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DISCOVER SWITZERLAND

IN PICTURES: Swiss push for destruction of ‘eyesore’ abandoned ski resorts

In a remote, secluded valley in the Swiss Alps, a line of rusty ski lift masts scar the grassy hillside where cows lazily graze.

The Super Saint Bernard ski resort in Switzerland's southern Wallis canton, near the Italian border, has been abandoned since 2010. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
The Super Saint Bernard ski resort in Switzerland's southern Wallis canton, near the Italian border, has been abandoned since 2010. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

The lifts at the once bustling Super Saint Bernard ski resort in Switzerland’s southern Wallis canton, near the Italian border, stopped running in 2010.

The Super Saint Bernard ski resort in Switzerland's southern Wallis canton, near the Italian border, has been abandoned since 2010. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

The Super Saint Bernard ski resort in Switzerland’s southern Wallis canton, near the Italian border, has been abandoned since 2010. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Since the local company that ran the small station folded, the infrastructure and facilities have been left as a disintegrating blemish on the Alpine landscape.

“Frankly, I would like to see them destroy it, raze it,” former resort director Claude Lattion acknowledged to AFP.

“You arrive from Italy over the Great Saint Bernard Pass and see this,” he said, nodding towards the graffiti-covered ruins and piles of broken glass that once housed the restaurant and ski lift departure station.

With its spectacular mountain landscapes and pristine slopes, Switzerland draws winter sports fans and tourists from around the world.

Former resort director Claude Lattion poses in the ruins of the departure gondola lift station of Super Saint-Bernard ski resort. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Former resort director Claude Lattion poses in the ruins of the departure gondola lift station of Super Saint-Bernard ski resort. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

But in recent years, shortages of snow and especially of money have seen many of its smaller, local stations struggle to keep their ski lifts running.

At least 14 out of 2,433 are currently out of order, according to the Federal Office of Transport. 

Snow business: How to find a job in winter sports in Switzerland

‘Eyesore’ 

Swiss law requires resort owners to pay for the cost of dismantling abandoned ski lifts.

But the situation is more complicated when resorts file for bankruptcy, as Super Saint Bernard has done.

Discussions about whether a buyer can be found, or if regional or local authorities should foot the bill, can drag on for years.

In the small neighbouring village of Bourg-Saint-Pierre, mayor Gilbert Tornare said several solutions have been examined “to get rid of this eyesore”.

But the cost is too steep for the community of just 200 people, he said.

The lifts at the Super Saint Bernard ski resort in Switzerland haven't run since 2010. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

The lifts at the Super Saint Bernard ski resort in Switzerland haven’t run since 2010. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

In all, up to two million Swiss francs ($2.1 million) will be needed to dismantle the station, removing the ski lift masts and decontaminating a site that stretches up to an altitude of 2,800 metres (9,200 feet).

Wallis canton, meanwhile, has suggested using army conscripts for the job to limit the cost.

The case illustrates the chronic difficulties facing smaller ski stations across Switzerland.

For resorts with fewer than 100,000 skiers a year, it is “difficult to turn a profit”, Swiss tourism expert Laurent Vanat told AFP.

Super Saint Bernard, which only had around 20 kilometres (12.4 miles) of slopes and was hampered by its remote location, far from the nearest village, was drawing only about 20,000 skiers per season before it closed.

The Super Saint Bernard ski resort in Switzerland's southern Wallis canton, near the Italian border, has been abandoned since 2010. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

The abandoned Super Saint Bernard ski resort in Switzerland. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

New use?

While the high-altitude station typically sees plenty of snow, other small resorts are being hit by the impact of climate change, which has left the white gold in short supply.

Watching his two dogs sniff around the wreckage of the business he once ran, Lattion said he would have liked to see Super Saint Bernard “put to new use”.

One young local entrepreneur wants to do just that and has proposed creating a hotel reachable by a small cable car.

Two unprepared slopes could be used in winter, while plenty of paths are available for summer hikes, offering a softer approach to mountain tourism than the one driven by the large resorts.

But their plan has been stalled for five years, with a controversial wind farm plan blocking all public financing for new ski projects in the area.

Rebuilding a ski station, Lattion acknowledged, “is not really in the spirit of the times”.

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DISCOVER SWITZERLAND

The five most beautiful Swiss villages to discover by boat

Switzerland has beautiful villages and lakes which makes it a perfect country to discover and admire by boat. Here are five towns worth exploring from the water fronts.

The five most beautiful Swiss villages to discover by boat

Switzerland has 6 percent of Europe’s freshwater reserves, and to confirm this you only have to look at the huge number of lakes dotting the Confederation.

