The first Travellers: Pilgrims and Traders
For a long time in history, travelling did not serve pure pleasure, but pursued other purposes until the 18th century: pilgrims in religious settings, crusaders, messengers and merchants wandered about. The earliest witnesses of some kind of tourism in Switzerland can be found in the context of spa stays in resorts such as Baden with hot springs.
Travelling as Luxury
In the early 18th century a development began that would lead to the exploitation of the Alps for an ever-increasing number of travellers. Nevertheless, this tendency was out of reach for the normal people: it was restricted to Alpine specialists and trained (and rich) adventurers. It was not until the 18th century that travel became an end in itself: the discovery of new landscapes for pleasure or to broaden one’s horizons and contemplative educational journeys, but still reserved for members of the upper classes. Famous foreign guests (e.g. Jean-Jacques Rousseau) visited Switzerland, wrote about it and thus introduced Switzerland’s reputation as a tourist destination .
Villars: Nature and Sports
Until 1905, Villars was exclusively a summer resort, with hotels closed in winter. Villars was not a holiday destination where guests could take health cures or baths, such as in Bex-les-Bains. Villars was also not a health resort such as Leysin, where the sanatorium welcomed and cured people with lung diseases. But the beautiful nature in the pleasant climate on the sun terrace offers in Villars the opportunity for numerous sporty activities in the fresh air. Exactly these preferences and expectations of Europe’s and Switzerland’s wealthy classes were met by the opening of Villars Palace.
Villars Palace: Ski and Ice Skating
The first winter season in Villars took place in 1905/1906. The guests enjoyed activities such as sledging and snow walks. It was only slowly that skiing became fashionable. Villars had always had a good sense of the trends of the time and met the interests of the guests in new sports such as golf, swimming and ice skating. In 1906, the Swiss Ski School Villars reported that the first hotels were open in winter and that guests from Great Britain celebrated Christmas on the ice field. Thirty horse-drawn sleighs brought the English skiers from Bretaye to Villars (the railway was not opened until 1913).
The Villars Palace, opened in 1914, offers indoor entertainment such as billiards, a hall for theatre and music performances, as well as a tennis court, a cricket field and a gymnastics room- all in response to the new demand from guests for sporting activities during their holidays. They come to do sports, exercise in the fresh air, enjoy nature and relax. Charles Genillard, the director of Villars Palace, introduced the winter season with the opening of the 12,000 m² ice rink for curling and hockey. Year after year the teams from Oxford, Cambridge and Chamonix came to Villars to play. Genillard also had a bobsleigh and a toboggan run built.
The Times are a-changing in Villars
As the latest fashion of the time, women wore long skirts for winter sports and men wore white sweaters and wool stockings. At that time, the wealthy classes of Europe, first especially from England, took on relatively long journeys, as they often stayed in the mountains for the whole season. It was only in the course of time, economical and political changes in the 20th century that the guests also changed: It was no longer rich Englishmen who spend their holiday in Villars, but guests from Switzerland and nearby foreign countries, as well as from Belgium. And the guests gradually wore more sporty clothes….
Discover the many winter activities this season, no matter what clothes you prefer! (However: We do not take responsibility for bikinis on ski slopes…). We look forward to welcoming you as our guest!