Wrapped in a white snow coat, straight off nature’s catwalk, Kandersteg oozes natural cred’, so it’s perhaps no surprise that the Kanderstegian’s feel a need to keep pace with their uber chic high Alps surroundings. Whatever the reason, this Bernese Oberland town’s annual Belle Epoque Week is something to be seen – and a lot of fun to share in.
Now in its seventh year it’s marked by the towns’ folk going about their daily business – dressed in Victorian/Edwardian clothing. Whether they’re off to work, out for cross-country or enjoying a picnic, it’s all carried out in period gear, and at that period’s pace – and it’s so lovely to slow down and be part of it. There’s a full-on programme of events for locals and tourists to enjoy, from dinner and dances, where the food is served according to old recipes to impeccably dressed people. Period sports’ shows, afternoon tea and nostalgic shopping also top the entertainment list.
We’d flown Swiss Air to Zurich, and then transferred by Swiss railway (thanks to the Swiss Transfer Ticket), arriving – what felt like regally – into this spirited experience.
Already in holiday mode, having spent such a relaxed and stunning journey on the train, our group was definitely ‘up for it’ when it came to putting our best frocks (or frock coats) forward. Warmly welcomed by our tourism host, Doris, and then our hotel hosts Casi and Mimi one thing was obvious – we were incredibly underdressed.
So after a quick check in at the comfortable 3-star Belle Epoque Hotel Victoria we were off to get our kit on. We met up to go for this grand dress up in the Ritter restaurant, which is steeped in history. It was the first tavern in Kandersteg, built in 1789, and is now part of the Victoria hotel.
So we stepped out in history, and emerged for dinner through the time capsule that saw us ladies decked in hats, stoles and all things elegant, while the men mixed Burberry with suits, boaters and fat ties … for additional affect.
What to do
The next day we took a temporary respite from our attire to check out the area’s downhill skiing. It’s a small area; with blissfully quiet slopes, ideal for easy downhill for beginners and young families.
Hotter on many people’s agenda is the cross-country skiing. Kandersteg is Switzerland’s third largest cross-country area (after Engadine and the Goms). And we were fortunate to get our lessons from Olympian Urs Niedhart, who took part in cross-country events at Albertville in 1992.
After ending his professional career he returned home to Kandersteg, and now owns and runs the Edelweiss cross-country school. Urs soon had us pacing up and down the grooved tracks, enjoying the freedom to fly forwards rather than downhill and taking in the incredible landscape.
Our ski kit and our cross-country ski kit came from the Alpine Center sports shop, which provided us with spanking new kit, so there was no excuses not to do well! There wasn’t time to ski and try the snowshoeing, but those that did had an opportunity I’m envious of – to walk into the mountain wilderness. You can also hike along some of the same routes.
I did get to try curling, which was another first for me, although I didn’t prove too good at it! But I did take to tobogganing – well who wouldn’t when you got to visit a stunning frozen lake in Oeschinensee, which is part of a UNESCO World heritage area? We also took lunch at the lake, at Hotel Oeschinensee, which has been in the same family for generations. We met the current owner, who couldn’t have been more proud of his homeland.
Then it was time to challenge our wooden chargers to one last challenge, zipping down the narrow red run all the way to Kandersteg. This was incredibly good fun, and a great way to being our group together, while taking in the awesome views amongst the trees – well, those who had time did. I was too focused on staying on sledge!
You can also ice skate, and husky sledge here – and sometimes even get a glimpse of the Northern Lights. So many reasons for a return visit!
This summer there are also plans to open an indoor climbing centre at the Alpine Center sports shop. This will give locals and tourists the chance to keep climbing if the weather is bad, or to test their skills ahead of heading to the mountains.