Monday, Aug 15, 2022
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Postcards From The Past: Crans Montana – Kalimpong And The Swiss Connect

In a small alpine village in Switzerland an unexpected narrative unfolds at the cocktail hour followed by a glittering dinner party for the Who’s Who of the world’s golfing community, under the shadows of great mountain peaks

Crans-Montana village center in Valais, Switzerland
Crans-Montana village center in Valais, Switzerland Shutterstock

In the tedium of the run-off-the- mill routines of everyday life a chance news item grab my attention, transporting me to another time… another world…another state of mind.

‘The Omega European Masters, one of the most prestigious international golf competitions played on European soil is set to take place again in Crans-Montana, from August 25 to 28, 2022 in Crans-Montana at the Crans-sur-Sierre Golf-Club is indisputably the most spectacular course on the European Tour schedule.’

For a fraction of a minute my heart misses a beat. Crans Montana. How could one forget it? And that beautiful course, where this great golf competition is being played for the 75th time in 2022. This fantastic venue which has seen the likes of players such as Spain's Severiano Ballesteros, José Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia, Scotland's Colin Montgomerie, South Africa's Ernie Els and Britain's Lee Westwood win the coveted trophy. In 2021, I learn, it was the 20-year-old Dane, Ramsus Hojgaard, who walked off with the trophy with a final score of 267 (-13).

The €2 million (US$2.8 million) Omega European Masters tournament 2009 made history as the first event co-sanctioned by the European Tour and the Asian Tour to be staged on European turf. The course at Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club which opened in 1908 is a tough course but is amply compensated with splendiferous views all around all the way up to the Pleine Morte Glacier and the rank and file of the Valai Alps.

Crans Montana village, above the Rhone valley in Valais, Switzerland
Sunset over Crans Montana village, above the Rhone valley in Valais, Switzerland Shutterstock

Time Travel
The ‘night flight to Venus’…No scratch that… The night flight to Geneva is conducted with mounting excitement. Despite all my years of travel, I never quite made it to Switzerland. But now those enchanting pastoral vistas, summoned up memories from ‘Heidi’ from my schoolroom days kept popping up in my head one after the other. The hop-step-and jump journey from Delhi-to Vienna to Geneva ends in a cool Swiss morning. Piling in with me in the 4-Wheel Drive for the 2.5 hour ride to Crans are two sleepy looking American guys. I lift up my eyes to the hills and the clamour of the night is vanquished by their pristine serenity. As the vehicle gobbles up the miles and gains height, the unfolding valley below is picture-postcard Swiss pretty–a mosaic of greens, sunlight bouncing off some distant waterbody...mooing cows heading out to pasture…

Whining in complaint at the steep gradient the 4-wheel makes us briefly forget the gorgeous landscape. I pop open a kairi mango lozenge, a sharp tangy taste of home to counter the queasy feeling, and share one with the more adventurous American; his gloomy companions declines, doggedly preferring to keep chewing on his American Spearmint gum. ‘A little slice of India?’ I try and cajole him offering the kairi lozenge. Nothing doing! Tunnel vision worldview!

Crans Montana. It really was love at first sight. Spilling out of the jeep, surrounded by bags at the hotel portico, I’m reluctant to head in. I just want to race around and explore. Come the spring and the plateau readies itself for summer visitors with golf and hiking, walking and trekking along tracks in the accessible mountains. There are 300 signposted paths on the Haut Plateau for all levels — kids included.

Swimming in the crystal clear lakes by the villages, paragliding and even mountain climbing for the more adventurous await you here. Crans-Montana offers golfers a nice choice of courses— the 18-hole Severiano Ballesteros, the 9-hole Jack Niklaus course, and two courses open to all players — the Supercrans and the Noas Golf Course.

Golfing at Crans Montana
Golfing at Crans Montana with the backdrop of stunning mountain peaks Shutterstock

In winter, with its views of the Plaine Morte glacier, the Matterhorn, and Mont Blanc, while other Swiss resorts might eclipse it in the glamour stakes, Crans-Montana’s 140km of slopes and 25 lifts – taking you up to 3,000m – deliver some of the best skiing in the Swiss Alps. High above the glorious valley of the Rhone set upon a sunny plateau at 1500m the twin holiday resorts of Crans and Montana in the Valais Alps. The giddy heights of the ski slopes rise up to the Plaine Morte Glacier at 3000 m. The pistes crisscrossing the mountainscapes are a magnet for beginners and deep-snow skiers.

Experts can head out for the chairlift to La Toula for it vertiginous descents. The gorgeous undulations of the golf courses become a venue for cross-country skiers and hikers and yes even for skaters. And if you don’t ski but just want to gobble up the ambience all around there are plenty of lively mountain restaurants and bars to check out and watch all the action from.

For those who can’t resist the lure of shopping, Crans has everything from designer sportswear to designer eyewear on offer at its glitzy high-end stores. Don’t forget the place is a magnet for the European jet set (summer and winter) who wouldn’t expect any compromises. So remember to keep that platinum card at the ready….else just go window shopping and drool. Crans has a slew of culinary experiences for its guests—from Japanese to French…from Lebanese to Italian in addition to the many lounge bars and delicatessens.

Omega European Masters
I’d wakened to dawn-lit mountains— with the early sun bouncing off the snowy Weisshorn ( 30m higher than the Matterhorn) gazing down upon Crans-sur-Sierre, one of the world’s most celebrated courses — set under the benevolent gaze of the Alps with amazing views of Mt Blanc and the Matterhorn on a fine morning. I was warned that temperatures could be below sub-zero so there I was with thermals and downy jackets to counter the vagaries of the weather—but surprise surprise…. Every one of those three days at the Omega European Masters were greeted with silken moods and balmy breezes — and toasted sunlight brightened up the course and the glitterati of the golfing world which walked the Valais fairways to witness the form of some of the world’s top players from Europe and Asia.

