Our latest competition winner shares their holiday diary to the wonderful Engelberg!
Day 1 – Magic tunnels and fantasy locations
“There’s not much snow is there?” says my snow-loving wife doubtfully as our train winds its way along the shore of Lake Lucerne. She’s right – nothing more than a light dusting sits over the grass.
Soon we enter a tunnel, and my iPad slides across the table in front of me; we’re heading steadily upwards in the dark. Eventually, we break out into the light again and a winter wonderland surrounds us – there’s thick snow everywhere.
“This is more like it,” she says grinning.
Eventually, we arrive at the Hotel Terrace reception. Check in smooth and friendly. We’re issued with a key, our lift passes and some maps of the many pistes surrounding Engelberg. Our host is also keen to explain that the hotel possesses Switzerland’s largest private collection of gin, “There are 170 different varieties to try – including one we make ourselves.”
Our room is nothing special, although I’m pleased to note that we have a front-facing room. A glance out of our window reveals nothing; low-lying cloud obscures everything beyond the car park.
“We’re surrounded by mountains on all sides here,” I say to my wife, “the view is supposed to be quite spectacular.”
“Right,” she says, her earlier doubt returning.
The room and furnishings are quite sparse - it’s clear that people don’t come to Hotel Terrace to hang around in their rooms all day. A stroll around the village itself reveals the same thing – the place is almost deserted, blanketed in misty clouds.
We hop on a resort bus over to the Titlis Valley Station. Entering the Intersport store were given the warmest of welcomes by the manager who can’t do enough for us. Within minutes we’ve been issued ski boots, skis, poles and helmets.
“Would you like to leave your equipment here overnight?” the manager asks.
We make our excuses. Having completed just one skiing lesson before leaving England, we think it’s safer to start on the nursery slopes at Klostermatte on the other side of the valley.
“Have fun!” she says, waving us off with a twinkle in her eye.
The trip back to the hotel seems to take forever, particularly the walk carrying all our heavy gear back to the hotel’s ski storage room. But we’re both excited, so the discomfort is worth it.
Later that evening we head back into town to see whether things have livened up. Sure enough, all of the local restaurants are now busy, filled with people who have spent the day on the slopes. We stop into Bieralp and enjoy a large wood-fired pizza each before heading back to the hotel.
“It’s a bit like the Overlook Hotel really, isn’t it?” asks my wife as we near the enormous Belle Epoque frontage of Hotel Terrace. We spend a few minutes amusing ourselves by recreating scenes from The Shining and muttering “red rum” ominously in the echoing lift tunnel.
Day 2 – Let the skiing commence
The next day I throw open the curtains to the most amazing view. The air has cleared and the whole of Engelberg and Titlis is now visible, edges highlighted in gold as the sun begins to crest the Spannort mountains at the end of the valley. The ringing bells of the nearby monastery simply add another of magic to the morning.
Now my wife understands why I was so excited about having a front facing room. It turns out that the Hotel Terrace can be seen from virtually every corner of the valley too.
Breakfast is a huge buffet held in what appears to be the old ballroom. There’s cereal, fresh bread, sausages, eggs, fruits and pastries. There’s also one of the largest collections of condiments I’ve ever seen.
Eating over, we collect our skis and jump on a resort bus heading to Klosterhutte. Except it isn’t. Instead, we end up at Titlis again. We later learn that every resort bus in the town is on a loop, and they all eventually pass through the Titlis Valley Station. Eventually, we arrive at the Klosterhutte, known locally as “the sunny side of the valley”.
The slopes are covered in kids and families. Even the tiniest children are more skilled than us, zooming down the slopes fearlessly. We spend some time practising on the tiniest slope we can find next to the car park, before graduating to the nursery slope proper.
Eventually, I pluck up the courage to try the main slope. The snowplough might help to reduce speed, but nowhere near as much as our ski instructor promised. I even manage to crest a small hump too fast, leaving the ground and scaring the hell out of myself in the process.
Slightly shaken, we head back to the hotel, drop off our gear and head back to Titlis. The trip to the top of the mountain is strangely serene, almost unreal. The spinning cable car for the final stretch of the climb is novel too.
At 10,000 feet above sea level, it is -13º and the air is so thin that every exertion takes some effort. We enjoy the view above the clouds for a while before heading into the restaurant for an ice cream – apparently the perfect food for sub-zero temperatures. In the distance, some fearless black run skiers pick a death-defying path down the face of the mountain.
