Grimentz: Geraniums galore and more


And the winner is — Yvonne Rouvinet. The competition: Geraniums.

Grimentz, a tiny Swiss hamlet high in the Anniviers Valley in southern Switzerland, is the Shangri-la of geraniums. The fiery red blossoms are the village claim to fame – brimming from boxes on houses, apartments, hotels, shops. Tourists clog narrow cobblestone lanes with their cell phone cameras.

Yvonne Rouvinet and her prize-winning geraniums.

Every August the village sponsors a geranium contest. This year there were over 170 entries in three categories: apartments, businesses and chalets. Rouvinet took top honors in the apartment category, beating out 130 other competitors.

Grimentz, a quintessential Swiss village,  was my destination for a solo mountain break. Husband Bob stayed home with his daughter who was visiting.  I miss the Swiss Alps where Bob and I had so many amazing adventures. We biked, with panniers, six of the country’s nine national bike routes. We hiked, often spending nights in gemütlich mountain lodges and huts. We skied its challenging slopes. I enjoyed several terrific press trips to different parts of the country. Those were the days. We were younger and very fit.

The Grimentz-Sorebois cable car ascends to  2,700 meters.

At times it was all too nostalgic. I could not hold back the tears when I saw cyclists loading their bikes on the trains. How many times had we done the very same thing? I hate growing old. I still yearn to soar down black runs (red would do), hike to high peaks, bike those three remaining Swiss bike routes. Merde!

Reality really set in when I set out on a hike which the guy in the tourist office recommended as “flat and easy” – supposedly an hour and half trek to the Hotel Weisshorn. I rode the funicular from St. Luc to the start of the trail. I had a backpack, but unfortunately no hiking poles. The trail was stoney. From the onset, there were ups and downs, not steep, but not my idea of flat. I progressed slowly, stopping to take photos. This was the Planets Trail with markers for the various planets along the way. After about 45 minutes I reached a large clearing where an imposing planet-like structure stood at the edge of the mountain. A woman sat on a bench underneath. I approached and asked her about it.

Marie Claire takes a rest under Saturn.

“Saturn,” she answered. I told her I was on the way to the Hotel Weisshorn. “Oh, it’s up there,” she said, pointing to a distant building atop a mountain. No way. This was not a “flat, easy hike.” I was devastated. I was already tired and my knees hurt.

Marie Claire is from Belgium and has been coming to nearby Zinal every year for many, many years, this time with a son.  Her husband died in 2006. She hiked to the hotel two years ago, but intended to take a pass this year and head back down. Her son had charged ahead.  She invited me to join her for the descent. She saved me, lending me one of her hiking poles.

Flat?  How naive was I?  Nothing can be flat in the Swiss Alps.

We talked about our old and broken bodies. She has two knee replacements. I have one. We both have hip tendinitis. I have a decaying back. Marie Claire was also an inspiration, very positive about everything. “You have to keep moving.”

I failed at the Weisshorn hike, but certainly I could master the hike around Lake Moiry. Clement Vianin, a Grimentz native and the manager of the charming Hotel Meleze where I stayed, suggested I take the bus to the Moiry glacier, then hike the trail around the lake to the dam and bus stop at the other end. Bravo. I did it.

Moiry Glacier.  Climate change has taken its toll.

Like all mountain glaciers, this one has suffered from climate change and has receded significantly.

The lake is a marvel of intense, vibrant turquoise. Minerals from the glacier’s melting ice give the lake its gorgeous hue.

Lake Moiry

I relished hiking around the lake at a snail’s pace, stopping for lots of photos. I even tried macro on some wildflowers. This is the Switzerland I love.

I was in heaven the first night when I entered the cozy, woodsy restaurant of the Hotel Meleze permeated with the aromas of Switzerland – fondue and raclette. I ordered one of my favorites, the deluxe version of Croute au Fromage, bread topped with ham, Gruyere and an egg, baked so the cheese melts and the egg cooks. This called for several glasses of Fendant (Swiss white wine). During my visit I indulged in other Swiss favorites, Rosti, grated potatoes with any melange of other ingredients. I chose one with lots of melted cheese and an

Cheesy Risotto

egg. I had another cheese bombshell, a Risotto speciality at the Becs de Bosson restaurant. Parmesan is pounded smooth in a big bowl as you watch. Grappa is added, then the hot rice. That was my Swiss cheese farewell. I savored it all, but by then I had had enough cheese and was ready for a return to fish from the Med.

