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HOTELS

A holiday in thin air

The Berghotel Grawand, the highest hotel in the European Alps, is perched on a ridge above the Schnalstal in Italy at 3,212 metres altitude. A cable-way is the only way up for guests.

The Berghotel Grawand, the highest hotel in the European Alps, is perched on a ridge above the Schnalstal in Italy at 3,212 metres altitude. A cable-way is the only way up for guests.

Two grazing bobby calves on the Faulhorn, a Swiss mountain. The Hotel Faulhorn (background) is only accessible to guests by foot and closes in the wintertime.

Two grazing bobby calves on the Faulhorn, a Swiss mountain. The Hotel Faulhorn (background) is only accessible to guests by foot and closes in the wintertime.

A look at the alpine hotels with the most amazing views

It's a very elevating feeling to wake up in the morning and gaze out the window as the sun rises over Switzerland's Matterhorn mountain, the one with the striking pyramidal shape.

There is however a downside: the sleep during your first night in a high-altitude hotel is often fitful rather than refreshing.

Many guests are lucky to grab any shut-eye at all. Although the Kulmhotel Gornergrat is a great place to stay with comfortable beds and a unique view, the air up here at 3,100 metres above sea level is thin. Coping with the rarefied air is a strain for guests.

"You just never know how it will affect people," says director Thomas Marbach.

Tourists who have booked more than one night have more time in which to acclimatise.

"As time passes the body does adapt to the altitude," said Marbach. In any event, potentially unpleasant side-effects such as shortness of breath, headaches and insomnia do not seem to deter people from staying at this lofty modern retreat.

"Guests just accept that side of things, since this is a really special place," says the smiling hotel director. The magnificent tableau compensates for any indispositions.

"There are 46 four-thousander peaks in Switzerland," he adds. "And you can see 29 of them from the hotel."

Holidaymakers would be hard put to find a more impressive panorama anywhere else in the world. Heightening the attraction is a profound tranquillity that descends on the place, which was built in 1907.

Being perched on the top of Europe does pose a few problems though, especially when the wind blows so hard that the funicular rack railway stops ferrying guests to their destination.

The Berghotel Grawand in Schnalstal, a side valley of the Vinschgau in South Tyrol, Italy, also receives a regular buffeting.

The holiday residence is sited even higher at 3,212 metres and can be reached by cable car only. Oetzi, the amazingly well-preserved mummified man though to be more than 5,000 years old, was found in the nearby Schnalstal glacier.

The outlook from here is equally breathtaking. The horizon is dominated by a host of impressive three-thousanders along with the Piz Bernina. At 4,049 metres, it is the highest mountain in the Eastern Alps.

On clear days, visitors can even catch a glimpse of far-off Lake Garda.

Apart from a few alpine lodges and remote log cabins for upland hikers, these two hotels, one in Switzerland and the other in Italy, are the highest alpine places in which to spend the night.

There are a few other high-elevation hotels in these parts, but they cannot match the first two for dizziness of location.

Two that are recommended are the Berghaus Maennlichen in the Bernese Oberland (2,345 metres) and the Berghotel Faulhorn (2,684 metres), both in Switzerland.

Located in the Swiss canton of Grisons is the Diavolezza, a hotel at 3,000 metres surrounded by the mighty peaks of the Bernina group. The hostelry makes much play of a jacuzzi for high-altitude frolicking.

A more exhilarating way to pass the hours is by skiing down to the valley, guided solely by experienced staff from the hotel and the silvery light of a full moon. Moonbeams illuminate the snow so well that skiers of all levels will have no trouble finding their way.

Another top address in Switzerland is the Berghotel Muottas Muragl, a low-energy edifice at 2,456 metres.

Italy also boasts the Alpengasthof Tibet. Its round shape imitates Tibetan high-altitude huts. Located on the Stilfser Joch, a mountain in South Tyrol, it is 2,800 metres above sea level.

Austria's hotels are low by comparison. The Adler Lounge at around 2,500 metres is a smart, lifestyle hostelry that has brought modern architecture to the crags around Kals near the Grossglockner mountain.

The panorama hereabouts takes in 60 of the surrounding three-thousanders and guests share the pristine pistes with fellow lodgers only.

Perched at 2,350 metres in the Hochzillertal is the Wedelhuette, a residence for vacationers who like to be pampered. The five-star hotel is not only the loftiest Tyrolean hostelry but offers a enormous selection of fine wines.

On an equal standing in altitude terms is the Berghotel Rudolfshuette in Austria's Salzburg region.

From this vantage point the views extend to the peaks in the High Tauern National Park around the main chain of Central Eastern Alps and there are a number of glaciers to be admired. The area is popular with hikers and riders of robust, full-suspension mountain bikes.

Skiers will find 23 snowy trails to be explored.












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