Ever thought about spending Christmas in Switzerland?
It’s been a tough few years for many of us in the UK and holidays have often been spent closer to home. But maybe – like us – you’re at a point of thinking, “Well, I can’t just stop travelling for ever, can I?”
That’s where we were when a family got in touch from Switzerland, asking if we’d like to do a home swap, and spend Christmas in Switzerland. The home owners explained that they had parents and siblings in the UK that they hadn’t seen for two years, and they were just a short drive from our house in Lancashire.
This particular family happened to live in a gorgeous 4-bedroom chalet on the side of a mountain, just a few minutes’ drive from the ski resorts of Villars and Les Diablerets. They offered us the chance to swap homes from Christmas Eve to New Years’ Day – meaning we would only have to pay for flights.
I thought about it for about… oh, five minutes. Yes please!
The week before we travelled, there was a LOT of Covid testing from both families and luckily everyone was cleared to fly – so we were off to Switzerland for Christmas!
Our Home Exchange in Switzerland
I think my first words after arriving at our accommodation in the village of Gryon, near Villars, were, “Give me a minute Flea, my legs are a bit wobbly.” Let me tell you, driving the world’s smallest car up a snowy mountain is a LOT.
After that, though, I think I managed an, “Oh. My. God”.
The chalet was spectacular. Perched on the side of the mountain with views for miles. The sun was setting and we could see the twinkly lights of the village below.
Inside there was a really pretty lounge and kitchen on the ground floor, with 3 bedrooms upstairs, and another in the basement. Not forgetting the balconies, so we could enjoy those amazing views.
Lots of people have asked how home exchange works. You can see LOTS of detail in this post, but briefly speaking, we are members of a site called Home Exchange. It’s a bit like AirBnb in that you can put in dates and locations and browse properties. The difference is that instead of paying to rent a house, you swap with the owner of the house.
With a home exchange, you can swap directly with a family, or do a points-based swap. So I might pay 200 points a night to stay in your house, and you take those points and use them to stay in another home exchange house. Going through a site like this helps you find amazing properties, but also keeps you safe. HomeExchange provides identity checks and insurance, and everyone pays a $500 security deposit before they travel, to cover the cost of any incidental damages.
Home exchange makes this sort of travel affordable. A 4-bedroom ski chalet at Christmas in Switzerland can easily cost £3,000 or more for a week. And we paid zero, plus £150 for two flights and £400 for car hire. It wasn’t a bargain trip because of course lift passes and ski lessons don’t come cheap – but home exchanging at least put the trip within our budget.
What we did at Christmas in Villars
If you’re looking to travel to Switzerland at Christmas, expect to pay.
It’s worth noting that food in Switzerland is expensive, usually somewhere between 1.5 and 2 times the price you’d pay in the UK. If you have the opportunity, it’s worth going over the border to France to shop, especially if you’re buying meat.
We did cook a lot at our exchange home, and found that we could use a bag of bread rolls and lots of ham and cheese to make up picnics for days out. That said, the nearby resort of Villars has some great bars and restaurants.
Mamma Lottas is busy (you definitely need to book ahead) and has great pizza and pasta, with pizzas starting at around £20. This is very reasonable for the area. If you’re skiing at Bretaye then the place you MUST visit is Crumbs. I recommend you swerve the expensive Bretaye 1880 cafe next to the slopes and instead ski or take the train down one stop to Crumbs cafe.
Crumbs is run by Australian and UK staff and has a range of burgers, wraps, soups and chillis. The prices are pretty reasonable by Swiss standards (a sandwich starts at about £10, while a burger and fries combo is about £20). I wholeheartedly recommend that you book in advance a table on the terrace – the views are some of the best you will EVER see (as you can see in the photo above).
If you haven’t booked, then you can line up for the take-out queue and just sit on the snowy mountain with a picnic (or eat inside). Be warned though – good food and reasonable prices mean this place is busy and if you want to eat between 12 and 2pm, you could be in line for 40-60 minutes.
Villars also has some pretty lights and a Christmas market where 70% of the stalls seem to sell alcoholic drinks and the other 30% are local crafts.
Skis and Ski Lessons at Villars
Of course, if you’re going to the Alps for Christmas then you’ll want to get out on the slopes!
Flea hasn’t skied since primary school, so I wanted her to have lessons to make sure she’d be safe. We booked three group lessons through CheckYeti with Villars Ski School, who also rent equipment. We were able to collect the hire boots on Boxing Day, ready for lessons to start the next day.