Back to those geraniums. I plant them every summer, but mine never looked like those in Grimentz. “It’s the climate,” Rouvinet said. “Not too hot. That is not good.” She also pointed out that the old dark wood of the village buildings “gives a good effect” to the geraniums. Many of the ancient houses date from the 13th to the 15thcentury.

The villagers use a special fertilizer for geraniums. They caution against over-watering. Dead-heading the faded blossoms is also critical. Many chalets and apartments in Grimentz are not occupied year round. Thirty village volunteers visit unoccupied residences to care for the flowers.

Wooden houses were built upon a base of stone where grain was stored.  Wine now replaces grain .

Grimentz is in the French speaking part of Valais, a  bi-lingual canton in Switzerland.  The town, elevation 1,570 meters, is a ski resort as well as a geranium Mecca. It has just 450 permanent residents, but the number skyrockets to as many as 4,000 in winter when  skiers arrive. Summer and geraniums bring almost that number, but many just come for the day to admire red blossoms and take  photos.

Rouvinet’s prize? Not a bottle of champagne. Not a bottle of Fendant, but a bottle of fertilizer and a coupon to buy geraniums next year.

Scroll down for more photos.

Road to the Moiry Dam and glacier at right.
Picnic at Lake Moiry
Sunset in Grimentz
Name this flower


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A Tale of Twin Toyotas –and WOE

Toyotas I and II


Two Americans living in southern France set off to Germany to buy a car. Not a Porsche (pity). Not a Mercedes. Not a BMW. Not even an Audi. But — a Toyota! No, not a new model, but a very old Toyota (2004).

Crazy? Bizarre?   Idiotic?

Perhaps a bit of all. Here’s the story. Two years before moving to France from Germany 12 years ago, we bought a royal blue Toyota Yaris Verso. The back seats of this minivan collapse and slide under the front seats, leaving lots of rear space, enough for two bicycles standing up. That was the selling factor. We could park the car anywhere with the bikes chained and locked inside.  And, it was easier to put them inside the car instead of on the roof.

Back then we did lots of pedaling. The bikes went with us on cycling trips all over Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France. All l that space was also practical when making large purchases: washing machine, mattress, cases of wine.

Not our car.
Not our car.

We love this car. It has been reliable, trouble free. It now has some 255,000 km, but has had only minor repairs. We knew it could not last forever and were getting worried.   No reason to spend big bucks on a new car at our age. Besides, Toyota no longer makes this model and we found no others with the same features and known reliability.

Bicycle Bob (BB) dove into Internet research on used Toyotas. He claims he could not find any in France. No wonder. I later learned that all his Toyota finds were coming from a German web site. He said he would feel better buying a used car from a German rather than a Frenchman. Those neighbors to the north treat their cars with over-the-top TLC, like rare endangered species.  Check out the cars in parking lots in France. Dents. Dirt. Rust.

The cars he was finding were old, but there were many with far fewer kilometers than ours. We had to see a car before buying it, and probably look at more than one car before purchase. That meant a train trip to Germany, hotel and meal expenses etc. The price tag was climbing.

More to Germany than cars.

No matter. We could do more in Germany than look at cars: Satisfy cravings for good beer and hearty cuisine, visit friends, perhaps even see some new sights. He found versions of the desired Toyota all over Germany – Leipzig, Zweibrucken, Hamburg, Munich. We had to narrow our selection lest we spend weeks canvassing the entire country.

Schweinhaxe and sauerkraut.
Schweinhaxe and sauerkraut.

So, one dreary day in February we hopped aboard the TGV (fast train) from Aix to Frankfurt, then another train to nearby Erlensee where a friendly car salesman met us and took us to see the first selection. It looked just like our car, same bright blue, just two years younger (2004) but with a mere 134,000 km.

