A History of Les Avants
The village of Les Avants was one of the first ski resorts in Switzerland. At the beginning of the 19th century, the resort experienced its initial touristic development with the construction of the first hotels by the Dufour family. This allowed Les Avants to become a fashionable winter sports resort where tourists indulged in novel activities such as skiing, sledding, bobsleigh riding and ice skating.
The village hosted the first Ice Hockey European Championship in 1910.
Les Avants lends its name to the Chemin de fer Les Avants – Sonloup, that was inaugurated in 1901 as the first stretch of the Montreux-Oberland Bernois railway. It connects Montreux to Les Avants and Sonloup. For many years the village was home to the world-famous opera singer Dame Joan Sutherland and her husband, the conductor Richard Bonynge.
Grand Hotel Des Avants
Le Châtelard Academy is housed in a remarkable Belle Epoque building built in 1873-1875 by Jean-Louis Dufour. In its beginnings it was a luxurious hotel called the Grand Hotel des Avants, which through the years was graced with such celebrated guests as Ernest Hemingway. He is said to have written parts of his works A Moveable Feast and A Farewell to Arms within its walls.
The hotel was one of the first ski resorts in Switzerland. It featured all the modern comforts of the time, including hot and cold baths. Records show that in 1877 the hotel remained open all year round, which entails that it was heated in the winter months, which at the time was a rare luxury even in Montreux.
In 1900 through 1911 the Dufour family undertook construction work to enlarge The Grand Hotel to double its size and capacity. They built many other buildings on the surrounding grounds and organized sport competitions in the village. Les Avants became a popular winter resort for the nobility from all around the world.
The Grand Hotel des Avants closed shortly before the beginning of the Second World War following an economic downturn that swept the whole of the Montreux region, including the town of Les Avants. During the war, the building of the Grand Hotel along with all other hotels in the Riviera region was transformed by the Swiss army into a camp for wounded soldiers and Jewish refugees.
After the war, the building compound was acquired by Mrs. Dorothy Braginton, an English woman who had kept a boarding school for young women called Châtelard School in Montreux and had decided to move the school to more spacious quarters.
The school was organized according to the English System and attracted students from England as well as from other parts of the world, including among them the future queen of Greece, Queen Anne-Marie. On Christmas of 1975, Châtelard School closed its doors after the English pound lost most of its value due to steep inflation rates.
When Oak International bought the building in 1992, it had been unoccupied for nearly twenty years and was by then mostly in ruins. That same year, Le Châtelard Academy, a boarding school dedicated to teaching French and human values to girls, was born. Ever since then, new life has been breathed into this stately home and every year more and more rooms spring back to life to regain their former splendor as new parts of the building are restored.