Twinned in a touristic masterstroke with Aspen, Colorado, Davos (1560m) is the antithesis of a peaceful Alpine ski village. It's a bustling, sometimes impatient town, famous for its toothpaste-fresh air and its consistently excellent snow cover. It has been attracting skiers for generations and has gained new life (and hipness) with the seal of approval of Switzerland's snowboarding cognoscenti. In summer, the snows recede to reveal a surrounding of lush countryside and the town takes on a new lease of life – not least because hotel prices plummet. The location, in a high, narrow valley between two lines of peaks, is stunning.
Davos achieved fame as a health resort, its high altitude and long hours of sunshine easing the suffering of tuberculosis patients: by 1900, ten years after the railway arrived – and long before winter sports were even thought of – there were 700,000 overnight visitors a year. The consumptive Robert Louis Stevenson completed Treasure Island while resident at a Davos sanatorium in 1882; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stayed in 1894–95 and was the first person in Davos to ski; and in 1912, Thomas Mann was inspired while visiting Davos to write The Magic Mountain. Although many clinics have now closed, a few remain: modern science has confirmed the beneficial effects of high altitude on respiratory and dermatological complaints. The town also has one of the world's best-equipped high-altitude sports training facilities, used by athletes and international football teams to improve fitness and stamina.
Another hat worn by Davos is that of a major international conference venue: in the last week of January each year, presidents, prime ministers and assorted mega-suits of the World Economic Forum meet at Davos under the gaze of the world's media to discuss global cashflow and set the financial agenda for the year ahead, regularly sparking anti-capitalist demonstrations in the process.