The ties with Asia have emerged as an important and exciting bonding for the golfing community which witnessed the moves of the 30 players from the Asian Tour who qualified for the 2009 event. A late lunch finds us in the same space as Catrina Murino the gorgeous Bond girl of Casino Royale, and golfing champ Greg Norman (legendary Great White Shark) who came on board as the newest member of Omega’s family of brand ambassadors.

The carnival air is catching as lunch kinda seamlessly spills into tea time. The ambient air, the sporty vibe, the celebratory highs are addictive even for us non-golfers. Kalimpong…like really?

The sounds of joyous camaraderie and general bonhomie at the Tournament VIP Lounge (18th green) rises to a muted crescendo marking the celebratory pre-dinner quaffing of spirits to good health and many happy returns to another glorious golfing event of the European Tour with Omega as the title sponsor. I am savouring the end of a perfectly wonderful day which brings to close the Omega European Masters Europe’s premier golfing event.

Champagne in hand, I watch with interest a gentleman determinedly threading his way through the mildly jostling crowd to where I stand with several other Indian guests standing out amidst the largely black tie and black cocktail dress European crowd. By the time he reaches us several of us have fragmented the group and I find myself mouthing hellos to him as the voices around us rise again.

Though I couldn’t quite catch his name above the hubbub, the Swiss gentleman it appeared had worked and lived in India for a while and was clearly missing the country. During the chit-chit learning that I was tea planter’s wife in the Dooars, his eyes glowed with excitement. “You must be familiar with Kalimpong cheese,” he said. That caught my attention sharply. For those in the know, who can forget those crumbly, delicious wheels of cheese, and, of course, creamy lollipops iconic buys from Kalimpong.

Over dinner, he shares with me the story of Kalimpong cheese which finds it beginnings in his nearby 14th century home village. It appears that a family member, Father Andre Butty, a Jesuit parish priest  in  Kalimpong in the 1950 introduced the cheese to the hilltown. One could buy it at the Swiss Welfare Dairy he had set up to provide employment for the orphans from his orphanage at nearby Pedong. If you are in the vicinity of St Augustine’s School you’ll see remains of the dairy which was shut down after the Father Andre passed away in the late 1980s. For generations of school kids and visitors the cheese is stil synonymous with nostalgia of the halcyon days of Kalimpong.

How amazing was that! Who would have thought I would end up swapping notes about Kalimpong cheese at the Omega dinner! I love that —this glorious seamless bridging of the past with the present, shared so comfortably and comfortingly amidst an ambience heightened by day’s tally up of winning and losing— yet with everyone winning in some way or the other in this gorgeous little alpine village.

Omega Museum - Biel
Heading home to Delhi via Zurich we do a short detour from Crans through the glorious Swiss countryside to the little town of Biel, world headquarters of Omega timepieces. A round of the factory (where we are further enlightened about skills and precision of watchmaking of the highest order) ends at the Omega Museum located across the road. Opened in 1984, the museum is the world’s oldest dedicated to a single watch brand.

The guided tour (to book, call ahead +41(0)32 343 9211) revealed a slew of items which spoke of the brands history. Among the exhibits is the watchmaker’s bench used by Louis Brandt when he began to make watches more than 160 years ago. We gazed down in wonder at the showcased pocket watch used by Albert Einstein, the wristwatch worn by author/adventurer/spy T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), John F. Kennedy’s Omega worn at his inauguration when he became 35th President of the United States.

In awe, we recaptured the excitement, showcased by the tableau of the flight to the moon, and the Speedmaster from Omega with its huge strap around the wrist of the Apollo astronaut. The brand has been closely involved in mega has been indelibly linked to NASA’s manned space programme for over 50 years now. You’’ll also see the equipment Omega has developed and used in its timekeeping role at the
Olympic Games since 1932.

Entry free Timings 9am-5pm. Monday-Friday. Website: omegawatches.com/spirit/history/museum

THE INFORMATION


Crans-Montana

Getting There

Air
Austrian Airlines- Delhi to Geneva via Vienna. Onward journey by road (2/ ½ hrs ) to Crans Montana.
Swiss Air- Mumbai to Geneva via Zurich with Saudi Arabian Airlines-New Delhi to Geneva via Jeddah Qatar Airways via Doha
Turkish Airlines via Istanbul. 

Accommodation

Agence Immobilière Barras
Rue Centrale 31
3963, Crans-Montana
W agencebarras.ch
Holiday rentals/yearly rentals – apartments, chalets/villas

Apart - Hotel Helvetia Intergolf
Route de la Moubra 8
Ch3963, Crans-Montana
+41-274858888
W helvetia-intergolf.ch/
Restaurants, bar, swimming pool, spa, golf

Grand Hotel Du Parc
Route du Parc 5
3963 Crans-Montana, Valais
+41-274814107
W parc-hotel.ch/
Restaurant, bar, private park, sauna, fitness centre, kids play area

Hotel AD’ Eldorado
Route de Fleures des Champs 15
3963 Crans-Montana
+41-274859888
W hoteleldorado.ch/
Tariff Ch 145-286 (+breakfast). Taxes and fees extra

Hotel de l’Etrier
31 Rue du Pas-de-l’Ours
3963 Crans-Montana
+41-274854400
W hoteletrier.ch/en/
Restaurants, swimming pool, spa

Le Crans Hotel & Spa
Chemin du Mont-Blanc-1
CP-179, Plans-Mayens
3963 Crans-Montana
+41-274866060
W lecrans.com
Tariff CHF 700-2,800 (+breakfast). Taxes and fees extra
Restaurant, swimming pool, spa

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