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The truth about Davos, Europe’s most high-net-worth ski resort

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the 54th annual World Economic Forum in Davos
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the 54th annual World Economic Forum in Davos - Alamy

For four days each January, the Alpine town of Davos is transformed from a discrete mountain resort favoured by Swiss and German skiers into a gathering of the global elite. Having hosted the World Economic Forum (WEF) each winter since 1971, Davos has become eponymous with the event, whose bold mission statement announces its commitment to “improving the state of the world”.

Since its inception, the invitation-only forum has welcomed an eclectic mix of world leaders, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and celebrities ranging from Donald Trump, Bill Gates and Greta Thunberg to King Charles III, Mick Jagger and the Archbishop of Canterbury. This year’s power summit runs to 2,800 VIP attendees, including president of Israel Isaac Herzog, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky, World Bank Group president Ajay Banga and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman.

With so much business to do, WEF attendees do not ski, even though Davos sits at the heart of one of Switzerland’s largest ski areas. Together with neighbouring Klosters, the resort boasts 300 kilometres of pistes and boundless off-piste terrain spanning six glorious mountains. Keen skiers would be correct in deducing that WEF is a superb time to go skiing in this expansive area without any crowds, but there’s one caveat: accommodation.

Unsurprisingly, when the population of a modest Alpine town is virtually tripled, swollen with heads of state, venture capitalists and billionaires (Bloomberg reported that 116 billionaires registered to attend Davos 2023), bedrooms become gold dust.

Hotel and property prices skyrocket during the World Economic Forum in Davos
Hotel and property prices skyrocket during the World Economic Forum in Davos - Martin Bissig

In what’s known as “regulated chaos”, hotel prices skyrocket and properties like the stately Steigenberger Icon Grandhotel Belvédère Davos, which hosted the inaugural WEF and still plays a leading role in the event, require bookings a year or more in advance. Bag a room the week after WEF (from just £285) and hit up the barman for a Belvédère cocktail and tales of notorious nightcap lock-ins – you won’t regret it.

Ordinary Davos locals cash in on the chaos too, renting out their private homes and spare rooms. One current Airbnb listing, for example, is currently offering a double room in a two-bed apartment on Promenade, Davos’ central strip, for £7,818 per night, plus a £1,324 service fee. Even the hospital has been known to sell beds to bodyguards requiring overnight accommodation.

As Rupert Longsdon, founder of the luxury operator The Oxford Ski Company, says: “The WEF transforms Davos into a pop-up Airbnb at the highest level. We’ve known clients pay for the redecoration of chalets to their liking – hopefully in a style that the owners like too.”

King Charles III, pictured here with Princes William and Harry in 1996, has been a loyal fan of Klosters
King Charles III, pictured here with Princes William and Harry in 1996, has been a loyal fan of Klosters - PA Images / Alamy

One of very few catered chalets available in Davos, Tivoli Lodge is a perennial favourite with WEF regulars for its grand architecture, secluded location and impressive wine cellar. For something even more discrete, there’s Chalet Eugenia, a sprawling 11-bedroom estate in the secluded hamlet of Wolfgang near Davos. Known for hosting illustrious guests including various members of the British Royal family, the chalet offers sweeping views of the surrounding mountains believed to have inspired the then-Prince of Wales to paint a watercolour that adorned the winter 1992/93 Davos-Klosters season pass.

King Charles III has been a loyal fan of Klosters since he first visited the chocolate-box antidote to metropolitan Davos back in 1978. A dainty village accustomed to hosting blue-blooded and silver-screen royalty, Klosters is separated from its neighbour by just 5.5 miles as the crow flies, a distance easily covered by train or on skis over Parsenn mountain.

Home to beloved hotels, such as the rustic Chesa Grischuna and Hotel Wynegg, and tasteful chalets like Chalet Bear and Haus Alpina, Klosters offers a tranquil alternative to big-name Davos. However, time is money to the “Davos Man” (one in ten 2022 WEF attendees travelled to the event by private jet), and he is invariably deterred by the 25-minute journey between the two resorts.

Tasteful chalets like Haus Alpina in Klosters offer a tranquil alternative to big-name Davos
Tasteful chalets like Haus Alpina in Klosters offer a tranquil alternative to big-name Davos - PHILIPVILE

Just as beds become a scarce commodity during WEF, so do restaurant tables, with many of the town’s prized venues (Stall Valär, Extrablatt, Gasthaus Höhwald and Golden Dragon) booked exclusively for events hosted for holders of coveted all-access white badges. Mere mortals can catch up on last night’s gossip at KaffeeKlatsch over Birchermüesli and pancakes or grab a homemade kombucha and fragrant chickpea masala at Lokal Davos, which has sealed its position as a locals’ favourite by operating a walk-ins only policy during the forum.

After long days, WEF delegates unwind (read: continue networking) over magnums of Perrier-Jouët at Davos’ top nightclubs, Pöstli Club and Platzhirsch, or at intimate private gigs headlined by the likes of Sting, Lenny Kravitz, and Chris Martin of Coldplay.

The Hotel Europe’s elegant Tonic Piano Bar is the setting for some of the WEF’s hottest gatherings, including this year’s wine soirée hosted by Skybridge Capital founder and chairman Anthony Scaramucci. With previous guests including Matt Damon, Richard Branson and Andrea Bocelli, Scaramucci is offering 2003 Chateau Latour pauillac on tap (at £785 a bottle) although the bar’s signature espresso martinis might help flagging guests push through till dawn.

The Steigenberger Icon Grandhotel Belvédère Davos plays a leading role in the World Economic Forum event
The Steigenberger Icon Grandhotel Belvédère Davos plays a leading role in the World Economic Forum event

How to visit

The Steigenberger Icon Grandhotel Belvédère Davos (0041 81 415 6000; hrewards.com) offers double rooms from CHF267 (£245), including breakfast.

The Oxford Ski Company (01865 817 420; oxfordski.com) offers seven nights at Haus Alpina, Klosters, from £20,234 for up to 12 adults, including chalet catering.

Fly from London airports to Zürich with SWISS (swiss.com) from £128 return and travel onwards to Davos by train in two hours, 40mins (sbb.ch).

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