This one looked good.

Promising, but we had another car to see in Kulmbach, three autobahn hours away. We rented a car for that trip. It rained. It poured for the entire drive. We checked out the second Toyota .   Both cars were in immaculate condition. Each car had had just one owner, elderly folks like us.

The blue Toyota owner had been male; the silver Toyota had been in the possession of a female. We test drove both cars. “There is something I don’t like about the clutch in this car,” BB said of the silver one, knowing it had had a woman owner. He maintains women drivers often ride the clutch. A sexist view, in my opinion.  “I think this car could have a problem,” he insisted. I found nothing wrong with it, but he makes the car decisions. Besides, the silver color was wimpish . And, the salesman was anything but accommodating. Our salesman in Erlensee, a Jordanian, was terrific, helpful.

Trying different brews in Kulmbach.

We spent the rest of the day and an overnight in Kulmbach before returning to claim the blue baby. The rain never stopped, but great beer made up for it. Kulmbach is noted for its beer. We visited an artisanal brewery, bought beer to bring home, toured a beer and bread museum – all wunderbar.

We figured it would be a multi-step procedure to finalize the sale and get the car temporarily registered and insured for the trip back to France. Never underestimate the Germans.   Our salesman took us to a trailer type office in a parking lot where, within a half hour, all was complete, including temporary plates on the car.

Seeking solace from German rain.

We set off in our new old car south to Darmstadt to visit old friends, enjoy more beer and hearty food, and then on to Basel, where we were married 26 years ago. The nostalgia visit to this Swiss city was more than moist. The rain, six days of it in Germany, followed us to Switzerland. We spent a day indoors, visiting some interesting museums, before coming home to France where we did find sunshine, but also frustration, headaches, obstacles.

Giacometti at Fondation Beyeler in Basel.

I knew car registration in France would never be the smooth and easy process it was in Germany, however…. We started the process after our return, Feb. 15. On March 22, 36 days later, it was finally finished…or so I thought.

We began the ordeal with a visit to the mayor’s office in Reillanne, our town. Then the tax office in Manosque (1/2 hour away). We had to go there twice since we did not have one of the required documents the first time.  From there we were sent to Digne, a city about 1 ½ hours away and the seat of our region’s “prefecture,” the folks who could make our car legal in France. We thought we had all the required documents.

Dubuffet at Fondation Beyeler in Basel

At the tax office in Manosque we had been given a list of requirements: six documents. The woman in Digne gave us a  longer list: 10 different documents. Sacre Bleu! We did not have the “Certificat de conformite,” a document which could only come from Toyota. And, we were told the safety inspection document we had from Germany would not fly. It was several months old. So, we had to make an appointment and have the car inspected in France and get yet another document.

Off we went to our nearest Toyota dealer, 1/2 hour away. A young man filled out a form requesting all sorts of technical details on the car. We sent that form and a check for 150 euro to Toyota headquarters in France — fortunately not in Japan. A week later we had the form. We were making progress.

On our second trip to Digne, miracle of miracles, we had all the correct papers. We received a temporary registration. We went to a nearby garage and had plates made – instantly. We were overwhelmed. The French are efficient at something.

The French have mastered instant license plates.

Only insurance left to conquer. We have our cars insured with a bank in the town of Pertuis (45 minutes away), but we arranged for temporary insurance by phone, and followed up with a visit to the bank last week to sign the form.

We were elated. Finally all finished. Not quite. Today I received a letter from the prefecture in Digne. They need the original car registration from Germany immediately.   I checked our thick folder of documents on this car. We do not have it. I am certain we turned it in with all the other papers to the woman in Digne. ???

Will they cancel the registration without it? Seize the car? Insist we contact the German registration office and get a new ”original” on a car that was registered 12 years ago?

Moral of the story: If you live in France, buy a car in France.

No, not our old Toyota, but a Tinguely creation at the Tinguely Museum in Basel.


