Swiss Mountain Fun in Les Diablerets – It’s Devilishly Good
With a glacier and peak to peak walk above it and the highest toboggan ride in Europe straddling its mountainside, the Swiss ski resort of Les Diablerets is a great destination for a summer break. It also has all the heart and soul of a traditional Swiss village. But one word of warning, do watch out for the little devils…
Watch out for The Little Devils
The English translation of Les Diablerets is The Little Devils and horned creatures are everywhere in the village. Street signs show cartoon devils skiing biking or heading off for a walk and the shops are full of devil products. But the legends surrounding them are not all cute and furry. For many years devils were thought to have populated the nearby glacier, frightening residents of all the neighbouring communities. The inhospitable peak of Les Diablerets was believed to be dangerous and cursed; a meeting place on the Sabbath for the devils and the damned. The noises coming from the rocks made locals believe the devils were up there playing skittles. And when you look up at the impenetrable looking landscape it’s hard not to believe them.
A slice of winter in summer
Today the sounds drifting down the mountain are cow bells, the hum of the cable cars and the squeals of kids on the toboggan run. While the devils may have created the legends, they certainly don’t provide all the fun in this compact, traditional Swiss chalet adorned resort. At a height of 1200m in the Vaude Alps, Les Diablerets is primarily a ski haven but it also offers cool stuff for families in summer. A huge range of alpine trails and walks provide relief from the heat. The nearby glacier offers opportunities to walk, play and ride on snow. And the Summer Free Access Card, issued to all guests at hotels or campsites offers lots of free activities and transport.
The land of cowbells
Despite the reputation of the devils, the worst thing that happens to us on our two day break in Les Diablerets is the cloud coming down, postponing our glacier trip for 24 hours. However this isn’t exactly a problem. Our Summer Free Access Cards prompt us to take a free ride on the Isenau cable cars. Cute red egg shaped cabins, (amongst the oldest cable cars still in operation in Switzerland, although there are rumours they will close in 2017) whisk us straight off to a land of cowbells and meadows. Hiking is the thing on the gentle, snow free, wooded slopes here. There are more than 500 km of marked trails in the area so you are sure to find something to suit your interests and capabilities. To add interest there are also themed hikes on offer showcasing natural resources like ice and water.
A walk and a swim
The signposted route takes us down to Lac Retaud, the stillest of lakes, where we break the surface with an icy cold swim. We then stroll down through heavily forested track with the mist hanging above our heads and cow bells tinkling all around. Next to the Glacier 3000 cable car to the Les Diablerets Glacier (more about that in a moment) a free bus is waiting to return us to the village. Everything is easy for the tourist in this Swiss mountain settlement. Except winning the mini golf. We are a very competitive family.
High as a bird (or a devil)
Along with golf, mini golf and tennis there are thirty things you can do without charge with the summer card; it’s a great way for a family to spend time in the Swiss Alps without racking up a huge bill. The only problems is choosing what to do if you have limited time. If you have children over the age of ten we recommend prioritising a visit to the Parc des Diables. We have tackled a few high ropes courses in our time, but none with as many plunges and free falls as this adventure park offers. We are barely touching the wood as we fly from tree to tree, climbing net ropes, lunging at punchbags and descending quickly to earth with the power fan plummet. Children as young as four can have a go, (under tens get in for free) but if you have teens they’ll get the most out of it as some of the plunges are weight dependent. You can see what Stuart thought of it in this video clip.
Peak to Peak action
The main attraction of Les Diablerets also lies much higher in the clouds, accessed by two connecting cable cars. Glacier de Diablerets (also known as Glacier 3000) is a winter playground and open as a high mountain experience all year round. It offers skiing until May, and in the summer it comes up with some devilishly good activities. The Tissot Peak Walk is the most talked about – it is the first high altitude suspension bridge in the world linking two peaks, stretching for 100m with views of more than two dozen summits over 4,000 metres high.
