> SlowTrav > Stories > Pauline's Pages > 1997, Italy, Switzerland

Summer 1997 - Italy and Switzerland

One week in Crans-Montana

Saturday July 12

Leaving Grindelwald. Drove to Kanderstegg where you drive onto a train and it takes you through a tunnel through the mountains. You drive right on to the open train car and then drive down the cars to the front, then the train goes into the dark tunnel. It takes about 30 minutes. Then the train pulls into the station, they lower a panel on the side of the front car and you drive off. We drove into the Rhone valley.

Since it was only noon and we didn't have to be to the next vacation rental until the late afternoon, we decided to go to Sass Fee - I have always wanted to see this town. We were considering spending a week there. The drive up the narrow, steep valley took about 45 minutes. Some clusters of houses were below the road clinging to the hillside. But the valley was not as lush and pastoral as Grindelwald (by which all is measured). In Sass Fee the glaciers come almost to the town. Cute town, well touristed. You park in a big multi-level car park at the edge of town. Lots of the old Vallaisian huts in town. We got a hiking map, but they seemed mostly to be high level hikes. We saw lots of hikers with ice picks.

Had a nice lunch. Drove to Montana and checked into our vacation rental. Searched for a restaurant with fish for Steve and fondue for me, but didn't find any which had both - except one but two people had to order each dish! Ended up at a Chinese restaurant.

Sunday July 13

Slept well on sheets with no smell (the Grindelwald apartment had fabric softener scented sheets and pillows), the glass door open to let in the mountain air, and woke to see the Alps in all their splendor.

Did laundry in the apartment building.

Walked into Montana - only 5 minutes, but uphill. Got some fruit and veg at a small store that was open, and bread and croissants at the bakery, then had pastries and coffee sitting on the terrace of the bakery. The food is much better than in Grindelwald. It feels very French here. Sitting under the umbrella, looking at French magazines, eating the perfect pastry, drinking good coffee, sun shining, hot but not humid - another one of those perfect moments. This is a European vacation spot: no tour buses, no Japanese tourists, no "singing Texans" (yes we ran into that group in Grindelwald), just well to do Europeans on vacation.

Walked for on the Promenade des Lacs - just did part of it. There is swimming in Lake La Moubra. Walked into Crans where we were last night.

Our apartment building has a sauna on the floor below us. No one else around - you reserve it and get it privately. Really nice.

Monday July 14

Bastille Day in France. Overcast today. But we set out for a high level hike. When we got to town we saw the clouds, so did a lower hike. Picked up some great vegetarian sandwiches from the bakery. Then joined the Promenade du 100e (the 100th Anniversary Walk) in Montana and walked to Aminona. It was supposed to take just under two hours, but it took three hours, because of a stop for our excellent lunch and getting lost by taking the advice of two nice Swiss women (who told us all about the Val d'Aniverse). Great hike partially along roads, but mostly up and down through woods and fields. Reached Aminona at 2:30pm and the next bus was 3:06pm. Turns out the buses are only every 2 hours - more frequent from the next town. Had a coffee while waiting and the clouds rolled in and it started to rain.

Shopping in town. Herald Tribune, London Sunday Times, salted Gruyere cheese (incredible), etc. Then got strawberry millefluers (pick out the pastry at the counter and pay, they give it to you on a plate, walk into cafe and order drinks from waitress). Steve had coffee, but I wanted a Swiss hot chocolate on this cold day. It came as a cup of hot milk with a chocolate package that you mixed in yourself.

Decided we would try for haircuts and went across the street. Both got good, short cuts. In this apartment we can watch BBC on TV! Another sauna. No one else seems to use the sauna.

Crans-Montana is wonderful but the hiking here is not as good as in the German-Swiss towns. The French-Swiss are more friendly. This is a Swiss vacation town - for jet setters, for old people, for families. It feels very European; not one tour bus, no Americans, no Japanese. Everyone speaks some English. The cheese shop sells bulk local honey; a big cylinder shape of honey sitting in the window that they cut off slices from. The best cheese in the world, salted Gruyere. Gruyere is to the French- Swiss what Emmenthal is to the German-Swiss. The town is overdeveloped, full of low rises with a few high rises. Very ugly. Some buildings are large triangles, looking like mountains I suppose.

It is obvious that winter is the big season here. Everything seems to be running at skeleton level. The buses are free.

Tuesday July 15

Eight weeks today. Breakfast at home - the bread and croissants are great here. Much better than Grindelwald. We have a coffee maker, like in Grindelwald. We can sit on the balcony for breakfast. Today it was somewhat overcast, but warm with sun breaking through. By the end of the day it was hot and sunny.

Got sandwiches from the bakery. Took the Gondola to Cry d'Er. But the top of the mountain was pretty ugly and the trails were just on maintenance roads and the way to go not clearly marked. The available hiking maps are not good - either not enough detail or too much. The best marked things are their low level walking network trails, but lots of this is on regular road.

We took about three hours to walk down the hill to Vendala and then Montana. Wonderful views of the mountains, the valley and the Val d'Anniviers. Had lunch sitting on rocks in the alpine meadow. Beautiful little flowers.

Decided we would have a weekend in Amsterdam before flying home. Called American Express and booked a flight to Amsterdam and our hotel in Zurich.

Wednesday July 16

Bright, clear and sunny. From our balcony, we have a clear view of the Matterhorn (which is called Mount Cervine for some mysterious reason).

