I’m back on the White Isle after another fantastic ski week in Switzerland. Last year it was the German speaking Zermatt so this time 5 friends and I decided to sample Verbier on the French side. What’s always interesting when I’m visiting new places is to see how they react to tourism, how they treat tourists and how tourism interacts with their way of life. Ultimately I then compare it back to Ibiza where the resident/tourist conundrum has been a fraught relationship lately.
Every destination has its pro’s and con’s and Switzerland is one of those calm places where everything works. Trains run on time, hot water comes out of the hot tap and nobody seems overly phased by anything (which isn’t surprising with a minimum wage of around 3000 EUR per month). It’s a mature destination comfortable in its own skin that understands it’s role in the tourism deal. They provide a good, professional service and in return the customer pays a premium, it’s not cheap but it’s not obscenely expensive either, although there is that option for the wealthy and the blingtastic wannabes.
What’s interesting about Verbier is that many tourists stay in private rental apartments (a concept that is outlawed in the Balearics), there’s a smattering of hotels such as the luxurious W Hotel but most people that I spoke to were staying, like us, in a private apartment either through an agent or a website such as airbnb or booking.com. We paid £2500 for 1 week, so for 6 of us it was a little over £400 per person, a very reasonable price for one of Europe’s premier ski resorts. The quality was OK and it ticked all the boxes without being luxury, you get what you pay for at the end of the day.
The resort town of Verbier itself is charming, the lift system is good linking the 4 valleys, skiing is as challenging as you want it to be with a good selection of runs and amazing vistas. I would strongly recommend taking the cable car up to the top of Mont Fort, where at 3330m above sea level you get the sensational alpine view of the iconic Matterhorn and Mont Blanc, a worthwhile selfie if ever there was one. Skiing back down the steep, bumpy black afterwards is not for the faint hearted so you may decide to go back the way you came. The mountain restaurants we tried (Dahu, Chez Dany, Namaste) were excellent without being mind-blowing (Chez Vrony in Zermatt will take some beating).
The ‘Après’ in Le Rouge, T-Bar and Farinet was fun if a little subdued compared to other resorts (St Anton, Saalbach) with a surprising amount of Brits (including the usual Tarquins and Henriettas using Daddy’s credit card) mingling in with the locals and seasonnaires. The overriding atmosphere was of a comfortable, laid back resort with nice people enjoying a well earned break.
So how do other destinations such as Switzerland reconcile themselves with tourism yet Ibiza and Mallorca seem to struggle? I omit the other Balearic Islands on purpose, in fact Formentera and Switzerland could be twins in opposites seasons and Menorca doesn’t seem to worry too much either way.
What Switzerland and other destinations seem to have that the Balearics doesn’t is an acceptance that tourism brings compromise yet they set clear rules so lives aren’t ruined and everyone is expected to follow the law. They aren’t selling their soul, they are embracing the concept and running with it.
Ibiza and Mallorca have shown over the last couple of years that there is an unresolved, perpetual, internal battle with tourism. We want the money and prosperity that it brings but we aren’t able to cope with the complications that inevitable come with it, even if it’s only for half of the year. Some residents, fueled by social media, aren’t prepared to compromise even when most local employment revolves around tourism. We want only a certain ‘type’ of tourism even if we don’t have the infrastructure to support it. Lamentably tourism now seems to be the fall guy for some Spanish resorts that wouldn’t exist without it.
There’s no magic formula though, I’m sure the Swiss are attracted to Ibiza because it’s nothing like their country and vice versa. Switzerland excels in relaxation and wellness whereas Ibiza leads the world in pure hedonism but the Balearics can learn a lot from places like Switzerland. Both are steeped in natural beauty and attract a cosmopolitan crowd with spending power but mismanagement at the highest level means that as beautiful as our Islands are, we are still not reaching the heights that we truly deserve.