Resorts in Europe usually fall into one of two categories – the wooden chalets and fir trees of Alpine villages such as Zermatt, and the towering hotels and concrete malls of purpose-built resorts like Flaine. Engelberg in Switzerland is neither. Its centre is surrounded by belle époque buildings, pastel-coloured and dotted with balconies. Today it looks a bit like Nice in a snow dome.
An attractive, snow-sure resort with easy transport links from Zurich, could Engelberg, whose name means Angel Mountain, be the Alps’ best-kept secret? I’m starting to think so until I get off the shuttle bus to the first ski lift to find a stagnant sea of skiers and boarders waiting for the doors to open. The latest dump has delayed the lift opening, but even so it’s still a long slog to the top. The huge vertical distance from the town to the highest lift station means you need to catch four lengthy lifts to the top.
When we get off the third cable car at Stand, the shark fin summit of Mount Titlis pierces the sky, and the snow – source of so much trouble – lies in thick powder. All is forgiven.
You can take the final lift, a rotating cable car with a glass bottom for panoramic views, up to Klein Titlis to access glacier skiing or take in the scenery from the highest tourist destination in central Switzerland, but we’ve been waiting long enough. It’s time to hit the slopes.
The ski area is separated into beginner and intermediate areas, with several well-known off-piste runs for the more advanced. By the top of the third lift we’ve already signed up for the tougher pistes, and I launch myself down the steep, churned piste, praying my legs will remember what to do.
In these conditions, though, it’s no concern when they don’t – a soft landing is pretty much guaranteed. It also doesn’t matter it’s not the biggest ski area I’ve come across, with countless waist-deep powder runs metres from the piste.
One of the highlights of Engelberg skiing, though, is that you don’t have to repeat the lift sequence on the way down. There’s a 12km run from Titlis to the valley – one of the longest in the Alps – and it conveniently starts off tricky and steep but, as your legs tire, gets gradually more gentle and winding until you reach Sammelplatz for the bus home.
After a run like this you need sustenance – and Engelberg isn’t short of restaurants serving up hearty Swiss food, such as Älplermagronen (Alpine farmer’s macaroni) and rosti. At the wooden-clad Alpenclub we tuck into a huge vat of fondue, soaking up the melted cheese with bread and potato, leaving just enough room for the legendary house chocolate mousse.
Engelberg might be good, but it’s surely this recipe that’s the best kept secret in the Alps.
Visit an igloo village
For après-ski with a difference, head to the Igloo Village at Trubsee (near the top of the first lift). You can get a warming gluhwein and fondue at the bar, or splash out on a night in your own igloo. The village is rebuilt every year and each room is decorated with wall carvings. There’s even a sauna and hot tub. See iglu-dorf.com.
» Amy Adams travelled with Switzerland Tourism. See myswitzerland.com or call the Switzerland Travel Centre on 00800 100 200 30