Switzerland: Love in a cold climate

By Gemma Bowes

Should we really take lessons in romance from the eskimos? While the French lock tongues, they just rub noses - and it must be hard to persuade a lover to get their kit off when it's 30 below.

Nevertheless, my boyfriend and I are making our way to a destination 1500m up a mountain above Gstaad.

Heading uphill for the night is exciting whether you're staying in a mountain refuge or a luxury lodge, but now a handful of Swiss resorts - Zermatt, Engelberg, Davos and Gstaad - offer a more unusual place to kip: an igloo, and they are keen to promote the experience as a romantic break for couples.

Chunky stools are angled perilously a few metres up the slope from the igloo proper, perfectly positioned (as long as you don't mind wobbling off occasionally) for sky-watching as the peaks turn copper, lilac and midnight-blue.

Time to go inside, as it's getting nippy out here. But of course, it's no warmer in than out.

Creeping into the igloo has the thrill of doing something completely new. It's like going into a cave or behind a waterfall, inside a part of nature we're not supposed to see.

Honeyed candlelight floods the grand dining room, softening its domed ceiling and pink-tinged alcoves. The smooth walls and curved roof are made by inflating giant balloons, covering them with snow and packing it down before the balloon is popped and removed, leaving a sturdy structure.

We are led along the corridor that rings the central space and couples peel off into circular bedrooms along its length. Number one, the romantic suite, has a jacuzzi on a patio area, sheltered by a high ice wall.

We don't expect to see much of that couple tonight. You can't make doors out of ice, so red velvet curtains hang across the doorways, but they don't quite cover the gap. People walking past will be able to see inside, which will have a cooling effect on any romance.

The romance is slightly lost at dinner, too, which is a communal affair, with six or so people around one fondue. That's all we get, but the other guests are jolly and there's plenty of wine on tap, drunk from polystyrene cups which we write our names on so we can reuse them and reduce waste.

The igloo is environment-friendly, leaving no mark on the landscape and using minimal power.

We slump in soft chairs outside. In this dip in the mountains, away from light pollution, the stars look as bright as traffic lights and the effect, against the spectral white outlines of the mountain, is magical.

Why then, did someone select the worst 1980s ballads and 1970s soft rock as a soundtrack, when trippy dance music, or something classical, could have heightened the atmosphere?

It's nice to return from our romantic break with a new "our song"; odd that it should be Supertramp's Bloody Well Right.

After a sauna, in which we stop shivering for the first time in hours, it's a bit of a wrench to go back inside, but soon we're wiggling into a two-man, expedition-grade sleeping bag to bed on our ice platform.

Something about cold on the face, mountain air and silence makes for a perfect sleep, though hopping down the corridor to the loo in the dead of night, clad only in thermal undies, is painfully cold.

But all-in-all there's something magic about sitting mitten in mitten, freezing your bum off under the stars with the dulcet tones of Supertramp's Roger Hodgson echoing over the peaks.

- OBSERVER

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