On the way back down we stop back at Intersport to see if they can do anything about my wife’s boots. “It looks like you have fallen arches,” says the assistant in flawless English, “Perhaps, the only solution will be custom-made boots?” In the meantime, we swap for another pair to try tomorrow.
Back at Hotel Terrace, we feel we really should try one of the endless arrays of gin on offer. The lady behind the bar guides us through the bottles based on our taste preferences. My wife selects a berry infused gin from England, while I end up with a spicy number from the Netherlands. We’re even convinced to drink them neat so that we can properly enjoy the distillers’ craft.
Dinner is a huge 10-course buffet, again served in the old ballroom. Wine is also included, so we enjoy a bottle of house merlot in between mouthfuls of meat, fish and pasta.
Day 3 – The end of the world
Realising that our skiing skills are still not up to much, we head back to Klosterhutte. Within a matter of minutes, it is apparent that the new boots haven’t really helped - my wife’s feet are hurting too much to continue skiing.
“You go and I’ll sit in the restaurant reading,” she says encouragingly.
I head back to the main slope and enjoy some much more controlled runs than the previous day. I also manage to fall off the button lift which is hilarious and humiliating at the same time.
Later that afternoon we catch the resort bus out to Fürenalp, the far end of the valley. As the bus empties and the spaces between houses increase, my wife becomes more concerned, “Are you sure there’s anything out this end of town?”
We’re herded into a small cable car with a German family and sent up into the clouds. The tiny cabin sways menacingly as we clear the cliffs, surging to an altitude of 1850m. Above the clouds, everything is sunny and very, very quiet.
The German family tromp off along the snow-covered hiking trail while my wife and I help ourselves to a free sledge each. Our lack of fitness quickly becomes apparent as we trudge through ankle-deep snow, stopping frequently to catch our breath. The ride back down the toboggan run is hilarious and exhilarating. So much so that we do it all again, before bundling into the Fürenalp restaurant for a well-earned beer.
Back in Engelberg, we reserve a table for dinner that evening. We are rewarded with one of the coveted spaces in front of the enormous windows that line the front of the hotel. My wife is grinning because it is now snowing very heavily.
Day 4 – Snow dreams come true
Having decided that she simply cannot wear her ski boots any more, my wife convinces me to head back to Fürenalp for some more tobogganing. The snow is now a thick layer over everything and she is very excited.
Clouds obscure the top of Fürenalp, and visibility is low. The snow-shoe wearing couple who accompany us in the cable car, observe the conditions, turn around and leave immediately. Having never seen snow like this in our lives, we make the most of it. I try to sit on a sledge, but the whole contraption disappears into the powder – there won’t be any tobogganing on the mountain today.
When the novelty of thigh-deep snow begins to wear off, we head back into the restaurant for hot chocolate and apple pie. We have the place to ourselves, so the manager strikes up a conversation.
“How are you finding Brexit?” he opens. We mumble something non-committal. “We totally understand,” he continues, “we know it’s not a racist thing. We mountain people also hate having other people tell us what to do.”
Back down the mountain, the cable car operator spends a few minutes chatting. In a perfect, but misplaced, Irish brogue she tells us that we’ll probably be the only people to pass that way today on account of the weather. “There were 40 inches of snow last night and no one will be clearing the tracks up there today.”
My wife giggles – 40 inches of snow is probably the sum accumulation of all the snow we’ve had in Essex over the last ten years. She really loves snow.
We collect out ski gear once more and head back to Titlis to return it. I decide that my skiing skills have now reached the point where I should be able to cope with a proper piste. Leaving my wife in the warm below, I head up in the funicular train to Gerschialp where I know there is a blue run that leads right back to the shop below.
The trip back is great fun, even though I fall over more times than I can count. The soft, deep powder is a perfect cushion, and the whole process is painless. As the sun shines down, I spot the Hotel Terrace for the final time on the other side of the valley.
At the bottom we return our gear, collect our luggage and make the journey back through the magic train tunnel. It’s been an amazing trip even if we didn’t ski as much as hoped. Already my wife is investigating custom snow boots in the hope that we can have a similar adventure next Winter. Or next month if she gets her way.