Saturday, June 22, 2013

Hockey road trips: Swiss Hockey - Southeast region (Ticino & Graubünden)

If nature and the great, magnificent outdoors are more your style than big cities, or if you fancy the idea of a ski vacation among Switzerland's renowned resorts, then combining a vacation with hockey games in the southeastern Ticino and Graubünden cantons might be more up your alley. 

These two Swiss cantons have very distinct personalities, and are well worth a visit any time of the year. HC Davos is in mountainous Graubünden, while HC Ambrì-Piotta and HC Lugano are in Italian-flavored Ticino


Three teams make up the Southeastern (Ticino/Graubünden) region: 

Team: HC Davos
Twitter: @HCD_News
Tier: National A
Stadium and address: Vaillant Arena, Kurgartenstrasse, 7270 Davos Platz
Public transportation stops/stations: Closest train stations: Davos Dorf & Davos Platz. (2:18 from Zürich; 1:40 by train or 2:00 by bus from Chur; 3:30 from Lugano) From Davos Platz (1.2 km): Take bus towards "Davos Dorf, Stilli", stop "Davos Platz, Schatzalpbahn", 2 block walk to arena. From Davos Dorf (1.9 km): Take bus towards "Davos Dorf, Stilli", stop "Davos Platz, Kurgartenstrasse"
NHL players who played here during lockout: Loui Eriksson (Stars), Rick Nash (Rangers), Joe Thornton (Sharks)

Team: Hockey Club Ambrì Piotta SA (HC Ambrì-Piotta)
Tier: National A
Stadium and address: Stadio Valascia, Ambrì, 6775 Quinto
Unique about this stadium: The ends of the stadium are open-air. Dress warmly!
Public transportation stops/stations: Take the SBB to Ambrì-Piotta. The stadium is two blocks from the train station. (~2:30 from Zürich; 0:50-1:25 from Bellinzona; 1:30-2 from Lugano; 3:45 from Chur via bus or train)
NHL players who played here during lockout: Matt Duchene (Avalanche), Max Pacioretty (Canadiens), Cory Schneider (Canucks)

Team: Hockey Club Lugano SA (HC Lugano)
Twitter: @HcLugano1941
Tier: National A
Stadium and address: Piste della Resega, Via Chiosso, 6948 Porza (north side of Lugano)
Public transportation stops/stations: Main train station: Lugano (2:40 from Zürich; 0:30 from Bellinzona; 2:40 from Chur; 3:25 from Davos; 5:30 from Genève); "Canobbio, Ganna" bus to "Lugano Stadio" stop (8 stops/13 minutes), "Lugano, Centro" bus to return. The arena is 3 km from the main Lugano train station.
NHL players who played here during lockout: Luca Sbisa (Ducks), Patrice Bergeron (Bruins)
Other notes: Affiliated with EHC Basel Sharks (National B)



Graubünden may be Switzerland's most distinct canton, as well as its largest. Entirely mountainous, its deep and fertile valleys have been settled for thousands of years. Some of the region's vineyards (and yes, there are many!) can trace their production history back to Roman times. 

Blessed by sunshine most days of the year, Davos lies at an elevation of 5,120 feet, making it the highest city in Europe. Three main languages are spoken in the region, and you will find signs and labels in all three: German, Romansh, and Italian. Davos is in an area that is predominantly German-speaking. 

Valliant Arena has a distinctive profile in central Davos
photo courtesy of the World Economic Forum
The interior of Vaillant Arena, home to HC Davos, may be one of the most striking in professional hockey, with its vaulted, cathedral-like wooden ceiling. Beside the rink is Eisstadion Davos, an open natural ice rink which used to be a popular venue for speed skating events.

The city plays host to the World Economic Forum in late January each year, so you may find it challenging to get accommodations while the WEF is in town. 

Should you be staying in the area around the holidays, the annual Spengler Cup tournament played between Christmas and New Year, attracting hockey teams from around the globe. The Spengler Cup is the oldest invitational ice hockey tournament in the world, hosted by HC Davos since 1923. 

Davos is dominated by Davos Klosters, a conglomeration of six interconnected ski resorts that cover 320 km (200 miles) of trails. Jakobshorn is noted for its snowboarding and freestyle skier fun park as well as playing host to many sport competitions. Parsenn Davos Klosters is the largest of the individual resorts with a wide variety of terrain, including one of longest runs in Europe, the Weissfluhgipel-Küblis, at a length of 12 km (8 miles). Madrisa, Pischa, and Rinerhorn are considered the "family-friendly" resorts; Pischa includes a lot of freestyle terrain. If you're just learning to ski, you might consider Schatzalp-Strela, called a "decelerated" ski resort for its gently rolling hills. Davos Klosters' charms are not limited to the winter months; the area is popular for mountain biking, hiking, hang-gliding, paragliding, and other summer pursuits.

In addition to being one of the biggest year-round sports meccas in Europe, it also has a more recent history as a spa town. Several clinics in the area specialize in treatment of allergies, asthma, and other respiratory issues. Davos is an official training center for Swiss Olympic teams, but many other teams come here for high-altitude training as well. It is not surprising that Davos Hospital specializes in sports medicine.

Still looking for things to do in the area? Davos is loaded with excellent shopping, boutiques, restaurants, and nightlife. Take a tour and tasting at Monstein Brewery, the highest brewery in Europe. Elsewhere in Graubünden, you may enjoy visiting the historic ski town of St. Moritz, or explore Chur, the government center of the canton and oldest city in the country. (Chur is well worth a stop of its own as you travel around Switzerland!)

