Discover my favourite ski runs, hotels, restaurants and the rich Royal and celebrity heritage of Klosters in Switzerland
Skiing is in my blood. I think I learned to ski before I could even walk. It was instilled in me from such an early age largely due to my father, Charles Palmer-Tomkinson, who was an Olympic skier. So much of my life has revolved around Klosters and as a family we have a whole history there. My grandmother was Swiss and we’ve had family homes in Klosters for generations; my parents have also spent many skiing holidays alongside the Royal Family. My grandfather died there in a skiing accident, and my mother was caught up in an avalanche there – but this hasn’t dimmed my passion for the place, as I recently bought a home there too.
I’ve been to Klosters every year of my life; I haven’t missed one. I often go in summer, too. It’s incredibly beautiful all year round. Last year I was there for four months; I did the whole season and flew back every week for filming commitments and other work. It’s just over an hour’s drive south-east of Zürich, so really convenient. You take the Zürich-Chur road as far as the Landquart/Davos exit. The drive on from there is through a stunning narrow valley.
When my mum was in hospital after the avalanche (in 1988 - Prince Charles was also injured and a member of the party died), we spent months there as she recovered from her injuries. I do fear things like that happening but I always think of it like parking on double yellow lines: you do it, and some days you get caught and get a ticket, other days you don’t. I carry an avalanche beeper and I make sure I know how to use it. If you’re going to ski in these places and take the risks, then you have to be sensible and be prepared. You respect the mountains in the same way as you respect the sea.
Klosters is a very private place. I’m small fry compared to some of the celebrities who have been hosted there. Obviously, the Royal Family enjoy time in Klosters and have done all their lives. Greta Garbo used to live there, as did Deborah Kerr. Klosters is quite used to celebrities, so everyone is treated as equals. The locals are actually the best thing about Klosters; they’re very protective of their home, but very respectful of the people who visit. Prince William and Prince Harry are a bit older now and are doing their own thing more, but the best holiday memories of my life are with the Princes due to the close friendship between our families. Restaurants would be opened specially for them, and afterwards we’d go sledging in the dark, laughing and giggling the whole way down. Everyone in Klosters loved Prince William and Prince Harry and it was lovely to grow up and watch them ski; it was such fun. It was also wonderful to see them left alone and enjoying such privacy.
Some of my best memories are of skiing with my father. Because he was an Olympic skier and because he knew the mountains around Klosters well, we would go on what we called “magical mystery tours”. We could end up in the dark, getting lost or having to take our skis off and find our way back home. When we were children, he would get us all to set off with just sandwiches. He’d say we didn’t need a big fancy lunch and we would find a nice little view, then sit there eating our sandwiches. He didn’t want us to be spoiled. He's like a mountain goat; he loves it up there. Here's my guide to the resort:
The season runs from late November through to April each year and there are more than 200 miles of pistes to enjoy. The primary mountains are Parsenn-Gotschna and the Madrisa. Lifts on Madrisa go up to 2,600m and are good for beginners and intermediate skiers as well as children. The snow cover is reliable too. It’s a south slope and always sunny and it has all the things for children, such as ski schools and crèches. My brother runs the Marden’s Club (www.mardensclub.com) on the mountain, which helps to promote junior racing. Every Easter they run a race-training programme for youngsters.
I love to ski on the Gotschna. The great thing about skiing there is the scenery. You never go too high, so you have woods and streams and the lovely smell of pine all around you. The people of Klosters are just as protective of their greenery as they are of their town, which is evident in the wonderful woodland around the area.
I really like off-piste skiing in Klosters. In other resorts, where there are thousands of people, you can see all the off-piste skiing but then by lunchtime it has all gone. In Klosters, it’s all hiding in the woods. You don’t have to be out by 8am to find the snow. You can go out with someone who knows what they’re doing or you can take a guide.
There’s a fantastic sledge run which starts half-way up the Gotschna; that’s really fun. In the town is an ice rink, which is floodlit at night. Duncan [Duncan James of Blue] was out with me a couple of years ago. He’d just been taking part in the TV show Dancing on Ice, where he’d got through to the final, so he was dying to show off! He wowed the people on the ice rink.
