It was nice returning to Switzerland this year. I accept that the prices and low exchange rate put me off last year but nonetheless I had had a nice time in Austria.
Although the same concerns occurred this year, I had come across a place called Samnaun where the prices seemed extremely reasonable for Switzerland. I must admit too that I had never heard of the place but the photos, as they always do, made it look rather nice so I booked and then found that the closest airport is Innsbruck, in Austria.
I booked directly with the Appartement Panorama and their rate of CHF60 (approximately £47) per night included, as it turned out, a large room with balcony, breakfast, use of their spa but remarkably free use of buses in Samnaun, the cable-car and chairlift system and entrance into the spa in the village of Samnaun-Compatsch. It took several emails to Alex Heiss in the Panorama to establish that this was not a typing error.
Indeed, for the last few years this offer is available to anyone staying overnight in Samnaun in the general summer period of mid-June to mid-October. Apparently, it is going ahead next year too so I shall be back especially as the little-known Samnaun has scenery to match that of the famous resorts in the Bernese Oberland and Zermatt.
It seemed odd going up to Gatwick the night before my 11:15 a.m. easyJet flight to Innsbruck but it made for a gentle start and the unusual issue of lying in bed longer. Samnaun being just under four hours away from Innsbruck Airport by public transport, I stayed in a town close to Innsbruck Airport called Gotzens. It involved a change of bus in Innsbruck but not at the Hauptbahnhof so, yes, I was quickly lost and my arrival was half-an-hour later than I had planned.
I stayed at the Edelweiss Hotel which was very pleasant. The room was large and the breakfast decent. There is a restaurant and a spa and, like many Austrian hotels, was reasonably-priced. It is busy as it seems to cater to coach tours but Gotzens has a lovely position just three or so miles from Innsbruck and the views can be lovely. Inevitably, after our wonderful English summer, it was raining in Gotzens in their peak, summer season...
I was off around 9 a.m. the following morning and the journey to Samnaun was a pleasant one with a train from Innsbruck to Landeck and a couple of buses thereafter to Samnaun. A very slight cautionary word, though. Buses go to Martina which is just past the Samnaun turn-off and there is very little transfer time. Samnaun was a former smuggling village and is now a duty-free haven and therefore the police checks in Martina are understandable. Our bus was five minutes late which meant a minute to find the onward bus and, although I hurriedly saw the correct bus number, it was going in the wrong direction... I salvaged myself and suitcase from ignominy and was kindly dropped off by the same bus who made an unscheduled pit-stop by the Samnaun sign and caught a bus which may very well have been asked to stop just for me. Whoops.
Don't make the mistake of reading on the bus up to Samnaun. I am not naturally a queasy one on buses but the roads are windy, travel through some fairly dramatic and narrow tunnels and, well, I was soon putting down the bus timetable I was avidly reading. The scenery is breathtaking and gave a feel for what can be explored higher up. Samnaun is high too at just over 6000 feet.
I hadn't appreciated quite how big my room would be in the Panorama but it was terrific and a lovely place to stay. Although my room was on the first floor, the mountain views were still wonderful. The breakfast made for an excellent start to the day and, all in all, it was one of the nicest places in which I have stayed. Once the all-important Guest Card had been issued, all the facilities were at my beck and call and I was only too happy to make good use of them.
There are ample places to eat at fair prices and the many duty-free shops have wide range of goods all at bargain prices. A bottle of gin cost around £6 in Samnaun yet the same make in Innsbruck Airport was available for around £19. Sometimes, it's best not to understand it.
Samnaun apparently has the only double-decker cable-car and it was an impressive ten minute or so journey from the valley station to the main walking area at over 8000 feet. I was lucky that, after the first couple of slightly dreary days, the weather picked up and was beautiful allowing plenty of different and varied walks.
Finding my bearings - well, walking around somewhat aimlessly, missing paths and generally getting lost - on the first day, I took the route back down to the cable-car station outside Samnaun. The sign indicated the time it would take but not obviously the degree of difficulty. It was an invigorating but very steep initial descent on a narrow path where occasionally a rope was provided. I used to think that walking down was easier but gave up that idea a long time ago. This was pretty hard going and, at one stage, I heard something sounding like an alarm and thought initially that someone had seen me going off the beaten track until I quickly realised that it was one of the tame marmots warning its mates that a stranger was about before scurrying off when it saw me at closer quarters.
A less onerous walk was down to Compatsch the following day. It wasn't quite long enough actually and, after leaving a little earlier from the hotel, I was trying to fill the early afternoon before going to the Samnaun spa.
After a couple of days of walking predominantly downhill, I took the chairlift down from the cable-car station on the third - forgetting to initially put the safety-bar across and only doing so when I could see no-one coming in the opposite direction - and had a circuitous walk something off the beaten track. It was rather nice and quiet and only the ubiquitous marmots disturbed the peace.
The last day was the most dramatic. Having taken one of the almost long-distance chairlifts from the valley to the Austrian border - a journey of almost fifteen minutes - the day before, I intended using it again after walking to the same point on this last day. The views over Austria were staggering and I decided to take another downhill route which I trusted would bring me back to the same point from where I could take the chairlift back.
Inevitably, it didn't. It went round in the circle which I had expected but then took me over rocks and ice to one of the narrower paths which was no great problem. Being aware that the ever-rising path was getting narrower, I was hoping that the onward and distinctly menacing looking path led down to where I had hoped to reach. I was naturally aware that the sign to Flimspitze led to the top of a fairly uninviting mountain top but, without wishing to go back and return the same way, I hoped - in vain - that there would be a similar path downwards on the other side. A returning hiker informed me and so, at 2928 metres or around 9,600 feet, I was not especially pleased to summit and have to return the same way almost immediately.
It wasn't the easiest of paths up. It may not surprise people that, whilst I did not exactly get lost, the red and white mountain path signs painted on boulders, were not especially clear and, yes, once I had to back-peddle and wondered what I was doing scrambling and climbing up rocks! The "correct" route wasn't noticeably easier and one family returned on all fours at one point. It is a similar if slightly more daunting hike than that to the Hornlihutte on the Matterhorn ( which I was later disappointed to find is almost 1000 feet higher than the Flimspitze).
As it happened, there was a slightly more direct way back to the cable-car station than I had initially thought but I have to admit that I found the experience of summiting the Flimspitze quite nerve-racking and was pleased when the ordeal was over. It is some time since I have felt so exhausted but, anyway, I made it and enjoyed resting very weary legs and limbs in the Panorama's sauna.
Goetzens, near Innsbruck.

