Villars-Sur-Ollon, or simply Villars, is a small quaint town, made up of typically Swiss wooden chalets separated by a main shopping street, and it has a real homely or family feel and a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere. The area also has some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen.
Yet again this would be a trip of firsts, a seemingly common theme, for I was joined by Lynne who I’d met in Courchevel the previous week. In the past I’d mostly traveled by myself, with family, or as part of a larger group, so going as a pair (I don’t want to use the word ‘couple’) was going to be a different experience.
I suppose the boringly honest reason I chose Villars was because of the short transfer time, and easy train links to Geneva, which was important for my next trip to Austria. I had wanted to go to Verbier, which by all accounts is the premier Swiss resort, but just couldn’t make it work. So looking at the internet and travel brochures, Villars seemed to be the next best option given the conditions.
Lynne is a more experienced traveler than myself, and doesn’t like to make plans, instead preferring to drift around wherever she fancies, it’s a refreshing attitude, and she’s fun to be around and has definitely had an impacted on how I’ll travel in the future – so it was understandable that she laughed when we arrived early on Saturday morning in Geneva, and like the amateur I am I pulled out a whole ream of paper from my bag consisting of printed maps, timetables, schedules, itineraries, tickets, and other assorted documents… she suggested we should ditch my plan and our bags and go and explore Geneva for the day. Why didn’t I think of that?
Geneva is nice, but it was freezing, and in true Sheltie fashion I donned nothing more than my hoodie – regrettable stupidity on my part. We walked around, went to a few shops, a museum, and then had some lunch – accompanied by wine…
I’ll probably mention this a few times, but Switzerland isn’t cheap, in fact it’s outrageously expensive! And I’m glad my ‘plan’ only involved spending one week in the country.
We were warmer for the wine, so we got more for the train. The journey is pretty simple, or should be, taking you around the scenic Lake Geneva, with only one change in Bex. However we managed to get a train requiring two changes, and by this time we were having far too much fun to really notice.
Thankfully we’d made friends with numerous long suffering locals along the way who kept us right. So after a stop and change at Aigle, having more wine, we made it to Bex… so we had more wine.
We were told to get the ‘slow train’ up to Villars, which I didn’t realise meant a Tram, so we missed the first one, and after yet more wine, the following tram driver overheard us, and made sure we got onboard – even carrying Lynne’s bags to the tram from the cafe.
The Swiss are a very friendly bunch!
All in all it was a real laugh getting to Villars, and the hotel was a easy five minutes walk from the train station, but we still ended up in a similarly named chalet at one point and couldn’t understand why there was no reception! In the end we fell into the real Hotel Le Bristol, safe and sound if a little late, but still smiling.
The first two days snowboarding, with Lynne skiing, we spent exploring the different areas. Lynne is a really fast skier and keeping up wasn’t easy especially on the flat areas, but it forced me onwards.
I wasn’t impressed with the piste map, there was a lack of names or numbers for runs and lifts, but we managed to figure it out ok, it’s not a big place. The Villars and Bretaye areas were full of beginners, but unavoidable. The Les Chaux area had some nice runs, but we spent most of our time over and around the Les Diablerets side… but avoid the Isenau area, it wasn’t worth the effort. Best of all is the Glacier 3000 area.
I don’t know what other word to use but beautiful, for that’s what these mountains are, its a truly beautiful area and I was awe struck at times, and knew my camera and picture taking abilities simply couldn’t do justice to what we were seeing.
I could complain about the number of unavoidable t-bars and button tows, but with Lynne there skiing I was forced to use them, and found they weren’t as bad as I remembered. The t-bars could actually be fun at times.
The other issue in Villars is the number of ski school kids and beginners – they are everywhere! Massive swarms of them, and in the mornings our tactic was to get past them all and blaze a trail over to the Les Diablerets side away from the chaos. Kids under nine ski for free, making Villars a real family and Club Med location. The home run down to Villars at the end of the day was good but also problematic with the number of beginners.
On the third day I encountered a father and his four year old son skiing. They both moved out and I aimed to pass down the middle, but when the father looked back and saw me, he cut straight back across and slammed me into his son! With no way to turn or stop my board, I bowled the small screaming boy over, and went flying head first down the slope, landing, yet again on my back and head.
It just so happened to be the day I went out without my helmet, and if it hadn’t been for my backpack mostly breaking my fall I think I’d have been worse off – I was only a little dazed, and managed to get up and slowly board down the slope where Lynne was waiting with a Vin Chaud in the bar. The boy was fine…
It really is wise to wear a helmet, there are a lot of crazy maniacs on the slopes… and me!
I had a “cartoon” style lump on my back the next day, and coupled with hangovers, poor weather, and the fact it was Valentine’s Day, we decided to take a day off and relax.
We struggled to find decent Après-ski in Villars, there is nightlife but its quite tame with only a handful of good pubs and one club. It didn’t seem like a young persons party resort, and combined with prices like £8 a pint, it made for a quieter scene.
We still managed to do an admirable job of looking though.
It dumped snowed on Wednesday and Thursday, which meant the Glacier was closed, which was disappointing as we both desperately wanted to get up there. The silver lining is playing in fresh powder is fun anywhere, and I was buzzing after getting down on Wednesday. There is some good off-piste options if the conditions are good.
“It would be wrong to come to Switzerland and not have Fondue” Lynne told me, and couldn’t believe I’d never had it before! I thought I was cheesed out after Courchevel, but Fondue is excellent, and I’ll certainly be kitting out my house with a Fondue kit when I get home. Is there anything better than cheese and wine?
It was our last day skiing on Friday, and we got on the go earlier and made straight for the Glacier – it involves going up the Villars cable car, heading straight to Les Diablerets, and getting a bus to the Gacier 3000 cable car from there, and it took us nearly two hours to make it all the way.
But if you go to Villars – its a must, you have to go! It’s one of the best and must memorable days I’ve had, and easily the most breathtaking scenery, adding to what we’d already seen in Villars.
We both agreed if we were going back, we’d stay in Les Diablerets, as it’s alway from the ski schools and closer to the Glacier.
I also had my GoPro helmet cam on, and Lynne was as excited about it as me, which meant I was free to geek out as much as I wanted. Awesome. Hopefully I’ll get the footage edited and posted here soon.
Both Lynne and myself were happy to finish the week on the Glacier, it was such a high note to end on. In my opinion Chamonix and Villars have the most spectacular mountains I’ve seen, with Villars edging it simply because it was amazing wherever you looked.
I parted company with Lynne on Saturday, she was heading down to Chamonix, and it will be interesting to hear her thoughts on it, and in the mean time I’m making the long trip to Solden in Austria.
Villars wouldn’t suit every snowboarder, and I know we hit it lucky with conditions, but it was a truly fantastic and interesting week.
Onwards to Austria!
Villars Official site – http://www.villars.ch/en/index.cfm
Glacier 3000 site – http://www.glacier3000.ch/en/Winter/
Hotel Le Bristol – http://www.bristolvillars.ch/
Bookings made through Booking.com – http://www.booking.com/
Train info, bookings and timetables – http://www.sbb.ch/en/home.html