125 YEARS IN CRANS-MONTANA, A HISTORY OF PIONEERS
The resort wouldn’t exist today without the Hôtel du Parc, the first hotel on the Haut-Plateau, which opened its doors in 1892, but was inaugurated in 1893 by Michel Zufferey (1850-1917) from Sierre and his brother-in-law from Miège, Louis Antille (1853-1928). This date marks over a century of history in Crans-Montana: 125 years ! The history of a resort in a region that was nothing but pastures and mountain chalets originates in the complex tourist and political history of six communes, four of which merged on 1st January 2017, namely Mollens, Randogne, Montana and Chermignon. Alongside the merged communes, Icogne and Lens form the Haut-Plateau region.
In 1896, a doctor from Geneva, Dr Théodore Stephani (1868-1951), who was working in Leysin, brought his sick patients to the Hôtel du Parc. This other pioneer was decisive in the birth of Montana as a health resort. The doctor’s 1,300 photographs paint a picture of the Crans-Montana of yesteryear, its climatic resources around the lakes, fresh Alpine air and sunshine. These photographs were the beginnings of marketing for the resort, as was a founder member of the Société de Développement de Montana (Montana Development Society) from 1905 onwards, then president up until the Second World War. Thanks to him, many celebrities came to stay in Montana, such as Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918) who came to visit his son Hector, who was suffering from tuberculosis. In 1915, Hodler painted a dozen paintings, all titled Lacs de Montana (Lakes of Montana) revealing an exceptional landscape. In 1921, the New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) had an appointment with the doctor to commence a course of treatment. She would write her novels, The Montana Stories, here. In the 1920s, Montana was described as the « Pearl of the Alps ».
One of the first key architectural pieces was built by the funicular, which dates from 1911. Not far from here, the first Sanatorium, Le Beauregard, was built in 1899, encouraged by Dr Stephani, but it would go bankrupt. It was then bought by the English company Lunn in 1904, and the Sanatorium was transformed into a luxurious hotel. This first luxury hotel in Montana was sold after the 1929 crisis, and became the Hôtel Bellevue. Today it is the Clinique Bernoise, the largest oncology clinic in Switzerland, as the canton of Bern bought the old Hôtel Bellevue after the Second World War. The Clinique Bernoise was completed in 1949 by Jean-Marie Ellenberger (1913-1988), a friend of Dr Stephani. Ellenberger would also leave his mark on the identity of the resort with his modern chalets, churches and chapels in Icogne, Crans, Montana, Chermignon and Sierre, right up to the Tour Supercrans (1968) in Vermala.
Ice skating, bobsleigh and tobogganing, skiing and tennis all developed their own infrastructure, to the delight of tourists and inhabitants. In 1960, an artificial ice rink hosted big ice hockey tournaments, and also the Interneige game in 1967. Today it has been completely redesigned, and is currently the largest public area in the resort, and not far from the historical centre.
From the top of the Hôtel du Parc hill, the impressive panorama and views over the resort of Crans give us the opportunity to have a brief look at its origins, which are tied in with the history of golf from 1906 onwards, with the first hotel constructed during the First World War to host guests which included detainees and also royalty. Skiing would be the resort’s second economic driving force after golf, and its origins date back to those English involved in the resort’s first luxury hotel, as they were also the first to hold ski races. Dr Théodore Stephani was also very fond of skiing, as illustrated in his photos from 1899.
The 125 year exhibition at Ycoor retraces the history of Crans-Montana not only in photographs taken by the doctor, but also through photographs by Charles Dubost and Jean Deprez, who arrived during the Second World War, and also guests of Dr Stephani. As president of the Société de Développement de Montana, he commissioned several postcards and posters of the resort to attract a clientèle from all over the world. Since 1939, tourists have been able to enjoy many events, including the Golf European Masters, one of the top events in Crans. The 1987 World Ski Championships thrust Crans-Montana into the ranks of the top international resorts in the Alps. It is now in line to bid for the 2025 World Ski Championships and/or the Winter Olympics, Sion 2026.
Dr Sylvie Doriot Galofaro, ethnologist and art historian. Author of two books on Crans-Montana :
Un siècle de tourisme à Crans-Montana. Lectures du territoire. Joint publication, Ayer, Editions Porte-Plumes, 2005, 211 p.
Une histoire culturelle de Crans-Montana. Paysages, architecture, arts visuels, littérature et cinéma en Valais. Neuchâtel, Editions Alphil, 2017, 320 p.