Where to stay in Davos

Davos is loaded with hotel options for any budget. As local taxis are expensive, this list is mostly of hotels in walking range.
Hotels marked with this were awarded Prix Bienvenu 2013 from the Swiss tourism board for being one of Switzerland's Top 100 "most welcoming hotels".  
* Hotel is within walking distance (1/2 mile) of arena 
Luxury ($225+)
Central Sporthotel Davos * | Hotel Europe * | ‡ Hotel Sport (Klosters) | ‡ Waldhotel Davos
Business/tourist class ($100-$225+)
Hotel Casanna | Interhome * (local apartment rentals; minimum 7 days) | Panorama Hotel * | Hotel Waldhuus (Sheraton Davos)
Budget/hostel ($99 or less)
Hotel Bündnerhof * | Snowboarder's Palace


Lovely lakeside Lugano, the largest city in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, is home to HC Lugano. Often called the "Swiss Riviera", the city has been attracting more celebrities and athletes in recent years, drawn by the beautiful southern climate and the gorgeous local scenery. While the area has been settled since the Stone Age, and there is evidence ancient Romans lived in the area, the city first appeared by name on historical documents in 724 AD. With so much history, it is natural that there are many heritage sites in the area, including many churches like the ornate Romanesque-Baroque Cathedral of St. Lorenzo and the Renaissance-era Church of Santa Maria degli Angioli.

Take one of the local cable lifts to the top of one of the many mountains that ring Lake Lugano, or a cruise on Lake Lugano to enjoy lunch at one of the many tiny villages that ring the lake. Enjoy shopping, theater, the casino, or any of the city's museums

View of Lugano - photo courtesy of Norman Scheliga / Flickr
One experience you cannot miss in Ticino is the grotto restaurants. Traditional grotto (or grotti) are family-run caves or locations in the woods to cure and store their homemade meats, cheese, spirits, etc. One of the best known is the very traditional Grotto Morchino, which traces its history to 1842. Ticino is known for its salamis, so you will want to try a plate of local cold cuts. Other regional favorites include minestrone, polenta, pumpkin soup, roasted rabbit, and marinated fish. A traditional local cordial called nocino (also called ratafià), brewed from young walnuts, is also popular in the area. 

Bellinzona, located between Lugano and Ambrì-Piotta, is well worth a visit while in the area. Its skyline is dominated by three castles (Castelgrande, Castello di Montebello and Castello di Sasso Corbaro) and the city wall. The town looks more Lombardian than Swiss; and the local culture is heavily influenced by their Italian-related history. Bellinzona held a position of strategic importance between the Swiss and the Italians; today, it is a cultural center. In February/March, the city hosts Carnevale Rabadan Bellinzona, similar to Venice's Carnivale. In the summer, there is a blues festival and a renaissance faire (La Spada Nella Rocca); the fall and winter brings a wine-growers' festival (Bacchica Bellinzonese), a cheese market, and the Christmas market. 

HC Ambrì-Piotta, also known as "Bianco-Blu", plays in the municipality of Quinto, about 90 minutes from Lugano. Ambrì and Piotta are two very small villages - their combined population is around 500 people! Despite what one might expect about the hockey club due to the size of their hometown, HC Ambrì-Piotta has more than 40 fan clubs scattered across Europe, and their stadium can fit up to 7,000 spectators. 

From Ambrì-Piotta, the last transport to Bellinzona or Lugano leaves at 11:31pm; but if you'd prefer to stay in the village overnight, there is Hotel Ristorante Monte Pettine, a B&B across from the train/bus station. 

Where to stay in/near Lugano

Hotels listed below are in Lugano unless (notated). 
Hotels marked with this were awarded Prix Bienvenu 2013 from the Swiss tourism board for being one of Switzerland's Top 100 "most welcoming hotels".  
Luxury ($225+)
Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola | ‡ Hotel Lugano Dante Center | Hotel Splendide Lugano | Villa Sassa Hotel & Spa  
Business/tourist class ($100-$225+)
Albergo Besso | Hotel Atlantico | Hotel Colorado Lugano | Hotel Delfino | Hotel & Spa Internazionale (Bellinzona)  | Hotel Nassa Garni Sagl | Hotel Walter au Lac 
Budget/hostel ($99 or less)
Hotel Albergo Acquarello | Hotel & Hostel Montarina | Hotel Pestalozzi Lugano | Ostello per la Gioventù Figino (Figino/Hostel) | Villa Montebello (Bellinzona/Hostel) 

The Glacier Express - photo courtesy Martha de Jong-Lantink / Flickr
Getting around the region

SBB is the best way to travel around the region. You can enjoy the gorgeous Swiss countryside in spacious comfort, no matter what the weather might be like. 

If you're traveling between Davos and Lugano, the Bernina Express will take you across some of Switzerland's most spectacular scenery, as well as through part of northern Italy. The part of the journey that takes you between Tirano, Italy, and Lugano follows the beautiful shores of Lake Como. 

Depending on where your travels in Switzerland may take you, you may also be interested in the Glacier Express, which makes its way across Graubünden. Both the Bernina Express and Glacier Express are included in the Swiss Pass and Swiss Flexi Pass plans. If taking the train from Zurich to Davos, those who have taken the route before suggest sitting on the right side of the train for terrific views. 

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