When the snow stops, you can head for a ski resort and engage in more gentle adventures among the mountains, from biking to rowing.
Shun slopes and enjoy heights
Hooray! It's stopped snowing. We must head for a ski resort. Actually, I hate skiing. It's not the activity itself, but the struggle to get dressed in all that puffed-up gear, then the queue for the lift, then the wait until the slope is clear, and then the ridiculously quick descent, so quick I've always ended up wondering why I've bothered to struggle so long with my salopettes. But although I hate skiing, I love mountains. So we head for St Moritz, in Switzerland's Alps, for late spring sun and high altitude.
This ritzy resort is best known as a backdrop for James Bond films and for welcoming rather wealthier guests, from Christina Onassis to Tina Turner and the Aga Khan. The Italian prime minister and business tycoon Silvio Berlusconi has a house there. But outside the skiing season, when even the salupettes are Chanel, it becomes surprisingly affordable and five-star accommodation strays within a family's reach. We stayed at the gorgeous Kempinski Grand Hotel de les Bains, stuffed with soft furnishings and run with Swiss efficiency. Our waiter at breakfast greeted us each morning with a bouncy, "What is your programme for today?" Our teenager groaned. Her programme, of course, was to do nothing at all except stare at the mountains.
In spring, prices plummet and so does the age of the average visitor, as families like ours flock to town on the Glacier Express train. The circus also arrives, pitching a tent on the small park. Instead of zooming down the slopes at impossible speed, everyone is engaged in more gentle adventures, from mountain biking to rowing on the cool, calm waters of the lake. At the cluster of old cafes in town, small children sip syrupy hot chocolate and lick honey cakes.
We could still take a cable car to the mountaintops, but without the crowds. And we could still enjoy lunch with a view from a summit restaurant. The seven-year-old twins had endless fun with a fondue fork. With all that dipping and dripping, fondue must be the most child-friendly meal. All three kids were thrilled to discover there was little history and no culture to bore them and obligate me. There is a small museum, but it's not a highlight of the town. The history of St Moritz is the history of its grand hotels, the Grand Hotel de les Bain being the first, setting a trend for St Moritz as a meeting point for the well-off.
But there is, of course, a little bit of literary heritage in the fictitious Heidi; we climbed up to her wooden hut and followed the Heidi Flower Trail along the mountainside. We didn't spot the elusive edelweiss, but we did collect a lot of pine cones. And the surrounding hills weren't alive with music, but the sound of kids shouting. It was like playing hide and seek at the top of the world - and for free. This, on top of all the money I saved on salopettes.
Do you have family travel tips that you'd like to share? E-mail Dea at firstname.lastname@example.org