On Wednesday we did a very easy hike. After lunch, we drove up to Gsteig (15 minute drive), then drove another 5 minutes to the Sanetsch gondola. We had not been on this mountain ride before. The gondola holds eight people and takes ten minutes to go to the top. As with most gondolas, as one goes up, the other goes down. They pass in the middle. We were the only ones on the gondola.
I am afraid of heights. I always have been. But I can ride the gondolas and chairlifts in Switzerland and not be terrified. Possible reasons: Most of them don’t go that far above the ground; you are enclosed so can’t fall out; I trust everything made by the Swiss. But on the Sanetsch gondola I was terrified. The little gondola starts out up a steep valley, then goes straight at a rock face, just missing it by a few feet as it goes over the top of it. The elevation change is 800 meters, from 1200 to 2000 meters, similar to the gain on the ride in Leysin. Both Steve and I stumbled off the Gondola gasping.
Sanetsch Gondola from Gsteig to the Valais Alps
The Sanetsch gondola takes you right up to the alpine area in mountains that we look at every day from our balcony – the rocky ones at the south end of the valley, behind Gsteig. There is a cluster of old weather-beaten buildings, including a good looking restaurant, and a good sized lake – Sanetschsee or Lac du Senin. There were a lot of people out and about and we started to think this was a big mistake coming up here late in the day on the Swiss National Holiday. But then we saw all the cars.
Cars!! How the hell could cars get from Gsteig to this place? They can’t. They drive from the Valais, on the south side of this mountain range, from Sion. So, here you have an alpine area split between the German (Berne) and French regions (Valais – okay, part of the Valais is in the German region, but not Sion). The German-Swiss take the gondola up and down, the French-Swiss drive up.
Sanetschsee or Lac du Senin
You can also take the Glacier 3000 gondola from Col du Pillon (down the road from Gsteig), then hike for five hours over glaciers and along mountain tops, to this lake. We met a group of four Brits staying in Les Diablerets who did this. I would love to do that (they said the walk was gentle downhill and going across the glacier was easy), but it is complicated transportation-wise. They parked in Gsteig, took a bus to Col du Pillon, rode the gondola, did the hike, took the Sanetsch gondola down (that was where we met them), then had a last 30 minute walk to the car (we put them all in our back seat and gave them a lift).
All we did was spend an hour and a half walking around the lake. It is a one hour walk, but the wildflowers, views and cows were amazing, so we dawdled. The lake is in a bowl surrounded by high rocky mountain peaks. You only see down to the Gstaad valley from one end.
It was amazing being up there. It felt like another world.
Wildflowers beside the lake
We were going to stop at the restaurant, but were worried we might have a long wait for the gondola down. They can take 40 people an hour, in groups of 8. There was a notice about reserving a timeslot, but when we went to see if they were doing this, everyone said they were just lining up. We had to wait about 45 minutes but had fun talking to the Brits behind us. One of them was really into maps (like me) so we exchanged hiking information.
We went into Gstaad in the evening, figuring it would be a wild party time for the holiday. It wasn’t. There was a big tent and a dinner with Swiss music on the main street, but it was centered around grilled meat, so we went to the Chinese restaurant. The meal was good (we ate there once before on the trip) but there was a screaming baby and two other out of control kids at the table next to us and the noise just set me on edge. This hardly ever happens but this group was unbearable.
It was only 8pm and not even close to getting dark. I was too tired to hang around and wait for fireworks or whatever might be planned, so we went back to the apartment. When it got dark, around 9:30pm, the fireworks started – right from the hillside across from us so we had a great view. There were also lots of fires going up on the mountains. They kept the Wispile gondola running into the night.
On Thursday, it was drizzling and overcast. We have had great weather in Switzerland since we got back from Italy. Sunny, but not too warm – in the low 70s – perfect for hiking. But Thursday was not great. We decided to do a low level walk – two and a half hours up to Gsteig then take the bus back. About an hour into the walk the skies opened. It poured. The river beside us raged. There was huge lightening and thunder. It was really great!!
