My first visit to Switzerland was in 2014, but I was back last year and will be going back again this October. I guess you could say I like it! It’s a great destination for mid lifers.
My first visit centred upon a sort of family reunion in the small Alpine village where my wife’s mother AnnaMaria grew up. Her parents ran the Schweizerhof Hotel in town and so naturally that is where we stayed. There was a certain melancholy to the visit as the hotel had recently passed out of the family’s hands and so this was a “last visit” of sorts. AnnaMaria’s brother Jon had taken over the hotel operations from their father several years before, just as his father had taken it over from his father, who had taken it over from his father. Jon died of cancer earlier in the year – in the same town he’d lived in since a boy. But there was no younger generation ready to keep the family business running, and so it had been sold during the preceding winter. Thankfully, the new owner had changed little in the hotel – even the family photos of stern-faced ancestors still hung in a main hallway.
Perhaps it sounds unworldly to admit, but I was surprised by the ‘German-ness’ of everything. This despite our being in one of the small enclaves where Switzerland’s fourth language Romansch, is still spoken. I was immediately taken by this seemingly parallel culture wherein no over-bearing American influence encroached. There were no McDonalds’ in the valley; no billboards for Coca-Cola or Hollywood movies – no billboards at all in fact. No chicken fingers or hamburgers or nachos on the menu. No middle-aged men dressed like slovenly teenagers with silly t-shirt logos and beer bellies hanging over camouflage – style baggy shorts. No Americans! It was refreshingly different, yet familiar. And of course: clean, tidy and beautiful.
The Schweizerhof caters to Swiss and Germans who come for the weekend or the week to enjoy the sites and the clean air. What do you do there? Well you walk of course. Or rather, you hike. The valley is lined with hiking trails whether in the lush, green meadows dotted with wildflowers in the valley-bottom, or up on the rugged mountain-sides. The sheer drop from some of these higher trails is not for the faint of heart. But there is nothing like the enchantment of walking under tall pines on a steep hillside, then turning the corner to behold the steamy mists from a mountain waterfall rising in front of you to the seemingly closer heavens above.
Breakfasts consist of deli meats, cheese and bread; along with eggs and beuchermeusli – a local favourite. No matter if you prefer your eggs soft-boiled or hard, you can have them to your liking with a handy egg-boiling machine I’d never seen before. You suspend your egg into a pool of boiling water with a handy little metal basket which made getting it in and out of the hot water easy. A quick transfer to a waiting pool of cool water allows you to handle the cooked egg. So, neat and efficient!
I must admit that I took to the traditional foods of my wife’s heritage better than I had ever taken to those of my British ancestors. I’ll happily take Appenzeller cheese and bratwurst over liver and onions anytime!
The main road down the valley and on to Italy ran directly out of the front door of the hotel. This made crossing to the parking lot across the street an occasionally hair-raising experience. Fortunately, traffic was not heavy. Naturally, the parking lot was filled with expensive German cars – Mercedes, BMWs, Audis, VWs. Occasional foreigners were also accommodated, if grudgingly. I think I even saw an old Bugatti in there one day. The famous Stelvio pass, once rated the world’s best drive by the Top Gear show, starts out of the middle of this village. Many day-trippers with performance cars or motorcycles and even bicycles, stopped for a beer at the hotel patio to laugh and savour the twisting, mountain-crossing, down-right scary road trip they had just completed. So the hotel parking lot became more interesting than one might expect.
My more recent Swiss trip was centred in the Zurich area where my wife’s aunt lives, and it is there we will be returning to in October. Zurich, I can take or leave. While there are some interesting museums, narrow lanes and churches, by and large I agree with one wag who summed it up as “Zurich = zu reich, zu rubig” (too rich, too quiet). But its the countryside and smaller centres that a traveller needs to see. As a birthday treat Aunt Margrit took us for a day-long train tour of central Switzerland. The Swiss railway system is fabulous. There is scarcely any part of the country you can’t reach by train – even mountain tops. On this day we glided by lakesides under a clear blue sky with shining sun glinting off snow-covered peaks as we journeyed from Zurich to Luzern then on to Interlaken. There we walked over to a funicular which carried us up a nearby peak to lunch while overlooking the gorgeous sight of valleys and lakes in each direction, presided over by the famous three adjoining peaks of Jungfrau, Eiger and Mönch (attached photo taken from this spot). I worried that we had to be down in time for a specific train, but no. In Switzerland there will be always be another along soon which you are free to step aboard with your day pass. The medieval town of Thun followed and then the under-appreciated capital of Bern with seven medieval painted statues adorning several blocks of cobbled streets. When we dragged ourselves in at the end of that day with sore feet but elated hearts, we truly appreciated the wonder of this beautiful country. So much of it we’d seen in one day without once getting into an automobile.
The one downside to Switzerland are the prices. There is no way of getting around it, Switzerland is expensive. Still, if you can manage it, go see Switzerland, even for just a few days. You’ll love it – just like I do.
© 2017 Quentin Andrews