Tag Archives: Hiking

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.

Retreat on the Alpe di Siusi

15 Sep

15 September 2019.

Sometimes you just need to escape even while you are away. Rick Steves calls this a “vacation from your vacation.” While we aren’t really in need of further relaxation, we do like the atmosphere of the Alpe di Siusi and it has become a tradition for us to pass a couple of nights there and be able to hike in the mornings without worrying about an early bus from Ortisei or racing to beat the last gondola down at 17:30. It’s a looonnggg walk if you miss the last ride.

Cabinovia

The gondola up to — and down from — the Alpe di Siusi. It only runs until 17:30 so don’t miss the last ride!

We are based for 2 1/2 weeks at the incredible Residence Astoria, our home in the Val Gardena the past four years. (See Training cats from 2016.) Taking only our backpacks with a change of clothing, we headed to Hotel Saltria for two nights, partaking of their half-pension plan and enjoying the convenience of being right there in the Alpe di Siusi for an early morning hike as recommended in our book, Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena. It’s good to travel light as this journey takes 3 buses and a gondola over the course of 90 minutes. Not fun with heavy luggage.

Hotel Saltria

The Hotel Saltria is a larger property, yet retains an intimacy

Arriving at the hotel, we had time for an hour’s walk in the afternoon sun through mountain meadows, then a shower before dinner. No extended Italian eating hours here! Dinner is from 19:00-20:30 and almost all of the guests arrived in the first 15 minutes. (We did see one couple, clearly new to the concept and not Italian nor German, waltz in at 20:28 and they were seated and served. I think they got the dregs of what was left, though.)

Rifugio

A rifugio on the Panorama hike. The pond is used for fire-fighting (rare) and snow-making in ski season.

The next morning we were on the trail before 10:00 and took what may be our new favorite hike in the Alpe di Siusi, Panorama to Zallinger. (I’ll be writing that in detail for another post.) This was a long-ish one. Leaving the hotel a few minutes before 9:00, we did not return until 15:30 what with transportation, a coffee stop, a lunch break, and a 10 km walk. If we had tried to do this from Ortisei, we would have been gone from 8:00-18:00.

It was so nice to be catered to for breakfast and dinner. No shopping (which we do daily when we are in a self-catered situation), no cooking or food prep of any type. We just showed up and let the hotel staff take care of everything.

Dining room Saltria

The dining room at Saltria. There were people of all ages: young couples with new babies, young couples alone, multi-generational groups, and people like us.

Breakfast was spread across a room bigger than our home living, dining, and kitchen areas combined! Set in a huge “E” shape, were baskets of various rolls and pastries, 8 types of preserves, 4 kinds of honey including one that was still in the comb, fruits, fruit salad, yoghurt, soft boiled eggs, a vegetable juicer, salad ingredients, 4 kinds of sliced meats, and at least 4 types of cheese. Beverages were on a separate buffet and the waitress made cappuccino, espresso, or “German” coffee to order.

This part of Italy is so Austrian that the first words out of anyone’s mouth are generally in German. In fact, this past week one of the German-language newspapers of the Südtirol expressed sadness on the 100th anniversary of the annexation by the Kingdom of Italy in 1919. Memories are long. So we were offered “German” coffee whereas in most of Italy we would have been asked if we wanted “American” coffee.

German is more prevalent in the Alpe di Siusi than it is even in the valley. A couple of our servers had trouble with Italian. One stumbled over the number 6 (sei in Italian) until I used the German word sechs. Some transactions became amusing mixtures: I told them I wanted my coffee senza milch. That high-school German comes back on occasion.

Vegetables

A sampling of the many vegetables available every night.

At the hotel, none of the food on the menus was described in English. Our evening meals — five courses if you wanted to eat that much — were described in Italian and German and the cuisine was decidedly fusion. Pasta or prosciutto and melon for a first course followed by roasted veal and a beetroot/potato puree. Or a cheese strudel as a starter with mountain lake fish on a bed of leeks with lardo. (Lardo is what it sounds like, though quite refined, a Tuscan specialty.) Like I said, fusion, or as our Italian friend would say, contaminated (contaminazione in Italian is a little pejorative, but serves as a false cognate in this case).

After our long day hike, we could have refreshed in the indoor-outdoor pool or worked on our skin cancer, but we retreated to a pre-dinner shower and coffee on the terrace overlooking the magnificent peaks. Just as the sun was setting, we headed to dinner, now greeted by a huge salad and vegetable buffet spread over the enormous “E” that once held breakfast. Perfectly sauteed artichokes, two types of asparagus, grilled peppers and eggplant, marinated mushrooms, more salad ingredients than the farmers’ market, and a cheeseboard.

Pasta

My primo one night, pasta with smoked salmon. Sensibly small portion as there was more to come.

That was the first course. After that, there were soup, a primo, a secondo, and dessert, plus (more) cheese and fruit. We confined ourselves to three courses (no soup nor dessert) but indulged in a fine and reasonably-priced wine list.

My middle-of-the-night trip to the bagno was blessed with the lovely sight of the great mountain peaks bathed in moonlight. That alone was worth getting up for at midnight.

Travelers often complain about “touristy” areas and that so many places are over-crowded, or that they encounter too many Americans carrying Rick Steves’ guidebooks. If one wants to have an experience unlike any you are likely to have in North America, this is a fine place to add to an itinerary.

Laurel and the Sciliar

Just starting out on the Panorama hike. Perfect day!

What’s new?

29 Mar
29 March 2017. It is difficult not to think of Italy and our Italian life. I love being back in Oregon and living in a small coastal community, but Ric and I do have a fondness for things Italian and wax nostalgic about our fabulous years in Roma.

