I love to wear hats, but where I’ve just come back from it was rude to take your hat off – all evening – and it was a night to remember!
My friends and I had travelled to Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland with one main aim – to find out more about Kandersteg’s Belle Epoque Week.
For the past seven years this town has put Victorian/Edwardian clothing in the spotlight by wearing it during a week of period celebrations.
So it’s Belle Epoque to work, Belle Epoque for sport, and Belle Epoque to take dinner. You’re starting to get the picture!
Locals and visitors take part in the full-on programme of events, from dinner dances (where you feel you’ve just stepped into Downtown Abbey) to period sports’ shows, afternoon tea and nostalgic shopping.
Specialist shops bulge with period bags, clothes and accessories, which add instant glamour to those wearing it.
Dressed to impress, our tourism host, Doris, and our hotel hosts, Casi and Mimi, looked like they had walked straight out of a film set, so – not to be beaten – we hurtled off to the hire shop to see how this era’s clothes would suit us.
Coming down to dinner was a moment to remember with us ladies clad in hats, stoles and elegant long dresses, while our gentlemen boasted Burberry, suits, boaters and fat ties.
We were staying at the 3-star Belle Epoque Hotel Victoria, which a welcoming treat of 21st century comforts, based on the site of the town’s first tavern, built 1789.
Enjoying fine dining in the ballroom, decked out in period clothing, I couldn’t decide whether I had time travelled, or was somehow a suspect in a game of Cluedo. But it felt like an adventure!
What to do
The next day we checked back into our sports gear to try the area’s downhill skiing. It’s a small pretty area with wide, quiet slopes, ideal for beginners and young families.
Kandersteg is Switzerland’s third largest cross-country area (after Engadine and the Goms), so it’s better known for this sport, and we got to meet a local champion.
Urs Niedhart was a cross-country Olympian in Albertville in 1992. After ending his professional career, he returned home and now owns the Edelweiss cross-country school, where he also instructs.
He soon had our group moving gently forward, figuring out how to keep our balance and trying to gain some sense of rhythm.
We’d been lent spanking new kit from the Alpine Center sports shop, so there was no excuse not to do well – apart from our total lack of experience!
There wasn’t time to ski and try the snowshoeing, but I’m envious of those who got the chance to walk into the mountain wilderness.
I did try curling – another first for me – but I’m no future Olympic hopeful!
I also tried tobogganing, which was made even more awesome by the fact we sledged to Hotel Oeschinensee for lunch by a stunning frozen lake.
Oeschinensee is part of a UNESCO World heritage area, and it’s pristine nature at its very best.
You can also hike, ice skate, and husky sledge in Kandersteg – and if fate is really kind you can sometimes see the Northern Lights.
Reaching new heights
There are also plans to open a new indoor climbing centre at the Alpine Center sports shop this summer, providing a new place for lessons and a good alternative to going out in bad weather!
We flew Swiss Air to Zurich, and then transferred by Swiss railway (thanks to the Swiss Transfer Ticket).
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