A few years ago now, Jude and I had promised ourselves that one day we would go skiing in Bettmeralp, or rather the AletschArena, as the lift system also links in with the Riederalp and Fiescheralp ski areas. So, with some free time last week and the weather set fair, we did just that.
After several weeks of sunshine, we were pleasantly surprised at the depth and quality of the snow and the huge width of some of the ski pistes. We were also very taken by a very picturesque Victorian style building, which turned out to be called Villa Cassel. (See pic 6).
Further research revealed that it was built for the German-English banker, Sir Ernest Cassell, who used it as a summer residence until the First World War. Cassell had an interesting life. He was born in Cologne and, at the age of 17, arrived penniless in the UK. However, he went on to become one of the richest men in Britain and was a good friend of King Edward VII, Prime Minister H.H. Asquith and Winston Churchill. He bred race horses and had a famous art collection.
The Villa itself could only be reached on foot or by mule. But, when the inhabitants of the town said they were going to make a better road to his property, he answered: “If you do, I’m not coming here anymore.”
After the War, the Villa was used as a hotel, but was sold in 1970 and is now run as a nature conservation centre by Pro Natura, the oldest environmental organisation in Switzerland, who take care of about 700 nature reserves of various sizes throughout Switzerland. I’m sure Ernest would have approved.