The Alpe di Siusi, Italy, one of our favorite places.

I am delighted to see new people signing up to follow this blog. I hope you find it useful in planning your trip to Italy, or perhaps you are just reading and dreaming about Italy. I do that a lot myself. 
Since GoodDayRome is on hiatus until we travel to Europe again, you can join me over at Our Weekly Pizza for commentary on our continuing search for great pizza, or at Project Easy Hiker where we are blogging about hiking. As the weather gets better, we’ll be out-and-about on the Oregon Coast adding to our hiking repertoire. 
And if you know anyone traveling to Italy this year I hope you will tell them about our new book, “Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena.” The Val Gardena is a paradise and easily experienced on foot with a series of easy hikes, suitable for children, the elderly, or anyone who wants to enjoy the alps without climbing them.

We interrupt this move for a Swiss break

13 Oct
13 October 2016. We have mixed feelings about our impending departure. Many reasons we will miss our life in Italy yet in some ways we can hardly wait to get our butts on the plane. (See Missing the U.S.A.) We have a lot of little errands to do before we move back to Oregon, but most of them cannot be done until the final few days before we fly. So in fact, we have very little left to do until October 24. It’s not like we are packing up the whole household so why not take 10 days in Switzerland?
This little cow is at about 4900 feet. She has a freash dusting of snow and a great view of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.

This little cow is at about 4900 feet. She has a fresh dusting of snow and a great view of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.

The Bernese Oberland of Switzerland is one of our two favorite places to visit and to hike, the other being Italy’s Val Gardena. After our glorious month in Ortisei in July, we thought a compare-and-contrast trip to the Bernese Oberland — specifically the Lauterbrunnen Valley — was in order.
RIc brought his Swiss hiking hat along, luckily. On the trail from Grütschalp to Mürren.

Ric brought his Swiss hiking hat along, luckily. On the trail from Grütschalp to Mürren.

Last year we came at the very end of September and encountered eight days of Chamber-of-Commerce weather. This year, we are a bit later and the villages are definitely napping between the intense periods of summer tourists and winter skiers. Days alternate between sunny and clear and overcast. Supposedly tomorrow it will rain, but we’ve had some terrific hikes and it should be nice enough on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday to hike again. This is our fourth trip to the area and proves once again that repeat visits are advantageous. With a base of familiarity, we are free to discover new facets of the region. Being here in almost-off-season gives more insight into local life and there are fewer tourist groups packing the trains and lifts. Click on any image below for a better view. 
This is the view from our apartment in the valley. Cows in the meadow, and a magnificent waterfall.

This is the view from our apartment in the valley. Cows in the meadow, and a magnificent waterfall.

We now have a favorite apartment here, at Ey-Hus. Owner James Graham (j.graham320@ntlworld.com) said I could share his contact information with you if anyone is interested. Two bedrooms, one with twin beds, one bath, small kitchen, nice big lounge, a view onto the waterfall and up to the mountains. The neighbors are grazing cows with their melodic Swiss bells. There’s a laundry, too, and a bus stop nearby allows one to easily travel the 1 kilometer to-and-from the train station with luggage or when one just does not feel like walking. As most of you know, we avoid cars when possible and this is the perfect place for a car-free holiday, with mountain trains and gondolas that go everywhere.  Renting an apartment and cooking most meals is a real budget saver in pricey Switzerland. James’ apartment even has a slow cooker so we can queue up dinner to cook while we hike.
The other direction off our terrace is this pretty house and the village church.

The other direction off our terrace is this pretty house and the village church.

The Val Gardena and our beloved Ortisei is less expensive, especially for food, and frankly, the restaurant choices are superior in the Val Gardena, but we don’t really visit either area for the cuisine. We come for the hiking and the scenery. And for the mountain transportation.
The Lauterbrunnen Valley has an incredible network of trains and lifts. It is thrilling to soar to the top of the Schilthorn and to chug all the way to the Top of Europe, the Jungfraujoch! It is also a delight to simply walk the easy hiking paths past the magnificent Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau, whether in sun or in snow. By comparison, the Val Gardena offers hiking in high meadows as well as along rocky ridges, and it has the rifugi that we love. In Switzerland, there are few places to refuel along the trail. There are restaurants at the lift stations, but few-and-far-between are rest stops to hike to for a meal or a bathroom. 
Like trying to decide which child is your favorite, I cannot choose between Ortisei and Lauterbrunnen and what each region has to offer. I love them both. For those looking for a unique European getaway, spend 4 or 5 nights each in Ortisei and Lauterbrunnen. The U.S. has nothing like this. Contemplate what it might be like to visit the North Cascades or the Rocky Mountains if served by transportation systems like in Europe, as well as rifugi where you can eat good food, drink great coffee, possibly sleep, and always find a toilet when you need one.

Animal encounters

22 Jul
Mr. Marmot relaxes below the Seceda gondola.

Mr. Marmot relaxes below the Seceda gondola.

22 July 2016. Cows abound in the Alpe di Siusi and the Val Gardena in Italy’s north. True wildlife is a little harder to find. In fact, we’ve been hoping to spot a marmot here or in Switzerland for the past 4 years. We’ve taken “marmot trails” and seen nothing but cartoonish signs claiming the critters were about. Finally, the other day, we not only saw a marmot, but Ric captured a fine photo that I wanted to share with you. And for fun, here are a few more pictures of the animals that dot the trails we have traversed for the past 3 weeks.
Please click on any photo for a better view and a caption. 

 

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