It was reported recently how, over the course of 2016, there has been in increase in the number of visitors to Switzerland from the Gulf Cooperation Council States by 3 per cent when compared with the previous year.
We are quite used to seeing visitors from the Gulf here in the Swiss Confederation. I remember particularly well the occasion in 2009 when the Sultanate of Oman was the guest of honour at festivities in Geneva, where there were displays of Omani dancing and a number of local products on show in the English Garden there. Last year one department store in Zurich, near the city’s famous Bahnhofstrasse, even set up a prayer room, especially for Muslim visitors.
Quite by chance, last summer I met up with a Saudi couple who were on honeymoon in Liechtenstein at the hotel I was staying at with my widowed sister. With a total surface area of only 160 square kilometres, the principality is even smaller than Ajman, which, at 250 square kilometres, is the smallest of all the United Arab Emirates. They were from Dahran. It amazed me that they had come all that way, and not to stay in the principality’s capital of Vaduz, either, but in the idyllically-situated small town of Triesenberg, only 4.3 kilometres away but, at 2,900’, much higher than the capital at 1,493’.
Triesenberg can easily be reached by rail from Zurich. The train journey from there to Sargans, just two kilometres from the Liechtenstein border, only takes one hour, with a regular bus service linking up with Vaduz and other towns. Not that there are night clubs, cinemas or theatres in Triesenberg, though there is a splendid museum, a delightful church and fantastic mountain scenery.
There is no way this honeymoon couple would have had eyes only for each other over breakfast, not with views like this. It is possible to see from the valleys beyond Sargans to the left, to the peak of the 8,209’ Säntis mountain to the right, a distance spanning 20 kilometres or more. As you look down on the trains and cars below, it is as if they are toys on a model layout. Then there is the River Rhine, too, which separates the principality from Switzerland.
I got into conversation with the groom at the breakfast buffet. I wondered if they had realised that this particular day, August 15, was the principality’s national day, when all the shops would be closed. They hadn’t, but I told them what they would be able to see if they went down to Vaduz. The day starts when members of the ruling family, accompanied by colourfully dressed local bands, parade down from the castle to the Princely Meadow where Prince Alois, the hereditary prince, gives a speech about the state of the principality. This is followed by another speech from the country’s head of government and a rendering of the national anthem, the tune of which is exactly the same as the one of the United Kingdom.
I do not know if His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said gives garden parties, but here in Liechtenstein, and unlike at Buckingham Palace, you do not need to wait for an invitation; everyone is invited to the castle grounds for something to eat and drink, even if it is straight from cans or packets, rather than from cups and saucers as in London. With everyone invited, it can be a bit of a squeeze at this top-notch occasion. I temporarily lost sight of my sister, who then reappeared with a big smile, having had the opportunity to meet Prince Alois, the son of the Reigning Prince (Hans Adam II).
Afterwards, the main thoroughfare is turned into a mini fairground with lots of food and drink stalls and fun activities for children. To cap it all off in the evening, there is a fantastic firework display.
Forgot to change enough Omani rials? Not to worry, there are plenty of banks, including the LGT, the one which is owned by the ruling family, where these can be changed into Swiss francs.
I had met other Saudi nationals at a hotel in Zurich. It looked like an extended family with mainly women members and just one young boy. It was he whom I asked where he came from, to which he replied in English, and with great pride, “Saudi Arabia”.
What disturbed me somewhat was that, after they had clearly enjoyed the hotel’s buffet breakfast, much food was left uneaten on their plates.
One hotel visitors from the GCC countries may like to go to in Zurich is the Atlantis, a five-star establishment situated on the slopes of the Uetliberg hill overlooking the city. It has been beautifully restored to its original Seventies style by His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the emir of Qatar and operated by the Giardino Group.
If members of the GCC states like to go horseracing, I recommend they attend the White Turf meetings in St Moritz in February, which take place, most spectacularly, on the frozen lake there. Among races are the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Listed Cup, as well as the H.H. Sheika Fatima bint Mubarak Ladies’ World Championship. The latest statistics show that, at 31.9 per cent, the increase in the number of overnight stays by guests from the Gulf States to this beautiful Engadine area of Switzerland was the highest of any foreign group last year.
Incidentally, it was recently announced that the general manager of the Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains in St Moritz, Konstantin Zeuke, is to take over responsibility for running the Kempinski Hotel at The Wave in Muscat.
Stop press; racing at St Moritz was abandoned after only one race yesterday. It seemed water seeped up through a crack in the ice, causing a horse to fall. While the jockey was flown to hospital, the horse, alas, had to be put down. - Editor of Zug Post in Switzerland