by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President, Ovation Global DMC
Florian never showed so there was no Brunello for breakfast. But that was the only disappointment in a day that delivered constant peaks of satisfaction as we crossed Switzerland from Zurich in the east to the Valais region in the south west finally ascending to the giddy alpine heights of Cry-d’Er above Crans Montana. It was a day of delight and discovery – delight in the obvious magnificence of the landscape and scenery, discovery of Zurich, a city that constantly ranks high in global indices of “best places to live”, delight in the pleasing companionship of our hosts and our guests, discovery of the myriad ways that this destination makes it easy for meeting and event planners to stage memorable, highly motivational experiences.
Live like a Local
We experienced life like a local by taking the tram to our breakfast rendezvous at Zunfthaus zur Zimmerleuten in the old town area of the city. I was hoping for bircher muesli made Swiss style with oats, apple and soft fruits soaked generously in rich dairy cream. I was not disappointed and neither was Helen to whom I recommended it as a kind of Swiss porridge. Urs Eberhard, Executive VP Markets and MICE, Switzerland Tourism, was there along with Huggability Award recipient Barbra Albrecht, the indefatigable Guendelina Rampazzi and others to provide just enough information about our day to excite us but not so much as to ruin the surprise! We threw ourselves sine metu into the life of the city, learning, along the way, that Google amongst many, many others, have their European HQ in Switzerland’s largest city. We also learned how to play boccia or boules although some of us struggled embarrassingly (WGISSIS, Mark!). From the crow’s nest vantage point of the Jules Verne Panoramic Bar we surveyed the entire city and the 10,000+ hotel guest rooms that it contains. We ate very fancy chocolate and vigorously debated whether that unique flavour on our palate was cherry, raspberry or some other berry that none of us ever heard of (it was cherry actually but who knew?). Throughout, photographer extraordinaire Andy was on hand to capture our delight and discovery and upload it in real time to this site.
We boarded the train mid-morning and settled in to an easy transfer west towards Berne before tracking due south to Thun and Spiez and through the recently opened Lötschberg base tunnel for Visp from where we back tracked to Sierre and thence to Crans by funicular. This extraordinarily complex transfer up, around and through mountains was seamless and smooth, each leg of the journey connecting perfectly with the one before and all covered by one single integrated ticket, the Swiss Pass, which I’d recommend to all organisers of meeting and incentive events. Public transport is Switzerland is efficient to a fault operating to the same exacting standards and precise rhythms as a Patek Philippe timepiece. It’s simply a class act as integral to the country’s culture and topology as William Tell and snow capped mountains. And speaking of class acts – en route our hosts personally served a delicious Spurgli boxed lunch with great salads, sandwiches and snacks. En route I enjoyed a wide ranging conversation with Stephen McCauley of Porter Novelli in Washington DC during which we touched on US politics, global healthcare, food and nutrition, The Good Wife, Grenoble, growing up Irish on the Jersey shore and country music.
The Funicular from Crans Montana brought us to Cry-d’Er and from there we descended on foot to our “base camp” at Chetzeron, an immensely impressive, beautifully designed restaurant with terrace situated at about 2112m. Sami Lamaa, Managing Partner of the complex, is currently adding guest rooms (there will be 16 in total) and meeting space to create the perfect retreat for small corporate groups who need isolation, inspiration and motivation. Like last year’s inaugural edition, this year too, following a tentative start in Zurich, the sun shone on the mountain and we frolicked and played in the snow like children who’d just had a massive sugar fix. We knocked down wooden cows with snow balls, raced crazily in snowshoes and made left handed puts with a bizarre mini-alpenhorn. We lazed on lounge chairs and grazed on treats before commencing our descent to the gondola and back to the warm embrace of the Grand Hotel du Golf & Palace where we napped or drew warm baths before the final act of the drama of the day.
The Half Time Score
Le Chalet hosted a traditional Swiss dinner for us of cold cuts and rich Cheese fondue. We sat with our teams and, despite spending an entire day together, found new topics of conversation to engage and enlighten, moving from macro to micro, from politics to personal, from sacred to profane. I was delighted to chat with Helen Parlane of Colgate-Palmolive who cut her teeth in the events industry creating out-of-the-box event and educational experiences for the ever demanding, ever rewarding YPO and WPO communities. But then it was time for the leaderboard and Urs milked the moment to draining point, holding us in suspense ’til the very end. It was indeed business “as usual” as Rudolf Rannegar and team were, once again, top of the pile. The Ovation crew conducted mass Cub Club initiation rites and the ever energetic, always awake Roger Frosch provided the new pitch for our schizophrenic bear, one side pink, one side black who “turns inside out to make it happen”.
“That bear is not schizophrenic”, he said, “He’s bi-polar”.
Time to say Goodbye
Sitting in the funicular at Crans Montana a little prior to the scheduled departure at 6:25 AM the station kicks into life to a very familiar sound – U2, my fellow Irishmen, and their famous “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”.
And then suddenly it is 6:25.
Spaccando il minuto.
The funicular rumbles into action and starts its dizzying descent. Its emerging from the closed semi-darkness of the station tunnel into the wide open sky high above the Rhone valley looking across to Zermatt and a 100 other alpine hamlets.
We’re flying without wings as the brightness of the rising sun momentarily blinds me.
But now my eyes can see again – a perfectly formed valley cut like sliced skin out of high snow capped mountains on either side and I’m thinking “What’s Bono droning on about?”
Padraic Gilligan is VP of Ovation Global DMC