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18 Oct

18 October 2019.

Sleep came, at last, on our sixth night at home, signifying the end of jet lag: 8.5 hours Tuesday night had me rolling out of bed at 05:00. The first full night of sleep truly puts a trip behind us except for the memories and 1100+ photos to be sorted.

The final two weeks of our trip were spent in Lauterbrunnen in our favorite apartment. This was our fourth stay in James’ and Michelle’s apartment and it felt like home when we walked through the door. We’ve already booked a stay there in Autumn 2020.

Even in our sixth visit to the area we are finding new walks, new experiences, new corners to explore.

Wrapping up this portion of our trip, I have some photos from a few of our favorite hikes in the valley and mountains. We plan to publish an e-book about easy hikes in this area. Updating the Val Gardena book and writing this new one for the Lauterbrunnen area should keep me out of trouble all winter.

Playground in the mountains

The Allmendhubel to Winteregg hike starts at a fabulous playground. The children don’t seem to notice the view.

WOman in front of snowy mountains

The Mountain View Trail between Allmendhubel and Winteregg is well named.

Tunnel through rock by lake

The trail from Iseltwald to Giessbach hugs the lake and goes through a short tunnel.

Man in trail in forest

We had a couple of steep climbs on the way to Giessbach.

Waterfall

At the end of the Iseltwald to Giessbach hike, a Victorian Era hotel and a fabulous waterfall.

Mountains with a small train

No matter how many times we do it, always a favorite for us is the walk from Grütschalp to Mürren with a view of the little cogwheel train. Oh, and mountains.

Man at a bench with mountains in background

Another fave is Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg. Not too difficult and highly satisfying.

Man on trail with rocks in background

We had a surprise snow overnight before our hike on the North Face Trail.

Mountains vie2wed from a road

Descending at the end of the North Face Trail into Mürren. The sun came out as we hit town. We hiked alone, encountering maybe half-a-dozen people in 2.5 hours.

SNowy Mountain Peaks

Our post-hike view from lunch at about 14:00. The mountain restaurants along the trail were closed for the season.

Man surfing

In Thun (pronounced “tune”), Switzerland, a man surfs in the wake created by sluice gates on the River Aare.

Castle on a lake

Thun is one of the larger towns in the Berner Oberland. Our walk along Lake Thun included four castles on a bright Saturday.

Goat

Spotted on a walk near Wengen. One passes from town to farm in the blink of an eye.

View of a valley with waterfall

While weather and lighting did not cooperate to make this the stunning shot I had hoped for, it’s still a magnificent view of the Lauterbrunnen Valley and Staubbach Falls.

Road with snowy peak in background

Another walk near Wengen. Snow overnight made higher elevation walking precarious so we found this nice walk above the valley where we could admire the fresh snow.

Goat with valley in background

Goat pasture with a view, Wengen. In less then 30 minutes we went from touristy crowds crowding mountain trains in downtown Wengen to working farms.

If you are looking for a comfortable, convenient roost in the Jungfrau Region, send me a message and I’ll tell you how to get in touch with James. Pictures are online here but you’ll want to reach out personally rather than book through the site.

Finding peace and quiet in Bettmeralp

2 Oct

2 October 2019.

Imagine a place without traffic noise. No cars, no trains, no buses: just a breeze in the trees, a distant cowbell, the gentle whirr of a gondola. Occasionally, an electric taxi or service vehicle makes its way through the village.

This is Bettmeralp, a tiny village where altitude (2006 meters/6581 feet) is mentioned before its population of 462.

chapel on a hill at night

The little “Kapelle Maria zum Schnee” (Chapel of Maria of tne Snow) as night descends. On the far right, you can see the triangle peak of the Matterhorn.

Matterhorn

You can see the Matterhorn from Bettmeralp when conditions are right.

