Like most of us, Judith Holder‘s never far from her phone. Could she survive five days without it? We sent her to Switzerland, no really, to find out.
It started when I heard my phone go ping at the top of the stairs and, despite having an armful of laundry and a hot cup of coffee I stopped, put everything down, opened my phone and looked at the email.
It was from Avis car rental so you get the picture. I couldn’t even wait ’til I got downstairs. Something had to be done.
It’s an obsession which has most of us in its grip. Brits check their phones on average 85 times a day; half of 19-24 year olds check their phones in the middle of the night, and a third of us make no actual voice to voice phone calls in an average week.
Americans are even more obsessed and spend four hours and 42 minutes on their phones every day.
Look around anywhere, any time and pretty much everyone is at it. The real world will soon be an irrelevance, an irritation even and we’ll forget how to interact with it.
I spotted a Digital Detox Weekend in Switzerland with the words spa, mountains and luxury in it, and decided to give it a go. Well, if you are going to detox you might as well do it in style.
The little posse of five made our way to the Engadin Valley. As the journey progressed we collectively and frantically texted, emailed, Tweeted, Instagrammed and WhatsApped in anticipation of being ‘locked out’ when we handed our phones in.
I felt I needed to tie up all the stupid and absolutely not urgent loose ends in my inbox, lest I come back to an even bigger pile of shite on re-entry into the real world. Stupid really, because rationally I could just allocate some time after the detox to clear the entire backlog and it would only take a few minutes longer, but I’m obsessed with ‘keeping on top of it’.
The journey from Zurich airport is surprisingly long but spectacular, on the Glacier Express – a narrow gauge railway which is a World Heritage Site in its own right.
I suppose this explains why some people opt for a private jet to get to St Moritz, as well as the tranquillity once you get there. The train zigzagged in and out of tunnels and over viaducts with alpine spectaculars opening up at every turn. Amazing.
We arrived at Pontresina, a little village next to St Moritz and stepped out into -11°C and powder snow, wrapped up like Eskimos. We duly handed over our phones, iPads and laptops and it felt like our umbilical cord to the mothership had been cut. What’s more, the hotel takes the regime seriously, and my room itself was digital free – the TV had been removed, along with the phone.
I had a terrible night’s sleep as a result and as an insomniac I can tell you that means truly a bad night. I felt more disorientated than I do even for the first night away from home: cut loose, unanchored, and a little bit unsafe.
Catastrophising (which is something I have got down to a fine art) set in, which was hardly the aim of the weekend. Even the word relax makes me tense up. Perhaps I am a hopeless case.
I woke up to find myself on the front of an Alpen packet and rallied. The sun was shining and the snow glistened. The Grand Hotel Kronenhof is a winter sports hotel but with grandeur, which was a new one on me. We’re talking neo-Baroque ceilings and frescos, chandeliers the size of Smart cars and huge elegant windows overlooking alpine heaven.
It was voted the top luxury hotel in Switzerland last year by TripAdvisor and it’s in Swiss Tourism’s Top 10 luxury hotels. Instantly, I was disappointed I couldn’t send photos to friends and family. Who was I going to share all this with?
The first item on our itinerary was ski yoga run by a woman who exuded so much health and wellbeing it felt like just being in her slipstream would make you feel good. Perhaps it was the blonde plaits.
She’s devised a programme of yoga which practises conscious and slow breathing in the glorious air, stretching and general slowing down. She does this at the top of the mountain at 3,000 metres where the air is rarefied and the views the stuff of dreams. You can do it with skis on or off (in my case very much off).
Why wouldn’t you want to do yoga with a view like that in the sunshine and snow? She encouraged us to listen, and to lie on our backs in the snow doing a ‘snow angel’ for a few minutes with our eyes closed to take it all in.
“Little blobs of orange sunshine hit ridge after ridge, and we stared and stared. I felt more relaxed than I had done in years, and I wonder how much this was down to leaving the phone alone.”
The whole process is completely at odds with all the adrenaline sports around: people skiing at motorway speeds, Cresta runs, ice cricket, ice polo with horses on spiked shoes, and the latest craze, skijoring, where you get pulled along the lake on skis by galloping horses. That sounds properly suicidal.
