James Bond star Roger Moore once lived in the Swiss mountain town of Crans-Montana and I’m also anticipating some licensed to thrill activities.
Debonaire Sir Roger fell in love with the upmarket resort while filming scenes for For Your Eyes Only and it is the understated glamour that still attracts scores of British families here more than 40 years later.
Famed for being one of the sunniest places in the Alps, the south-facing resort sits on a plateau in the Valais canton with spectacular views of the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc.
Crans-Montana may not have quite the same glitzy cachet of nearby Verbier, however the two-centre town — Crans is the upmarket part, with jewellery shops and concept stores, while Montana is more low-key and sporty — is gaining a following all of its own.
Originally a golfing and health retreat in the early 1900’s, Crans-Montana later opened up the mountains to skiers and eventually mountain bikers in the early 2000s.
At the lively après-ski at the Zerodix bar at the foot of the cable car the former England rugby player James Haskell can often be found spinning the decks to a table-dancing crowd in February, which suggests there’s more to this town than designer shops and Michelin-starred restaurants.
The chic resort boasts one of the best Alpine snowparks meaning a younger crowd — including North Americans and Britons — is being attracted by new additions to the area. These include Alaïa Chalet, a sports facility in nearby Lens, with a skatepark and trampolining centre; and Alaïa Bay which boasts a state-of-the-art wave pool for surfers. Adam Bonvin, the co-founder of Alaïa, says: “This is my home town and I always felt that Crans-Montana had no single real selling point, so I wanted to turn it into an adventure-sports hub that would attract a wider demographic. There is no other Swiss resort where you can ski, surf and skateboard in one day.”
Wakeboarding in Etang-Long lake
To that end, I visit the Etang-Long lake to try wakeboarding, where you are towed by an overhead cable which in theory has you surfing across the water whooping with delight.
I say “in theory”, because I find getting into the upright position a challenge and am soon being unceremoniously dragged on my belly along the lake as a panicked rainbow trout leaps in front of me.
Our instructor urges me to try again, suggesting I use a different board. Suddenly I am upright and skimming across the lake. I even manage a turn around the buoy for a home run to cheers from bystanders.
La Marmotte Microbrewery
It’s thirsty work this adrenalin stuff, so I head to the La Marmotte microbrewery on the shores of Lake Grenon for a beer tasting session.
Yves Klingler, owner of the adjoining Hotel du Lac decided to expand his business into brewing and coffee making and now produces his own delicious artisan beer including one named Antigel (antifreeze) gin, cider, and even a single malt whisky.
During the pandemic, the Swiss entrepreneur switched to brewing alcohol hand gel which kept his staff in jobs.
Village of Valençon
Next, I head to the village of Valençon part of Crans-Montana to sample the wines of Cave Nicolas Bagnoud.
The winery is renowned for the fine whites and reds they produce with grapes such as Cornalin, the distinguished red variety common to the region.
Bagnoud is an excellent producer of this red, considered one of Valais’ treasures. It’s production dates at least to the early 14th century
Tastings here are highly recommended and the subtly fizzy white Fendant was among my favourites.
The wines paired well too with the meal of raclette, which involves the grilling and slicing of rounds of semi-hard cow’s milk cheese heated to just the right temperature for eating then served up with sides of potatoes and pickles.
We’re in need of some carb-busting exercise the next day so we join guide Julien Cavé for a day of mountain e-biking: Passionate about mountains and bikes, Julien who is also a ski and snowboard instructor, shares his most useful tips and techniques to improve your performance and confidence.
“E-biking is an excellent and fun way of seeing the mountains in Summer,” says Julien, pointing out the thin trails weaving down steep grassy slopes above sheer cliffs of grey gneiss [coarse-grained, granite-like rock.)
Although purists may scoff at e-biking, it’s easy to see why these machines are surging in popularity. They are ideal for novice riders who want assistance on the steep climbs but still want to retain that ‘regular bike’ feel on the way back down.
After a brief lesson outside the rental shop, we’re soon powering up the mountain enjoying forests, lakes, waterfalls, pastures and even a glacier, which provides a playground that is perfect for mountain bikers.
Alpage du Sex
We take lunch at the charmingly named Alpage du Sex, a quaint, typically Swiss mountain eatery and cheese farm on the Bisse de Tsittoret walk to the Tieche waterfalls.
The restaurant is full of hikers and bikers enjoying the al fresco dining. The rosti is the best I have had in the region and sausages and steaks are grilled outside, filling the air with delicious bbq smells.
It’s a change of pace the next day with a visit to an eco-museum at Colombire, a hamlet of ancient buildings known as mayen – traditional wooden Alpine dwellings housing families, their livestock and food stores. Now a rural museum, Colombire is a powerful reminder of how tough it was for herders living on the pastures.
After a traditional cheese-making demonstration, mountain guide Etienne Jaccottet also tells us about wolf-spotting and the modern-day tradition of cow fighting.
Each year, Valais hosts a battle of the cows tournament called combats de reines which began in the 1920s and draws as many as 50,000 spectators in a year. The winner of these tussles is called La Reine des Reines (“the queen of queens”) and increases dramatically in value as she’s crowned ruler of the herd.
But there’s no locking horns among the bovines in front of us – they’re lazily chewing the cud to make more raclette cheese for my next visit.
FLY: SWISS offers more than 160 weekly flights from London Heathrow, London City, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh and London Gatwick (seasonal) to Zurich or Geneva. One-way fares start from £76 to Zurich and from £54 to Geneva.Crans-Montana is just over two hours away by train from Geneva Airport
Compare flights with Skyscanner.
STAY: Alaia Lodge https://alaialodge.ch/en/. Alaia Lodge is a fully modernized and renovated Swiss hotel in the centre of Crans Montana and within walking distance of the ski lifts.
GET AROUND: The Swiss Travel Pass offers unlimited travel on consecutive days throughout the Swiss Travel System rail, bus and boat network. This pass also covers scenic routes and local trams and buses in around 90 towns and cities, and includes the Swiss Museum Pass, which allows you free entrance to 500 museums and exhibitions. Prices start from £186 for a three-day second-class ticket. Find out exactly what the Swiss Travel Pass covers here: mystsnet.com/areaofvalidity
BIKE: Crans-Montana Bike School: esscrans-montana.ch/en
Stretching from the Rhone valley to the Plaine Morte Glacier at 3000m, sunny Crans-Montana has breathtaking views over a string of mountain peaks that unfold from Bietschhorn to Mont Blanc via the Matterhorn. With its lakes, forests, glaciers and vineyards, the region has something to offer everyone. For sports fans, there are many amenities dedicated to sporting activities, whilst for cultural devotees, there are museums, events and festivals.
In fact, Crans-Montana combines all the benefits of the urban lifestyle within a mountain setting, with a wide selection of restaurants ranging from mountain huts to award-winning restaurants, boutiques and shops, a wellness centre, a variety of entertainment and a vibrant nightlife. It is one of two destinations in French-speaking Switzerland to have been awarded the label “Family Destination” by the Swiss Tourism Federation.
MORE INFO: For more information, visit swiss.com, www.crans-montana.ch/en/
Also Read: Ski-Safari in Switzerland’s 4 Vallees & A ski guide to Crans-Montana