The village has been on my list of must-explore places in Switzerland for about three years. While many tourists flock to Zermatt, our beloved Lauterbrunnen Valley, Luzern, and the Engadine, Bettmeralp in September is almost devoid of tourists. The first night in our hotel, the Waldhaus, only three rooms of this medium-sized family hotel were occupied. The next night, the shoulder season brought a group of 17 to stay for an entire week of alpine exploration.

It was quiet even with so many guests.

Cows on a road

The loudest noise we heard in 3 nights at the Hotel Waldhaus was this “cow parade” right below our window.

This is hiking country, with several trails offering views of the famous Aletsch Glacier, worth seeing before climate change takes even more of a toll. The Aletsch Arena is quite different from our usual haunts in the Berner Oberland. Bettmeralp sits at and above the tree line surrounded by massive snowy peaks too numerous to name. The light is constantly changing and the village is, like most Swiss villages, bedecked with flowers. It is picturesque, to say the least.

Sunlight on snowy mountain

The view from our room at the Hotel Waldhaus at sunrise.

Swiss villag in mountains

Bettmeralp, nestled high above the valley.

Swiss building

Flower-bedecked, the buildings look lovely even on cloudy days.

We only had two days to hike and one could certainly spend several days exploring more corners of the Aletsch Arena by train, lift, and on foot. We choose to start a rainy day by heading on the paved path to neighboring Riederalp. We were looking for one of the lifts in that small village and could not find it in the fog. We were astonished when after seeking refuge in a cafe for a warming cup of espresso we emerged to find the clouds had broken and the landscape revealed to us again.

Signpost

The signage is good: you won’t get lost but you might be confused at the options.

The second day we traveled by train and gondola to Fiescheralp, almost deserted now in the shoulder season but clearly a major ski-holiday destination. The exposed path we took back to Bettmeralp bore few fellow travelers this late in the fall but the vistas were, once again, magnificent and this hike, in particular, gave us a more complete picture of the area.

Mountain and road

On the road from Fiescheralp, a beautiful view.

Man on bridge with hiking sticks

Ric crosses a bridge on our hike from Fiescheralp to Bettmeralp. Yes, it was cold enough for a tuque.

To top off the magnificent scenery, we found excellent pizza as well. Paolo, the pizzaiolo at Pizzeria PiccoBello told me that there are many Italians in the area, working on the lifts. (Italians were also employed in the creation of some of Switzerland’s amazing tunnel systems.)

Building with pizzeria

A lovely Italian experience, high in the Swiss alps.

Pizza

One of our pies at PiccoBello. Truly Italian but with a Swiss-style sausage. The crust was top notch!

Pizza oven and man

Paolo the pizzaiolo plies his trade. A delicate crust that stands up to the sauce and toppings. An art form aided by a wood-fired oven.

The Waldhaus fed us well the other two nights as we partook of their excellent half-board. Mamma mia what a feast: 5 courses! Luckily portion-size was rational. Their selection of Swiss wines gave us a chance to enjoy products seldom found outside of the country.

Hotel bedroom

We had a moonwood room at the Waldhaus. Above the bed, a window leads from the shower room. Shower with a view!

Vew in hotel room

This is the view from our shower room at the Waldhaus.

Mountain view out a window

A little nook in the room at the Waldhaus with a gorgeous view, ever-changing light.

We parted somewhat reluctantly after three nights. An additional night-or-two would have allowed us to visit the pristine alpine lakes or ride lifts to see the glacier from a couple of additional viewpoints.

There’s always “next time!”

Welcome sign

Outside the Hotel Waldhaus where were were made to feel very welcome indeed.

Alpine Transhumance

26 Sep

26 September 2019.

It seems I’ve been waiting until the cows come home to see the transhumance here in Lauterbrunnen, or at least the ceremonial descent from summer pasture to the valley.  Now and then we’d see a farmer going down the street with two or three cows — you can hear them coming for a kilometer or so thanks to the bells — but we’ve either been out on the mountain trails or arrived too late in the year to see what we saw today.

