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Destination of the Week: Davos, Switzerland

by on January 20, 2012 · 14 comments

in Destination of the Week

The town of Davos lies in a valley surrounded by the Alps.

Continuing our exploration of great ski destinations you can get to and enjoy using your hard-earned points, our next Destination of the Week is: Davos, Switzerland. Switzerland might seem like an awful long way to go for some skiing, but as many TPG readers have pointed out, North America is having one of the least snowy seasons in recent memory. Conditions across the U.S. and Canada have been less than stellar this winter, so die-hard winter sports enthusiasts might consider venturing farther afield for some decent powder either this year or in the future.

A Note on the Series

These Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they instant endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there.

For instance, with Davos, neither Brian nor I have been there, but we wanted to feature a European destination where you can use points to give readers some options in a different part of the globe. You’ll also see that a couple of the hotels I mention will be opening next year, so one purpose of the series is to give you ideas for future trips.

As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of any or all of these destinations.

Davos at night.

Davos

Davos is the largest ski area in Switzerland and the highest major Alpine town in Europe. It became known as a playground for the rich and powerful since they started flocking here for the winter ski season 150 years ago, and remains so to this day since the World Economic Forum gathers every year at the end of January (it’s January 26-31 this year).

The town itself is split into two sections, Davos-Dorf and Davos-Platz, along the valley floor while the ski areas are along the mountains on either side. Many travelers point out that Davos lacks that Alpine village charm other European ski destinations have since it’s basically a very busy small city, but that also means it’s got tons of boutiques, shops, restaurants and activities to keep non-skiers busy.

A map of the Parsenn ski area's slopes and runs.

The Slopes

The entire Davos region encompasses five separate ski areas which are pretty large compared to American ski resorts and include over 100 individual pistes with nearly 200 miles or so of downhill skiing trails, over 100 miles of cross-country ski trails, and 38 ski lifts. The largest and most popular is the Parsenn area with tons of ski runs and a winter sports complex that also includes trails for cross-country skiing, sleighing and tobogganing as well as Europe’s largest outdoor ice rink. It is also linked by lift to the Klosters resort where the British royal family heads for ski vacations, and where the town is said to be much more charming and prettier than business-oriented Davos. Across the valley on the other side of Davos is the Jakobshorn ski area, which is especially popular with snowboarders.

The ski lift system has been upgraded recently with new gondolas and high-speed chairlifts, but there are few connections between the different ski areas within the Davos region, so a car might be necessary if you hope to experience several of them.

Resources

The Telegraph in the U.K. included a piece earlier this autumn about Davos, the resorts there and the skiing and snowboarding conditions that it gleaned from, “Where to Ski and Snowboard 2012” guide that you can find here.

Ultimate Ski has a ton of great information on the various ski areas, what levels of skiers each caters to, connections between them, and travel information.

A vintage poster advertising Davos as a ski destination.

Getting There

The closest major airport is in Zurich, just about 100 miles away. It’s a major European hub that handles over 20 million passengers annually and is serviced by airlines in every alliance including KLM and Air France in SkyTeam, Lufthansa and Swiss (obviously) in Star Alliance; and British Airways and American in Oneworld

On Saturdays from December-Easter, the Davos Express coach runs from Terminal B to Davos four times a day and costs 120 CHF ($128.50) roundtrip. Swiss Rail trains make the journey in about 2 hours and 40 minutes starting at Zurich Airport, but the trip involves two train changes, one in Zurich itself and another at Landquart, so that might be too inconvenient for travelers with a lot of luggage. Still at just 28 CHF ($30) each way, it’s a pretty good bargain. If you are in a group and want more flexibility, renting a car would probably be the best option. The drive is just 2 hours on Switzerland’s well maintained highways and roads.

The chalet-style Sheraton Waldhuus.

Hotel Options

Unfortunately, like in much of Europe, the chain hotels don’t have a huge presence here…yet. Starwood Preferred Guests actually have a Sheraton option, and Priority Club and Hilton HHonors members will soon have properties to visit as well.

Sheraton Davos Hotel Waldhuus: SPG members can take advantage of the fact that there is a 93-room Sheraton just at the edge of town and near several cross-country ski runs. The hotel also has complimentary shuttle service to the Jakobshorn and Parsenn lifts. The building looks like it has a chalet-style aesthetic, and quite a few travelers who shared their thoughts on forums like TripAdvisor called it a cozy experience with great views of the mountains from the patios and balconies in every room, and praised the hotel’s Restaurant Waldhuus for its delicious Swiss menu.

