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Bad weather hits Alpine retreats

"Terrihütte" in canton Graubünden: Alpine retreats depend on good weather for visitors. Toni Trummer

Poor summer weather has exerted a heavy toll on Switzerland's Alpine retreats. Snow and rain throughout July led to a drastic fall in visitor numbers, and many operators have had to rely on financial assistance to tide them over.

A common tourist view of Switzerland is a land of picture postcard beauty, populated by farmers tending their cows on Alpine hillsides. In the summer, visitors trekking through the Alps, or taking a cog wheel railway up a mountain, marvel at the isolated “homesteads” dotting the mountainsides.

The reality is more stark. Today, few farmers tend cattle on those green hills. Most of the “homesteads” so beloved by tourists are actually alpine huts that exist, and survive, by providing accommodation to visitors in search of a little peace and alpine tranquillity.

But, this summer, abysmal weather in July, hit the huts hard, leading to a 60 per cent drop in revenues for some of the worst affected areas. One hut-owner in Kandersteg in the Bernese Oberland, Bernhard Mani, said he had seen hardly any tourists from the United States, Japan or France this summer.

Until the middle of August, Mani said he had only had eight group bookings – in a good summer between 80 and 100 groups come to stay.

It was a similar story in Graubünden, Switzerland’s largest canton. Unseasonal snow drove many visitors home early, and stopped others coming at all. Hut-owner, Regula Trummer, said her numbers were down by around 20 per cent. “All we need is a bad weather forecast for a weekend and people don’t come, even if the weather turns out to be pleasant after all.”

The exact scale of the impact on the hut-owners has not yet been ascertained, but those that lose money do receive financial assistance from the Swiss Alpine Club. It supports 152 huts and bivouacs with about 10,000 beds.

Last year, the huts chalked up 274,000 overnight stays, slightly less than in the 1990s, when the annual average was over 300,000. The record year was 1994, with 322,000 overnights.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR