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Villars-sur-Ollon, commonly referred to as Villars, is a village in Switzerland in the canton of Vaud, part of the municipality of Ollon. Accommodation in the village consists largely of chalets. It is also known for its boarding schools, especially for Collège Alpin International Beau Soleil and Aiglon College, two of the most expensive schools in the world.
The Village of Villars overlooks the valley from altitude of 1300 m and views of Mont Blanc are clearly visible from parts of the village and the local ski area of Bretaye. Bretaye is linked to Villars by the BVB railway. There is also a gondola lift connecting the village to Roc d'Orsay, 200 metres above Bretaye.
There are around 270 km of pistes for all skiing and snowboarding abilities that link over to the slopes of Gryon and to the next resort of Les Diablerets, Isenau and Glacier 3000. There is also a snow park called '1984' that allows freestyle skiing and snowboarding.
History and Culture
Back in the 12th and 13th centuries a notable demographic upsurge motivated the monks from the Abbey of Saint-Maurice to assist the local peasants in conquering and clearing the mountain pastures. Once conquered, these pastures were seen as real treasures and defended against encroaching neighbors.
In 1750, the mountain "dixains" (Villars, Chesières, Huémoz) requested to form a separate town and in 1889 the town became one indivisible entity.
The mountain cog-train to Bretaye was built in 1913. In 1936, the first ski lift was built at the ‘Combe’ on the Chaux Ronde. This was a first in Switzerland, and skiers had to fasten themselves on with a large leather belt in order to go back up the mountain.
On 13 December 1936, the Orient Express made a special stop in Aigle for a huge slalom race that took place at Bretaye. That same year a ski lift was built in the form of a sledge. This lift could transport 12 skiers to the peak of the Grand Chamossaire and was in use until 1953.
In 1938, Villars was classified as one of prime resorts of Europe and many Swiss ski clubs came to train in the resort on the back of its reputation.
Villars is home to the private international school Collège Alpin International Beau Soleil and the English boarding school Aiglon College which are both in the top five most expensive boarding schools in the world. There are two international primary schools (from 4 to 14 years of age), La Garenne School and Pre Fleuri.
Villars is a dual season resort and has a huge array of activities on offer for both winter and summer visitors.
Most people come to Villars in the winter months to ski or snowboard. There are over 120 km of pistes for all abilities with the added attraction of the Diablarets glacier nearby which offers year-round skiing. Cross country skiing has become increasingly popular with over 50 km of tracks that criss-cross Villars and its neighbouring town of Gryon. There are snow shoeing trips organized by the Tourist Office and telemarking is also seeing a comeback on the pistes. There is a large indoor ice-skating rink as well as a smaller outdoor one in Gryon during the winter season. For the more adventurous there is ski touring and paragliding.
The largest ski school is the Ecole Suisse de Ski et Snowboard’ with over 250 instructors dressed in red. The office is in the centre of town next to the Tourist Office. The Villars Ski School’ is another well recognized school where instructors are dressed in yellow and blue. New Generation is a new ski school in Villars and Association Handiconcept is a not-for-profit association offering skiing and other activities for the disabled.
In the Summer the pistes are transformed into lush green pastures offering a multitude of outdoor activities for all abilities.
There are over 300 km of marked trails for hikers of all levels and 130 km of biking trails through mountain scenery stopping off at wine caves, cheese-making farms, mountain refuges and peaks like the ‘Miroir d’Argentine’.
The Villars Golf Club, established in 1922, has a Club House and an 18-hole course set at 1,600 metres and perched on a south facing plateau with views of Mont-Blanc.
The Villars sports centre has 5 outdoor tennis courts and three indoor with an indoor sports hall for volleyball, badminton or football. There is an indoor gym, a large indoor ice skating rink where the Villars Hockey Club regularly play. The swimming pool and spa have recently[when?] been refurbished and re-opened in May 2017 to provide an indoor/outdoor 25m stainless steel state of the art pool, kids play pool, a large outdoor toboggan, 2 x hammams, 2 x saunas, 2 x hot tubs and several massage rooms. A modern 9 lane bowling lounge is a popular attraction, as well as the skate park.
Spa and Wellness
There are spas and wellness centres in and around Villars including Les Bains de Lavey in Lavey les Bains 30 minutes drive away housing the hottest thermal water baths in Switzerland.
Other fun local attractions include ‘AquaParc’, one of the largest water parks in Europe, ‘Labyrinthe Adventure’ which houses one of the largest permanent labyrinths in the world and ‘Parc Adventure’ where you can zip-wire through the forest canopy.
Visitors to Villars can enjoy a number of excursions including trips to the nearby lakes and chateaux. The attractive lakeside towns of Montreux, Evian, Vevey and Rolle are all close by and boat trips around Lac Leman is an enjoyable pastime.
The imposing Château d'Aigle built in the 12th century now houses the ‘Musee de la Vigne et du Vin’. Chateau de Chillon built in the 13th century on the banks of Lac Leman used to serve as a residence for the noble counts during the Middle Ages. The closest art gallery is in Martigny, one hour away called Fondation Gianadda which has regular world class exhibitions.
Villars-sur-Ollon is also the home of the once well known Ollon–Villars hillclimb. Racing drivers from all over the world would come to participate in this internationally renowned event. Starting in the small town of Ollon, at the base of the mountain, and covering 8 km of mountain road, arriving at the top of the mountain, in Villars. The event was popular in the fifties and early sixties, before laws were passed banning motor racing in Switzerland. In recent years a revival of the hillclimb has begun to gain a certain notoriety as collectors and enthusiasts have the chance to enjoy the rare occasion of the closed mountain road.
Restaurants and Bars
Villars has many restaurants and bars to choose from. There are Mexican, French, Thai and Japanese restaurants in town as well as many serving traditional cheese fondues and raclettes.
Many of the restaurants also have bars and winter bars are also set up on the pistes during the winter season.
There are many hotels, chalets and apartments in Villars catering for all tastes and most budgets.
- Fanny Smith (1992, Aigle), freestyle skier, world champion and Olympic medalist.
- Charlotte Chable (1994, Villars), alpine ski racer.
- Jacques Villeneuve (1971), former Formula 1 racing champion lives in Villars.
- Jean-Daniel Dätwyler (1945, Villars), former alpine skier and Olympic medalist.
- Olivia Ausoni (1923, Villars - 2010, Chesières), alpine ski racer.
- Béatrix Beck (1914, Villars - 2008), French writer of Belgian origin and the daughter of the poet Christian Beck.
- Octav Botnar (1913 - 1998), noted philanthropist, lived in Villars.
- Georg Solti (1912 - 1997), orchestral and operatic conductor.
- Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918), one of the best known Swiss painters of the 19th century.
- Princess Marie of Denmark (1976), daughter-in-law of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark.
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