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The twins

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Cuisine Club Med

Beef filet Wellington, salmon tartare, grilled scampi, mussels, duck à l’orange, scampi papparadelle, involtini di prosciutto con spinace (ham rolls stuffed with spinach), numerous cheeses, at least eight different flavors of ice cream, an assortment of pastries akin to that of a Parisian pastry shop.salmon

And, those were just the highlights of the offerings at a recent Club Med St Moritz dinner. (See recent post, “Club Med St. Moritz,” February 2015) There was more — an assortment of salads, risotto, numerous tempting vegetable concoctions…veggies

Who counts calories at Club Med where the food is truly over the top, and one of the resort’s many attractions?  At St. Moritz, you could eat almost all day, beginning with a breakfast featuring the usual cereals, fresh fruits, freshly squeezed orange juice, breads, omelets, cheeses, cold meats, and eggs cooked to your specifications. One morning a chef was making donuts on the spot. Another morning he was filling freshly made croissants with jams or pastry creams. I indulged, figuring I’d burn up the calories on the ski

But then came lunch and dinner and more in between. At the club restaurant both lunch and dinner feature copious buffet selections, from several tables laden with cold delicacies, a line of various hot foods, a table of cheeses then on to the gorgeous desserts. At winter Club villages such as St. Moritz, there are usually Club restaurants on the slopes where skiers can have lunch, again a buffet of numerous hearty offerings. Club Med St. Moritz has two mountain

Whether at lunch on the mountain or dinner in the club restaurant, will power failed me. I could not resist. I had to try as many different enticing edibles as possible (too many). But, I did take mini portions.  Nonetheless the calories piled up.

Since St. Moritz is a winter club with most guests on the slopes during the day, a hearty après-ski snack awaits every afternoon – mini sandwiches, crepes or waffles, also made on the spot. Then, beginning about 6 p.m. the snack selection is put away and a copious assortment of pre-dinner hors d’oeuvres – and I don’t mean potato chips and peanuts — fills the tables in the lounge.

It’s all so good and tempting. How can you pass up fresh oysters, foie gras, roast suckling pig? I can diet when I get home, I

The Club at St. Moritz has a capacity for about 550 guests, and it was at 90 percent occupancy during my February visit. Preparing such an incredible variety of food for all these guests on a daily basis has to be daunting. Giuseppe Apicella, assistant restaurant manager at Club Med St. Moritz, says organization and team work are essential. Each member of his team of 23 cooks, including four fulltime pastry chefs, knows what he or she has to do, he said. “For this reason, all is perfect. We aim for perfection.”

Sandro, left, and Giuseppe.
Sandro, left, and Giuseppe.

Quality ingredients are also a must. “All the products are the best we can get,” said Giuseppe. “The oysters are very fresh and from Holland.” (They were excellent.)food.1

The cuisine of the region is not neglected. Be it Martinique, Mexico, Greece, China or Switzerland, Club restaurants always include local specialties. At St. Moritz, truffle fondue is offered. This required an advance reservation, and there was an extra charge. But, raclette was served one evening — no extra charge.

Swiss Raclette
Swiss Raclette

St. Moritz is close to the Italian border and most of the kitchen staff is Italian.   “I prefer cooks from Italy. They are the most professional in the world,” said Giuseppe, a native of that country who worked at his family’s hotel- restaurant in southern Italy before joining Club Med three years ago.berry

So, it’s no surprise that Italian specials predominate at this mountain club, mainly served in the Italian restaurant adjacent to the main dining room. Fresh pasta with various sauces, pizza and other Italian favorites were on the agenda. You could try these, as well as the buffet in the main restaurant.

clubmed.9Beverages – as much as you want all day. Machines are at your disposal for coffee, soft drinks and juices. Cocktails and wine are offered at the bar. And, wine with dinner – as much as you want.

There is no extra charge for any of the above – all included in the Club Med package price.

“You have to wonder how they can offer all this food for the price,” commented my friend Gerlinde. “I paid 5 Swiss francs ($5.20) in town for just a cup of coffee.”

Indeed mind boggling. And, fattening. Even with the skiing, I gained a few kilos. I am still trying to shed them….but the delectable food adventure was worth every

My all-inclusive ski week at Club Med St.Moritz cost 1,141 euro. Ski and boot rental extra. Gerlinde and I shared a room.

