Working in the ski industry we have a lot of chats with people who describe some of the lesser-known resorts as hidden gems or national treasures. Hidden gems is pretty obvious, but what is a national treasure? Stephen Fry? The Beatles? The Crown Jewels? Obviously we looked to Google to translate for us:
Engelberg offers high and distinctive mountain skiing with great off-piste, and welcoming accommodation in a town-like setting.
What’s Engelberg like?
The resort bears similarities to somewhere like Chamonix in that it’s a more of a town than a village at the foot of some steep peaks making for exciting but disjointed piste skiing. It is sandwiched between the semi tree-covered Brunni on one side and the better-linked and developed Titlis on the other, home to the majority of the runs.
The history of Engelberg
It all began with the Benedictine Monastery. In 1120 nobleman – Conrad of Sellenbüren- founded the Benedictine Monastery. The Saga has it that Conrad of Sellenbüren angels behind the mountain Hahnen saw and heard them sing. The angels told him that this was the place where he should build the monastery. This is also how Engelberg got its name; “Berg des Engel” which translates the mountain of angels.
From then on, Benedictine monks lived here according to the rules of St. Benedict, committing themselves to living according to the maxim ora et labora (pray and work). Today Benedictine monks still live in the Monastary, working as teachers in the monastery’s schools. When you visit Engelberg, you will soon realise how significant the monastery and the church is to the village, and how the political power of the monastery dominated in earlier times. A tour of the monastery and the church with all its treasures is an important part of every visit.
During the 18th century more and more tourists from all over the world found their way to the Engelberg valley. In 1744 Mount Titlis was climbed for the first time. “The Titlis is frightening and very high”, was what Abbot Plazidus wrote about the mountain as far back as 1650.
In the 19th century Engelberg developed into a modern health resort. Guests came from near and far to recuperate and to seek relief from their ailments, and Engelberg became popular as a health resort with clean air and mild climate.
In 1903 the Engelberg Ski Club was founded. And in 1905 winter tourism really began; for the first time hotels were open during winter. During the 20th century, Engelberg started to develop as a winter sport resort – and apart from skiing, bob-sleighing played an important role. Racy riders could be seen descending the Bob Run, which went from Gerschnialp to Engelberg. Today this stretch is a toboggan run.
What makes Engelberg unique?
Keeping a traditional national feeling in Engelberg is very important. The Engelberger is very proud of their traditions and want their guests to participate in their traditions.
One of the oldest traditions is the Cows’ Descent from Alpine Pastures festival. After spending four months up in the hills munching on that high altitude grass during the summer, the cows come back down into resort. They all have bells around their necks, so as they come down, it creates an amazing cacophony of sound. Alpine herdsmen then dress up in traditional costumes and herd the cows down. At the bottom the locals celebrate the end of summer and the beginning of winter. Its quite a show.
What’s a perfect day in Engelberg
Enjoy a rich breakfast at your hotel – fill up, you’ve got a big day ahead.
After breakfast – check the weather- this is crucial for the first decision, whether you ski on the south side Brunni or north faced Titlis.
Brunni – this is the family area with lovely pistes – but don’t be fooled; in case of heavy snowfall this is the place to be for off-piste and powder. Brunni is also brilliant for everyone who wants to top up their goggle tans. After a few runs in the area, enjoy a good lunch up on Brunni Hütte. Try the “Älplermagronen” (a bizarre, but delicious dash of penne pasta, potatoes, cream and onions) and for dessert a “Nussgipfel” (a hazelnut croissant). Superb.
Should you want more demanding skiing; then Titlis is your choice. In only 30 minutes you reach the summit of Titlis (3,028 metres) first with cable car to Stand then with the revolving cable car Titlis Rotair up to the top. Warm up with a few red runs from Stand to Trübsee – then head up to the top of Titlis to enjoy the magnificent mountain panorama. Afterwards you cross over to Jochpass, on the way, have something warm to drink in the Igloo-village. The pistes are waiting for you on Jochpass, but first, it’s time for lunch at Jochpass Berghuis. Then take the lift to Jochstock and ski all the way down to Engstlensee.
After a long day on the mountain – either on Brunni or Titlis – or maybe both (the bus is free of charge between the two areas, and it’s only a couple of minutes) hitting the apres is important.
Start with the easy going Ski Lodge for a more relaxed vibe, and then head over to the slightly more mental Yuccatan. At this point, we’d recommend grabbing something to eat because the night has just begun. In Hotel Hoheneck they often have live music – and this is the first party stop for the evening. The Hotel Terrace is perched above the town and has it’s own funky little funicular. They even have their own little disco which seems to run all night. Or you can stagger about town and find one of the great pubs.
If you could sum up Engelberg in one sentence, what would it be?
Traditional swiss village with cracking off piste skiing and superb apres.