It could be synonymous with the World Economic Forum’s annual gathering of world leaders, but Davos, Switzerland, is, initially, a winter sports mecca.
The very best city in Europe at 5,120 feet above sea level, this contemporary town within the Swiss state of Graubünden has plenty to supply travelers, from cultural activities to outdoor excursions.
And while it won’t be the priciest of the high-end Swiss destinations (that title is claimed by St. Moritz, Verbier, and Zermatt, known for luxury hotels, glitzy shopping, and premium ski resorts), travelers should expect to spend a fairly penny each for hotels, which might run anywhere from 254 Swiss francs (about $277) to just about 1,000 Swiss francs per night, and ski passes within the high season. A six-day Davos Klosters pass, for instance, costs 454 Swiss francs per adult, 318 Swiss francs per teens, and 182 Swiss francs per child, not including equipment rental.
Cost isn’t the one element to take into accout. Through the forum conference, which takes place on the Congress Center and other cultural venues and hotels from Jan. 16-20, tourism is significantly disrupted as several thousand business, political and organization leaders — together with their security and trailed by throngs of journalists — invade.
One representative from the local tourist organization, Destination Davos Klosters, described the conference period as “a state of emergency,” with roadblocks, armed guards and closures. That features the shutdown of cultural institutions just like the Kirchner Museum, home to an expansive collection of works by the German Expressionist painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner who spent the last twenty years of his life in Davos.
But visitors can still enjoy outdoor time in pure mountain air — the virtue that historically made Davos and its sanitariums a magnet for people seeking healing. And beyond the roadblocks and closed doors, it’s still possible to get a flavor for what the town offers beyond business and politics.
Davos doesn’t have the identical idyllic Alpine village vibe as neighboring towns. Nonetheless, it’s surrounded by grand mountain peaks and forestland, with connections to one of the best slopes, trails and vistas within the valley. Those staying at a hotel or holiday rental for not less than one night are eligible for a free Davos Klosters Premium Card for discounts on outdoor activities, museum admission fees and regional railways, in addition to free local public transportation.
As one among the birthplaces of the ski resort, the pursuit of quality powder is well-served here, each for beginners and more experienced ski and snowboarding enthusiasts. There are nearly 167 miles of slopes and 80 different downhill runs spanning five (unlinked) mountain areas, the biggest of which is Parsenn.
Parsenn can be considered essentially the most classic for its wide packed runs. Accessible via a funicular, the resort connects Davos and Klosters, which sits on the opposite side of the mountain. Through the World Economic Forum, only the Rinerhorn and Pischa ski areas will probably be closed.
After a protracted day on the slopes, it’s price trying out Iglu-Dorf, an igloo resort with a hotel and restaurant set beneath the Weissfluhjoch station on the Parsenn mountain, nearly 8,600 feet above sea level. Visitors can spend the night in rooms designed by ice artists or just linger over a Swiss fondue lunch on the snow bar.
The Parsenn Gada Club, situated across from the Parsenn cable automotive, offers a more traditional après-ski experience, with a wood chalet ambience and a more varied snack menu.
For those looking for more structured activities, there are guided ski touring courses, snowshoe outings (day and night) and ski cross workshops for kids led by the skilled Swiss freestyle skier Armin Niederer, all offered by Destination Davos Klosters throughout the winter season. A whole guide with schedules and costs can be found to download.
Ice skating at Davos World of Ice, Switzerland’s largest mobile and artificial ice rink, is one other family-friendly option that can remain open throughout the conference.
Hikers even have the posh of alternative — in addition to opportunity to enjoy one among the few free activities on the town — with nearly 69 miles of easy to moderate winter trails in Davos and one other 28 miles in Klosters. The Hohe Promenade is a one-hour leisurely route suitable for families and delivers exquisite views of the Jakobshorn mountains, the town’s flat roofs, and the wood-topped Davos Ice Stadium, home to the Spengler Cup hockey championship and the local Hockey Club Davos team.
As for hockey, it’s among the many activities really helpful by the Swiss author Joseph de Weck, who has spent years traveling to Davos.
“Hockey Club Davos is de facto central to the identity of the town,” said Mr. de Weck in a telephone interview, adding it’s the most important club in the world and a draw for fans from other Swiss regions.
“If you happen to can, get tickets to a game,” he said. “It’s fun and also you’ll really get a way of the locals.” Home games resume Jan. 22, after the conference.
A more athletic walk takes hikers along the Thomas Mann Weg, named for the novelist, as much as the Schatzalp, the Alpine home to one among the earliest and most iconic sanitariums in Davos, which was converted to a resort hotel in 1953. Readers will recognize the Art Nouveau property, set a couple of thousand feet above the town, because the setting for Mr. Mann’s acclaimed work, “The Magic Mountain.”
Hikers can ascend further to Strela Alp, a mountain restaurant with panoramic views that serves Rösti (a Swiss potato dish), soups and toasted sandwiches. Or they’ll do as Dimitri Burkhard, founding father of the net magazine Newly Swissed, suggested in an email, and stick across the Hotel Schatzalp for a drink in “the cheeky X-ray bar,” once the sanitarium’s X-ray room. Guests can then return to central Davos by foot, cable automotive or a free toboggan that mazes through forests straight out of a fairy tale.
It’s also possible to access postcard views without the hassle — by train. Amongst essentially the most famous panoramic train journeys on the planet, the Glacier Express connects the Swiss resort towns of Zermatt and St. Moritz with an eight-hour route (that will also be picked up in Davos Platz via regional train that crosses the Wiesen Viaduct to Filisur).
Despite its name, the experience is anything but express: The narrow-gauge train with luxurious carriages (and meal service) cruises at a median speed of 24 miles an hour through 91 tunnels and over 291 bridges. It’s ultimately the suitable pace for the pure pleasure of taking in sights just like the Rhine Gorge, nicknamed Switzerland’s Grand Canyon. Tickets and seat reservations should be booked prematurely.
For those shorter on time (or if seats on the Glacier Express are sold out), local trains do the trick for a fraction of the price.
In the case of nightlife, the scene in Davos revolves around bars with music, from the nearly 60-year-old Ex Bar, known for its live rock performances and wide appeal, to the more area of interest Box Davos, a bar-club popular within the European punk scene for its live shows.
That’s, in fact, if you happen to can get in.
Lindsey Tramuta is a Paris-based journalist and the writer of “The Latest Parisienne.”