We woke up Saturday morning to the best weather of the whole trip (so far). Bright sunshine, not a cloud in the sky.
I am writing this on Sunday evening in the middle of an amazing thunderstorm and pouring rain. Leysin is perched on a shelf on the side of a mountain, overlooking a narrow valley below and the large Valais valley beyond (we look down at Martigny, on the way to the St. Bernard pass). It is very beautiful here. We also look across to snow and glacier covered mountains. All this makes for excellent thunder and lightening. I thought we got great storms in Santa Fe (we do!) but tonight’s is incredible. The thunder echos around the valleys and BOOMS. Since we have such a great view, you really get to see the lightening.
But yesterday there was not a cloud in the sky. We had been waiting for a good weather day to do a hike in Gstaad, where we spent two weeks our last time in Switzerland, in September 2003. I read back through my old blog entries and my SlowTrav pages to remember which were our favorite hikes.
Horneggli Chairlift at Schonried, near Gstaad
We left Leysin around 11am and drove to Gstaad. It is a 30 – 40 minute drive, but we were going past Gstaad to Schonried. The drive to Gstaad is lovely, driving through green valleys, beautiful mountain towns and looking up at Les Diablerets (big rocky mountains with a glacier). When you reach Gsteig you turn down a long valley that goes to Gstaad. Gstaad is in a big open valley with three towns – Gstaad, Saanen (where we stayed last time) and Schonreid.
You go from the French speaking Vaud region to the German speaking Berner Oberland region just before Gsteig. They used to say the “Rosti Ditch” seperates the two areas, because you only find Rosti (a potato dish) in the German area, but I see it everywhere here in the French speaking mountain towns.
There is great hiking in the Gstaad-Saanen area. The tourist office puts out a brochure telling you details of about a dozen easy hikes where you take a gondola or other mountain ride to the start of the hike. It even gives you the schedules and prices of the mountain rides.
As we drove through Gstaad, signs told us which mountain rides are open (Eggli, one we took several times on our last trip, is closed this summer) and which parking lots are open. I guess they need all this during the ski season, but keep it going in the summer. In the winter there are about 10 times the number of gondolas etc. running. I guess they figure in the summer the walkers can just walk!
We parked at Schonreid (free parking beside the gondola station, just behind the train station) and bought a ticket for the hike. Yes – a ticket for the hike! 43.20 SFr each ($35) which includes the Horneggli chairlift, the one we took up to start the hike, the Rinderberg gondola that took us down to Zweisimmen at the end of the hike and the train from Zweisimmen back to Schonried where we had our car. Is that organized? I think they thought you should start in Zweisimmen because then you did more downhill than uphill on the hike, but I wanted to get on the trail as soon as possible, so we did it the other way. If you are staying in the area (your tourist card proves this) you can buy a pass for three days of free rides that costs just a bit more than this one ticket.
I love chairlifts in Switzerland because you dangle out in the open air looking down on the fields and farms. This one had a protective plastic cover that goes over you so it was almost like being in a gondola, but you were in a chairlift. I didn’t like that because it felt claustrophobic. The ride was short – maybe 15 minutes. We got off and walked for about 20 minutes to Hornberg where there is a hotel and a few restaurants. There is a road here, but I think it is restricted access so everyone gets here by walking.
We had an excellent light lunch at Hotel Restaurant Hornfluh, sitting outside on a huge terrace with tables and big umbrellas. There were several vegetarian selections, even the Gemuse Teller (vegetable plate) that you usually find in the German area.
View from terrace at Restaurant Hornfluh
From here the hike was only two hours. One hour on a flat wide path, then another hour going uphill on a trail. There were lots of people out on the trail, but it was not nose to tail. You felt like you had the mountains to yourself most of the time. At the midway point there was a farm with very stinky cows and a small shop selling ice creams. You never lack for refreshment opportunities in the Swiss Alps.
The first half of the hike looked down into a valley that goes out from Gstaad where you saw the greenest fields imaginable and big mountains beyond. Once we started the climb, the views were even better. Eventually we looked right down into the Gstaad-Saanen valley on one side and the valley from Zweisimmen to Lenk on the other side.
Looking back on the trail at the start of the climb
Once you reach the top of the ridge, there is a short quick descent to the Rinderberg gondola station. They have restaurant here, so we stopped for tea and coffee. The coffee in Switzerland is always great, but the tea is just a glass of hot water with a tea bag in it. Still, that is how I make tea at home, so who am I to complain? Besides, I had such a craving for tea and it tasted great. We wanted some kuchen (fruit tart) but they only had cake, so we shared a piece. The waitress brought out this enormous chocolate and cream cake and I thought – I can’t eat this! But we did and it was perfect. It was light and not too rich – and soaked with rum I think!
It took about 10 minutes to get the bill and get paid because several groups were leaving at once, so by the time we got on the gondola going down it was 4pm. We wanted to catch the 4:28pm train and figured we could make it, but we didn’t. The gondola ride was much longer than we remembered – it was about 30 minutes. The gondola arrives about a block from the train station, but we could see by the station clock that the train had left. My schedule said it was over an hour to the next one, but we checked at the station and there was another one in 30 minutes. Zweisimmen is a small town and not much was open (shops usually close early on Saturdays). We walked around a bit, spent 10 minutes hunting for a 20 Rappen coin so I could use the toilet at the station and then it was time to leave.
The train ride back was about 15 minutes and by 5:30 we were driving back to Leysin. It was a long day, just to do a two hour hike, but we were both blissfully happy. This is why we love Switzerland – the easy walks, the fun outings, the views – spending a whole day out in the Alps.
Please excuse any typos or spelling mistakes. 🙂
Using my BlackBerry
My BlackBerry is working here in Switzerland. I even got a phone call from a friend who did not have my Talk Abroad number. Last night our internet connection went out (it is back now) and I used the BlackBerry as a modem for my computer. It uses the Swisscom network and is on EDGE (this is the faster data access type of connection). I bought the extra $20/month plan from T-Mobile to have unlimited email and internet access internationally. I can turn it off when we get back. This makes an excellent backup for getting online, but it is not as fast as a good broadband connection (but is faster than dialup).