Switzerland in July!

Going to Switzerland in the summer is one of our favorite trips, but we have not been since summer 2003 when we spent two weeks in Gstaad. In 2004, we went to England and France and skipped Switzerland. In 2005 and 2006, we went to England in the spring and did not do a summer/fall trip. How could we have ignored Switzerland for these past three years? Well, we are about to correct that error! I am planning our trip to Europe for this summer and so far have booked two weeks in Switzerland and one week in Umbria (read more about our Italy travel next week).

We thought we might do a last minute fall trip to Switzerland last year, but we could not make the time. I had started planning the trip and had my heart set on a couple of weeks in this chalet in the Vaud region:

Slow Travel Classified – Chalet Damani, Leysin: Traditional Swiss Alpine Chalet with three apartments. I wanted the master apartment (1bed/2bath) which has a balcony, lots of windows and a large kitchen.

We have that apartment booked for the first two weeks of July! Switzerland in July is my idea of paradise. The summer season in the Swiss mountain areas is short and peaks in July. The weather is usually good (sunny and warm), the snow is gone from the alpine areas and the meadows are filled with wild flowers. On my dryer I have a photo of me in a field of wildflowers outside of Grindelwald from an earlier trip (pre-digital, July 1997). It is a great photo because not only am I ten years younger, but you can see that year was exceptional for wildflowers. They had heavy rain in June and the first part of July and we arrived at the end of it. The meadows were full of flowers.

Pauline in Grindelwald
Pauline in the Grindelwald wildflowers.

Why This Vacation Rental?

– The owner has a classified listing on Slow Travel and I like to support our advertisers.

– The owner has also been on the message board and seems like a good traveler, so I figure he would pick a great place to own a vacation rental.

– The apartment has high speed internet and a good kitchen.

– This is a new area for us. I like to try new areas in Switzerland on each trip.

– The location is great. Leysin is a popular ski resort and has many shops and restaurants. There are many hiking/walking trails right from the village and more in the close by areas. For day trips, we can get to Lake Geneva easily, or go the other way into the Valais.

– Leysin is in the French speaking part of Switzerland and Steve’s French is much better than his German. I even understand a little French.

On our last trip to Switzerland, we stayed in Gstaad which is only 30 minutes by car from Leysin. We loved Gstaad and the surrounding area because the towns are delightful and the walking/hiking is very good and plentiful. Leysin is close to the Valais, another canton that we like.

We Were Almost in Leysin On Our Last Trip

On our September 2003 trip we were just a few miles from Leysin. We did a drive from Gstaad to Chateau-d’Oex and then to Le Sepey, where we stopped for lunch. Le Sepey is a few miles down the road from Leysin. In my journal entry for Tuesday September 2, 2003, I write about our lunch:

“We continued our drive over the mountains to Col des Mosses and on to Le Sepey. On the map this is a red, main road – but in reality it is a winding, narrow mountain road. There were not many cars and the driving was easy, but you went high up into the mountains with steep dropoffs beside the road. We stopped in Le Sepey for a late lunch (rosti with fresh mushrooms for me, fish for Steve). Le Sepey is a very small town perched on the edge of a mountain.”

Le Sepey, near Leysin
Photo of Le Sepey. I even took a photo of the sign to Leysin (as example of road signs for SlowTrav).

According to the map, Leysin is even more “perched on the edge of a mountain” because it is 5kms up a narrow mountain road from Le Sepey and 300 meters higher in altitude. When we were in Le Sepey, this seemed like a sleepy area of very small villages. From what I read in the information the chalet owner sent me, Leysin is a good sized town with a population around 3,000, over a dozen restaurants, two supermarkets, two bakeries, a butcher, two banks, a post office, and other shops. The closest larger town, with more shops and restaurants, is Aigle, down in the Rhone valley.

We Will be Speaking French

More correctly, Steve will be speaking French. I can ask someone to open a window or close a door, and I can order my coffee, but that is about it. Steve, on the other hand, reads books in French and watches the news in French every day. He will be happy to have the opportunity to speak French.

Switzerland is divided into four unofficial regions by language: German, French, Italian, Romansch. The German speaking area is the largest. All of the Bernese Oberland is German speaking. Gstaad, on the western edge of the Bernese Oberland, is near the French area, which seems to start just a few miles from Saanen when you reach Chateau-d’Oex. In my opinion, the German speaking areas have the best hiking, but the French speaking areas have better food and are more relaxed; stereotypes, I know, but this has been our experience. Leysin is firmly in the French speaking area, so the restaurants and cafés should be good, but it is close enough to the German speaking area so the hiking should also be good. The French speaking area is in the western part of Switzerland, where it borders with France. The Italian speaking area is the south side of the Alps, the Ticino canton, on the border of Italy. The Romansch speaking area is in the eastern part of the country.

