one-way (Economy Light fare) and from £86* one-way (Economy Classic fare). Fares are subject to change.
For reservations call 0345 990 9161 or visit swiss.com.