Switzerland: Postcards from the Alps

Every picture postcard you’ve seen of Switzerland is true. Those snowy mountains, icicle-fringed chalets and gooey fondues are real. What’s more, a skiing holiday in Switzerland is now more affordable than you think. Wish you were here? Come along then! By Alison Westwood.

Skiing in the Vaudoise Alps                                                              

10 February

Spent a wonderful few days skiing in the Vaudoise Alps, now my knees won’t bend. Arriving in Les Diablerets, donned my gear and clumped down the road to Isenau (the pistes here are in walking distance). Had exciting time getting back my ski legs and performing stunts for the locals. They were impressed by my triple cartwheel.

Next day, a dishy ski guide showed me around Glacier 3000, which you reach by a cable car  –  about five times longer than the one on Table Mountain. Up there, you can ski six months of the year and the views are jaw-dropping. Ate raclette au feu de bois at the mountain-top restaurant and did another spectacular somersault.

Yesterday’s conditions perfect: blue skies, sunshine and firm-packed snow. Everyone saying ‘Fantastique!’ and ‘Génial!’ Skied all the way from Les Diablerets to Villars – luggage followed by taxi.

This evening caught the train up to Bretaye to see Villars Night Show. After the skiers, mountain-bikers, snow-mobiles and piste-bullies had done their thing, it was my turn to perform one last death-defying feat – a torchlit descent on skis. Rather conveniently, glided to a halt beside an ice bar, where a barman wearing a fox-fur hat was serving vodka and Veuve Cliquot in glasses rimmed with snow. Fantastique!

Camping in the snow at Whitepod

11 February

If I told you I’m sleeping in a tent and it’s minus 20°C outside, bet you’d feel sorry for me. But in this large, white geodesic dome is a crackling wood fire, a sauna-style bathroom, down duvets, thick sheepskin rugs on the floor and a bottle of Laurent-Perrier in a silver bucket of snow. Still sorry for me? Nah, didn’t think so.

I’m at Whitepod Resort in Cerniers, just across the valley from Villars. Living beyond my means, but it’s just for one unforgettable night. First clue this place is out-of-the-ordinary is when you’re handed a backpack, pair of snowshoes and poles at reception. Luxurious your pod may be, but you’ve still got to hike to it.

Any energy left – go cross-country or downhill skiing and snowshoeing. If you’re bonkers, there’s dog sledding with huskies. Here’s a tip: take a camera so that when your legs seize up in agony you can call a photo break.

Tomorrow, the guy who started Whitepod is giving me a lift down to the valley. Like everything else, he’s doing it differently. We’ll be paragliding on skis. Now I bet you hate me.

Nordic Walking on the Montreux Riviera

13 February 

Went wine tasting in a world heritage site. You’ve never heard of Swiss wine because it isn’t exported. The Swiss drink it all. The stone-terraced Lavaux vineyards on the sunny slopes of Lake Geneva were built by monks 800 years ago and still produce some of Switzerland’s best wines. Every square inch of land is used and complex systems of pulleys and funiculars ferry grapes to the presses.

Visitors can follow a network of scenic walking or cycling trails and each of the villages has a communal cave (cellar) open for tastings on weekends. I had a personal tasting with a wine-maker.

Blaise Duboux is the 17th generation of his family to grow grapes here and is passionate about preserving regional cultivars and wine heritage. Was quite annoyed about South African Chardonnay (says we shouldn’t grow it in our climate) so I bought a bottle of Plant Robez to distract him. Plant Robez is an endangered local red cultivar that’s also utterly delicious. Hope it lasts long enough for me to ‘export’.

Carnival time in Ticino

14 February

First people I met in Bellinzona were Michael Jackson, Clint Eastwood and Little Red Riding Hood. Was almost the only person not in fancy dress and felt a bit left out. Even the tower of the medieval castle on the hill was wearing a gigantic smiling mask. Was bustled off by Little Red Riding Hood, who turned out to be Ticino’s media relations manager.

February is carnival time in Ticino and every town and village in the Italian canton seems to be infected with carnival fever. Lucky to be here in Rabadan when Bellinzona celebrates a week of festivities. They culminated today in the Grande Corteo Mascherato, a satirical parade of thousands of costumed characters, marching ‘Guggen’ bands and extravagant floats.

Pushed our way through throngs of giant rats, six-foot ballerinas, spacemen, wizards  and chipmunks. The cobbled streets were strewn with streamers, banners hung from balconies and flags fluttered overhead. Drums and horns created cacophony on every corner. Children chucked handfuls of confetti from bulging plastic bags.

When we reached the town square, where the King and Queen of Rabadan were opening the parade, my hair was covered in coloured paper, clothes were festooned with silly string and a goofy grin was stuck to my face. Carnival fever is catching!

Paragliding and snowshoeing in Interlaken

18 February

Train journey from Ticino to Interlaken took most of the day, but what a day. The scenic route via Lucerne is called the Golden Pass and I sat in one of the panoramic coaches with outsized windows, spellbound.

Interlaken is the Swiss equivalent of Vic Falls. A centre for adventure activities with two lakes and three ‘four-thousander’ mountain peaks – Eiger, Moench and Jungfrau – instead of a waterfall.

Done my best to fit in as much as possible. Yesterday went skiing in the glacier village of Grindelwald and took a ride on the First-Flyer zip line. When it started snowing, tested out the indoor rope park where you can train for climbing Eiger. It was a doddle, so I’m thinking of coming back to tackle the real thing.

Went paragliding again this morning and later snowshoeing. Unfortunately no time for another train trip – would have loved to ride the Jungfraujoch, Europe’s highest railway.

This holiday has been a dream come true, but there is one thing bothering me. Everywhere I go, people keep saying, ‘Oh, you should be here in summer!’ Apparently there’s even more to do – and it’s cheaper too.

My Swiss holiday statistics

  • Slabs of chocolate bought for friends: 12
  • Slabs of chocolate bought for friends but eaten by me: five
  • Total cheese consumed: 5,2 kilos (approx)
  • Number of falls skiing: four, one on the torchlit run (am skiing legend)
  • Number of crashes sledding: two (not my fault)
  • Bruises on bottom: three
  • Tents slept in: one
  • Lowest temperature: minus 20°C (on night of tent)
  • Paragliding instructors vomited on: zero (massive effort of willpower)
  • Percentage of trains and buses that ran exactly on time: 100
  • Awesome memories: lost count

First published in the August 2010 issue of Getaway Magazine

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s