More on Club Med: More on St. Moritz:

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Club Med St. Moritz: A winning combination

clubmed.8I love Club Med. The love affair started way back in the ‘70s when my friend Irene and I, both late 20-somethings, set off to the Club in Martinique. Fabulous. The next year we tried the Club in Cancun, Mexico. Even better.   Good times were had… even a tad on the wild side, but we were young.

Since living in Europe, I’ve been to several clubs in the Alps for skiing, most recently St. Moritz, Switzerland. Husband VR no longer wants to ski, so I joined my friend Gerlinde from Stuttgart and her son and daughter-in-law, all downhill skiers who have been coming to Club Med St. Moritz for several years.

Although much has changed with Club Med since its earliest days back in the 1950s when it was known as haven for swinging singles, much is the same.St. Moritz.fone 187

It’s the perfect all inclusive vacation – food, beverages (including wine and cocktails), lodging, use of sports facilities and lessons, evening entertainment – all for one price. Rental of ski equipment, however, is extra.

“You can be here for a whole week and not spend any extra,” said Patrick Franck Oberaspach, the chef du village (manager) of the St. Moritz Club. My only

Patrick and Basile
Patrick and Basile

additional expenses, not including ski and boot rental, were a few cups of coffee in the town, and some special bandages for a blister caused by my ski boots.

Clubs are now family oriented, with many clubs, including St. Moritz, having a Mini Club for children. The kids are entertained, taken to the slopes, given ski lessons. They, and their parents, love it.

And, Clubs are no longer just for the younger set. I was overjoyed to find so many older GMs (at Club Med, originally a French enterprise, guests are Gentils Membres or nice members). I may be old, but there were plenty even older than I. Most, like me, were Club Med repeats.

Patrick noted that during the week I spent there, 60 percent of the 540 guests were repeats. Colette, a woman from Nancy, said she has been coming to Club Med St. Moritz for 40 years. “I switched to cross country 10 years ago. Downhill skiing was too fast. Now I snowshoe,” she said.

Club Med offers rental equipment and instruction in all of the above. Since my new knee performed so well on the slopes last season, I signed up for downhill. Gerlinde, an excellent skier, and I chose group level 4. The Club divides skiers into 6 categories, with 6 being the top for those hard core, off-piste daredevils, i.e. her son Tobias.

For non-skiers, there are plenty of high altitude trails in the snowy mts.
For non-skiers, there are plenty of high altitude trails in the snowy mts.

We started out with a group of about 10 others, all good skiers and mostly much younger. Our monitor, ski instructor and guide, led us down the perfectly groomed slopes at a fast pace. No breaks for hot chocolate, photos or admiring the scenery. I kept up, but was more than ready for the lunch break at the Club’s mountain restaurant.

After lunch, the monitor mentioned that a couple from the group (older like me) was switching to a slower group 4. Lest I expend all my energy on the first day, I followed. A wise move as the new group 4, all good skiers but most in my age range, did ski a bit slower. A few days later Gerlinde also joined the slower group of senior citizens.

After lunch rest at the Club's mt. restaurant.
After lunch rest at the Club’s mt. restaurant.

But, we were hardly a group of turtles on the blue, baby slopes. We kept on the move, whizzing down red slopes and even an occasional black run. Our fellow skiers were all very fit. Joggers. Serious cyclists. Cross country as well as downhill skiers.

All had been to Club Med St. Moritz many times. It’s the slopes, as well as the Club, which draws them back. “It’s a very empty ski area which is fantastic in the Alps,” said Patrick. “You usually queue half of the ski day, but not here.” He’s right. No lift lines during my visit. Others praised the meticulous grooming of the slopes.   A cross country skier, who has been coming back for 20 years, called St. Moritz “the best in Europe” for that sport. “The Swiss keep the trails in beautiful condition.”

No crowds on St. Moritz slopes
No crowds on St. Moritz slopes

Gerlinde loves the area for skiing.   “No beginners on the slopes. Few snow boarders. No young, crazy skiers.”

Our ski group was German speaking. However, the club has multi-lingual monitors. In addition to German, there were French, Italian and English language ski groups.