We were advised to be near the Hotel Silberhorn at noon to witness the parade. The cows were arriving from pasture at 1500 meters/4900 feet at Winteregg, a path of about 4 miles.

 

The ceremonial transhumance involves gigantic cowbells and decorative headwear…for the cows. I hope they weren’t forced to wear this gear the entire 4 miles, although that might explain why a couple of them looked so grumpy.

Cow parade

The cows round the curve coming into town by the Hotel Silberhorn, under the Grutschalp gondola. Look at the size of that bell!

End of cow parade

Trailing to cows through town, clean up vehicle and crew following.

Cow Parade

Coming around by the church, traffic is stopped on the main thoroughfare.

Cow Parade

Passing the church, the cows are coming into our neighborhood. We took a shortcut so we could meet them down by the river. This is just 150 meters from our temporary home.

Cow with head dress

One cow gets out of the parade when she spots something tasty after walking through the town.

Cow mooing

As the ceremonial cows pass on the street below, a small herd overlooks the scene and one cow seems to say “What about us?”

Hotel Silberhorn staff greeted the herders and onlookers bearing trays with small cups of wine. A nice touch!

Bits and pieces from our 2018 trip

15 Nov
15 November 2018.
Our trip photos rotate on my screen saver and stir up memories to the point I don’t want to pause them so I can use the laptop. We have been home for a month and are still talking about our trip to Italy and Switzerland while planning for another adventure in the Spring.
Some are funny, some unusual, and there are cats.

Cats, cats, cats

We love cats and seldom get good photos. Somehow they know when the shutter is about to click and they look away. I had pretty good luck this trip.

High above Rapallo, Italy, we found a charming hotel and restaurant with about a dozen dependents who happily posed for us.

Another of the lovely cats of Montallegro near Rapallo.

A cold, glacial stream satisfied this hardy neighborhood cat. Lauterbrunnen, SW.

This little guy joined us for lunch one day in the mountains and shared our prosciutto. Fermeda Hütte near Santa Cristina, Italy.

We were enjoying strudel and espresso when the chef came out to offer this little guy his breakfast: thinly sliced prosciutto. Alpe di Siusi, Italy.

Signs and Labels

Amusing word choices and translations that don’t work.
I am sorry that  I neglected to take a picture of the sign above a place for parking bicycles that called it a “Bike Reck.”

Watch out for those dangerous, rampaging suckler cows! Seen all over Switzerland.

3-out-of-four in English. But we know what they mean. Pontresina, SW.

The lift had an official sign saying 4 people could ride in it, but this hand-written note warned us it was only safe for 2 people to go down. Beat the Paris elevator we had last year that only accommdated one person.

Findus is a big brand in frozen foods in Italy, but this product name in Switzerland threw us. They were good but not addictive.

Throughout Austia one can find the amusingly named Mozart’s Balls.

I am ham. Milan, IT. And why French?

Funny name for a hand wipe (Lausanne, SW).

Vending

Honor kiosks and roadside cheese vending were among our favorites.

Cheese vending machine found along a rural road in the Lauterbrunnen Valley, SW.

Same machine dispensed sausage.

Truly an honor kiosk: cheese and honey in an artful roadside box.

An enterprising person laid these out for purchase on the honor system, 5 Euros per item. Alpe di Siusi, Italy.

Uncategorized

No idea how to classify these gems.

10:30 in the morning is a great time for a beer break when you are hiking with your baby. Near Passo Sella, Italy.

Ric found this facility in a men’s room in the Val Gardena.

Postcard from Switzerland: Places the guidebooks don’t tell you about

17 Oct
17 October 2018.
Travel guidebooks are a favorite genre for me and I am a voracious consumer of their wisdom. Go to Europe without Rick Steves? I think not! Fodor’s, Frommer’s, Lonely Planet. and Cicerone guides also populate my Kindle.
Sometimes, though, guidebooks exclude the good stuff and include way too many formula places. We found two worthy outings near Lausanne that Steves’ and Fodor’s books barely mention. In fact, Rick Steves poo-poohs one of them. It was only because I picked up a brochure locally that we were clued in.