We promised ourselves an easy day - a drive, maybe a flat walk. Drove down the hillside to Sion - through small towns, vineyards (dry looking, not as pretty as Italy). Got lost in Sion, but finally found the road to Val d'Herens. Drove up into a beautiful valley. The road was good and went about 1/3 of the way up the valley side beside a narrow gorge. Drove through beautiful, small towns with clusters of old wooden Valasian houses. In one town the corner of the house hung out into the road.

Stopped for lunch in Evolene; a spectacular town with narrow alleys, tall old wooden buildings covered in flower boxes. Looked at all the restaurant menus and decided on one that had fish for Steve and raclette for me. A few restaurants had outside fires going in big brick fireplaces to do the lunch raclette. Fondue was on the menus, but wasn't on our lunch menu, so maybe it is for dinner only, like the pizza in Italy.

So, I had my real raclette. First they brought pickled onions and regular pickles to the table, then a wooden bucket with a lid. Inside a cloth wrapped around about 15 small boiled potatoes (whole), then you could watch the cook at the outdoor fire melting the big round of cheese and scrapping it onto the plate, then they brought the plate with just a small amount of melted cheese. They watched and took your plate and put on more cheese as needed. I had three plates in all and they would have done more. Wonderful. Steve isn't a cheese lover, so he had fish.

Started for a nice 2 hour walk to Les Hauderes and back, but found out the trail went along the road, so headed off on another trail and ended up climbing 400 meters straight up. Beautiful hike, switch back so the climb was bearable. The climb took one and a half hours, then we reached La Villa, walked gently down to Les Hauderes, had trouble finding the PTT (hidden away among the wooden houses), took the bus back to the car. About three hours in total.

Beautiful warm buzzing flowery meadows, families bringing in the hay at the higher level, even saw some older women in traditional dress, hot and sunny - we wore our hats and drank lots of water. A wonderful hike.

Coffee and pastry in Evolene, upstairs in a little tea room, before we drove home. A charming village and a beautiful valley. Many visitors and a few postcard shops for them and several restaurants for them. But a small village with farming - no skiing.

Went to chamber music concert in a hotel in Montana the out for a late pizza dinner. The end to a perfect day.

Thursday July 17

Overcast, even rain today. Getting prepared for Zermatt - organizing things because we will not be able to bring the car to the town.

Friday July 18

Overcast, the valley full of cloud. Not a good day for a hike. Decided to go for a drive - take advantage of having the car. But we have really reached our limit with driving - can't stand the idea of driving all day. Drove down the mountain in and out of clouds. The valley looks more lush and pretty in the overcast weather. Sierre has a very small nice historical area, but is surrounded by apartment buildings. The valley floor is full of agriculture and some industry. The south facing slopes (north side where Montana is) is covered in vineyards - ugly really compared to Italy. No olive trees, no woods mixed in, just houses and every square inch of land in vines. But the white Fendant from here is light and wonderful. They gave us a half bottle with the apartment and I have had a few glasses with meals out.

Drove through Sierre, across the valley and into Val d'Annivers. Switch backs tight and narrow on a road that seemed suspended over the edge of the hill. A rental car in front of us with an obviously terrified older woman driving crept slowly up the hill, slowing to a crawl at the 180 degree hairpin turns, then driving in the middle of the road as far from the drop off edge as possible. A line of cars forming behind. Steve passed her coming up to a curve explaining that it was like passing a bicycle or farm equipment so we didn't need to see that far down the road. This was a first - Steve passing on a blind curve. Good thing because the road got even more narrow as we entered the valley with rock face on the inside and a high stone wall between you and the drop off. The road turned into one lane with pull outs for on coming traffic. But then we were into the valley to the first town full of old wooden Vallasian houses.

We took a white road to Grimentz - more hairpin turns - and parked. It was drizzling. Grimentz is a most beautiful village. A few new chalets on the outskirts, but the core of the town very old tall dark wooden houses clustered together for protection from the elements. Part was blocked off from traffic. A hotel, a few restaurants, a few postcard stores. We put on our polartec coats, huddled under the umbrella (the one we bought in Italy that is barely working now) and walked around the town. Window boxes full of geraniums. People nailed interesting pieces of wood to their houses, some with hollows filled with dirt and planted with geraniums. Or hollowed logs filled with flowers. They had a couple of these animation things - a baker moving bread to an oven, 2 guys sawing a log - made of wood and powered by a watermill.

Lunch at a restaurant in an old building, warm, bustling, full of people, a fire going for the raclette. Low, beamed ceilings. I had a cheese and tomato fondue. They bring a ladle in a bowl, a wooden bucket with about 10 small potatoes wrapped in a cloth inside, a plate, and a pot of fondue bubbling over a heater. You put the potatoes on the plate and ladle the cheese and tomato mixture on top. Sort of like raclette and very different from the fondue I had in Zurich last year. Tasted fabulous.

The coffee has been great in Switzerland. They all use espresso machines to make the coffee by the cup. This place ground the beans and put the holder onto the espresso machine. The place in Grindelwald had a machine that ground the beans.

Drove back to the main road and out of the valley. Still raining. Stopped in Sierre and walked through the old town. Back to Montana. Went to the tea room. It was full and we ended up beside a loud group of young Americans - what are they doing here? The waitresses were all wearing cowboy hats and jeans because today is the start of the Big Sky Festival; country music from Swiss, French and German groups, and with someone from the US. These Americans weren't here for that, they couldn't figure out the cowboy hats.

All packed up and ready to go. Again.

Bad flooding in eastern Europe - towns turning into lakes, people homeless, people dead. Worst in memory. A woman in the building said they went two weeks without one sunny day and that she has never seen a summer with this much rain. Usually they are worrying about watering the grass. But we have had many sunny days.

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