I’m not a skiier AT ALL, but Flea was happy to have lessons without me, in a group of adults. While she did her lessons, I explored some of the walking routes and the mountain-top cafe, where you could buy a tiny hot chocolate for the low, low price of about £6.50. Flea had a blast and actually remembered quite a lot of technique once she was back on skis. (This post has some great tips on learning to ski)
If you are interested in what things cost, we paid around £80 for the hire of boots, poles and skis for three days, and then about £120 for three group lessons. Of course on top of that we had to pay for a lift pass which cost around £40 per day, which included the train or gondola to the slopes and a lift pass.
Sledging at Frience and Les Diablerets
One of my favourite things that we did over Christmas in Switzerland was sledging at Frience.
A couple of miles from our chalet there was a free sledging run at Frience, which has three sledging runs and a ski run, plus a covered “magic carpet” style lift so you don’t have to drag your own sledge back up the hill.
Our hosts had kindly left us a sledge, but if you need to then you can hire them on-site for 6 francs (about £4). There’s also a fabulous bar at the foot of the sledging run with the most incredible sunset views, that you can enjoy with a vin chaud (or a cold beer).
Once you have the knack of sledging then I 100% recommend night time sledging at Les Diablerets. Here, you can book to do a night time sledge on Wednesday or Saturday, from 6.30pm. There is a HUGE sledging run that takes about 30 minutes to ride from top to bottom. You can bring or rent a sledge for around £20, and you’ll also need to bring or rent a head torch. Once you get to the bottom of the hill, there’s a fab little restaurant serving fondue.
What to do in Villars when it Rains
We had two days of rain during our visit, and everything I’ve read says that novices are better off not skiing in the rain.
One of the best things to do is visit the Bains de Villars – a spa and sports centre in Villars centre. You can register for free online, and this allows you to book appointments. For around £10 per person, you can swim in the gorgeous outdoor heated spa pool, and you can also book treatments like nails and facials if that’s your thing.
Second, consider the ice skating rink at Barboleusaz which is free and open all week – you can park right next to the rink. As an added bonus, this is right next to the best patisserie and cafe in the area. Patisserie Charlet has a queue of locals outside all morning, which is pretty much the best recommendation you’ll get. They also have a chocolate counter inside that sells fabulous boxes of chocolates that make amazing gifts.
Christmas Day in Switzerland
Did we miss home? Truthfully – not at all.
My parents were very happy to have a quiet Christmas at home without needing to visit any family – I think because the pandemic, in part. Flea’s Dad was recovering from Covid and isolating, so we would not have seen him even if we were at home.
Instead, we shopped for a no-pressure Christmas lunch – slow cooked beef with potato dauphinoise and greens, accompanied by two bottles of pink champagne. We slept in and then drank a Christmas toast on the balcony, before opening gifts under the tree. We didn’t want to bring lots of presents in suitcases, so we left some presents at home and instead I brought Flea’s gift in my suitcase and we bought each other a book to enjoy on our trip.
After a lazy lunch we watched a couple of Christmas movies and both cried at 8-bit Christmas. Then we played Top Trumps and Bananagrams and drank a bit more champagne.
If every Christmas Day for the rest of my life could be just like that, I’d be happy woman!
New Years’ Eve at Refuge de Solalex
I have to say that one of the maddest and most magical things we’ve ever done is have New Years Even dinner at Refuge de Solalex.
Refuge de Solalex is one of the best restaurants in the area and they have a dedicated menu for NYE. We booked transport to the restaurant by skidoo, which involved parking in a local car park then walking across the fields to meet the skidoo, which drove us up the steep snowy mountain track to the restaurant.
We arrived to see the restaurant decked out with twinkly lights and flaming torches. Inside there’s a blazing fire in the corner, lots of wood panelling, red cushions and ski accessories.
Through the evening the restaurant got busier (many guests arrived after us because they hiked up to the restaurant) and noisier but the food was incredible. We enjoyed 5 courses of dinner but if you wanted to take a little break and go outside for a walk in the snow, that was fine. We met some lovely people and everyone was really friendly.
At midnight, the restaurant owner set up a beautiful fireworks display and we drank champagne in the snow while the fireworks went off, and all the kids played on the restaurant’s sledges. We were offered the opportunity to sledge or walk down the mountain but given my questionable sense of direction we took the ski-doo down to the car!
It was definitely the sort of moment I hoped to have when we decided to spend Christmas in Switzerland!
Is Switzerland a good place to spend Christmas?
If you’re wondering whether to spend Christmas in Switzerland, I say yes, go for it. I literally NEVER want to spend another Christmas at home, we had such a wonderful time.
Christmas in the UK can sometimes feel a bit soulless, especially as your children get older. But there’s nothing guaranteed to give you that festive feeling more than being in the snow, drinking hot chocolate, riding sledges, and literally being in the middle of a winter wonderland. We can’t wait to go back!