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Less Is More at Swiss Ski Village

February 02, 1992|BEVERLY BEYER and ED RABEY

KLOSTERS, Switzerland — Little did the 13th-Century monks know when they founded a small monastery here in eastern Switzerland and named the village for their "cloisters" that it would become the creme de la creme of Swiss ski resorts seven centuries later.

Adventurous Britishers, always looking for an escape from English weather, discovered larger Davos (just eight miles up the valley) in the 19th Century and very nearly turned it into a small outpost of the empire, as they have with many Continental resorts with civilized climates.

Then, after World War II, Davos became what locals here delight in calling a "department store" resort, joining St. Moritz, Zermatt and other renowned Swiss villages in attracting hordes of visitors year-round. Klosters chose a different route, deciding to approve a strict ban on building and remain a small and intimate "boutique resort." It paid off.

Prince Charles has been a regular here since he was a schoolboy, and he, Princess Di and a clutch of their friends still make the yearly pilgrimage to schuss the slopes and party into the evening with local cronies.

Klosters' small size also breeds a comfortable familiarity between visitors and locals that is akin to being treated as a member of the family upon arrival. To join the clan, any outlander can just walk through the village and pet dachshunds; every family in this town of about 4,000 seems to own at least one.

Apart from the village being a real charmer, the setting between mountains of the Prattigau has scenery beyond spectacular. And while other Swiss resorts may rate a page or two in Michelin's Green Guide, Klosters is happy to settle for a scant paragraph describing it as "still quite rural."

Winter and springtime skiing (considered among the best in Switzerland during March and April) is indeed glorious, thanks to sharing the world-renowned Parsenn snowfields and slopes with neighbor Davos. With almost 100 miles of ski runs, six cable cars and 18 lifts, the Klosters-Davos area is a cornucopian paradise for winter sports enthusiasts. A skiers' shuttle train runs all day between the two towns.

Summertime sees the Prattigau's mountain and valley meadows come alive with wildflowers. Just toss your hat and it lands over dozens of radiant colors. All of which makes for world-class hiking.

On our scale of Swiss resorts, we rate Klosters among our two or three favorites. In fact, one doesn't find much better anywhere in Europe.

How long/how much? Skiers will want to give it at least a week, while three days is enough to unwind in summer. Klosters is also a great base for visiting other lovely little villages of the Graubunden canton (Grisons in English), one of the country's most scenic regions. Most of Europe is terribly expensive these days, and Switzerland is no exception.

Settling in: Hotel Ratia on the edge of the village is a 13th-Century farmhouse with the older parts made of logs. Known as a Relais du Silence for its tranquil setting, the Ratia's front yard is an endless meadow with a 400-yard walk to the cable-car station and cross-country trails beginning at the front door.

Within, the Ratia is all rustic charm, its log-walled dining room graced with ancient beams, a copper-hooded fireplace and tiny bar. Bedroom furnishings are in pristine white pine to match the walls and ceilings. Some bedrooms have balconies fringed with geranium boxes. Half-pension (two meals) is required here, as in most Swiss resort hotels, and the owners prepare all of the meals. There are only 20 rooms; four are without private baths and less expensive.

Bundnerhof, run for 40 years by the Karlen-Anderhub family at mid-village, is rather boxy from the outside, but within, a feeling of warmth and gemutlichkeit prevails. The four-story building has parking and an elevator, and its dining room is noted for regional dishes.

The Alpina Hotel and Guesthouse has perhaps the best location in town, just across from the outdoor railway station and on the main shopping street. In the twin chalets are lounges and spacious rooms done in a contemporary treatment of traditional Graubunden architecture. Most of Alpina's bedrooms have private balconies, and there's an indoor pool, sauna and fitness gym. All rooms have TV and most of the standard amenities. It's a wonderful place for families.

Regional food and drink: Graubunden has mostly farmer fare that varies some from one part of the canton to the next. Chapuns are a typical dish. A pastry made of flour, eggs, bread, various meats and spices is rolled in vegetable leaves and cooked. The result looks something like an omelet.

Chasgatschader is a particular favorite around Klosters. It's a kind of pancake made of bread, milk and cheese, cooked and served in a large pan. Families often dine on this lunchtime staple straight from the pan. Greuchta engadiner mit rosti, a very rich and heavenly sausage, usually comes with rosti , the ever-present pan-fried potato cakes.

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