Goetzens Church.

Appartement Panorama, Samnaun.


The Twinliner cable-car.

The view from the Samnaun mountain cable-car station.

A marmot.

One of the many easy walks. Cycling down a mountain?

A walk in error. The view going up the Flimspitze.


Valley cable-car station, Samnaun.

Chapel in Samnaun.


I moved back to Innsbruck after a wonderful five day stay in Samnaun. Some people were searched on the bus going into Martina but I, having offered my luggage, was just asked where I was going to and not bothered further. It made the onward bus to Landeck a trifle hurried but I did make the correct one on this occasion and was back at the Edelweiss in Gotzens for the last night.
There was no hurry to leave the following morning but, after some shopping, I had a couple of very enjoyable hours in Innsbruck, a delightful city. It has a nice feel to it and some of the buildings are wonderful. I have rarely had the chance of seeing much of it on previous visits but was glad for the time on this occasion.
I wished that I hadn't reached the airport quite that early, though. On arrival, there was that awful, sinking feeling when seeing that the easyJet flight was delayed with no firm departure time and so everyone sat there. I had five-and-a-half hours and, even when the flight eventually arrived, it still needed a further hour before everyone was on and we were on our way.
I would, though, like to say how good EasyJet were with the delay. A letter was given saying how all affected passengers might qualify for compensation under EU rules and a voucher was given for refreshment at the airport. I'm not sure how many people claimed later - I suspect some who were taking photos of the departure board once the delay reached three hours did so - but I applied the following day more in hope than expectation. But no, after their quick reply saying that they would be in touch within forty-five days, they wrote again within four days saying that, yes, compensation and the full amount of 250 euros would be paid. It was too and quicker than the normal guidelines. I do not mind saying that I was impressed with their handling of the delay and naturally such an amount was not unwelcome.