People contact is another Club plus. In addition to skiing with others, you may sit with them at meals, socialize after skiing, join them at après-ski entertainment. Club Med staff, Gentils Organisateurs (GOs) or nice organizers, mingle with guests, dine and party with them.

Gerlinde, who came alone to St Moritz for her first few visits, said, “Even if you come alone you will find friends.”

Snow polo on St. Moritz's frozen lake.
Snow polo on St. Moritz’s frozen lake.

Back when Irene and I went to Martinique, we quickly found friends and more. Irene signed up for sailing. I went for scuba. We joined a Yoga group. We played volley ball. I participated in a French conversation group. We met interesting people from distant lands. We had fun, so much that we extended our stay for an extra three days.

Club Med is no longer a French company having recently been purchased by a Chinese conglomerate. Patrick does not expect big changes. He pointed out that Club Med has been partners with the Chinese firm for some 10 years. “They guarantee that we can continue as before,” he said.

Admiring the scenery on the trail at Muottas Muragl.
Admiring the scenery on the trail at Muottas Muragl.

There are now 70 Club Med villages around the world, including three in China. Future plans call for opening three new resorts each year as well as closing some that are no longer profitable.

Patrick, 42, began his Club career as a ski teacher many years ago on the St. Moritz slopes. “I gave ski lessons to kids who now come with their kids,” he said.

clubmed.1As chef du village, one would expect he’d be busy, but I had to wonder if he ever slept. One frigid morning we bused to an adjacent ski area. Patrick was on hand dispensing hot chocolate — with a shot of schnapps if desired. He greeted guests as they filed into the dining room at dinner each evening. He was the MC and sometimes an actor as well in the after-dinner shows, a Club Med tradition.

After dinner fun.
After dinner fun.

What keeps him with Club Med? He has always enjoyed mixing with the clientele. “The Club Med staff don’t stay apart. You discover lots that you would not normally discover. You have lots of interesting conversations. It’s quite enriching to work in this environment.”clubmed.6

And delicious. Be it a summer or winter Club Med, the food is fantastic, and yet clubmed.9another reason the Club has so many fans. St. Moritz cuisine was amazing. It deserves its own blog post. Stay tuned.

My all-inclusive ski week at Club Med St.Moritz cost 1,141 euro. Ski and boot rental extra. Gerlinde and I shared a room.

More on Club Med: More on St. Moritz:

Today’s Taste features that spicy North African dish, Tagine. Click on photo at upper right to see recipe.

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More horse racing on the lake. The "carriage" behind the horse is on skis.
More horse racing on the lake. The “carriage” behind the horse is on skis.

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Savoring Switzerland

Thank God for digital photography.  I can’t imagine a trip to Switzerland with an old fashioned film camera.  The film costs would break the budget as a gorgeous photo opp beckons wherever you look.

Switzerland may just be my favorite country.  I’ve hiked its demanding mountain trails, skied its endless slopes, and pedaled six of its nine challenging national bike routes across the country.  This time I was on an “agroturismo” press trip. 

Hiking, wine tasting, visiting farms, joining festivals, savoring local cuisine  – we (a group of eight journalists plus a Swiss guide) did it all. 

It got off to a delicious start in Ticino, southern Switzerland where Italian is spoken and the ambience seems more la dolce vita than Swiss efficiency.  We stayed at a small hotel in the vineyards, Fattoria L’Amorosa (  Ticino is known for excellent wines, especially Merlot.  One of the courses of the welcome dinner featured risotto, a Ticinese favorite replacing pasta.  (See recipe at right for Spinach Risott0)

We toured a winery which, in addition to grapes, grows rice – the world’s northernmost rice plantation. It’s called Loto rice and is used for risotto.  After purchasing  packages of Loto at the shop, where  the farm’s wines are also for sale, we tasted some excellent vintages.

 A bus took us up a narrow, windy mountain road in the Verzasca Valley high above a surging mountain river where tiny villages perched on nearby mountain sides: the stereotype image of beautiful Switzerland.  Our destination was the village of  Sognogno where more photo musts awaited.  Here wool shorn from local sheep is spun and dyed (using only natural products for color), then made into wooly articles such as sweaters and scarves. 