Les Pléiades 

We are drawn to high places that include trains and that is what led us to explore this area above Vevey just a few kilometers from Lausanne. The name Les Pleiades refers to the star cluster that is also called the Seven Sisters. I’ve no idea why this mountaintop is so named, but they have incorporated an exhibit called the Astro Pleiades to teach some basics about astronomy. It is dedicated to Claude Nicollier, the first astronaut from Switzerland. It’s actually a clever exhibit, but the draw on this sunny day was the view.

Me on the trail, Les Pleiades.

We found a bit of fall color at Les Pleiades.

Lake Geneva sparkles 1000 meters (3280 feet) below while there is a peek at Mont Blanc 60 miles away. (We stayed in Chamonix, at the foot of Mont Blanc, for 3 nights in 2016 and never saw the damn thing!) The train ride up is charming, a bit of a commuter route to outlying residential pockets from Vevey, but as the train winds higher, it becomes more and more rural. Each stop is on-demand only. At the top, trails abound along with a full-service restaurant. We took a very early train and enjoyed complete solitude for an hour until the next train pulled in full of day hikers young-and-old as well as a half-dozen mountain bikers.

Lac Leman/Lake Geneva far below on a stunning day at Les Pleiades.

You can just see Mont Blanc’s snow-capped peak. Hard to tell it is almost 16000 feet high.

Rochers-de-Naye

This is one of the most fun trains we have ridden outside of the Berner Oberland. A narrow-gauge cogwheel train transports you from urban Montreux through forests and tunnels, to 2042 meters above sea level, about 6700 feet. There were stunning views on each side of the train as we chugged ever-upward. Stations served everything from the Swiss Hotel Management School to middle-of-nowhere cabins.
At the top, we found a tunnel to a viewpoint and a restaurant only open on weekends. There was also a cafeteria not-yet-open even at 10:30 and “Marmot Paradise” without marmots. The perils of off-season travel. But again, the views: stunning.

The alps as seen from Rochers de Naye above Montreux, Switzerland.

The marmots must have been in paradise because they were nowhere to be seen at Rochers de Naye this October day.

There are a number of short hikes available as well as long, challenging ones. You can hike up part way or down a very long way if your knees can take the beating. I think it would be beautiful in springtime although the fall color was not bad. A clear winter day would be spectacular and apparently, there is a Santa Claus themed event for the holidays. For the adventurous, there are yurts to overnight in.
At 11:00 a train pulled in packed with daytrippers, apparently arriving in time for the view and lunch. We were glad we came up early even though the marmots were hiding and there was no coffee available.

A fork in the lake, outside the Nestle Alimentarium in Vevey.

Lausanne and environs were fun to explore. The city itself reminds me a bit of Paris, although without as much charm. I have to keep reminding myself that we are, in fact, in Switzerland. We liked the waterfront in Vevey and if we returned, that is where we would lodge. Chateau de Chillon in Montreux was interesting enough, and we did take a boat trip to France for lunch, which was easier on the budget than dining in Lausanne.

Sunday lunch along the lively lakefront in Vevey. Did I mention how terrific the weather has been?

Another activity we enjoyed that is in the guidebooks was a saunter through the Lavaux Vineyard Terraces, a UNESCO site. You take a modern, sleek, SBB train to a hamlet, then make your way through the terraced vineyards and other small towns on paths, roads, and the terraces themselves, ending up in a small town beside the lake where another train takes you back. In season, one can do a gastronomic tour as well as sample wines in small vineyard huts. Alas, the harvest is long over and we hiked sober.

Walking through the Lavaux Vineyard Terraces UNESCO site.

Little villages and grand chateaus with vineyards growing right up to their walls.

Tomorrow we fly home, so no more postcards for now. Maybe a miscellany/catch-up piece once I get over jet lag!

So long!

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