It was après-ski, no doubt about that. But après-ski like I’d never quite experienced before – and none the worse for that.
We were in the cool wine cellar of one of the most charming hotels in Wengen, a snowball’s throw from the cable-car up to the skiing.
And Caroline Ogi, who runs the Hotel Schoenegg with her gourmet chef husband Sylvain Stefanazzi Ogi, told us we had a special treat in store. She was right. We were to be serenaded by Wengen’s oldest inhabitant, 96-year-old Anni Bischoff . Not just any old serenade. A yodel serenade. And how touching and delightful it was.
It was a little tableau that fitted so well with the image of Wengen, part of the Jungfrau region and high in Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland. Virtually car-free, it feels authentic, rustic and peaceful – and has been popular with Brits for 200 years, since the publication of Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s History of a Six Weeks’ Tour and Byron’s Manfred, in which the scenery of the area is described.
‘I sing, and yodel, every day,’ Anni told us. ‘It keeps me young.’
But she then confided that yodelling wasn’t all that kept her feeling young. A vital ritual in her fitness regime was observed at nine every morning. That’s when she arrives at the Hotel Schoenegg, she told us, for a cup of coffee – accompanied by a stiff shot of local schnapps.
Sure enough, the next morning we were pleased to see Anni sitting in the cosy bar, conscientiously carrying out this essential component of her longevity programme. We raised our imaginary glasses to her very real one for a solemn ‘Pröst!’.
We on the other hand, under the guidance of Caroline, a former ski racer, were heading out to further pursue our own lifestyle regime on the achingly scenic runs of Wengen.
Rather than take the Mannlichen cable car, as we had the day before with James Bond stuntman Stefan Zürcher, we boarded the cog railway up to Kleine Scheidegg, the alternative way to reach the skiing at Wengen.
The cog railway is the beating heart of Wengen. It’s still the only way to get from the valley up to the village, bar packhorse or Shanks’s pony. There seems to be a small buzz of excitement every time a train pulls in, hauling not only excited skiers and boarders but also tons of supplies for the hotels, bars and restaurants.
Beyond Kleine Scheidegg the Jungfrau Railway, a staggering feat of Alpine engineering, takes passengers up to the Jungfraujoch – the Top of Europe they’ve dubbed it. At 3,454 metres it’s Europe’s highest-altitude railway station, in a world of rock, ice and snow.
It went into service in 1912, after 16 years in the construction. Seven of the nine kilometres of railway are in a tunnel hewn in the rock of the Eiger and Mönch. The train stops for five minutes at each of two intermediate stations, the Eigerwand (Eiger Wall) and Eismeer (Sea of Ice), where passengers can marvel at a fearsome world of sheer rock walls and endless snow through panorama windows. One of the windows was used in the climax of the Clint Eastwood film The Eiger Sanction.
The railway climbs a height difference of 1,400 metres in 50 minutes. At the top are bars and cafes, a small cinema and the Ice Palace, a collection of elaborate ice sculptures. A tunnel leads outside to a snow-covered platform overlooking the Aletsch Glacier. For those with a serious head for heights there’s a lift which rises a further 117 metres inside the mountain to the Sphinx Observatory, home to another viewing platform and an observatory.
On the slopes below, the dominating presence of the Mönch, the Eiger and the Jungfrau adds to the majesty of this supremely imposing ski area. Not that the runs are intimidating in any way – but the surroundings certainly are.
Caroline showed us the best of the swooping cruising slopes. The runs are shared with the village of Grindelwald and are mostly intermediate. But there is some steeper stuff from Eigergletscher , under the north face of the Eiger.
And there is also, of course, the Lauberhorn, the longest, toughest downhill course on the World Cup circuit. We were there immediately after the race so the run still had on its race face.
To add gloss to a wonderful day, we were on astonishingly good skis from the Molitor rental shop in the village. The shop was originally owned by renowned Wengen ski racer Karl Molitor, who won a silver medal in the Alpine combined event and a bronze in the downhill in the 1948 Winter Olympics at St Moritz.
Molitor also manufactured ski boots with an innovative steel cable tightening system, which helped to revolutionise ski boot design.
Now the shop has extremely high-spec skis specially made for them by the Swiss AK firm and sold and rented under the name Molitor. They don’t come cheap – but they exquisitely combine thrilling performance with impeccable control, thanks to an all-wood full length core that is fabulously responsive and also swallows the bumps and smoothes the ruts. And if you buy a pair you also get free servicing for life – as long as you take them back each time to the Molitor store. A good incentive to ski regularly at Wengen!
Back at the welcoming Hotel Schoenegg, a further treat was in store. Namely, dinner at chef Sylvain’s kitchen table – as well as doing a bit of sous-cheffing to help him out with the chores.
And later…well, there was Anni at her place in the bar again. She was plainly being particularly rigorous with her routine today. A glass of schnapps was at her elbow.
Rob stayed at the delightful Hotel Schoenegg in Wengen, where rooms are from 990 CHF for three nights in a classic double room on half-board, including taxi to and from the railway station. www.hotel-schoenegg.ch/en/
Ski hire from Molitor Sport, (10 per cent discount if booked in advance online) www.molitor.ch/en/
Jungfrau ski pass: 204 CHF for three days. www.jungfrau.ch/shop/en/skipass/
More information on Switzerland at www.MySwitzerland.com, 00800 100 200 30, firstname.lastname@example.org. Swiss International Air Lines has more than 180 weekly flights from a wide range of UK airports – and ski and snowboard equipment is carried free of charge (www.swiss.com 0345 601 0956). Information on a range of Swiss rail travel passes at www.swisstravelsystem.co.uk