The understated Swiss mountain village of Klosters has been King Charles III’s winter home from home for almost 45 years – a reassuring constant through the often turbulent chapters of our new monarch’s life, but also one which has produced its own high drama.
On his first visit in 1978, the then-Prince of Wales courted Lady Sarah Spencer on the snowy slopes above the bucolic Prättigau valley. Over the coming decades, the modest village and its sprawling ski area was where he prepared to propose to her younger sister three years later, narrowly escaped from a fatal avalanche, introduced his sons to skiing, and learned of the death of his beloved grandmother.
As secure as a Swiss bank, the goings-on of the residents and visitors to this cosseted village are impossible to extract unless you’re one of them. Close friends of the King claim it is precisely this discretion, combined with the fact that his strong skiing enables him to escape paparazzi lacking the same skills, that has ensured the resort has remained close to his heart.
Blue blood meets silver screen
The King is by no means alone in his fondness for the quaint farmer’s village tucked at the bottom of the Parsenn ski area, whose roster of loyal celebrities runs the gamut from Greta Garbo, Peter Sellers and Audrey Hepburn to Bono, Julia Roberts and the King of Sweden. Like the King, they have enjoyed the rustic comforts of Klosters’ refreshingly low-key hotels, notably the Chesa Grischuna (the Chesa to those in the know) and Hotel Wynegg.
The Chesa, which has retained its humble three-star status since first opening its frescoed doors in the 1930s, offers 12 cosy bedrooms and is owned by Barbara Guler, whose mother owned the Wynegg for more than 60 years. Often referred to as the ‘Matron of Klosters’, Ruth Guler was a formidable and much-loved figure known for her no-nonsense approach to her rich and famous guests. Despite admonishing her stately wards, she was invited to dance at royal weddings, place bets at Royal Ascot and learn to fish for salmon by Balmoral, inspiring Prince Charles to write in a birthday card: “Ruth, you are not only a Swiss national treasure, but a British one.”
Like all those faithful to Klosters, the King spreads his patronage across the Wynegg, Chesa and Walserhof hotels and restaurants, and its sole nightclub, Casa Antica. If he, like me, has spent contented hours leafing through the Chesa’s legendary guest book, he might have come across an entry that reads: “The Prince eats lunch at one of the cheapest places around. He was dancing at the Casa Antica… hires skis that he carries himself and invariably travels second class on the sports train.”
The King’s passion for Klosters and ski skills are largely attributable to one Charles Palmer-Tomkinson. With a heritage as closely wedded to the Royal family as it is to Olympic skiing prowess, Palmer-Tomkinson became the then-Prince’s mentor on the slopes and friend, teaching him and his sons to ski, and cementing his love for the Swiss resort. Staying in the Palmer-Tomkinson’s self-described “very basic” chalet, the King grew to appreciate the rural nature of the village, with its farm shacks, quirky locals and spectacular scenery.
Under Palmer-Tomkinson’s tutelage, he became an accomplished skier, developing an appetite for more challenging terrain. At the time married to Diana, Princess of Wales, they often holidayed in Klosters together with Prince Andrew and the Duchess of York, creating international press storms in the small town. As much as Ruth Guler would have staunchly defended their privacy at the Wynegg, the foursome took up residence at the lavish Chalet Eugenia, tucked away from prying eyes in the hamlet of Wolfgang (and yours for a week in peak season for a mere £99,750 courtesy of Oxford Ski).
A fatal accident
It was here, on March 10 1988, that Diana and a pregnant Duchess of York learned that Prince Charles had been involved in a skiing incident. Several hours later they received news that the future King had narrowly avoided being swept up in an avalanche while skiing off-piste with Charles Palmer-Tomkinson and his wife Patti, Major Hugh Lindsay, a close friend of his and former equerry to the Queen, and Bruno Sprecher, a local ski guide. Hugh Lindsay tragically lost his life in the avalanche while Patti Palmer-Tomkinson sustained such serious injuries that Prince Charles later credited Sprecher with saving her life by administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the mountain.
The dramatic incident deterred Diana from ever returning to Klosters, and is alleged to have contributed to the decline of the couple’s marriage, yet it doesn’t appear to have dimmed the King’s passion for skiing or the resort.
He continued to holiday in Klosters each winter, usually with the young Princes William and Harry as well as the Palmer-Tomkinsons and their children, Santa, Tara and James. Memorably, a young William was pictured sharing a T-bar with the rosy-cheeked Kate Middleton on their first officially recognised holiday together in the resort in 2004.
In addition to enjoying the thrill of skiing in Klosters, the King is known to take pleasure in painting his Alpine surroundings. Cleaning his paintbrushes in vodka poured from a hip flask stashed in his ski suit, his accomplished watercolours capture the quiet serenity of the mountains.
Those fortunate enough to have owned a Davos-Klosters season pass in 1992 are likely to have treasured it, adorned as it was with one of his paintings of the Tinzenhorn viewed from Wolfgang. (If you don’t own a season pass of that vintage, you can pick up a limited edition lithograph of the King’s watercolour of another local peak, the Hüreli, from the Belgravia Gallery.)
While the villagers of Klosters are well accustomed to hosting royalty, both silver screen and blue-blooded, they have a particular affinity for King Charles III. This became apparent in 2018 when the resort celebrated their 40-year shared history by naming the cable car that runs from the village to the peak of the Gotschnagrat after him. It remains to be seen whether the Prince of Wales cable car will now be known as the King of England lift.
After the naming ceremony, a private party was held for the then-Prince at the village curling rink. As the evening drew on, guests apparently wondered what was keeping the star of the party, who was uncharacteristically late. It transpired that he had been outside, in the snow, greeting locals and posing for photographs with them for over an hour.
Klosters is where we’ve seen our monarch at his happiest – skiing with his family and emerging from his chalet wearing a false nose, moustache and glasses in a humorous attempt to dodge the press – and his lowest, following the loss of the Queen Mother and his friend Hugh Lindsay.
It remains to be seen whether he can continue to relish the privacy that this quietly exclusive Swiss resort has extended to him for so long in his new role as King of England. There will be new security measures, less freedom to risk life and limb and, one imagines, less holiday allowance. But if there’s anywhere in the world that has the power to lure our King away, and keep his presence there under its bobble hat, it is Klosters.
How to do it
Discover Klosters with James Palmer-Tomkinson, founder of PT Ski and dedicated Klosters specialist. Prices start from £915pp for seven nights’ b&b at the Wynegg Hotel based on two people sharing a double room, including complimentary return transfers from Zurich airport, piste hosting and unbeatable Klosters insider knowledge.