Pilates was next with a backdrop of the snowy peaks at the end of the exercise room to distract me from the bendy and stretchy stuff. I felt good.
As well as the digital detox there was a detox bath, which turned out to be massage jets that went through a dance of illogical and irregular bursts of water massage by candlelight. I closed my eyes and imagined I was in a warm stream with water cascading around me, and at times really convinced myself it was true.
I’m normally rubbish at massages. The very word makes me feel a bit tense – the disposable pants, the horror that one might fart or start snoring or both in the middle of it… but the room had an alpine view (but of course) and ended memorably with my feet being wrapped in warm flannels. A simple but utterly comforting sensation.
The food on the package is half board and luckily they don’t make you eat cabbage for three days. Instead the cuisine is tailored to what I suppose you might call delicious clean eating.
We sat in the most elegant dining room I’ve ever been in and people watched. The couple with the table angled towards the pianist apparently come for the entire season twice a year. In their 80s, she wore more diamonds than I have seen in an entire jeweller’s window.
I was missing the phone less and less. Sometimes I noticed I was even a little bit dreading turning it on again for fear of tasks presenting themselves.
An early start before breakfast for a meditative forest walk. For “meditative”, read “encouraged not to talk to one another”. Heaven, because, although I had already noticed that without our phones our little posse were bonding incredibly well and having some wonderful conversations, sometimes, especially first thing in the morning, polite conversation can be very over-rated.
We climbed up and up, earning our breakfast as we went and eventually reached a viewing platform of the mountains in front of us. Little blobs of orange sunshine hit ridge after ridge, and we stared and stared. I felt more relaxed than I had done in years, and I wonder how much this was down to leaving the phone alone.
The afternoon involved a lot of swimming and spa activities with the best view from a spa yet, including a room full of water beds facing the mountains.
I read a book, I dozed off. Normally, I think I would have blobbed about and looked at some emails. I looked at guests with their phones and felt a teeny bit of pity rather than envy. I was missing my music though, and of course being able to find anything – but anything – out. Hard to believe that before Google we had to go to a library to find most things out. The whole concept now feels weird.
More fabulous food – this time in the traditional wooden restaurant Kronenstubli where if you had a pair of lederhosen you would fit in a treat.
We took the funicular railway up to the Muottas Muragl peak, overlooking the whole mountain range in temperatures of -17°C. There’s a restaurant and hotel on the top for essential hot chocolates, as well as sun-lounger chariots with blankets which wouldn’t have looked out of place with Marilyn Monroe or Brigitte Bardot on.
I had to be wrenched away. I can even remember the shape of the peak contours in some detail but would I have done if I had had my phone to my eyes all the time?
The time came to check out and to be reunited my phone. I turned it on feeling tense, nervous even. It felt like we’d fallen out, that we’d had a lover’s tiff. Would everything gained unravel in an instant? The biggest surprise was that it took about 10 minutes to clear the backlog.
OK, it was a long weekend, but the hideous to-do pile I had anticipated simply wasn’t much to write home about.
On the journey home I pulled out my book more than my phone. I felt I had been away for much longer. Something definitely had shifted in me. I have resolved not to look at my phone after 6pm and hope I can keep it up. Perhaps I will need top-up detoxes, as this addiction is even stronger than I had imagined. The biggest surprise of all – how different I had felt without it.
Package available during the current winter season. Prices start from CHF1455 per person sharing a double room and include half board and all the activities and spa treatments mentioned. And, of course, if you want to be more energetic there are also 220km of cross country skiing and 150km of hiking trails to go on which don’t involve the you know what.
To book, visit www.kronenhof.com.
We flew with SWISS from London City to Zurich; for reservations call 0345 990 9161 or visit: www.swiss.com. Swiss Travel System provided us with a Swiss Transfer Ticket, which covers a round-trip between the airport/Swiss border and your destination; prices are £112 in 2nd class and £184 in 1st class. Contact them on 00800 100 200 30 or visit www.swisstravelsystem.co.uk.3716 Views
Producer/writer of the BBC Two series Grumpy Old Women and the spin off books, and co-writer with Jenny Eclair of the three stage shows which have been international hits.