On the Selfranga run there’s floodlit skiing at night. The whole mountain is lit up; it’s very beautiful. You can also take a horse-drawn sleigh up the mountain. They give you brandy, you get under loads of rugs and they take you up the slopes. The horses wear little bells and it’s a really magical experience for the kids. It can also be great for romance – it hasn’t let me down so far! It’s always quite funny, though. It is very romantic, obviously – but when the horses get going and start farting, it doesn’t really stir romance. It’s a great icebreaker though.
Klosters is generally very laid-back and most of the bars and restaurants are around the Platz area of the village. People tend to gather at the Schwendis (mountain chalet bars) as they call it a day.
My favourite nightclub, well, pretty much the only nightclub in Klosters is Casa Antica (81 422 16 21, www.casaantica-klosters.ch). A great friend of mine runs it and we go there every single night. You can have your own bottle of vodka behind the bar for the entire season. You get to know the staff really well and they are all really nice. I’ll be taking my friend Rupert Everett out there with me this season. The music is fantastic; they get some really good DJs playing there and they play lots of different types of music. You don’t wear your high heels; it’s totally a jeans kind of place. It’s not glitz and glamour, it's rustic with the odd stag head thrown in.
My chalet is like MTV Cribs-meets-alpine chalet. It’s warm and cosy, yet pretty flash. It was done out by my mother. You can throw your feet up on the table and stretch out on the double-depth sofas. I wanted it to be a retreat for my friends and me. A lot of my friends just go there to get away. You wake up looking at panoramic views of mountains; it’s a wonderfully inspiring place to start writing or have some quiet time. It’s the most beneficial thing I can do for my friends – giving them the keys and telling them to make themselves feel at home.
Where to stay
If you have loads of money to spend, then the Chalet Eugenia is a fabulous place to stay. It costs about £25,000 a week, so it’s extremely expensive. Personally I’m a big lover of hotels. The main one for real authentic Swiss features is the Chesa Grischuna Hotel. It’s really rustic and boasts fantastic food and charming bedrooms; it looks like the most beautiful chalet. It doesn’t have a swimming pool or sauna, so if you’re after facilities like that you should try the Hotel Vereina. It offers more of a spa experience, but it’s also extremely expensive. A place which is not so expensive (around £150 for a double) but great is The Rustico Hotel. It has really charming bedrooms with lots of character, a sauna and parking. The food is the best selling point. There's a fondue place and a fantastic Japanese restaurant that could rival Nobu in London.
Where to eat
Obviously, the best place for a good night is Casa Tara! But you’ll find an even better standard of service and food in Klosters than you would in London. I love all the cheese and the stodge and the food you want after a day on the slopes.
The Wynegg Hotel and Restaurant (81 422 134) is an old tall, grey-shuttered building and is really, really famous for its food. The decor is alpine kitsch with cuckoo clocks and checked tablecloths. It’s also famous for its owner, Ruth Guler. She’s been described as running her hotel like a boarding school; if you’re still in bed at 8am she’ll come and get you up, saying “It’s a beautiful day out there, come on, get up”. I guess some people like that kind of thing. They tend to get the same guests there every year; it’s well loved. She certainly doesn’t mince her words – and that makes her the Queen of Klosters… and after Ruth it’s me! The food is seriously amazing, though. I often have the snails in garlic, which are really good. They have great Weiner schnitzel, calve's liver and blue trout – quite a delicacy.
The Walserhof (81 410 29 29, www.walserhof.ch) is the fine-dining star of Klosters. You’ll get 10 courses and things like frothy soufflé between each course.
Pizzeria Al Berto (81 422 30 20, www.pizzeria-alberto.ch) is at the bottom of the slopes of Madrisa. It’s a warm, cosy place with a wooden interior and does incredible pizza cooked in the clay ovens. It’s good fun for the kids and it’s lovely to sit out on the terrace when it’s sunny over a long lunch.
Erica’s Gasthaus on Madrisa is in a beautiful setting right on a lake, on the way down the mountain into Klosters. You have to be a skier to get there – but if it’s a beautiful sunny day, it’s just the most perfect view. The rosti is especially good.
There’s nothing like a really good breakfast to set you up for the day and the Hotel Alpina is a superb choice. It’s opposite the cable-car station and the railway station, bang in the middle of town. Location-wise, it’s also an ideal place to stay and has big apartments at the top of the building for people with a family. The breakfast buffet has large platters of cheese, cured meats, fruit and fresh croissants. Or you can order eggs cooked any way you like. It has a wonderful bar with heated seats outside. A hot chocolate out there is perfect.