How much can you learn about a resort area and a hotel in an overnight stay? More than enough, in my opinion, for me to recommend Switzerland’s Simmental Valley as a vacation destination and the Lenkerhof five-star alpine luxury resort as the accommodation in which to spend your Swiss break.
Along with a group of other journalists from around the world, I spent a night in the Lenkerhof alpine resort in late January 2012, when the local countryside was covered in several feet of snow. Rarely have I eaten so well and enjoyed so much the ambience of a hotel and its surroundings.
Lenkerhof, situated at the western edge of the alpine village of Lenk at the head of the Simmental Valley, can be many things to many people. First and foremost it is a beautiful, relaxing hotel in which to spend either a winter or a summer vacation – or a break at any time in between (except for the month and a half between early April and late May, when it is closed).
As a base for skiing and other winter sports, the Lenkerhof couldn’t be better situated. The hotel is literally two minutes’ walk from a cable car and skilifts which take skiers and spectators up to the top of Leiterli, a 2,001-meter (6,565-foot) mountain which has ski runs for all ages and stages of proficiency.
Leiterli is but one part of a massif called Betelberg, which offers a complex of other ski pistes, easy and difficult, as well as the lifts and gondolas needed to reach them. Round about Lenk are many other skilifts and cable cars ascending various other mountains, notably the Bühlberg and Metschstand on the other side of the village.
Lenk is the southernmost resort village in the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland and markets itself as a common ski district with the resort village of Adelboden in the next valley to the east. The next valley to the west, fairly easily reached by road from Lenk, boasts the famous alpine resort of Gstaad.
From the top of Leiterli, the views of the mountains all around are stunning. Dominating the scene directly to the south is the vast, Table Mountain-like massif of Wildstrubel, which has a series of summits all peaking at 3,243-3,244 meters (10,640 feet).
In all, Lenk boasts 72 gondolas (the local name for cable-car lines), skilifts and chairlifts, serving 210 kilometers (130 miles) of ski runs – 60 per cent of which are covered with artificial snow if needed. The village also has the Gran Masta Snowpark and a huge winter and summer adventure park for children.
There are also 15km (9.3mi) of cross-country skiing rails on the surrounding mountains and 44km (27mi) surrounding the local villages, as well as 80km (50mi) of winter-hiking trails, 20km (12.5mi) of sledging and airboard trails and 40 mountain restaurants and bars. (There is a big one at the first cable-car terminus, three-quarters of the way up Leiterli in a location called Stoss.)
In the summer, all of the snow disappears – except on the highest peaks – so that Lenk and the hillsides around it become a hikers’ and equestrians’ paradise of alpine meadows and trails, as well as a mecca for mountain bikers who navigate the mountain trails and ridges.
A little-known fact is that on average Lenk has some 250 days of sunshine each year, in summer and winter. There are more than 50 hotels and guesthouses in and around Lenk – and on some mountains, such as Bühlberg – to cater for summer and winter visitors.
Lenk still follows a true alpine way of life. Farming of dairy and beef cattle is widespread. There are some 500 farms in the valley and the Simmental Valley has its own unique breed of cow, the Simmentaler, 15,000 of which live in the valley along with its 9,000 human residents.
During the summer the Simmentaler cows graze high on the mountains on alpine pastures, but in mid-October they are brought down to the valley in order to over-winter in barns.
The cows’ descent from the high pastures is celebrated in a centuries-old tradition. Each year, upon their descent from the mountains, the cows parade through Lenk past crowds of cheering onlookers, each cow bedecked with garlands of flowers. The most beautifully adorned cow is awarded the title of “Miss Lenk”.