Bliss in the Swiss sunshine
The sunshine feels sweet on my skin, and for me that’s a strange experience. When I was 19 I went to see a dermatologist, who clucked his tongue and shook his head over the marriage made in Eczemopolis between my Irish complexion and the Australian climate. “The sun is your enemy,” he announced. I became the person who always chose an indoor table, sat under a tree or sheltered beneath awnings. If there was a patch of shade to be found, I’d be in it. I amassed an extravagant collection of hats.
But now I’m sitting, hatless and unsheltered, on a hotel terrace bathed in magnificent sunshine at Muottas Muragl, 2456m above sea level in the Upper Engadine region of Switzerland. And I’m loving it.
The Swiss are proud of their sunshine, and nowhere more so than in the St Moritz area, which for more than 80 years has rejoiced in the marketing logo of a gently smiling solar face. So strong is local confidence that tourist literature promises an average of 320 sunny days a year. But I seem to have landed on one of the other 45.
The morning is overcast and I chuckle to myself over the much-vaunted sunshine’s failure to materialise. But at about noon, the famous Maloja wind, dependable as Swiss clockwork, begins to blow down into the valley, pushing the equally celebrated “clouds of Sils Maria” before it. As a stream of vapour slithers between the mountain peaks the haze overhead breaks up, the sky brightens and a heavenly light shines on the landscape.
There’s an entrancing softness to this glow and warmth that feels so different from the scorching heat of our summers, although it’s powerful enough to meet all the energy needs of the hotel and still return a solar surplus. People come up here to eat on the hotel terrace, to hike the network of well-maintained walking trails, and to marvel at the panoramic view of Alpine lakes and mountains. But most of all, it seems to me, they come here to soak up the sun.
Whoever maintains this site has created wonderfully comfortable ways to do that. There are elaborate basketchairs, reminiscent of the English seaside, wicker pods designed to block any wind while catching the sunshine. There are sunbeds where you can stretch full length, as well as companionable bench-seats angled to get the best views and the most rays. Simplest of all, you can just sprawl on the grass sharing the space peacefully with glossy Swiss cows. Humans and cattle seem to be doing the same thing, luxuriating in thoughtless, wordless solar bliss. Seeing the two species together in this way makes me think of the Victorians’ medical concept of “animal spirits” and their belief that exposure to sunshine was one of the best ways to activate that vital energy.
Back in Australia, I’m at a routine appointment when my doctor mentions my blood results are showing good levels of vitamin D. Have I been taking a supplement? Not at all. I realise that since my visit to Switzerland I’ve had a new attitude to sunshine. I’m still careful but I’ve stopped hiding from it. I now think of its rays as a blessing, not a curse, and I linger a little longer in their warmth before I move, regretfully, into the shade.
My day in the Swiss mountains has changed the way I feel about the sun. We’re friends now.