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Strolling Through Davos

It's funny how much Davos Dorf (Davos Village), the northern half of Davos, Switzerland, reminds me of Ouray, Colorado. Not just the very similarly shaped and very tall mountains towering over the town center, but also the quirky mix of New Age shops and healers (a very large homeopathic pharmacy, a natural healing center with assorted disciplines, even an ancient sanatorium for asthmatics), ski-snowboard paradise, and a sense that traditional folk culture is at least still somewhat alive: Native American in Ouray, Swiss-German in Davos.

Davos is also where world leaders often go to "hobnob with their fellow wizards," and perhaps that's why so many signs, including bus advertisements extolling the virtues of investment in Mexico or South Africa, are in English. This is a place where people like Bill Clinton come to give talks.

There are dozens of hotels downtown, but most of them are quite tiny. I am staying in the spotless and conveniently located Hotel zum alten Rössli, which has 14 doubles, one single, and a suite (and by Davos standards very reasonable prices, including a bus pass). In addition to the many boutique hotels, there are about half a dozen larger ones (among them the elegant historic Arabella Seehof Sheraton, a local place called the Belvedere right above the Conference Center, and a handful of others). And many of them have a long history. A piece of the Rössli dates from the late 1400s, although most of it was constructed in stages throughout the 20th century. Traditional Swiss Alpine architecture with enormous wooden beams, wide roof overhangs, and a carefully cultivated look of rusticity is very much in evidence all over town (and pretty much the entire way on the road from Zurich, for that matter).

The winter sports influence is everywhere. Many stores have ski and snowboard racks in front, shops sell all sorts of ski gear, cross-country skiers have their own riverfront promenade (alongside one for pedestrians)—and both the walkway and the ski way are heavily and intergenerationally used. Many of the walkers and even some of the skiers were in their 70s, yet there were also young couples pushing strollers or pulling slightly older children on wooden sleds.

Other shops of interest included art galleries, antique shops (selling old farm equipment, toys, and other rather odd items), watchmakers and jewelers (this is Switzerland, after all). Although I only found the first two when I was looking ahead online, there are several museums: one focused on the art of 20th-century painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, another on winter sports, others on toys, medicines, local culture and homelife, a sculpture walk, an antiquarian Asian art gallery.

I stopped in for a scrumptious almond cookie at the Weber bakeshop, offering a wide assortment of pastries and breads as well as a sit-down restaurant. The restaurant choices anywhere I saw in Davos didn't impress me: a lot of meat, pasta, and pizza, and priced higher than I'd pay. So I went to the Migros, an amazing supermarket chain all over Switzerland, where for under 12 francs (about $10 US), I got a loaf of organic whole grain bread, about a half-pound of St. Paulin cheese (kind of between a muenster and a port salut), a 100-gram (just under a quarter-pound) bar of organic fair-trade dark chocolate, and 200 grams of organic trail mix—enough to make several meals.

Interestingly, the town is very low pressure from a fashion point of view. At least on this wintry day, most people were wearing ski clothes (including, often, serious-looking helmets) or else basic winter wear. Nobody I saw was trying to look like they just did a photoshoot for a designer catalog.

Pretty much all the commercial activity in Davos is on or very close to Promenade, the main street (not to be confused with the river promenade mentioned above). The convention center and sports arena, as well as the Kirchner and toy museums and the Belvedere and Kongress Hotels, fill in as a buffer between the northern and southern sections. Promenade continues another mile or so through Davos Platz (Davos Plaza, or Davos Place), a much ritzier section with big, bold boutiques, hugely expensive restaurants, hotels, and dessert palaces. It's not quite Las Vegas, though it does have one casino—but it's several notches up from Davos Dorf, and Davos Dorf is not at all the "wrong side of the tracks." Think Rodeo Drive, on foot or by bus, and without all the national brands. (In fact, the only familiar-in-the-US chain store I've seen anywhere in Davos was Italy-based Benneton; there aren't even very many Swiss national brands here, other than watchmakers and grocery stores.) Personally, I prefer the Dorf side, but it was fun to stroll through.

Global Travel Review editor Shel Horowitz spoke in Davos, Switzerland on "Communicating the Value in Your Values" in 2010. His most recent book is Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green (co-authored with Jay Conrad Levinson).

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