As Steve said, we did a good test of the water proofness of our gear – and it all failed. Steve got a fabulous new rain jacket from REI before the trip and that was the only thing that worked. Both of our hiking pants turned out to be water resistant only – they were clinging to our wet legs. Our great hiking boots need some of that waterproofing stuff sprayed on them – I probably did not do this because I did not trust the chemicals in it. Our feet were soaked. My 15 year old Gortex rain jacket was sopping wet. (Does Gortex expire? I guess it does.) Even the things in our backpacks were wet. We sloshed along the path, tried to read the bus schedule in the downpour, walked for another half hour to Feutersoey, and got the bus back (only had to wait for five minutes).
I spent the rest of the afternoon doing laundry. They have a good laundry room in the basement here.
Today it was still overcast, but not raining. We drove out to Saanen to have breakfast in a cafe. Saanen is only ten minutes away by car. We spent two weeks there in August 2003. Comparing Gstaad to Saanen, I would vote for Saanen as the better town. It is more useable. It has two good cafes, several good food shops, easy parking right on the main street. Gstaad is larger, with more restaurants, but it does not have a good basic cafe. It is a bit of a “beautiful people” town – upscale shops, upscale hotels. I like Gstaad, and we can walk to the main area in ten minutes, but next time I would probably stay in Saanen.
Tea Room for Breakfast in Saanen
Blah, blah, blah – I endlessly debate the merits of one place over another when they are only ten minutes apart and both are great.
After breakfast we could not decide what to do with the day. Go for a drive to Bulle or do a hike. We decided to redo the hike from yesterday. We went back to the apartment, got dressed for the hike, put our boots on and realized they were still soaking wet!! So we did the drive to Bulle.
Chateau d’Oex is a twenty minute drive from Gstaad and is in the French speaking corner of the Berne region (maybe it is in Vaud?). We got some groceries at the Coop (I wanted to see if it was bigger than the one in Gstaad – it isn’t – Gstaad has the best Coop in the area) and had lunch at a charming restaurant. The town is small, but very pretty. There is a gondola up to the mountains. We had planned to hike from the town to the top of the gondola, then take the gondola back, but standing there today looking at the walk, maybe we won’t do it. It is mostly in forest and looks pretty steep.
After lunch we drove to Bulle, a town near Gruyeres. We spent a day in Gruyeres on our 2003 trip, so did not stop there today. We drove into Bulle, then drove through it, then did a U-turn and drove out. From a quick look, it did not seem that interesting. I think Gruyeres in the interesting town here, but it is a bit of a “tour bus” town – large parking lots for cars and tour buses, lots of visitors.
We decided to do a scenic drive back through Broc, where you can tour a chocolate factory (we didn’t) and over Jaunpass. Broc is a small, cute town. There is a special tourist excursion, the Chocolate Train, from Montreux, that goes to Gruyeres and then to Broc.
The next town along the way, Charmey, was beautiful and it looks like there is good hiking in the area. The valley from Broc to Charmey to Juan and up to Juanpass is beautiful.
Coming down from Juanpass to the road just west of Zweisimmen was an adventure. It switchbacked down a steep hillside for about 20 minutes. The road was narrow and our side was on the cliff edge with only a barbed wire fence between us and oblivion. Thank goodness Steve was driving at this point.
In Zweisimmen, we stopped for coffee – I had my first hot chocolate of the trip. Hot chocolate in Switzerland, which you expect will be fantastic, is always a cup of hot milk and a package of chocolate powder, like you can buy in the supermarket. But it is good. I drove us the rest of the way home.
I have been driving a lot more than usual. Sometimes the roads feel very narrow and like the traffic is moving too fast, but really, it is managable.
I have a bunch of photos, but it is late, so I am going to post this. We have less than a week left and I have a list of hikes I want to do.
NOTE: Post edited August 7 to add a few photos. I have photos from the Sanetsch hike on Flickr (will upload to SlowTrav soon).