By a stroke of great luck, we were invited to share a large well-located condominium apartment in Chateaux-d’Oex just East of Lake Geneva last summer. Our week there was a reintroduction to that part of the breathlessly beautiful Alps, where I had been 25 years ago on my first, believe it or not, trip to Europe.
On this trip, our extremely comfortable apartment had a large sunny balcony from which we could always see green fields across the valley beyond our village, dark fir trees and houses scattered all around, and bare rock mountains looming on the other side of the valley. The first thing we did every morning was to open wide the doors, and drink in the view. We took many photographs from the balcony, with its bright colored window boxes of pelargoniums, and it’s accompanying mountain view, but couldn’t capture the essence of seeing that view in the flesh. We ate as many meals as possible out there in the fresh mountain air.
Among our most fun experiences were our almost daily trips to one of the nearby ski lifts for a ride up to the top, where we sometimes had lunch, but most times started walking down. The spirit of adventure and well being engendered by our daily peregrinations is I’m sure one of the big draws of Switzerland. We felt exhausted, but also very virtuous at the end of each walk, even though we were huffing and puffing a lot of the time. At least I felt saintly walking home from down in the village. It was ALL uphill, steep hills.
Chateaux-d’Oex is in the valley that leads to Gstaad. Luckily our little village is not as well known, and has therefore not been overrun by Gucci shops and the like. Nor by summer furs and over made-up faces. We saw almost no tourists, except down at the cheese factory by the main road, where people would stop for raclette or fondue at their restaurant (called Le Chalet). The cheeses were delicious, and worth anyone’s attention.
The cheese factory was right next to the Coop supermarket. The Swiss had the good taste to put most of the supermarket underground, which was very efficient, and esthetically pleasing. Good food was easy to find there, so we did the usual eyes-bigger-than-stomachs provisioning. Luckily one of our parties has a large appetite.
On our first Sunday in the area, we took the Rougemont cable car up to a place called Vidamanette, where there is a restaurant, and walks to be taken. We had our Sunday lunch up there, followed by a wine-soaked viewing of the World cup soccer finals, to see Brazil win over Germany.
When we got back down to the valley, some of us went to St.Peter’s Anglican church for evening prayer. Then we managed a fondue dinner at a local restaurant called La Montagnard.
My son had told me about an excellent restaurant at the top Les Diablerets Glacier. This is a huge cable car that goes up a very long way to Les Diablerets Glacier. With my heart in my throat, I got on the gondola and up we went. I soon got over my fears, happily distracted by the staggering views. We arrived at the magnificent building, designed by the renowned Mario Botta, and the Glacier 3000 Restaurant. Our meal there was matchless: an unusual salad of chicory, rosso, oranges and succulent shrimp in a light salad cream, followed by penne with wild mushrooms and pesto, washed down with tasty Swiss wine, and followed by chocolate mousse with whipped cream. The views from this shiny building hanging off a mountain 9000 feet high were understandably awesome.
The next day, under threat of rain, we drove to Gruyeres. The castle is what makes this fairy tale town, which is completely preserved, and unfortunately a big draw for tourists. Undaunted, we drove up the winding road to this fortified spot high on a hill. We walked past (most) of the gift shops, up to the top of the cobblestone street, to enjoy a tour of the castle, whose history and furniture is most enlightening. Then we managed to pick up a few souvenirs and a light lunch.
Back in Chateaux d’Oex that evening, we made a superb discovery. Following a recommendation, we went to a little non-descript hotel called La Poste, on the main street, and found its restaurant, also fairly nondescript. It was one of those real “finds” that make travel so compelling to me. Our superb food included carrot orange soup with coriander, then a wonderful pasta with champignons, followed by a three chocolate mousse.
After a very long day of walking, we returned to La Poste the very next evening, drawn by the casual, but professional atmosphere, and the superb food. We were not disappointed. I will confess we also went there the following evening. By now we were regulars, and were offered a complimentary digestif after dinner: a tasty local marc made of the roots of gentians.
One afternoon we walked to the local museum. It is comprised of three floors chock full of antique local crafts, mountain furniture, cowbells, kitchen utensils, and old maps. The great number of local paper cuts, those delicate lace-like landscapes created over the long winters by various now famous locals, especially fascinated us.
It was a refreshing week of walking, sightseeing and eating, affording great memories for me now, as I spend my seventh month without going on a trip.
Betsy Shequine is ready to go back to Switzerland at anytime, although undecided whether it’s for the views or the food.