So, it turns out I’d never really used my lungs to their full capacity before. They’d been as deflated and wrinkled as threeday-old birthday balloons.
Until, that is, they got stripped out by Swiss mountain-filtered air, so clean and crisp I want to drink it down and then store the rest in tanks to take home.
The coolness of it flows through me, helping to take the edge off the fact it’s too hazy to see across the crescent of Lake Geneva.
I’m faced instead by an imposing muddle of sky and water, with navy chunks of shadowy land spiking through intermittently where the Jura Mountains ought to be.
Still, discovering what it feels like to be able to breathe properly seems like a good a start to a weekend-long health, food and wellbeing jaunt in Switzerland.
My plan is to rattle along the Lake by rail from Geneva to Lausanne, and onward to Villars, stopping off along the way. With the view scribbled out by frothy wisps of mist, I find myself drawn instead to the scraps of land beside the tracks. Everything is so blindingly green.
Earth that’s not been wrangled into perfectly regimented allotments is overrun by labyrinthine vines, all strung with grapes. They lick rubbly screes, twist round stark 1970s office blocks and tuck themselves between concrete road crossings, while miniature vineyards burst out of nooks in almost every garden we zip by.
None is as neatly wrought as Domaine Croix Duplex in Grandvaux. A familyrun vineyard on a lush slope, it’s famed locally for its Chasselas grapes, grown year-round and harvested in autumn to make mainly white wine – and the Swiss take their Chasselas oh-so seriously.
“If it doesn’t say it on the bottle, it’s definitely a Chasselas wine,” says Maude, who runs Domaine Croix Duplex. That’s because 75% of Chasselas wine produced in Switzerland isn’t exported and gets drunk here.
She recalls how her grandfather started with just three hectares of land.
Now they have 10 times that, producing 300,000 bottles of wine for every handpicked harvest.
“Working in the vineyard is good for you,” says Maude wryly as we stand on the balcony, lodged above a carpet of grapes and lake. “When your back hurts, you just look at the view.” That view is both spectacular and restorative.
So is ducking between the indoor and cooler outdoor pools of the spa at the magnificently turreted Hotel Royal Savoy. Built in 1909 overlooking Lausanne’s harbour, Port of Ouchy, the Savoy extravagantly blurs the line between Disney’s Cinderella Castle and Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel.
For a Friday night, I’m struck by how peaceful it is along the harbour’s promenade, where elderly men play chess, raffish teenagers skateboard and the nonchalant hoots of Lake Geneva’s historic paddle steamers punctuate the lot. Everything in Lausanne just seems to chug along steadily and harmoniously.
Inland, in the belly of the city, the formerly industrial Le Flon district has been transformed into a hub of collaborative hipster energy and eco vision – 18,000 plants frost the living roof of the Lausanne-Flon metro station.
Meanwhile, the tangle of narrow, higgledy-piggledy streets here are pitched at an angle that makes your calves ache as you edge up towards the caramel-coloured stone of the 13th century Cathedral of Notre Dame.
“There’s a night watchman you can visit,” says our guide, Hilary, who explains the cathedral has been manned every evening since the 1400s. “He’s up there until 2am, so if you can’t sleep, he likes the company. It gets cold though.”
She steers us through Place de la Riponne, where market stalls spill over with fiery arcs of pumpkin, frilly spears of rainbow chard, tatty Persian rugs and more bread than you can shake a stick at. We sample the silkiest hot chocolate from cobalt blue mugs at Chocolaterie le Barbare.
Then it’s back on the train to Villars, a mountain sports village south of the eastern tip of Lake Geneva.
Apparently, there are incredible views out over the Rhone Valley, but huge whorls of fog scupper us, obscuring the craggy mountains with a chilly mist that muffles everything except the eerie ringing of bells.
We fortify ourselves on rotisserie chicken and sticky tarte tatin at the alpine Hotel du Lac in Bretaye, before an hourlong hike down to Villars proper.
We find the source of that strange ringing from earlier when we stumble upon a herd of roaming cows; their traditional cowbells reverberating off the peaks around us.
They’re rather charming, but our ELLA WALKER mountain guide, Anne is adamant: “The sound of those bells isn’t so charming at 5am.”
Mushroom picking is the norm among home cooks here, with a bona fide mountain cuisine based largely on foraging. Take our hotel in Villars, Chalet Royalp – just days before we arrive, head chef Alain Montigny earned his first Michelin star.
And after a meal of chestnut foam, olive oil roasted scallops and whipped hazelnut praline, you can see why.
Stretching languorously while doing yoga on our final morning, mountains glinting through the window, it would be tempting to just stay put.