Whether you’re looking for a jaw-dropping wedding proposal, a James Bond style skiing week complete with armed henchmen to chase you down the mountain, a famous mountain to climb with no experience needed, Danielle Stynes from Swisskisafari has probably done it or can arrange it. She and her qualified guides, with years of training and local knowledge will even guide you to the best virgin powder snow descents in the Alps.
Living in the region for over 20 years has allowed Danielle to know all the secret gems the locals want to keep for a select few from the unknown mountain paths, the private powder fields to the local eateries tucked away from visitor’s eyes.
Here Daneille shares her favourite top ten things to do…
Ski touring to a mountain cabin at 3000 meters:
A mountain cabin open in the depths of winter is a rare find, and this one is an oasis in a sea of four thousand meter mountains. Coming across the 3000m high cabin as I approach the end of the exhilarating, physical ski touring day is a real delight. From this height, the tallest alpine peaks spread out around me for miles and miles, making me literally feel on top of the world. And to top it all off, this secret gem is only visited by locals in the know, so I know I have truly escaped the tourist crowds.
An evening out in Zermatt with friends:
Forget the front door, the best way to make an entrance to dinner is in a glass lift through the mountains. And that’s just how to reach my favourite atmospheric ex hunting lodge. The walls here are lined with hunting trophies and the menu doubles up as a traveller’s journal for visitors, which adds a good dose of history and charm to the slick design. You can choose from small, regular or family-sized meals: I like to taste a couple of small ones, but it’s also perfect for a group of friends, however large their appetites.
Snowshoe or ski touring to a monastery on the Swiss/Italian border:
There’s something special about crossing gate-free international borders on the top of a snowy mountain. Having said that, on this enchanting trip I need my passport just in case I do bump into officials on ski patrol. The remote St Bernard mountain pass sits between Switzerland and Italy, and on it lies a monastery built hundreds of years ago. This mountain pass was an important trading post on what was the only road between northern and southern Europe for centuries. Monks have guarded the pass since the 10th century, inhabiting the hospice near the top. During the winter, the only way for the monks to leave the monastery is by ski or snowshoe. This hospice is also famous for the dog breed, St Bernard, bred by the monks for protection and as rescue dogs. I love the greeting I get from the monks when I reach the entrance, as they offer me a specially prepared tea followed by a tour of the church and the monastery if I want.
Dine with Napolean:
Close to the monastery sits one of my favourite restaurants in the region. Entering its cosy chalet-style interior feels more like joining friends for lunch than dining in a restaurant. The host, a lively Napoleon look-a-like, always welcomes me warmly, saving his best table for my group and proposing his latest speciality and favourite wine. No matter what time we come down from the border he’s ready to receive us, as he understands the weather and how it can be changeable in this area.
This family run restaurant has more than 100 years of history and the recipes that have been passed down through the family are mouth-watering. My favourite dishes are the Vallee d’Aosta jambon spiced with mountain herbs, and Lard d’Arnad which is conserved using an ancient method dating back to 1763 AD. During its three month seasoning time it develops a melt-in-the-mouth texture. Just delicious. The meal always ends with a selection of unforgettable local cheeses: a weakness of mine which I can never resist.
A night of Alpine history:
Owned by the nephew of Abele Blanc, who has summated every 8000 metre peak in the world, my favourite Italian bolthole has a Junior Suite filled with mountain climbing equipment such as ice axes, and photographs from treacherous days at altitude. Telling many fascinating tales, this room exudes jaw-dropping history and action. An aperitif is a must, especially when the owner is around to tell his mountain stories, surrounded by traditional alpine stone and timber architecture.
A Tuscan experience in the Alps:
For a taste of Tuscany in the Alps, I head to a charming spa hotel with mountain views and all the gastronomic flair you’d expect from a Tuscan property. The home made cakes and pastries which they serve at breakfast and tea blow me away every time, and it’s vineyard setting and olde world feel are absolutely charming. Waking up in a fairytale four poster bed to mountain views and complete peace and quiet is my idea of a well-deserved moment of rest.
A frozen adventure: ice climbing in Italy:
For the ultimate day of adrenalin I grab my ice axes, wrap up in cold gear and head out to the Italian Alps for an exhilarating lesson climbing remote ice faces. First I hike the icy wilderness for 30 minutes with my guide before reaching a stunning frozen waterfall: my challenge for the day. Only accessible to those who know the area well, this rare sight is a gushing flow of glacial water in the summer, and a scenic yet testing climbing surface when it gets cold. A real highlight to my winter.
An evening in a tree house:
For an enchanting romantic getaway I like to delve into the snow-covered forest and escape the world for the night. The most indulgent way is to transfer via helicopter to a secluded tree house and take a dip in the Swedish hot tub that has been heated up from the fire below during the day. With a waiter on hand serving aperitifs while we soothe aching muscles in the bubbling water, the irresistible scent of a hearty meal wafts up from the kitchen. Our delicious dinner comes next, before the staff leave us and we follow a candle-lit trail illuminating the way to the private tree house bedroom, via a wooden walkway.
My favourite hike in the Swiss Alps:
This hike is probably the most scenic hike in the whole Valais region and my favourite summer path. It starts along a bisse, an ancient water way carved out of the mountain, giving a feel for the history of the area. Built in the 15th century in order to bring water across the mountain for irrigation, the paths that run along the bisses now offer magical hiking routes.
Soon we reach a waterfall which runs wild and fast in the summer months. I love the feel of the light spray on my face as I climb past on the edge of a charming low forest of birch and pine. At the top of the waterfall is a spectacular plateau and pasture covered in wildflowers, shadowed by the dramatic peaks above.
Next, we continue along a ridge accompanied by the eagles inhabiting this little patch of paradise. Soon I find a mountain refuge which has been a haven for Alpine travelers for centuries, and for me it serves as the perfect lunch stop. This rustic and remote cabin sits on a natural balcony with yet more life-affirming views. Perched here at 3000 meters I quietly sit and watch the light play amongst the twenty 4000 meter high mountains stretched out ahead, which include the Bishorn, the Weisshorn, Obergablehorn, Dent blanche, Pigne d’Arolla and the mighty Mont Blanc. When I eventually tear myself away, the descent home is short, through cow pastures and grassy trails.
Unwinding in the Roman baths:
After a long winter season when my muscles have been used to their limit, I always spend a day or two unwinding in the hot waters, whirlpools, saunas and Turkish baths which you can find in a particular village deep the Italian Alps. Frequented since Roman times, I can see why their therapeutic waters are still popular. Afterwards I head out for an aperitif in a local bar where the furnishings are a testimony to five centuries of architecture and beauty. The 18th century cotes of arms carved during the French revolution proudly sits above the 15th century fireplace: just one of the many historic reminders of this charming cobble stoned village.
How to get in contact with Danielle and her team…
If you are looking for luxury ski and hiking adventures Swisskisafari can provide speciality is bespoke private guided skiing and hiking tours of the European Alps, between Courchevel in France, the Eiger in Switzerland, and the Mont Blanc in Italy including all the hidden gems in between. For more information visit their website for for the price of a trip and availability please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org