DM168

SWISS WINTER ESCAPE

With a little alp from my kids – making snowy memories with skis, trampolines and pub football

We couldn't remember such unadulterated fun. (Photo: Angus Begg)

It’s cold, expensive and just a tad hazardous. But a holiday with family in Switzerland can be unforgettable – and great fun.

‘It was 15°C on 1 January, mid-winter!” said Dan, my Cape Town mate now living near Germany’s Black Forest. “It’s hectic.” We were chatting about the uncharacteristically warm weather while watching our children play in the February snow at a modest ski resort called Der Kandel, high above the Glottertal valley, which a local travel website describes as home to “flowering meadows and Black Forest peaks, orchards and vineyards and dark pine forests”. That’s in summer.  

How we ended up there in winter – apart from the need for contact with my two children, aged 10 and 13 – was perhaps typical of the average South African traveller seeking an affordable way to share a week-long family holiday while travelling on the rand. To set the scene, my children live in Switzerland with their mother, where a machine coffee – without barista – at Zurich airport costs well over R120. While a holiday on the Swiss franc is painful, let’s be honest, unless you’re a South African government official or board member travelling at the taxpayer’s expense, the euro is not our friend either. Partner and I were more familiar with takkies than skis.

Using her preferred global booking engine, she booked a two-bed Airbnb set-up on the upper floor of a farmhouse about 500m from the village of Glottertal, 15 minutes from Der Kandel.

But first we had to meet Partner’s Holland-based CFO brother and sister-in-law after a few years’ absence. Brother had found and booked an Airbnb in the relatively high-altitude village of Oberstaufen, a German winter and summer holiday destination regarded as having some of the country’s best skiing.

Driving on the left is almost like skiing, as entertaining as it is informative about the country in which you find yourself. Any “mistakes”, like maybe turning into the wrong lane, were made with grace and hilarity, and met with neither middle fingers nor hoots.

In the three hours it took to reach Oberstaufen from Zurich, we skirted the industrial edge of a large lake called Bodensee and Google told us we’d passed through Lichtenstein, while Austria was announced by a red-and-white flag.

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Not much snow was evident as we climbed to Oberstaufen. The next, dark, morning though, these eager South Africans were greeted with thick snow blanketing the street-lit village below our apartment, the magic enhanced by falling flakes. It took 10 minutes to drive across the valley to the Steibis resort at Imberg, and half an hour for the four of us to rent skis and boots that looked more suitable for a lunar landing.

Partner and I hit the slopes. Surrounded by a range of three- to five-year-olds, taking tips from Partner’s brother and a tattooed German-speaking Yorkshireman doubling as an instructor, we slipped, slid and fell numerous times on our hour-long journey to the top of the kiddies’ slope. After one ungraceful crumple, Partner said she sustained a rain of blows to the head from a cluster of three-year-olds chanting: “Dinosaurus Rex!”

Switzerland travel
We were nurturing a parent-child bond, whatever the climate. (Photo: Angus Begg)

My own journey, emboldened by my belief that I had a grip on how to ski, was captured by Brother on a phone video, remarking to his wife in a vaguely incredulous tone as I sped towards his sister, waiting at the bottom of the older kids’ slope: “Gaan hy nie stop nie?

I didn’t. Neither of us could remember such unadulterated fun.

The tales were well received by the kids once we’d collected them and arrived at our farmhouse in Glottertal in the Black Forest. First prize for the children on this working farm of strong-yet-pleasant cowpat scent was the trampoline. A close second was reconnecting with Dan and his mid-teen children, who mine knew from Cape Town; some familiarity, not too far from their new Swiss alpine home. For me, medieval towns and villages presented their own attractions.

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We visited the old town of Waldkirch, 20 minutes down the motorway, with its ancient castle ruins and history captured in carved, storied wooden statues.

Fifteen minutes in the other direction was Freiburg old town, with its Gothic cathedral in the cobbled town square, surrounded by a market of fruit and vegetable produce and bock- and bratwurst stalls.

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Freiburg facilitated a specific connection with my son. We used to watch plenty of Liverpool football games. Finding a child-friendly pub in Freiburg, where we watched Liverpool win the league cup, was an immense pleasure. As was the daily, pre-sunshine trampoline sessions with my girl.

We were nurturing a parent-child bond in a challenging domestic climate, making memories and sharing experiences, whatever the climate. DM168

Travel details

  • Covid Testing: R550 per person;
  • Conversion of Covid-to-EU certificate: R500 per person (through Swiss authorities);
  • One week at a self-catering, two-bedroomed apartment in Oberstaufen, including ski passes: about R30,000 (most affordable in the area);
  • One week at Gschwander Hof: R10,500 (lowest Airbnb rate to be found in the area);
  • Ski hire: €126 (about R2,100) for three days for two people;
  • Family pub meal in Freiburg, burgers and refreshments for four: R1,100.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

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