Planned Day Trips

Our days in Switzerland usually follow the same routine: out in the morning for fresh bread and croissants from the bakery, followed by breakfast in our apartment; head out for a walk; stop somewhere on the trail for lunch at a mountain restaurant; more walking; back to town to get some groceries; dinner at home. Very leisurly days based around doing easy mountain walks.

Walking/hiking in Switzerland can be challenging or easy – you decide. You can climb the 1000 feet or more to the trails on the mountain tops, or take a mountain ride. You can walk for 3 hours, stopping for lunch somewhere, or do a full day of hiking.

We throw in a few day trips. From Leysin I was thinking of these trips:

– Drive up the Rhone River valley to the Valais and spend a day in either the Val d’Annivers or Val d’Heren. We can have lunch in one of the villages and do a hike. We have not been to that area since our summer 1999 trip when we were based in Crans Montana.

– Drive across the valley to the town of Verbier to do some hiking. I have always wanted to see this town.

– Spend a day on Lake Geneva, in Montreux or Lausanne. Our friends Wendy and Richard (from the message board) will be staying near Montreux while we are in Leysin, so we will be spending some time with them.

– Spend a day in the Gstaad area and do one of our favorite hikes from out last trip.

View of Gstaad
View from a hike in Gstaad.

Geography Lesson by Pauline

We started traveling to Switzerland in 1988, when we spent two weeks in Grindelwald and two weeks in Zermatt. Since then we have returned several times, returning to both Grindelwald and Zermatt, but also trying new mountains towns. The Berner Oberland, the mountain area south of Interlaken and Bern, is my favorite area. There are eight major valleys running up into these mountains and we have stayed in all of them.

I am no expert, but this is my view of the geographical layout of south-central Switzerland. If you look at my ST Google Map of Switzerland, the geography becomes clear. There are two major lines of mountains in south-western Switzerland: the Bernese Oberland and the Valais. Between them is the wide Rhone River valley. Both lines of mountains have the best valleys and mountain towns on their north slopes. The south slopes are shorter and steeper.

– The Bernese Oberland mountains (called “Berner Oberland” in German) run from the eastern edge of Lake Geneva to the western edge of Lake Lucerne. The longest valleys are on the northern side of this range: Engelberg, Meiringen, Grindelwald, Lauterbrunen, Kandersteg, Adelboden, Lenk, Gstaad. At the foot of these valleys, on the northern side of the line of mountains, are a row of lakes from Lake Thuner and Brienzer (Thunder and Lightening) to Lake Lucerne.

– The Valais mountains run from Chamonix and Mont Blanc in France, following south of the Bernese Oberland to the area east of Brig. As with the Bernese Oberland, the best valleys in the Valais are on the north side: Saas-Fee, Zermatt, Val d’Anniviers, Val d’Heren, Verbier. At the foot of these valleys is the Rhone River in a long, wide river valley.

Slow Travel Resources

Trip Report 1021 – Switzerland in Slow Motion: 100 Miles on the Alpine Pass Route, by Kaydee from Tennessee, Summer 2005. Our family’s 14-day, 100-mile hike through the Swiss Alps on the Alpine Pass route (July/August 2005)

Switzerland Trip Planning – Overview of the Mountain Towns in Switzerland, Pauline Kenny, 2003

ST Google Map: Bern and Valais regions of Switzerland

My photos of Switzerland

Slow Travel Classifieds, Switzerland Vacation Rentals

Other Travel Resources

Destination Berner Oberland

Valais Excellence

Leysin Tourism: This is not an easy website to use. Click on the photos and you get menus.

Chalet Damani: We are renting the Master Apartment in this chalet.

Le Cerf Hotel Restaurant, Le Sepey, Switzerland: The hotel where we had lunch.

Dwight Peck’s nostalgia gallery: Photos of Switzerland from 1970s and from 2005

Wikitravel – Leysin, Switzerland

Wikipedia – Leysin, Switzerland

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Pauline Kenny

Pauline Kenny and Steve Cohen are US expats living in Dorset. We moved to the UK in 2010. Read about our move. If you would like to talk about travel, please join us on the Slow Europe Travel Forums.