Each of these lakes possesses a unique flair, and to discover them to the fullest we recommend a boat tour, starting from these 5 beautiful villages, all members of the “The Most Beautiful Villages in Switzerland” network.

1. Gersau – Lake Lucerne (SZ)

In the heart of Switzerland we find Lake Vierwaldstättersee, commonly called Lake Lucerne. Here, in a gentle green patch of land, lies the hamlet of Gersau. In ancient times this municipality was a tiny independent state, remaining the world’s smallest republic until 1817, when it was annexed to Canton Schwyz. This region enjoys a Mediterranean micro climate, so it is not surprising to find a rich vegetation of exotic flowers and plants.

Gersau swiss villages

(Photo by Christian Guerra / @swissvillages)

From Gersau it is possible to take an unforgettable boat tour on Lake Lucerne to other neighboring villages such as Beckenried and Kehrsiten or directly to the city of Lucerne.

Gersau swiss village

(Photo by Christian Guerra / @swissvillages)

2. Saint Saphorin – Lake Geneva (VD)

In the Lavaux region, one of Switzerland’s UNESCO sites, the charming old village of Saint-Saphorin can be found among the vineyards. A few houses gather compactly around the church of Saint Symphorien, which gave its name to the village, which was once called Glerula. The square in the old town invites tourists for a stop, perhaps to enjoy an excellent fish dish and sip a glass of local wine.

saint saphorin lake Geneva Swiss villages
(Photo by Christian Guerra / @swissvillages)

Saint-Saphorin overlooks Lake Geneva, the largest lake in all of Europe that bathes the Swiss and French coasts. From here it is possible to reach the cities of Vevey and Cully by boat and even go as far as Lausanne.

saint saphorin lake Geneva Swiss villages
(Photo by Christian Guerra / @swissvillages)

3. Ascona – Lake Maggiore (TI)

Ascona is one of the most popular and well-known destinations in Switzerland, thanks to its mild climate and Mediterranean atmosphere. The lakefront is full of restaurants and bars where to enjoy an aperitif, while in the old town center we find many boutiques, stores but also museums and exhibition centers of some importance.

Going up the hill we then reach Monte Verità: a fascinating place that once served as a meeting place for those who followed an alternative life away from the hectic daily routine.

ascona lake maggiore Swiss villages

(Photo by Christian Guerra / @swissvillages)

From Ascona it is possible to take beautiful boat tours on Lake Maggiore to nearby destinations such as S. Nazzaro in the Gambarogno or to the Brissago Islands, which are home to the only island botanical garden in all of Switzerland.

ascona lake maggiore swiss villages

(Photo by Christian Guerra / @swissvillages)

4. Erlach – Lake Biel (BE)

Erlach is a unique village overlooking Lake Biel. In the upper part of the town we find the old castle, which now houses a museum and school, and beautiful houses that gradually descend to the shores of the lake, creating a picture-postcard view. All around, the vineyard takes center stage, and there is no shortage of several wine cellars where wine tasting can take place.

Erlach lake Biel swiss villages

(Photo by Christian Guerra / @swissvillages)

Lake Biel possesses a strip of land that stretches from Erlach for several kilometers to the island of St. Peter (now in fact turned into a peninsula), which was home for some time to the well-known philosopher Rousseau. From Erlach it is possible to reach by boat the beautiful villages of Le Landeron and La Neuveville, both members of the same network of “The Most Beautiful Villages in Switzerland”.

erlach lake Biel swiss villages

(Photo by Christian Guerra / @swissvillages)

5. Grandson – Lake Neuchâtel (VD)

On the romantic Lake Neuchâtel, it is impossible not to notice from afar the small town of Grandson. Of great note are its colorful houses and the old St. Baptist Church, a national historic monument. Walking through the narrow lanes we will find ourselves in many small squares and nooks that are decorated and well-kept and all with jaw-dropping views of the lake. Grandson’s star is its immense 11th-century castle, which houses an outstanding collection of arms and armor.

grandson lake Neuchatel swiss villages

(Photo by Christian Guerra / @swissvillages)

Lake Neuchâtel is an ideal summer destination for cooling off in its clear waters. In Grandson, for example, there is certainly no shortage of lidos and green areas to relax. On board the boat you can take part in tours and discover the secrets of the lake’s preserved shores.

grandson lake neuchatel swiss villages

(Photo by Christian Guerra / @swissvillages)

You can find out more about these 5 villages and many others by downloading the official “Beaux Villages” app for iOS and Android.

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