Bouncing around in thin air
The walkway is thin and bouncy (especially when your teens jump on it) and it makes you a little dizzy if you look down. And today I have cause to look down as there is a 26km trail run going on. Far below in the valley people are pushing tired bodies up 1,800 metres of altitude on a snowy track. Above them the high tech cable cars of the Les Diablerets Cable Way slowly zip along carrying fresh legged passengers up the mountain. But the kids don’t notice either of these as they are playing with sculptures formed by the ice on the bridge and making snowballs to throw off it.
Walking at a glacial pace
It is only when we strike out on our own on a walk across the glacier that I realise how tough it is to move up the hill on snow and I have a new admiration for the trail runners. There’s a curious mixture of hot sun and cold air on our cheeks as we strike out on a parallel path to the runners. As we part company for them to do the final leg of their run, the huge rock of Quille du Diable looms ahead of us in the snow. It is our target, our beacon and a Les Diableret legend, said to be the devil’s skittle.
The Devil’s Skittle
As the clouds swirl around it changes appearance every few minutes, but never seems to get any closer. It takes an hour to reach it and when we do it nearly bowls me over with its size and scale. But I recover quickly at the mountain Refuge de l’Espace tucked away beside it. The restaurant offers the most delicious apple tart and coffee taken on picnic benches lined with fur. But we limit our consumption in anticipation of the high alpine toboggan which awaits after the trek back.
Toboggan run fun
The Glacier 3000 Alpine Coaster is the highest toboggan run on rails in Europe and it’s utterly exhilarating. We blast down in the individual bob sled carts, each choosing our own speed and controlling (or losing control of) our own destiny. And I know that if The Little Devils truly do live on the glacier, they will be flying along beside us. I even suspect the children may be giving them a run for their money.
Les Diablerets is a mountain resort in the Vaud Alps of Switzerland. It’s just over an hour’s drive from Lausanne, located in the French speaking part of Switzerland. Geneva airport is around 120 kilometres away. Or you can take a train from Paris to Lausanne and drive from there. To make a two centre break why not stop in Lausanne for a night or two. Check this link for some ideas on what to see and do in Lausanne, the Olympic Capital.
Les Diablerets has successfully preserved its chalet style architecture and is a pretty and authentic mountain town. We stay in the beautiful Eurotel Victoria Les Diablerets. At the edge of the village this hotel offers family suites and suites with a glacier view. You can opt for a bed and buffet breakfast deal or half board accommodation which includes a four course meal in the hotel restaurant. It also has spa facilities to warm us up after our winter glacier walking. Children under eight years stay for free.
Eating and drinking here
Cheese is an important part of the diet and livelihood in the Swiss mountains and if you are interested in its production you can meet the cows and/or meet the makers. Or you can sample it at your leisure in a fondue or a picnic on the hills.
You can’t visit Les Diablerets without trying Diablerets Bitter. The brown coloured aperitif was created in 1876 and like all things here is rooted in devilish legend. “The devil was testing his skill at stone throwing and caused a landslide on the inhabitants of one of the villages. People died and the dead were mourned. Below the rocks the farmers survived by sucking on the roots of various plants which saved their lives. And Diablerets Bitter was born.”
Having fun for free here
The Les Diablerets Free Access Card takes care of this. With one of these cards there are over thirty things you can do for free in summer (June – October) including golf, mini golf, tennis and a high ropes course. Every visitor spending a night at a hotel or campsite receives one of these cards for use while staying in Les Diablerets which also allows unlimited use of different mountain transports (trains, gondolas and buses) as well as the different sporting and fun activities.
Disclosure Note: Our stay in Les Diablerets and the activities around it were provided by the Office du Tourisme des Diablerets, Lausanne Tourisme and Hotel Eurotel Victoria, Les Diablerets. Thanks also to DFDS Seaways who supported our crossing to Europe between Newcastle and Holland. The bitter drinking, tree top walking and toboggan racing with imaginary devils were, as ever, all our own as is all the photography and videography.