A (tiny) Classic Room at the Sheraton Waldhuus.

There were a few comments, however, about how tiny the classic rooms are even by European standards, and the photo of one of them here seems to back that up, but there are four higher room categories that past guests have found to be much more spacious. Rooms come with the Sheraton Sweet Sleeper Bed, and the usual array of features like flatscreen TV’s. The hotel also runs a shuttle to the Davos-Dorf and Davos-Platz train stations if you take the train from Zurich. Rates this winter start at 419 CHF ($450), and since this is an SPG Category 4 hotel, free night redemptions start at 10,000 Starpoints, or 4,000 Starpoints + $60.

A rendering of the planned Intercontinental Davos, scheduled to open at the end of 2013.

Intercontinental Davos Resort and Spa: Members of IHG’s Priority Club should be pleased to learn that the group plans to open a new Intercontinental northeast of town with views over Davos and the lake in the last quarter of 2013, just in time for the 2014 ski season. Sure, it’s two years down the pike, but start thinking about the points you’ll need to get there now. Based on the renderings, the hotel looks like it’ll be a stunner.

The building will have a reflective brass-colored, oval-shaped metal shell that is meant to reflect the natural surroundings, and which will be punctuated by room balconies. It kind of looks like a giant golden brain.

There’s not a huge amount of information available yet, but the hard facts are that all 193 rooms and 23 suites will have private balconies. There will be a 17,000-square-foot spa (with a “cocooning” theme) including a fitness center and pool, and the hotel’s top story will be dedicated to the resort’s two restaurants and bars, along with private dining rooms. No word on ski-in/ski-out facilities or other winter sports amenities, but we’ll keep checking back in on the property as it progresses.

The resort will be heated with 90% renewable energy, and constructed with locally sourced wood and stone in compliance with IHG’s Green Engage Environmental Standards initiative. We’ll have to look more into that, but on the surface it sounds cool.

No word yet on what the points redemption values will be, but being an Intercontinental, rates should vary between 30,000-50,000 for free nights.

A rendering of the planned Hilton Garden Inn opening at the end of 2012.

Hilton Garden Inn: Set to open right in the middle of town opposite the Congress Center for the winter 2012-2013 ski season is a three-star Hilton Garden Inn property. It seems a bit out of place in ritzy Davos, but hey, why spend all your money or points on a room when you’ll have to get to Switzerland in the first place and there are so many fancy restaurants and shops in town? Plus, if you plan to be out on the slopes all day, all you need is a room with a shower and a comfortable bed, and this should do. It seems like staying here might be more for business travelers since it’s right in town and not near the slopes, but if you’re willing to drive to and from the ski slopes, and need to find a budget option, this might work for you.

Early information from Business Traveller says that it will have 148 rooms with signature Hilton elements like Garden Sleep System beds, Mirra ergonomic chairs, a casual all-day dining restaurant and lobby bar, a fitness center and free internet access.

The Splurges

The Schwarzhorn Suite's living room (with fireplace) at the Grischa in Davos.

Have a little extra cash, and not planning to use points to stay in Davos? Our intel says that the poshest place in town is the Grischa-DAS Hotel with just 55 rooms and 38 suites ranging from diminutive singles to the sprawling Schwarzhorn Suite. From the photos, the design takes its inspiration from mid-century Swiss minimalism with mountain-man accents like rough-hewn stone and unfinished wood paneling, and cheeky touches like fur pillows and throws on the guestroom beds…kind of like ski chalet meets bordello. Definitely the place to stay for the young, hip set in town. Rates start at around $350 a night during ski season.

The stately Steigenberger Grandhotel Belvedere.

Also in town near the Congress Center is the Old World Hotel Steigenberger Grandhotel Belvedere. The Belle Epoque hotel was originally opened back in 1875, and still claims the top spot as grande dame of the town. As with the other hotels, rooms on the standard end of the spectrum look to be a bit small, but there are some huge suites to be had, and even deluxe rooms come with small sitting areas. The hotel also has a wine bar, a casual bistro and an elegant Italian restaurant popular with powerbrokers in town while tagalongs hole up for some therapy and pampering in the expansive indoor spa. Guests are treated to complimentary transfers from the Davos-Platz train station, and can take free shuttles to the lift stations to the ski areas above town. Rates this winter start at 302 CHF ($325).

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