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A property tale of two ski resorts

The Klosters scenery is included in the price. Klosters.ch

Thinking about buying property in Klosters or Davos; the former a princely resort, the latter the retreat of the crème de la crème of the business world?

This content was published on January 25, 2006 - 10:21

A mere 12 kilometres separate the two places but architecturally they are worlds apart.

The most prominent property in Klosters, best known as Prince Charles' ski resort of choice, is a seven-storey apartment block in the middle of town.

The gabled-roof building with decorative wooden balconies at each level epitomises the style of architecture most people associate with the Alps.

Not so the flat-roofed, rectangular structures that dominate the Davos skyline. The former sanatoria converted into hotels and the contemporary structures that blanket the high-altitude town defy expectations.

The best known is the sanatorium (now a hotel – see video) on Schatzalp, a shelf of land above Davos, where Thomas Mann set his novel, Magic Mountain.

It is also the building site for what promises to be the boldest architecture in the Alps, a tower designed by Switzerland's star architects, Herzog and de Meuron.

Household name

The range of accommodation and easy access to more than 300km of ski runs has made Davos a popular resort, and it is a household name thanks to the headlines surrounding the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

Yet Klosters, or any number of resorts with similar chalet-style architecture, is where foreign tourists would rather be.

"It's traditional, in its own way, with a touch of the Engadine [decorative engravings around windows], and a lot of wood," explains agent, Friedrich Hodel, about the most sought after holiday properties in Klosters.

Hodel's properties range in price from about SFr300,000 ($238,000) for a 70m2, two-and-a-half room apartment to more than SFr3 million for a detached home about five times the size.

"The demand for larger properties has doubled over the past few years," Hodel says, as he shows me around a furnished apartment he has been contracted to sell by its absentee owners.

Fur coats hang on the wardrobe rack, and plush toys sit cutely on the pillows of the children's beds.

Wooden

Common to all the properties is the gabled roof, balcony with wooden railing, wooden shutters and an interior whose concrete walls, floors and ceilings are – in most cases – masked by wood.

"Buyers are looking for traditional Swiss chalet-style properties in the countryside with, of course, all of the necessary infrastructure," he says.

The kind of holiday chalet that dominates the Alps from France to Austria bears little resemblance to the slim wooden farmhouses of Switzerland's Rhône valley, or the squat, stone structures of the Engadine valley.

By-products of modern tourism, the holiday properties are cut from the same cloth, hybrids of the great variety of traditional alpine architecture, and reflect the need of today's tourist to escape his urban environment without having to relinquish any creature comforts.

Retro and rustic

The retro and rustic furnishings and design mask the mod cons, which include generous underground parking and lifts.

In contrast, Davos comes as a shock, even though its architectural style predates the holiday chalet by about 50 years.

It was built during the age (late19th/early 20th centuries) when tuberculosis sufferers flocked to Switzerland to benefit from the curative effects of its pure mountain air.

But most travellers nowadays have been conditioned to expect an earthy and not an urban alpine landscape.

"They think all houses in the mountains should look like chalets, but it's not like that," says entrepreneur Pius App.

App has purchased Schatzalp to redevelop it. He plans to restore the hotel to its former glory, and make a return on his investment by building the tower, which will consist mostly of exclusive flats.

The structure will be as tall as the former sanatorium is long – exactly 105 metres, making it visible from all points in town.

Building codes

Such a plan would not have got off the drawing board in many Swiss alpine communities, whose building codes make it difficult for any housing project lacking a gabled roof.

But the good intentions have done little to preserve the diverse architectural heritage of the Alps, and have helped the spread of a homogenous style.

Davos is an exception. The Herzog and de Meuron tower raised eyebrows at first, but residents approved when they were called on to vote on re-zoning Schatzalp to make way for the bold design.

App estimates that the redevelopment of Schatzalp will be completed by 2010, but he does not think the new landmark will alter the direction of alpine architecture.

"It wasn't our goal to change attitudes," he says matter-of-factly.

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Klosters and Davos

Key facts

Klosters is situated 1,200 metres above sea level, and has a year-round population of 3,500.
Davos lies at 1,560m, and has a population of 11,000.
Klosters is linked by cable car to Davos' ski region, which has 300km of runs.
Prince Charles' ski vacations in the smaller of the two resorts has contributed to its popularity among British holidaymakers.
Davos is in the global spotlight each January when it hosts the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

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