The mountain community of Vnà in southeastern Switzerland has officially become the country's first living hotel village.This content was published on May 4, 2008 - 18:15
The aim is to ensure the long-term survival of the alpine village and avoid unwanted development in an area where concrete has not taken over the mountains.
Hotel villages are usually found along balmy seashores and are normally a collection of buildings with a local touch, aimed at giving tourists a peaceful holiday. Visitors pay for a package deal that includes flights and their stay.
Vnà is a different experience. More than 1,600 metres above sea level in the Lower Engadine Valley, the village wants to offer tourists something else.
There is nothing fake about Vnà. It is a heritage site, officially protected against ill-conceived development.
But the community faces other problems: an ageing population and more and more people leaving for greener pastures. All this threatens to turn the village into little more than a backdrop for picture postcards.
To prevent promoters turning it into a collection of holiday residences that remain empty most of the time, a local group put together a tourism concept with a centralised cultural centre and guesthouse, as well as rooms for visitors in homes around the village.
The cultural centre Piz Tschütta was opened on May 1. It is in Vnà's biggest building, which had stood empty since 1995. The idea is to use existing structures, rather than build new hotels and holiday residences.
There are now five rooms for guests at the cultural centre, and another 13 elsewhere in the village – a total of 36 beds. "We can't take more guests than that," Urezza Famos, head of the Piz Tschütta board, told swissinfo.
Vnà has become a holiday resort in its own right. But behind what has been called a biological-ecological concept is also a carefully constructed financial plan.
Piz Tschütta is also the name of the company that refurbished and manages the cultural centre and its beds. The owners of its SFr450,000 ($426,000) capital are people living in the village, the project's initiators and local companies.
The Vnà Foundation, whose aims include ensuring the community's cultural and economic survival, has also contributed SFr600,000 towards renovations.
Famos, who is known throughout the valley as an entrepreneur and cultural manager, is also one of the foundation's first members.
She joined to make sure that outside developers would not get their hands on the undeveloped countryside and build hotels that would not benefit locals.
The authorities have also lent their support to the Vnà project, both the canton and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs via a special programme.
The Swiss Mountain Aid, the Graubünden cantonal bank and the society for hotel credit loans have also pitched in.
All this support means that the concept goes beyond rustic living. The Piz Tschütta centre was renovated and extended using local materials.
Recent additions to the building such as linoleum and layers of varnish were stripped away to make the original construction work visible. The building is even carbon neutral now.
The trick is to bring the centre to life. According to the Vnà foundation president Christof Rösch, a cultural programme will ensure that guests have plenty to feast on.
But what the project's initiators are really hoping is that their concept will be a model for other mountain and peripheral regions.
Their attempt to change the way tourism is viewed has already earned some recognition, and other communities in the area are starting to wake up to the value of their heritage.
Last January the group from Vnà received the first prize for sustainability in alpine tourism handed out by the Hans E. Moppert Foundation.
And the neighbouring village of Tschlin recently turned down a hotel proposal by renowned Swiss architect Peter Zumthor.
swissinfo, based on an article in German by Alexander Künzle
Vnà is roughly a 20-minute bus ride from thermal centre Scuol in the Lower Engadine Valley.
The nearest ski areas are Scuol, Ftan and Sent. Shopaholics can find deals in Samnaun near the Austrian border, while nature fans can head to the nearby Swiss National Park.
The guests targeted by the Vnà concept are independent types who like walking, climbing or cycling, as well as people attracted by cultural events or seminar groups.