10 Magical Alpine Villages to Visit Before The Rest of the World Catches On
Whether you’re eagerly anticipating the first snowfall of the season or dreading a possible return of the Polar Vortex, there’s no mistaking the chill in the air: Winter is coming. This year, why not embrace the season with an international slope-side getaway to the Alps, the world's winter resort wonderland? But don’t just settle for the first town that comes to mind — we’ve rounded up the most underrated Alpine villages. After all, there’s more to the Alps than just Gstaad (though that legendarily chic resort town is, indeed, heaven). Why not consider a getaway to the thermal spas of Bad Ragaz, home to the world’s first wellness resort? Or explore the cobblestone streets of Pontresina, the hidden gem of the Engadin Valley? Whether you love to wake for the fresh tracks to ski at dawn or you're more likely to hang by the fireplace until it’s time for après, these Alpine villages are guaranteed bliss for all travelers. Why not take the (mountain) road less traveled? We hear it makes all the difference.
Bad Ragaz, Switzerland: You may not have heard of Bad Ragaz, but you’re definitely familiar with the way it looks: The region was the inspiration for the classic children’s book Heidi — and the gorgeous village is what dreams are made of for adults too. Located in the underappreciated Swiss wine region of Graubünden, this Alpine village is a favorite of tennis greats such as Roger Federer and Martina Hingis. But you don’t need to be Wimbledon-ready to appreciate the thermal spas at the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, the sparkling gem of the entire region. The five-star resort is the oldest wellness destination in the entire world thanks to the healing properties of the nearby Tamina Gorge, which, according to legend, was once believed to be the home of dragons. (We told you this place was magic.)
Pontresina, Switzerland: St. Moritz may get all the international attention (thank you, Kate Moss) but it’s the nearby village of Pontresina that deserves the rest of your vacation days. This quaint retreat in the Engadin valley boasts winding cobblestone streets and endless mountain biking trails, not to mention easy skiing access in the wintertime. While St. Moritz may have invented winter tourism, Pontresina remains a local secret among Swiss travelers who prefer to stay in this quaint alpine village which, although it’s a mere 10-minute drive from downtown St. Moritz, feels light-years away from the crowds. The best part? The Grand Hotel Kronenhof, a breathtakingly stately and elegant retreat perfect for indulging your inner queen — or at least your inner lady-in-waiting. Danke schön, indeed.
Triesenberg, Liechtenstein: Why not add another passport stamp to your collection this winter with a trip to the picture-perfect Alpine town of Triesenberg, in the pint-sized sovereign state of Lichtenstein? Located between Switzerland and Austria, the fourth-smallest European country is home to the pristine trails and majestic peaks of the Lichtenstein Alps. The largest municipality in Lichtenstein, Triesenberg is home to the Malbun Triesenberg Ski Resort, a throwback to the days before endless lift lines and crowded trails. Remember: There’s nothing less chic than having to wait in a queue. So book your flight and get ready for a real taste of wintry freedom.
Hallstatt, Austria: The hills are certainly alive in Austria — and many are yet to be discovered. As they say in The Sound of Music, it’s important to climb (or ski) every mountain, but perhaps no region should be higher on your bucket list than Hallstatt. The Instagram-worthy 16th century village of Hallstatt is a waterfront oasis nestled below the Dachstein mountains on the western shore of Lake Hallstatt, so it’s perfect for a visit any time of year. (Of course, we’re partial to the upcoming freezing season!)
Annecy, France: Next on our list is another lakeside retreat, though this charming village is located in the French Alps, rather than their Austrian cousins. The historic village is home to countless cafes serving mouth-watering raclettes and a gloriously intricate canal system that gives the town its nickname: ”The Venice of the Alps."
Bled, Slovenia: This magnificent Slovenian retreat features an island on a glacial (and glacially breathtaking) Alpine lake that must be seen to be believed. This severely underrated European country is due for a wave of attention any moment now. Though this is a preferred summertime paradise for water-lovers to go out on wooden "pletna" boats, it is also ideal for a ski holiday — we recommend Straža Bled for beginners, and Vogel Ski Center for more advanced skiers. Though any and all nature lovers should be content in this idyllic mountainside retreat any time of year.
Bern, Switzerland: This old city, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the capital of Switzerland. Bern is perfect for travelers who want to mix a taste of the urban experience with the ruggedness of the outdoors. Make sure to look up at the medieval watchtowers looming above the cobblestone streets. Stay at the Schweizerhof Hotel & Spa if you really want to glam it up (Audrey Hepburn is a past guest), and be sure to visit the BärenPark, featuring some very furry and endearingly lazy four-pawed attractions.
Mittenwald, Germany: In the words of 18th century poet and novelist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Mittenwald is “a picture book come alive.” The famed German writer also wrote that "if nature is your teacher, your soul will awaken" — and after one visit to this charming Bavarian village, you will be sure to agree with him on both counts. The Alpine town does have more current fans: Mittenwald is often thought of as "the most beautiful town in the Bavarian Alps," according to Fodor’s. Experts agree: This quaint village in the German countryside is so worth a visit.
Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy: You didn’t think we would wrap up this list without a taste of la dolce vita, did you? This Alpine village, tucked amidst the striking Dolomite mountains, is a heavenly proposition for lovers of the good life and winter sports alike. Powder-lovers will enjoy skiing or snowboarding at the legendary Cortina d’Ampezzo ski resort, while travelers who prefer to exercise their credit cards rather than their calves on vacation can indulge in some major retail therapy in the town center. Saluti!
Gruyères, Switzerland: Cheese, please! This delicious-sounding (and delicious-looking — sorry, we couldn’t resist) Swiss city is nestled among the Fribourg Pre-Alps. We recommend visiting the historic Gruyères Castle and booking the La Gruyère ski package (complete with an evening of fondue) for peak ambiance. But remember: You can never go wrong in any of these undiscovered villages, and it will be even more delectable when you return home and are the first among your friends to say you found the next big thing in alpine travel.
What are your favorite villages in the Alps? Let us know @BritandCo.
(Photos via Getty)