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One of Switzerland's most important winter sports resorts, Saas-Fee, in the German speaking upper-Valais, also offers one of the five largest Summer skiing areas in Europe. Marketed, like Courmayeur, as 'the pearl of the Alps', the resort is car-free, which means vehicles are parked at a large car-park on arrival at the edge of the village and only small electric taxis, mostly owned by the hotels, hum quietly and slowly around the pedestrianised streets. The resulting tranquillity, coupled with the resort's strict planning regulations which have maintained traditional Swiss chalet style construction for several centuries, and the spectacular high alpine scenery all around, make Saas-Fee a delightful base for a mountain sports holiday.
The resort is based at the foot of the Dom, which although not as internationally well known as the Matterhorn, is in fact Switzerland's highest mountain, and one of thirteen 4,000 metre (13,120 feet) plus peaks surrounding the village. These may be viewed at your leisure from the world's highest revolving restaurant on the Mittelallin at 3,500 metres (just under 11,500 feet).
Saas-Fee has taken the quality of its environment and facilities seriously for many years, a member of GAST, the association of traffic-free holiday resorts, it was one of the earliest to ban cars in 1951, and as the road from Saas-Grund down in the valley only reached this high-altitude village in that same year, it can be said that Saas-Fee has never truly had car traffic on its streets, possibly a unique status.
The resort also has one of the longest traditions of mountain tourism in the world, with local clergyman Johann Josef Imseng recognising the importance of bringing visitors to the Saas Valley way back in 1836. Mr Imseng was also a mountain guide and is popularly regarded as the first skier in the country. Although one of the earlier successes of Swiss tourism (Saas-Fee had a population of 236 back in 1850 when most of today's ski resorts, even the famous ones, at that altitude were just summer cattle pasture with a couple of mountain huts for seasonal farmers), winter sports did not become predominant in the village until as recently as the 1960s, in common with many other Swiss skiing destinations.
Saas-Fee's early settlement and success as a tourist destination were helped by its mild climate, being on the same latitude as Ascona, 30km(19 miles) east in Switzerland's only Italian speaking canton, southerly Ticino, where palm trees grow. Today Saas-Fee's lift infrastructure includes some of the most hi-tec installations in the world, most notably the world's highest underground funicular railway, the Metro Alpin, which opened in 1984. Accommodation, eateries and other services and facilities in the village that offer particularly high standards are given a 'Q' symbol in recognition of the quality they offer.
The name Zurbriggen is prominent amongst the names in the Saas Valley, and Switzerland's recent skiing greats, Pirmin, Silvan and Heidi Zurbriggen have their home at Saas Almagell down in the valley.
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