Hiking in the Alps is what draws many to Switzerland.   We did not do any all-day treks to the high peaks, but we did enjoy several scenic shorter hikes. The Chestnut Trail from the village of Vezio in Ticino led us through groves of these magnificent trees.   We learned that chestnuts have been a food staple in the area for centuries. We shared the trail in places with numerous entertaining goats — a pair of bucks even staged a battle for us. 

In central Switzerland (where German is spoken) we hiked up in the hills from the village of Flühli.  The trail took us to several  Kneipp stations.  Kneipp is a type of “kur” therapy based on water, mainly very cold water.  We walked like storks, prancing up and down around a water walkway in a freezing mountain pond.  Then, we moved on to a station with a hose for spraying your face with the ice bath.  Finally a place for submerging arms.  A guide provided explanations and instructions of proper technique, but you could easily give it a go on your own.  It’s chilly, but refreshing and said to do wonders for your health. 

Our final hike was an educational experience in the Moorlands, the UNESCO Biosphere Entlebuch near Luzern.  Barefoot, we followed a guide  off the trail back into the swampy landscape. We sank in the squishy mud as he provided fascinating info on the terrain, its insects and plant life. We saw carnivorous plants, an ant hill whose ants don’t bite (actually they do bite, but the bite is not supposed to penetrate human skin,  however one with a mighty chopper got me), a tiny frog and more. 

We had fun at two local festivals during our week-long journey. In Mendrisiotto near the Italian border we joined  locals at a jovial wine fest:  music, singing, all kinds of tempting food, and plenty of wine.  Revelers crowded the narrow streets and courtyards where vintners had their stands. We tasted the wine along with roast suckling pig that had been turning on a spit above an open fire.

Cows were the  focus of the festival, the Alpabfahrt, in Schuepfheim in central Switzerland.  Crowds congregate along the village streets to watch the parade of beasts as they come back to the valley after spending the summer in high mountain pastures.  It’s a jolly event with the cows all decked out in flower wreaths, their massive bells clanging as they tread by,  spectators cheering and jostling for the best photo opps — and lots of cheese and wurst stands for the hungry. 

One night during our travels we stayed on a farm , a large one with many rooms for guests. Toilet and shower facilities are shared.  For extra economy, you can opt to “sleep in the straw” – a room with a plank of straw and pillows. During our visit, a father with two young boys spent the night in the hay.  They loved it. You need a sleeping bag.  The farm dinner that night included a buffet with 23 different kinds of local cheese.

A wake-up call at 5:30 a.m. got us off to an early start on our next to last day. We took a short walk to the cheese dairy farm Gerschnialp where cows were being milked.  Milking is all done by machine, but we had the opportunity to try the hand method – very easy to get squirted with a stream of milk as I found out.  We watched and helped with the numerous steps in the cheese-making process.  And, we tasted the final products that had been aging on shelves in temperature-controlled rooms.

Yet another walk as the sun was edging over the peaks and basking the mountains in a rosy glow –past fields of cows now back in their pastures with their bells clanging  as they munched on grass, then through the woods to a cable car station for the scenic ride up to Mount Titlis (3,020 meters elevation) above the town of Engleberg.  The viewing terrace at the top is camera heaven.  A popular attraction is a spooky walk through a dark glacier grotto.  A ride on the Ice Flyer, a chair lift that takes you down over glacier crevasses, then back up, is spectacular.

My very favorite part of the Titlis visit was on the way down.  Instead of riding the cable car to the bottom, we got off at the Gerschnialp station and hopped on Trotti bikes (like scooters),  You stand on the bike platform, then head down a mountain lane at top speed, soaring around curves, faster and faster.  It’s thrilling. I wanted to go again.;

Our trip ended in Lucerne, that Swiss gem that is a must for visitors to this land of mountains, lakes, cheese, chocolate — and endless photos.

See below for more photos.  Click on photo to see full size.  And, try some delicious risotto.  Click on Spinach Risotto under recipes at right.  Comments — and subscribers — welcome